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Rounded Rectangle: In the Great War


 RJP: 62 Div: Bullecourt           Latest edit 6 Feb 2011                                                                                                           

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5.  The Battle of Bullecourt: Map 1.

On 9.3.17 the BEF began its Arras offensive in support of the French ‘Nivelle’ offensive. The main British attack, involving the 1st and 3rd Armies, extended from Vimy Ridge to Croisilles, while 5th Army was to make a subsidiary attack on the Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt. 62 Div took over the sector of the line between Bullecourt and the River Sensée at Croisilles on 5.4.17. An attack at Bullecourt by 62 Div and 4 Australian Div on their right was ordered for 9.4.17 but then postponed to 10th and again to 11th. On that day the Australians attacked and reached Riencourt and Hendecourt, but a counter attack forced them back to their start line. 62 Div were intended to occupy Bullecourt and attack the Hindenburg line but through communications failures took no significant part in this phase of the battle. After several more postponements a further attack was made on 3.5.17. This time 62 Div had 2 Australian Div on its right. 62 Div entered part of Bullecourt at a high cost in casualties and elements of the division remained in action until the capture of the village was completed by 58 Div on 17.5.17. They finally left the sector on 29.5.17, after handing over to 58 Div, and retired to the Gomiécourt - Achiet-le-Petit - Sapignies area for a period of rest. On 31.5.17 V Corps (including 62 Div) were transferred to 3rd Army.

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The Hindenburg Line at the western end of Bullecourt.

Illustration courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

An aerial photograph taken at about 9 a.m. in the Summer of 1919 or 1920, of the part of the Hindenburg Line which faced the right centre of 62nd Division’s front at Bullecourt in May 1917.  The camera is above no man’s land, looking east of northwards, on a bearing of about 30°, in front of the battalion boundary between 2/5 Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, to the NW and the 2/5 West Yorkshire Regiment. The road at bottom left is that from Bullecourt to Fontaine-lès-Croisilles. The road running from front to back of the picture is that from Ecouste-Saint-Mein, behind the British line, to Hendecourt, behind the German line. It skirted the western extremity of the village of Bullecourt. In its modern form, it leads only to a field, having been replaced as a through route. The trench alongside it is the western flank of a small salient of the front line of the Hindenburg Line, which closely enclosed the southern half of the village, turning north again at the other end of the houses. Enfilading fire from the eastern end of the salient gave the Australian troops to 62 Div’s right, much trouble.

The inscription ‘S.W. Bullecourt’ is a little misleading. In reality, the point indicated is just outside the north-west corner of the village. To the east of the words can be seen a remnant of the western end of the wood which appears on Google Earth, just to the north of the street name ‘Rue de l’Ecole’.

In the photograph, the Hindenburg support line trench extends across the background, to the north of the village and has a dense strip of wire in front of its trench. The general line of the front line trench passes across the centre of the picture, from left background to right foreground. In May 1917, just to the east of the photo, it passed through the northern half of the village. In the village, by the end of the war it had been destroyed and appears only faintly here, to the right of the road, but is shown in Wyrall’s planref

 of the sector as it was in May 1917.

The centre of the picture confirms that the salient line of 1917 passed forward along the line of the road. By the end of the war, it had been abandoned and re-made slightly further from the road. Wyrall’s planref shows that the road, as it passed through the Hindenburg Line, was sunken. In the photo, the bank on its eastern side is sharply emphasized by shadow. This road line had been abandoned by the time the photo was taken and the route replaced on a parallel line.

In early May 1917, at the time of the Second Battle of Bullecourt, the front was occupied on the German side by 12oth Infantry Regiment, (Infantrie-Regiment Kaiser Wilhelm, König von Preußen (2. Würtembergisches) Nr. 120), a unit based in Ulm which was part of the 27th Division. To 62 Division’s left was a battalion of British 7th Division facing elements of the German 49th Reserve Division. To 62 Div’s right was the Anzac Corps (Australian 2nd Div) facing 123rd Grenadier Regiment (Grenadier-Regiment König Karl (5. Königlich Württembergisches) Nr. 123), a unit also based in Ulm and part of the Württembergische Armee.

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Reference: Wyrall. Plan title: Battle of Bullecourt, May 1917).

A map of the attack. The view of the photograph is in roughly the direction of the 186 and 187 brigade arrows in the map and half way between them.

See a more detailed discussion of the Bullecourt battles.

An illustrated account from Great War Collection.

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