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Category: Western Front

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Fromelles: a deadly feint in the 1916 Somme campaign
  • This page should be considered in conjunction with Somme 1916, which gives an overview. 
    • to go there.
Fromelles, France. 

19 July 1916. 

Men of the 53rd battalion waiting to don their equipment for the attack at Fromelles. 

Only three of those here shown came out of the action alive, and those three were wounded.

(donated by L/Cpl. C.H. Lorking, 53rd Battalion)

France. 11 November 1918. An intersection of three roads in the eastern end of the ruined village. It was in this vicinity that the 5th Division concentrated for their attack at Fromelles on 19 July 1916.
Fromelles, France. 11 November 1918. The old no man's land of the Fromelles Battlefield, as it appeared on 11 November 1918, over two years after the action in which the troops of the 5th Australian Division and the 61st British Divisions suffered heavily, being forced to evacuate the positions several hours after their capture. The engagement took place on 19 July 1916 and was made in order to divert German attention from the Somme at the time when the Battle of the Somme was proceeding. The remains of the River des Layes line of trenches, and old German pill boxes which formed part of the defences in the Sugar Loaf Salient, can be seen in the right of the picture, though thickly overgrown with grass.
Fromelles-Le Maisnil Ridge, France. 

An observation post of two storeys built up in concrete inside an old house on the Fromelles-Le Maisnil Ridge. 

From this position the enemy could discern the movements of the 5th Division in preparation for the attack on Fromelles, which took place on 19 July 1916. 

Enemy intelligence papers that were obtained subsequently stated that the actual moment of attack was known some considerable time beforehand.

Click to enlarge

3331 Sergeant (Sgt) Ernest Augustus Jentsch, 53rd Battalion. Jentsch was killed in action (KIA) on 19 July 1916 during the battle at Fromelles, France. (Donor D. Beckman) Taken July 1915 Ashfield, NSW. Ashfield Bowling Club Roll of Honour flanked by an Australian flag and the Union Jack. Names of members' sons included in the Roll: 
H. Alderson, F.S. Alderson, C.S. Alderson (killed), H.H. Bainbridge, J.S.D. Burns, E.E. Burns, J. Buxton, F.J. Doherty (killed), W.J. Forsythe, M. Forsythe, F.A. Harris, W.K. Harris, E.O. Harris, Dr. C.M. Harris (killed), F.R. Hillier, F.T. Hurt (killed), G. Hurt, 3331 Sergeant Ernest Augustus Jentsch (killed in action on 19 July 1916 during the battle at Fromelles, France), T.J. Lindsay, E.J. McDowell, A.J. McDowell, H. McKensey, W.T. McLaren (died), G.L. McLaren, A.J. Cowled, S.G.C. Cowled, R.T. Jefferson, N.B. Jefferson, E.C. Watts, W.E. Parrington (killed), C.E. Parrington (killed), Dr. H. Rayson, R.B. Richardson, F.C. Rogers, J.N. Shipton, V. Shipton, R. Spendelove, K.T.W. Styles (killed), J. Wells, F.T.D. Meares, N.G. Laurence, W.J. Rogers, W. Hardy, D.Y. Lindsay, L.H.M. Burns, E.H. Ireland, W.Wells, F.M. Tyerman, W.R. Hannon, P.J. Hannon, B.L. Hannon, L. Graham, R. Graham, R.A. Stewart, R.A.R. Green, E.A. Ridley, H.A. Lennartz and E.A. Lennartz. (Original print held in the AWM Archive Store) (Donor D. Beckman)

Australian Memorial Park, Fromelles. Click to view larger image

Australian Memorial Park Fromelles

The Park is situated around the remains of fortifications on the part of the German line, which was captured by the 14th Australian Brigade and held overnight on 19-20 July 1916. The Park and the nearby VC Corner Cemetery, some 3 Kms from Fromelles, in northern France, are 8 Kms south of Armentieres, and 16 Kms west of Lille.

The central feature of the Memorial Park is the sculpture "Cobbers" by Peter Corlett of Melbourne. The sculpture is based on 3101 Sergeant Simon Fraser of 57th Battalion, a 40 year old Victorian farmer turned soldier who rescued many men from the battlefield, carrying a man of 60th Battalion. Later, Fraser, as a Lieutenant of 58th Battalion, was Mentioned in Despatches before being killed at Bullecourt on 12 May 1917. His name is recorded on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

In 1916, the village of Fromelles south of Armentières, lay behind the German lines and close to the front itself. A feature of the line, three kilometres north west of Fromelles, was a bulge known as the Sugar Loaf.

The British Commander in Chief, General Haig, had opened a major offensive on the Somme further south because the Germans were withdrawing divisions from the Lille area to reinforce their Somme positions.

It was suggested that an artillery "demonstration" be staged at the Sugar Loaf to make the Germans think a major offensive was imminent there and so make them nervous about any further troop withdrawals.

This modest objective was enlarged into a broader plan to mount an infantry attack on the Sugar Loaf salient, advance to Fromelles and capture the heights of the Aubers Ridge.

The 5th Division AIF was assigned the left flank of the Sugar Loaf, and the British 61st Division, the right.

From 11 a.m. on 19 July an artillery bombardment was laid down on the German lines as the Australians made their way through communication trenches to their jumping off positions.

In the bright sunshine and clear visibility, the Germans saw them coming and began their own counter barrage of the communication trenches.

Many Allied troops were killed or wounded before they even reached the front line. The communication trenches were blown to pieces and became blocked with the dead, the wounded and the dying.

At 6 p.m. the men of the 5th Division and the British 61st Division attacked the Sugar Loaf.

The left flank brigades of the 5th Division the 8th and the 14th quickly reached the German lines and went through them into the open countryside beyond.

The central Australian brigade, the 15th, was pinned down by intense enemy machinegun fire as it attempted to cross no man's land at its widest point.

That night, as the 8th and 14th Brigades tried to consolidate their positions, the Germans counter attacked fiercely and worked their way behind the Australians.

As dawn approached on the 20th, many units were cut off from the Australian lines and had to turn round and fight their way back.

According to the official Australian war historian Charles Bean, the sight of the Australian trenches on the morning of 20 July 1916 "packed with wounded and dying, was unexampled in the history of the AIF".

The 5th Division sustained 5,533 casualties, 400 of whom were made prisoners of war.

No man's land was cluttered with the dead and wounded. Many wounded Australians were shot dead as they crawled about in no mans land, revealing their positions to the watching German snipers and machine gunners.

The Australians attempted to arrange a truce with the Germans so the wounded could be rescued. Such action was vetoed by their own High Command.

Military historians do not mince words about Fromelles the attack is considered to have been a fiasco.

The Australian dead of Fromelles are recalled at a cemetery located in the middle of the old battlefield VC Corner Australian Cemetery.

Here are the remains of 410 Diggers whose unidentifiable remains were recovered after the war. They are buried in unmarked plots. On a wall behind them are the names of 1,298 men of the 5th Division who died in the surrounding fields and have no known grave.

Text courtesy of the Australian Department of Veterans' Affairs


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