Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

Villers-Bretonneux

Actions of Villers-Bretonneux: 24-25 April 1918 - the defence of Amiens

Though committed to major offensive operations in Flanders in late April 1918, the strategic prize of Amiens, in Picardy far away to the south, proved irresistible to Ludendorff who decided to re-launch a serious attack on its outermost eastern defences A captured German A7V tank used in the attack on Villers-Bretonneux, 24 April 1918. E02368 Australian War Memorialcentred on Villers-Bretonneux. His aim was to secure that town and the surrounding high ground from which artillery bombardments could systematically destroy Amiens and render it useless to the Allies. The subsequent fighting was remarkable on two counts: the use of tanks in support of the German infantry assault, leading to the first tank-versus-tank action of the war; and the effectiveness of a hastily organized Australian and British night-time counter-attack which dramatically re-captured Villers-Bretonneux and halted the German onslaught towards Amiens.

In dense fog early on the morning of 24 April an intense bombardment smashed down on Villers-Bretonneux’s defence lines. Masked by mist, smoke and the clamour of artillery, German infantry, supported by tanks, advanced at 6am; British positions were quickly overrun and a wide gap sliced open in the line; with defenders in disarray, Villers-Bretonneux rapidly fell to enemy forces.

Alarmed by this serious setback Fourth Army Commander, Rawlinson, insisted on the immediate recovery of the town and promptly disposed his supporting formations for counter-attack. Assaults intended for late morning and afternoon being cancelled, arrangements were made for a night advance. The surprise attack was launched in moonlight at 10pm without preliminary bombardment; spearheading the operation were the 13th and 15th Australian Brigades, supported by the British 54th Brigade. In darkness and confusion Australian infantry, displaying dash and brutal aggression, broke the German lines and, by early morning on 25 April, forced the enemy out of all but the south-eastern corner of the town. German progress towards Amiens, having reached its furthest point westward, had finally been held.

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