The Principles of War Podcast
1st Battle of Bullecourt
150th Anniversary of Australian Artillery Artillery Podcast

73 – 1st Battle of Bullecourt – The Australian Infantry’s most brilliant achievement

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This Episode looks at the lessons for the employment of Artillery at the 1st Battle of Bullecourt.  CEW Bean, the author of the official History wrote that Australian troops braved the odds in numerous battles, but that Bullecourt was the most brilliant of these achievements, impressing both enemy and friends alike.

This Bullecourt miniseries is part of our 150th Anniversary of the Royal Australian Artillery series.

We look at the strategic picture in 1917, with Germany realising that time is on the side of the Allies. The commencement of unrestricted warfare is an attempt to deny Great Britain the resources required to remain in the war, setting the conditions for the war to be won, before the United States mobilisation makes victory impossible.

The last of the ANZAC Divisions arrived on the Western Front in November 1916 – this was Monash’s 3rd Australian Infantry Division.  On the 23rd of February, German troops started thinning out the line and Operation Alberich, the withdrawal to the Siegfried Line.

Operation Alberich
The Germans termed the withdrawal Operation Alberich, after Alberich the dwarf who fashions a ring out of Rhine Gold. The ring he forges grants the power to rule the world. The Siegfried Line was named after a legendary hero of Germanic legend who slew a dragon and was later was later murdered. He may have been based on Arminius of the Tuetoburg Forest. These legends were featured in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, an epic Opera over 4 nights with the last night entitled Gotterdammerung, The Twilight of the Gods.
Trench foot Australian Army Western Front 1916 December
The winter of 1916-17 was the worst in the last 40 years and the conditions took a terrible toll on the soldiers in the front lines. Here Australian Army Medical Corps members evacuate cold casualties.

In December 1916, Joffre was replaced with General Robert Nivelle. Originally Lloyd George wanted to place Haig under Nivelle, which would have simplified command arrangements, but Haig would not countenance the idea. Haig was keen to create his own breakthrough if possible, but this would be difficult with the main effort, the Nivelle Offensive, receiving the majority of the guns and ammunition.

The nivelle Offensive
Supporting the French Nivelle Offensive was the reason for the Arras Offensive. The British would draw German troops into the Arras area, and potentially trigger the German committal of their Reserve, setting the conditions for the French breakthrough further North.
Gough - The Thruster
Gough, was termed the Thruster. Commander of Fifth Army. A cavalry Officer, he exhibited the best and worst tendencies of cavalry officers.

Bullcourt, in the Queant area was to support Allenby’s Third Army’s attack at Arras. Allenby’s attack was also supported at Vimy by the Canadian Corps under LT GEN Byng. This will be the subject of another podcast partially to celebrate 150 years of Canadian Artillery – UBIQUE!, and partially to compare and contrast with Bullecourt. The Battle at Bullecourt literally became the textbook example of how not to conduct a battle – it was taught in British Staff Colleges of the dangers of poor planning. Vimy Ridge is almost the perfect juxtaposition – Byng vs Gough, detailed planning vs big hands small map, artillery vs no artillery, CBSO vs little effective counter battery effects, ammunition allocation (50,000 tons were fired in pre H-Hour fires), vs an inadequate allocation, enough guns vs clearly insufficient numbers of batteries, and coordination and cooperation across corps vs little coordination. The Vimy Ridge battle was an exemplar of how to attack a strongly defended objective in the First World War and many of the techniques developed at Vimy would be used by Monash in 1918 in his first Battle as Corps Commander in the Battle of Hamel.

The Arras Offensive Map
The Bullecourt Battle was a support effort to Allenby’s Third Army Arras Offensive.

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