Battles of the Somme – Pozieres Ridge
The attack on Pozieres was launched on the 23 July. The battle saw the Australians fight hard for an area that comprised a first rate observation post over the surrounding countryside. The area also offered an alternative approach to the rear of the Thiepval defences.
The Australian divisions of the I Anzac Corps were given the task of capturing the Pozieres Ridge, which had in fact been intended for capture on the first day of the offensive. The Australians succeeded in doing this by 4 August, having launched their offensive almost two weeks earlier at 1.30am on 23 July, two days following their arrival on the Somme. They were assisted in the attack by the British 48th Division attacking from Ovillers towards the German left flank.
The Australians succeeded in capturing Pozieres village within an hour and then rushed across the main road towards Gibraltar, a German strongpoint. A mere 200 yards separated the Australians from Pozieres Ridge, the attack’s main objective, heavily defended by the securely entrenched German troops. Two lines of trenches needed to be overcome before the ridge could be completely claimed.
Later on that first day, 23 July, the Australians were joined to the north-west of Pozieres village by the British 17th Warwickshire Regiment. Still the ridge remained firmly in German hands and the 2nd Australian Division subsequently relieved their comrades and continued the attack on the ridge for a further four days before they too were relieved. Allied casualties at this stage were running at a costly 3,500.
The ridge finally fell on 4 August after almost two weeks of bitter fighting. However, Mouquet Farm and Thiepval remained in German hands. Failed attempts, directed by Hubert Gough, to push further north-west from the height towards Mouquet Farm and Thiepval were repulsed by German artillery fire, with the loss of some 23,000 Australian troops.
Gough came under heavy Australian criticism for his persistence in pushing the advance for five weeks; their growing scepticism of the quality of British leadership was already low following the notable failure of an earlier diversionary attack at Fromelles on the 19-20 July by the Australian 5th Division. Australians suffered 5,708 casualties at Fromelles of which total 4,000 were fatalities; a further 400 were captured and marched through Lille as prisoners of war.
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