3. Poziers | Service Eligibility Assistant, Additional Information, Historical Information, Part 1 Military History, Ch 1 World War I, S 3 The Somme 1916

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3. Poziers

The next major British attack on the Somme, on 14 July, achieved some fairly deep gains into the German lines but again failed to achieve a break-through. The Germans still held Pozieres which was strung out along the old Roman highway from Amiens to Bapaume. The village was a an well-defended outpost in front of a German defence works known as the OG Lines, an immensely strong system comprising two parallel trenches which ran along the crest of Pozieres ridge about 500 yards behind the village. The Australians were given the task of taking Pozieres village. The attack was preceded by a thorough bombardment which methodically pounded the village and the OG Lines for several days. The bombardment stripped away the trees that screened the village and the few broken walls that remained became more visible. The final bombardment began at dusk and, occurring before the moon had risen, was visible for 20 miles around. At 12.30 am on Sunday, 23 July, the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the 1st Australian Division attacked. The advance succeeded in reaching the main road through the village. The Germans counter-attacked at dawn but were defeated by machine-gun fire.

The Australians captured all their objectives except for the OG Lines where the trenches and the area surrounding them were so cratered by shellfire that the troops had difficulty locating their objective. The front trench, OG1, and the support line 100-200 yards to the east, OG2, were in some places untraceable and in others merely a depression among the holes and mounds. However, the area contained deep dug-outs which held German garrisons skilled in the use of grenades and supported by efficient machine-gunners. In a drawn-out struggle, Pte John Leak and Lt A S Blackburn won the Victoria Cross. OG1 was captured and held but OG2 was unable to be found. During daylight on 23 July, the forward troops deepened their new trenches and that night a reinforcing battalion pushed through and secured most of the remainder of the village.

The pressure on the Somme forced the Germans to diminish their attacks on Verdun and was materially wearing down the German Army. The Germans were being strained on the Somme but the British were was not immediately in a position to launch a major offensive. While the British were building up men and supplies in the rear, the Germans were to be kept under pressure by constant local assaults. The Australian task was to take Pozieres ridge. However, Pozieres being a key position, the German staff was determined that it should be regained. Three early attempts failed and at 7 am on 24 July, as soon as the loss of the village was certain, the Australian position was methodically bombarded. The Germans still held parts of two trench systems along the western edge of Pozieres, and the OG Lines east of the village. The Australians were to attack at night so that the Germans would be unable to see the assault forming and therefore unable to concentrate their artillery and machine-guns.

On the night of 24/25 July 1916 the Australian troops marched up for an attack on a crest where most landmarks had been pounded out of recognition. Only one of the two assaulting battalions for the attack against the OG Lines was in position by zero hour and only after a difficult search in confusion and uproar did the battalion find its objective. The Germans counter-attacked and only a portion of the trenches captured were retained after a furious bomb-fight. On the western side of Pozieres, a brilliant advance seized the German trenches and Pozieres cemetery. The German bombardment on 25 July increased in weight in preparation for an attempt to retake Pozieres. The attack was to be launched at 4.30 pm but the fresh German regiment was already worn out from that morning's bomb-fight in the OG Lines, the repeated changes of orders by the German staff and the dreadful approaches under artillery fire. After many reports that the task was hopeless the German order to attack was countermanded. However, the 1st Australian Division after three days' bombardment was also exhausted. The division had lost 5285 officers and men and was relieved by the 2nd Division.

The 2nd Division's attack on Pozieres ridge began at 12.15 am on 29 July. German artillery hindered preparations for the attack and the British artillery did not batter down all of the wire. Preparations were generally poor and except on the extreme left the attack failed with heavy loss. The 2nd Division in its next attack formed up just before dusk on 4 August without being detected by the Germans. The OG lines along the Pozieres crest were firmly seized and the Germans were swept away by the vigour of the attack which had been preceded by a four day bombardment. The 2nd Division was now more exhausted than the 1st had been and had suffered heavier losses than any Australian division was to suffer in one tour in the line although some British divisions suffered heavier losses. In twelve days, the 2nd Division had lost 6848 officers and men with five of its battalions each losing between 600 and 700 men. The relief by the 4th Australian Division took place under intense bombardment.

From Pozieres crest the Australians could at last look over the wide, shallow valley behind the ridge and observe the tree-tops and roofs of Courcelette and the woods in front of Bapaume about five miles distant. The Germans, aware that their convoys, troops and guns could be seen were greatly disturbed by the loss of the Pozieres heights and ordered their immediate recapture. The Australians had gradually pushed a big bulge into the German lines which permitted the enemy artillery to shell them from Thiepval in the rear, as well as from the front and both flanks. A great part the Australian front line was now completely enfiladed by German batteries. The bombardment was so heavy on the night of 6 August that the 4th Division was largely kept in the deep old German dug-outs. The Germans attacked in the dawn of 7 August, passed through the lightly held OG2, overran several of the deep dug-outs in OG1, captured some of the garrison, and moved down the slope towards Pozieres on a 400 yard front. At the critical moment, Lt. Albert Jacka, who had won the Victoria Cross on Gallipoli leapt from a position behind the Germans and charged them. Jacka's platoon, waiting in a deep dug-out, had been surprised by the attack. The enemy had bombed the dug-out and left a sentry over the stairway. Jacka rushed the sentry and with his surviving men attacked the Germans from behind together with other Australians scattered across the slope and on the flanks. The German attack was stopped with most of the captured Australians freed and many Germans captured. The lost ground was retaken and the Germans did not repeat their attempt to retake Pozieres heights.