The Battle of Villers-Bretonneux - April 24, 1918


At dawn on March 21st, 1918, the Germans launched Operation Michael, a massive offensive which shook the Allies. Within four days all Allied advances of the past year were yielded, including Pozieres and Mouquet Farm.

      Troops of the British 6th Army and civilians fled the German surge towards Amiens, a crucial French city and rail junction. The key to a successful attack on Amiens was the hillside town of Villers-Bretonneux and, by March 25th, no British Division stood between this town and its would-be conquerors. On March 28th the Germans were stalled in front of Villers-Bretonneux and Hamal by the British 1st cavalry but the enemy attack was renewed on April 4th.

      After a bludgeoning bombardment the Germans struck with 15 Divisions. The northern thrust was stopped by the British and Australians but, further south, the Germans were on the outskirts of Villers-Bretonneux. The Australian 36th battalion launched a desperate counter-attack with fixed bayonets and, with the aid of two Queen's Regiment companies, drove the Germans back.

      Meanwhile the Australian 9th Brigade and the British 3rd cavalry protected the Australian flanks. On April 24th the Germans attacked again after softening the Allies with heavy shelling and Mustard Gas. They broke through the British lines - heavily reinforced with inexperienced young conscripts - and Villers-Bretonneux was lost temporarily. Australian Brigadier Generals, Pompey Elliot and T.W. Glasgow argued strongly with Major General Heneker of the British 8th Division about the tactics for retaking Villers-Bretonneux and got their way.

      Glasgow's 51st and 52nd Battalions and Elliot's 15 Brigade were told to let nothing stop them as they took off with bayonets levelled. The Germans were unnerved in the face of what C.E.W Bean described as the wildest charge in the history of the AIF. The next day - the third ANZAC Day - the Australians retook the town in a series of house-to-house fights and the French have never forgotten their valour.