The Battle of Pozières (23 July to 7 August 1916)
Most of our ANZAC Day tours visit Pozieres.
Pozières is a small village (population less than 250) located in North France approximately 5 miles north east from Albert. The town is associated with ANZAC history because it was the location of bitter and costly fighting for the 1st, 2nd and 4th Australian Divisions in mid 1916. These battles were part of a much larger operation called the Battle of the Somme.
The Battle of the Somme (1 July to 18 November 1916) was a huge offensive in World War One, and involved soldiers from all over the British Empire attacking German lines either side of the Somme River. On the first day of the battle (1 July 1916) the British army lost 60,000 men in one day, and total allied losses would reach 620,000 men, and 465,000 German soldiers. Located in the middle of the battlefield, Pozieres village was located on a ridge and was critical to the German defenses because if offered an observation post over the surrounding countryside.
The battle plan was quite simple, the Australian 1st Division would attack Pozières from the south, and the British 48th Division would attack the German trenches west of the village. Before the attack started, the British sent a massive bombardment of the German lines, including heavy shelling, phosgene and tear gas. While the bombardment was happening, Australian troops crept into no-man’s land and rushed the German trenches as soon as the bombardment stopped.
What followed was some horrendous fighting; the Australians encountered strong resistance and had to attack German machine gun nests. Two Australians won a VC this day, Private John Leak and Lieutenant Arthur Blackburn. The British 48th Division was successful in attacking the trenches west of Pozieres, and a further Australian attack captured a German bunker called Gibraltar. Eventually Pozieres was secured by the Australians on the evening of 23 July 1916.
The Germans launched a number of counter attacks in the following days, and then released a massive bombardment of the now flattened Pozieres. The bombardment finally eased on 27 July, but it battle for Pozieres and the bombardment had taken a huge toll on the Australian soldiers. The 1st Division were relieved on 27 July, but had received 5,285 casualties.
The 1st Division was replaced by the 2nd Division, and this new division was asked to attack and push the German lines further back on 29 July, but they were met with a hail of machine gun fire and no gains were made, but 3,500 men were lost trying.
On the 4 August the 2nd Division attacked again. This time they would dig trenches towards their objectives into no-man’s land, to offer increased protection. They would also attack at 9.15pm so there was just enough light to see Pozieres windmill, a visible target. After another fierce shelling attack on the German lines, the Australians attacked with great success, and actually advanced beyond their objectives. By 6 August the Australian 2nd Division were exhausted so were replaced by the Australian 4th Division. After its 12 days of action, the 2nd Division had suffered 6,848 casualties.
The Australian 4th Division was immediately called into action, fighting off a massive German bombardment and counter attack on 6 July, and their final counter attack on the 7 July. On the morning of 7 August 1916, after a night of heavy shelling, the Germans began to overrun a portion of the line which included Albert Jacka’s dug-out (Jacka had won a VC in Gallipoli). Jacka and a handful of men charged at the enemy and conducted hand to hand fighting. Jacka was wounded 7 times, but he and his men saw off the German counter attack and Pozieres was still in allied hands. No more attempts to retake Pozières were made.
After the battles, the village of Pozieres lay in ruins and the Australians had suffered terrible losses. The Australians lost more men (23,000) in six weeks fighting for Pozieres as they had in the whole Gallipoli Campaign. Australian official historian Charles Bean said, “The Pozières ridge is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.”
During our ANZAC day tour, we will visit Pozieres and see the The First Australian Division Memorial which is located in the village. We will also see the remains of Gibraltar blockhouse or bunker, and see the Australian War Memorial’s Windmill site. Finally our professional WW1 guides will show you the battlefields and answer any questions you may have.
Click Here to visit our ANZAC Day tours page.