The battle for the village of Pozieres was one of the deadliest and most remarkable for the Australian troops which took part in the First World War. The village had tactical importance and, hence, both German and allied armies tried to take control over the place. The Australian army learnt a lot of lessons from the war as well as the battle for Pozieres and incorporated the experience obtained in military education.1 It is also noteworthy that the battle was characterised by excessive use of machine guns and artillery that was understood as one of the most potent tools. It is possible to analyse the battle (which is exemplary) to understand its major features and factors that determined the outcomes of the battle.
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In the first place, it is necessary to note that the village had strategic importance as it was situated on a ridge and was a certain outpost for another defensive point. Pozieres was also “the location where two armies met, French and British” and it was crucial to take control over the place within the shortest time possible.2 The village was fortified by the German army, and there was a system of trenches and barbed wire. Besides, German troops occupying the village had a great number of machine guns which made the battle harsh.
The Australians knew about fortification of the village and employed a tactic which, eventually, had positive outcomes. Australian troops chose the tactic of “fire and movement”.3 Thus, the attacks started with excessive bombardments of the village, which lasted several days. During the bombardment, tear gas and phosgene were used.4 It is noteworthy that phosgene had a delayed outcome, and it had a reaction on the heart, and there were numerous causalities among soldiers. After the bombarding, the infantry advanced. It is noteworthy that the first attack of the infantry was successful, but it was very costly as the Australians failed to evaluate fortification of the German trenches adequately. Captain C.E.W. Bean, who was official press correspondent, stressed that the attacked cost a lot of deaths and lots of wounded soldiers told about the battlefield which was turned into a mess.5 Further attacks employed more bombarding, and the result of this was the almost complete destruction of the first system of trenches which turned into an “unrecognisable powdered ditch”.6
Notably, the Germans responded using the same tactics. The Australians were met by “heavy fire from rifles and machine guns, and shrapnel” and this was also an effective tactic as Australian troops had many causalities and had to move back.7 It is noteworthy that the use of artillery was seen as one of the most effective strategies and was employed by all armies in the First World War (this trend persisted in the Second World War as well). Apart from this, the Germans resorted to tear gas as well8 The tear gas was effective if soldiers did not wear masks, and it had quite short-term outcomes. After heavy bombarding, German troops also tried to attack the Australians and were always met by considerable bombarding and sometimes hand-to-hand fighting. At this point, it is necessary to stress that the use of artillery was central to both parties and it was the reason why the battle led to so much causality and was named “nothing but mechanical slaughter”.9
It is clear that the tactics used were similar, as was the performance of both forces. As has been mentioned above, the trenches of the Germans were well-fortified, which was one of the major reasons why they could hold the position for such a long period. There was also rather good communication between German troops and the use of artillery was efficient. The Australians effectively utilised artillery and managed to destroy a significant part of German trenches. Nonetheless, there were serious issues related to communication among the Australian troops and with their allies. German bombardment destroyed the vast amount of communication trenches which were “blocked and collapsed”10 Australian troops were disconnected and somewhat disorganised as it was difficult to distinguish objects in the area which was completely damaged and altered by bombardment. At the same time, the infantry of both parties was effective as soldiers fight with all their vigour. However, the Australians managed to win the battle for the village as they had more resources (artillery and manpower).
Resources proved to be the major factor which led to the victory of the Australian troops. The village was attacked from different sides, and the Germans had to respond to these attacks.11 The lack of resources and especially manpower is clearly seen by the way the battle was held as Australians could not take control over the village as the Germans had more resources at the first stages of the battle. They used artillery extensively, and Australians had significant losses and were worn out by constant bombardment and attacks of the Germans.12 There was even the period when Australians could actually be defeated as at the beginning of August their resources almost came to an end. There were many wounded and dead; the trenches were badly damaged. Only forces which had been sent to the village could ensure the victory of the Australians. Thus, when manpower and artillery use increased, the Australians managed to take control over Pozieres.
It is also necessary to note that communication has proved to be very important (and sometimes decisive) for the victory. Thus, the Germans had well-fortified communication trenches and managed to keep their control over the three parts of trenches systems. At the same time, The Australians had significant issues with communication and could not defeat the Germans for a long period. Poor communication prevented them from the development of proper plans for massive attacks. Thus, when communication was improved, the Australians managed to attack and move further.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that the battle for the village of Pozieres was remarkable as it showed the significance of the use of artillery as well as communication. The forces were equal at the start of the battle, and the Germans even prevailed at certain periods since they had a well-established system of well-fortified trenches. However, the lack of resources forced the Germans to give the village away though they implemented a number of counter-attacks. Therefore, the major outcome of the battle was the victory of the allied forces. The strategic location was taken, and the allied forces managed to proceed. It is also possible to add that the battle was a lesson for all the armies involved since it was an illustration of the efficacy of the use of artillery and the central role of communication.
Bean, C.E.W., ‘The Australians. Battlefield Pictures’, Sydney Morning Herald, 1916, p. 7
Bean, C.E.W., ‘The Australians. Fighting at Pozieres’, Sydney Morning Herald, 1916, p. 13.
Bean, C.E.W., ‘The Australians. Pozieres Battle. Bitter Night Attack. British Headquarters’, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 August 1916, p. 11.
Blair, D., Dinkum Diggers: An Australian Battalion at War, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 2001.
Charlton, P., Pozieres 1916: Australians on the Somme, London, Leo Cooper, 1986.
Grey, J., A Military History of Australia, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 2008.
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1 J. Grey, A Military History of Australia, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 81.
2 P. Charlton, Pozieres 1916: Australians on the Somme, London, Leo Cooper, 1986, p. 15.
3 Ibid., p. 50.
4 Ibid., 130.
5 C.E.W. Bean, ‘The Australians. Battlefield Pictures’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 July 1916, p. 7.
6 C.E.W. Bean, ‘The Australians. Pozieres Battle. Bitter Night Attack. British Headquarters’, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 August 1916, p. 11.
7 C.E.W. Bean, ‘The Australians. Fighting at Pozieres’, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 July 1916, p. 13.
8 — Charlton, p. 130.
9 D. Blair, Dinkum Diggers: An Australian Battalion at War, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 2001, p. 114.
10 — Charlton, p. 83.
11 Ibid., p. 19.
12 Bean, ‘The Australians. Pozieres Battle’, p. 11