The Battles of Bullecourt – 1917
By David Coombes
Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $19.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781925520248
“Bullecourt became a virtual slaughterhouse for Australian soldiers”.
Published as part of the Australian Army Campaign Series, this book published on behalf of the Army History Unit, examines the two battles of Bullecourt, fought in April and May 1917.
Historian David Coombes sets the scene for his examination by describing the appalling conditions which confronted the Australians from November 1916 to February 1917. France endured its worst winter in 36 years and many Australian troops suffered accordingly and took no further part in the war.
The first battle commenced on 11 April and despite the failure of recently introduced and much vaunted tanks, and the lack of artillery support, two brigades from the 4th Australian Division captured parts of the impregnable Hindenberg line. However the German counter-attacks soon forced the Australians to withdraw.
The second battle raged over two weeks and was initially supported by preliminary artillery barrage. The end result was the capture of parts of the German trenches which were then held against countless German counter-attacks. The casualties from this battle amounted to just under 7500 and prompted Coombes to conclude that “Bullecourt became a virtual slaughterhouse for Australian soldiers”.
While Douglas Haig considered the capture of Bullecourt “among the great achievements of the war”, Coombes is of the opinion that “… large numbers of Australian and British soldiers were killed or wounded for the capture of a village which, even at the time of the second attack, held no strategic or tactical value whatsoever.