Mouquet Farm: I Anzac Corps come up against intricate German defensive positions
After two weeks of heavy and costly fighting by the three AIF Divisions of I Anzac Corps, the Pozieres Heights objective was finally captured on the 5th August 1916. With the Heights secure attention turned to nearby Mouquet Farm (photograph right) in preparation for the major British operation to out-flank the heavily defended German position at Thiepval. With this new captured position came the dangers inherent with a salient of being visible on three sides by enemy artillery observers, and it did not take long before the Germans realised that the point of each attack on a narrow frontage was the Farm, thus they could concentrate their fire. To make things worse papers containing the British Orders for the capture of Mouquet Farm, and the Fabeck Trench on the ridge behind the farm, had found themselves into German hands around Thiepval and as a result the German Army prepared accordingly for the impending Australian attacks. On the night of the 8th August the 15th Battalion along with the Suffolk Battalion on the left attacked and commenced the advance northwards. Having made gains, the 15th Battalion found itself in front of the objective but was forced to withdraw. Thus began a series of attacks over the coming weeks to seize the farm and surrounding area in preparation for Haig’s third major Somme offensive scheduled for mid-September.
Despite suffering heavily and with the surviving men having already endured the harrowing bombardments during the taking of Pozieres, the AIF 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions were all ordered back to the front line one after another in an attempt to take the Farm. Unbeknown to the attacking Australians, Mouquet Farm was in fact a sophisticated strong-point of deep dugouts with a warren of interconnecting tunnels that the defending Germans could appear from, often catching the attackers by surprise with fire from the front, side and rear. Seven times the Australians launched attacks against Mouquet Farm, including the dawn attack by the 6th Brigade with the supporting 22nd Battalion on 26th August, and only on the last on 3rd September and with the greatest effort by the 13th Brigade was any success made. However this was on a front so narrow that it would not hold a deliberate counter-offensive which inevitably came on the 8th September causing terrible losses for the Canadians, and resulting in the Germans retaking the Fabeck Graben.
On the 5th September the AIF 4th Division was relieved bringing an end to this costly phase for the Australians on the Western Front. The taking of the Pozieres Heights and the village did achieve the objective of preparing the ground for the third major British offensive on the Somme on the 15th September between Flers – Courcelette, the successful battle which saw the introduction of the tank on the battlefield. However the attack on Mouquet Farm proved to be fruitless and a waste of many a good man and resources. Indeed Mouquet Farm would not fall until the Battle of Thiepval on 26th September, which saw the village being taken by a frontal attack rendering the plan of the flanking attack via Mouquet Farm a misguided and futile concept.
Pozieres set the standard by which enemy shell fire was ever afterwards measured in the AIF as ‘better or worse than Pozieres’, and no village in the Somme area was so completely erased as Pozieres. I Anzac Corps had lost in this battle 23,000 officers and men, and when you add the 5,533 casualties of the AIF 5th Division at Fromelles, Australia suffered more casualties in these six weeks than the eight months of Gallipoli. The Australian army in France was faced with the immediate problem of replenishment, with the numbers of reinforcements in training in England or the returning sick and wounded, or on their way from Australia would not be enough to bring the Australian infantry divisions up to strength in the near future. As a result the move towards the adoption of conscription began to gather pace, leading to the vote in October. [Colour photographs above showing: top, the AIF Mouquet Farm Memorial; middle, the 23rd July 2016 Commemorative Service at Pozieres at the AIF 1st Division Monument; bottom, crosses in the shape of the Rising Sun at the Windmill where CEW Bean later described ‘a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other spot on earth’. ].
100 years ago today, the 22nd Battalion was: recuperating in the rear following relief from Mouquet Farm
Recently added pages and updated sections
- Follow the AIF and the 22nd Battalion into the fighting at Pozieres, including through the soldiers own letters and diaries
- Roll of Honour for the 22nd Battalion with biographies and final resting places for the men from the 5th/22nd
- Gallantry Awards for the 22nd Battalion on the Somme with biographies for the men of the 5th/22nd
- AIF 1917 Combat Areas: the 22nd Battalion at Bapaume and the AIF pursuit of the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line