Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

Bapaume

The Second Battle of Bapaume, 31 August - 3 September (the capture of Mont St Quentin and Péronne

Buildings destroyed by German Army troops as they retreated through the Somme area. Australian War Memorial, H12411.In the last week of August eastward progress by British Fourth and Third Armies forced unceasing German retirements. By evening on 29 August pressure exerted, especially by Fourth Army’s aggressive Australian Corps, had tumbled the Germans back to the line of the Somme. Here, near Péronne, where the river turned westwards in an almost right-angled bend, the pursuit stalled, held up by the watery barriers of the Somme and the immensely strong German defences sited on the commanding tactical feature of Mont St Quentin – the key position to this sector of the front.

In a bid to restore movement Rawlinson agreed to a daring plan for the Australian Corps to turn the river line and, by late evening of 30 August, preparations were in hand for assaults on Mont St Quentin and the ancient fortress-town of Péronne.

At 5am on Saturday 31 August, 5th Australian Brigade, (having crossed the Somme at Feuilleres and following a most difficult approach to its start-line), assaulted Mont St Quentin; despite the Australians' gallantry and tactical skill in violently bloody encounters, the assault on the mount was held. That same morning 14th Australian Brigade moved-off towards Péronne.

By nightfall the situation was one of great confusion but the decision was made to commit 6th Australian Brigade to renew the attack on Mont St Quentin. At 6am on the morning of 1 September (simultaneous with a strike on Péronne by 14th Australian Brigade), 6th Brigade attacked and gradually wrested control of the hilltop village which was in Australian hands by mid-afternoon. The day witnessed a remarkable double achievement following 14th Brigade’s dramatic assault on Péronne; by evening almost all the town had been secured. German defensive positions of great strength had been broken and the enemy was forced into further hasty withdrawals towards the Hindenburg Line.

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