The assault upon the formidable 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 first Bullecourt battle of 11 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 Britsih tank crews were let down in 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 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.
This book, the latest by Paul Kendall, tells the story of the assault on the Hindenberg Line at Bullecourt in the months of April and May 1917. The participants in the assault were three British and three Australian Divisions. During the offensive, in an effort to capture Bullecourt, approximately 17,000 soldiers were killed. The assault resulted in the first breakthrough of the Hindenburg Line, but was a war of attrition that saw the worst Australian defeat of the war.
There are four parts to the book consisting of 416 pages, 34 Chapters, 8 Appendices, Bibliography and Index. Throughout there are numerous illustrations, maps and often extracts of letters from some of the soldiers who fought in the conflict.
Part 1, The Road to Bullecourt, contains chapters on the British and Australian paths to Bullecourt, the creation of the Hindenberg Line and general background to the battle. Part 2 covers the First Battle of Bullecourt, 11th April 1917, the 4th and 12th Australian Brigades assault, the tanks' day of disaster and an assessment.
Part 3 covers the second Battle of Bullecourt in greater depth than the previous chapters, outlining details of British prisoners of war, the role of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, The 20th Manchesters, and a further assessment of the battle.
Part 4, Memorials and Cemeteries, is probably the most interesting section of the book and would be ideal for someone tracing their ancestors who fought in the battles. There are chapters on modern day Bullecourt, the location of the cemeteries and lists of soldiers who died and have no known grave. These lists are fifty seven pages long and include surname, rank, number, battalion and date of death. There are extracts, some very poignant, from letters written to relatives both by the military and individuals who saw their friends and colleagues killed. Throughout there are brief biographies of individuals with photographs.
Although primarily a very detailed book of the battle, with emphasis on the Australian role, which some readers might find daunting reading, the author has, by his inclusion of the personal details of the men, made what might have been a rather dull book, far more fascinating. I found it to be the type of book which you can pick up and read at random, giving an insight into the daily lives of the Australian soldiers.
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