The assault upon the formidable Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt in April and May 1917 by three British Divisions – the 7th, 58th and 62nd – and three Australian Divisions was initially designed to assist Allenby’s Third Army break out from Arras. This book tells the full story of a battle that can be seen as an archetype of the horrors of trench warfare. The controversial first Bullecourt battle of 11th April came to be regarded as the worst Australian defeat of the War, when Australian infantry assaulted without artillery and tank support. They were badly let down by the British tanks – but the British tank crews were let down in their turn by their own commanders, who put them in the forefront of the attack in Mark II training tanks, prone to malfunction and not armour-plated. Significant numbers fought their way into the German lines at Bullecourt against all odds, including legendary ANZAC soldiers Major Percy Black, Captain Albert Jacka and Captain Harry Murray. The Australians achieved the impossible and cemented their reputation as a reliable and formidable force, not merely a colonial adjunct to the British Army. Marshal Foch described the soldiers of the AIF as ‘the finest shock troops in the world’. British and Australian forces launched repeated offensives throughout May in an effort to capture Bullecourt. It became an awful battle of attrition fought with savagery on both sides. After three more weeks of fighting, which saw stretcher bearers sniped at and hand-to-hand struggles with bayonet and entrenching tool, the village was eventually taken. Approximately 17,000 soldiers were sacrificed to capture the village and nearby trenches; 4,124 of those soldiers killed were listed as missing and have no known grave. Was possession of the pile of rubble that was Bullecourt worth the butcher’s bill, when plans were already in place to switch the main push to Flanders that summer? The bloody sacrifices made by Australian and British soldiers notwithstanding, the fighting at Bullecourt resulted in the first breakthrough of the ‘impregnable’ Hindenburg Line. Author Paul Kendall has contacted many of the living relatives of those who fought to bring a human face to those terrible statistics.
BULLECOURT 1917 Breaching the Hindenburg Line
There is a good narrative of events, covering both the Australian and British perspective with some good maps and illustrations, and numerous ‘pen portraits’ of men who fought and died at Bullecourt. There is a handy guide to the area today as well as details of all the cemeteries. A recommended companion to the Bullecourt battlefield, whether sitting at home or in the field.
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