Battle of Fromelles
Overview
 
The Battle of Fromelles, sometimes known as the Action at Fromelles or the Battle of Fleurbaix (though the correct title bestowed by the Battlefields Nomenclature Committee in 1922 is the Attack at Fromelles), occurred in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 between 19 July and 20 July 1916, during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. The action was intended partly as a diversion from the Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme (1916)
The Battle of the Somme , also known as the Somme Offensive, took place during the First World War between 1 July and 14 November 1916 in the Somme department of France, on both banks of the river of the same name...

 that was taking place about 80 kilometres (49.7 mi) to the south.
Encyclopedia
The Battle of Fromelles, sometimes known as the Action at Fromelles or the Battle of Fleurbaix (though the correct title bestowed by the Battlefields Nomenclature Committee in 1922 is the Attack at Fromelles), occurred in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 between 19 July and 20 July 1916, during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. The action was intended partly as a diversion from the Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme (1916)
The Battle of the Somme , also known as the Somme Offensive, took place during the First World War between 1 July and 14 November 1916 in the Somme department of France, on both banks of the river of the same name...

 that was taking place about 80 kilometres (49.7 mi) to the south. The operation, carried out midway between the British-occupied village of Fleurbaix and that of Fromelles
Fromelles
-References:* -External links:*** video report from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission*...

 behind the German lines, sought to retake a salient
Salients, re-entrants and pockets
A salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. The salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant...

 just north of the latter, situated at about 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) from the city of Lille
Lille
Lille is a city in northern France . It is the principal city of the Lille Métropole, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country behind those of Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Lille is situated on the Deûle River, near France's border with Belgium...

.

Fromelles was a combined operation between British troops and the Australian Imperial Force
First Australian Imperial Force
The First Australian Imperial Force was the main expeditionary force of the Australian Army during World War I. It was formed from 15 August 1914, following Britain's declaration of war on Germany. Generally known at the time as the AIF, it is today referred to as the 1st AIF to distinguish from...

 (AIF). It would be the first occasion that the AIF saw action on the Western Front.

After a night and a day of fighting, 1,500 British and 5,533 Australian soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Australian War Memorial
Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial is Australia's national memorial to the members of all its armed forces and supporting organisations who have died or participated in the wars of the Commonwealth of Australia...

 describes the battle as "the worst 24 hours in Australia's entire history."

It was a decisive victory for the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

, and the Australian and British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 losses were sustained without the Allies
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 gaining any ground.

Prelude

The salient, which was contained within all the area's available high ground, pointed north-west and was nicknamed the "sugarloaf
Sugarloaf (mountain)
The name Sugarloaf applies to thousands of raised topographic landforms worldwide: mountains, hills, peaks, summits, buttes, ridges, rock formations, bornhardt, inselberg, etc. Landforms resembling the characteristic conical shape of a sugarloaf were often so named...

" by the Allies due to its distinctive shape. It was held by the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division
6th Bavarian Reserve Division (German Empire)
The 6th Bavarian Reserve Division was a unit of the Royal Bavarian Army, part of the German Army, in World War I. The division was formed on 10 September 1914 and organized over the next month...

. The salient's small size and height allowed the Germans to easily survey and cover no man's land
No man's land
No man's land is a term for land that is unoccupied or is under dispute between parties that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. The term was originally used to define a contested territory or a dumping ground for refuse between fiefdoms...

 on either flank.

The British General Richard Haking
Richard Haking
General Sir Richard Cyril Byrne Haking, GBE, KCB, KCMG was a British general in the First World War. He is remembered chiefly for the high casualties suffered by his forces at the second Battle of Fromelles, although at least one British historian has sought to defend his reputation, regarding...

's battle plan called for infantry to rush past the first line of German trenches in a surprise attack during broad daylight, following an artillery bombardment, and to advance a total of about 400 metres to a secondary line.

The Australian 5th Division, which had only arrived in France a matter of days before the attack would assault the left flank of the salient. The British 61st Division (also known as the 2nd South Midland Division) would attack the right flank.

By the time the attack was ready to be launched, it was too late for it to serve its original purpose as a preliminary diversion to the main action at the Somme. However, Haking was keen to proceed.

Battle

Most elements of the Australian 8th
8th Brigade (Australia)
8th Brigade is an Australian Army Reserve combined-arms formation stationed in New South Wales.The 8th Brigade is one of six brigades of the Australian Army's 2nd Division, and includes units and personnel from all Armoured, Infantry, Artillery, Engineers, Signals, Ordinance , Medical, Nursing,...

 and 14th Brigades
14th Brigade (Australia)
The 14th Brigade was an infantry brigade of the Australian Army. Formed in 1916 as part of the expansion of the 1st AIF it served on the Western Front in France and Flanders during World War I. Between 1916–1918 it consisted of the 53rd, 54th, 55tth and 56th Battalions and was assigned to the 5th...

 quickly gained their objectives. However, upon reaching the supposed secondary line, they instead found a ditch full of rainwater, which provided few means of defending their gains. The 32nd Battalion
32nd Battalion (Australia)
The 32nd Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. It was first raised in 1915 as part of the First Australian Imperial Force and was initially made up of personnel from South Australia and Western Australia...

 (8 Bde), on the extreme eastern flank, suffered high casualties while attacking a German stronghold in the ruins of the Ferme Delangré (Delangré Farm). Some elements of the 14th Brigade reached a main road, 400 metres south of the Allied line, before withdrawing to the ditch.

But on the right flank, the Australian 15th Brigade
15th Brigade (Australia)
The 15th Brigade was an infantry brigade of the Australian Army. Originally raised in 1916 for service during World War I, the brigade took part in the fighting on the Western Front in France and Belgium before being disbanded in 1919. After this it was re-raised as a part-time unit of the Citizens...

 and the British 184th Brigade were cut to pieces while attempting to cross a narrower section of no man's land
No man's land
No man's land is a term for land that is unoccupied or is under dispute between parties that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. The term was originally used to define a contested territory or a dumping ground for refuse between fiefdoms...

, closer to German machine guns. A survivor, W. H. "Jimmy" Downing, later recalled: "[t]he air was thick with bullets, swishing in a flat, crisscrossed lattice of death. Hundreds were mown down in the flicker of an eyelid, like great rows of teeth knocked from a comb."

The unfolding disaster was compounded when the 61st Division asked the 15th Brigade to join a renewed assault at 9pm, but quickly cancelled its attack without informing the Australians. Consequently half of the Australian 58th Battalion
58th Battalion (Australia)
The 58th Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. It was raised in 1916 for overseas service during World War I and saw action on the Western Front from June 1916 until the end of the war...

 made another futile attempt to capture the salient.

The Germans succeeded in driving a wedge between the 14th and 15th Brigades, splitting the Australian forces. Increasingly isolated and out-flanked, the 8th and 14th Brigades were forced to withdraw the following morning. The Germans by this time had set up machine gun enfilades, and the resulting crossfire inflicted devastating casualties on the retreating Australians.

Aftermath

The attack completely failed as a diversion, when its limited nature became obvious to the German defenders. A communiqué released to the press by British GHQ was not favourably received by the Australians. It read: "Yesterday evening, south of Armentières
Armentières
Armentières is a commune in the Nord department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in northern France. It is part of the Urban Community of Lille Métropole, and lies on the Belgian border, northwest of the city of Lille, on the right bank of the river Lys....

, we carried out some important raids on a front of two miles in which Australian troops took part. About 140 German prisoners were captured."

The battle was responsible for one of the greatest losses of Australian lives in one 24-hour period, surpassed only by later World War I actions like the Battle of Bullecourt. The 5,533 casualties were equivalent to the combined total Australian losses in the Boer War
Boer War
The Boer Wars were two wars fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer republics, the Oranje Vrijstaat and the Republiek van Transvaal ....

, Korean War
Military history of Australia during the Korean War
The military history of Australia during the Korean War was very eventful. Japan's defeat in World War II heralded the end to 35 years of Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula...

 and Vietnam War
Military history of Australia during the Vietnam War
Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War began as a small commitment of 30 men in 1962, and increased over the following decade to a peak of 7,672 Australians deployed in South Vietnam or in support of Australian forces there. The Vietnam War was the longest and most controversial war Australia...

. The 5th Division was effectively incapacitated for many months afterwards. Two battalion
Battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

s were effectively destroyed in the battle and had to be rebuilt: out of 887 personnel from the 60th Battalion
60th Battalion (Australia)
The 60th Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. It was raised for service during World War I in 1916 and took part in the fighting on the Western Front for two and a half years. Following the end of the war it was disbanded before being re-raised in 1921 as a part time unit of...

, only one officer and 106 other ranks survived; the 32nd Battalion sustained 718 casualties. The Australian losses and conduct of the high command also significantly damaged relations between the AIF and the British.

It is believed that Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, then a 27-year-old corporal
Corporal
Corporal is a rank in use in some form by most militaries and by some police forces or other uniformed organizations. It is usually equivalent to NATO Rank Code OR-4....

 and a message runner in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, took part in the battle. Hitler served on the Aubers-Fromelles sector from March 1915 until September 1916.

Mass graves and new cemetery

The bodies of Allied soldiers killed in the area re-taken by the Germans were buried in mass graves shortly after the battle. They were transported to sites behind German lines and buried in pits. Most of these pits were discovered by official post-war burial campaigns during the 1920s, which resulted in their re-interral in Imperial War Graves Commission
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is an intergovernmental organisation of six independent member states whose principal function is to mark, record and maintain the graves, and places of commemoration, of Commonwealth of Nations military service members who died in the two World Wars...

 (later known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; CWGC) cemeteries. The V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial
V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial
The V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial is a World War I memorial located in the commune of Fromelles, in the Nord departement of France, about 2 kilometres northwest of the village of Fromelles on the D22C road .-Battle of Fromelles:The Battle of Fromelles in July 1916 is...

, two kilometres northwest of Fromelles, where 400 unidentified AIF personnel killed in the battle are buried, is one such cemetery; it is the only large-scale, entirely Australian cemetery in France. The remains of those who fell in no man's land lay there until after the Armistice more than two years later. By that time largely unidentifiable, they were collected and buried in the V.C. Corner British cemetery

Towards the end of the twentieth century speculation arose regarding the existence of an unmarked and forgotten mass grave
Mass grave
A mass grave is a grave containing multiple number of human corpses, which may or may not be identified prior to burial. There is no strict definition of the minimum number of bodies required to constitute a mass grave, although the United Nations defines a mass grave as a burial site which...

 near Fromelles, containing the remains of Allied soldiers killed during the battle and subsequently buried by the Germans.

Research by an Australian amateur historian, Lambis Englezos, identified a site at 50°36′36.36"N 2°51′17.10"E, in a field at the edge of a small wood on the outskirts of Fromelles ("le bois au fond du village", called by the Germans "Fasanenwäldchen", this latter translated after the war by Bean accurately as "Pheasant Copse" and recently less so by the CWGC as "Pheasant Wood"; it has no particular local name). Bodies were transported there by German soldiers on a narrow gauge trench railway
Trench railways
Trench Railways represented military adaptation of early 20th century railway technology to the problem of keeping soldiers supplied during the static trench warfare phase of World War I...

 on July 22, 1916, before being buried in eight pits measuring approximately 10 metres long, 2.2 metres wide and five metres deep. Englezos believed that these grave pits had not been discovered during the official post-war burial campaigns.

In 2007, a non-invasive geophysical survey
Archaeological geophysics
Geophysical survey in archaeology most often refers to ground-based physical sensing techniques used for archaeological imaging or mapping. Remote sensing and marine surveys are also used in archaeology, but are generally considered separate disciplines...

, commissioned by the Australian government, was conducted by Glasgow University
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...

 Archaeological Research Department (GUARD). The survey gave readings consistent with pits containing the remains of hundreds of soldiers. A subsequent metal detector
Metal detector
A metal detector is a device which responds to metal that may not be readily apparent.The simplest form of a metal detector consists of an oscillator producing an alternating current that passes through a coil producing an alternating magnetic field...

 survey led to the discovery of Australian Army artefacts at the site.

On May 25, 2008, Australian defence personnel minister Warren Snowdon
Warren Snowdon
Warren Edward Snowdon is an Australian politician. He is an Australian Labor Party member of the Australian House of Representatives. He represented the Division of Northern Territory from July 1987 to March 1996, and from October 1998 to November 2001.Since November 2001 he has represented the...

 said there was no doubt that bodies of Australian soldiers were buried there. That same day, an archaeological team from GUARD began an exploratory dig at the site. The first conclusive evidence of human remains was discovered on May 29. Six burial pits were excavated and human skeletal remains were found in five of them. Only 20% of the area of the pits was exposed, to minimise disturbance of the remains. Numerous small artefacts, such as uniform badges and buttons, were recovered, confirming that the bodies were Australian and British. It was estimated that several hundred soldiers had been buried at the site. First World War historian Peter Barton
Peter Barton (historian)
Peter Arthur Barton is a First World War historian and author. His body of research includes finding hundreds of previously unseen panoramas, mass graves of soldiers and tunnel excavations. Mr...

 and military archaeologist Dr Tony Pollard
Tony Pollard
Tony Pollard is an archaeologist specialising in the archaeology of conflict. He is Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at Glasgow University...

 have described the importance of the find and how the excavation work will be done in video footage of excavation.

It was announced on July 31, 2008 that all human remains would be exhumed from the mass burial pits and re-buried with full military honours in individual plots at a new war cemetery, situated as close as possible to where the soldiers were found. Exhumation and re-interment will be carried out under the auspices of the CWGC
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is an intergovernmental organisation of six independent member states whose principal function is to mark, record and maintain the graves, and places of commemoration, of Commonwealth of Nations military service members who died in the two World Wars...

.
In April 2009 it was announced that DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 samples would be taken from the remains to increase the chances of identification. The original burial location was unsuitable for a permanent cemetery because of regular flooding, and difficulty of access for visitors. The site for the new permanent CWGC cemetery was selected in late 2008 and is located approximately 120 metres from where the bodies were found. It will be very similar in appearance to other CWGC war cemeteries in France and will be built to the same standard.

Exhumation of bodies at the Bois Faisan site began in May 2009 and ended on 14 September, at which point the skeletal remains of 250 allied soldiers had been recovered, of whom 203 were subsequently identified as Australian. However, scientists at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) raised concerns that the timescales were too short to allow a satisfactory analysis of the degraded DNA samples, and that the number of identifications would be less than otherwise possible. During early phases of the excavation, there was criticism in the Australian press regarding Oxford Archaeology
Oxford Archaeology
Oxford Archaeology is one of the largest non-governmental archaeological organisations in Europe....

 which led the excavation. A Belgian World War I archaeology expert who was seconded to the Fromelles project called their methods a "nightmare", and there were concerns expressed that work on protecting the site had not been undertaken, or had been undertaken only after damage had already been done. These reported concerns were rebutted.

Some people who visited the site were happy with the work. The UK minister said he was "grateful" to Oxford Archaeology, and his Australian counterpart thanked them.

Lambis Englezos spent a significant amount of time in Fromelles with Tony Pollard. Oxford Archaeology initially refused him access to the site, but after it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, they relented. Once he was allowed to become involved again, he provided assistance, particularly in briefing members of the project team on details of the battle and guiding them around its key sites. On June 7, 2009 Lambis was honoured by the Australian government, when he was made a Member of the Order of Australia
Order of Australia
The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry established on 14 February 1975 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, "for the purpose of according recognition to Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or for meritorious service"...

 (AM), in the General Division. His citation read: "For service to the community through research and advocacy roles relating to Australian soldiers of the Great War buried in Fromelles, France".

By the end of January 2010, about 70% of the work on the new cemetery (Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery
Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery
Fromelles Military Cemetery is a First World War cemetery built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the outskirts of Fromelles in northern France, near the Belgian border. Constructed between 2009 and 2010, it was the first new Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery for more than 50...

) had been completed. On 30 January 2010, the first body was re-interred with full military honours. All remaining bodies are to be re-interred in individual burial ceremonies during February 2010 by members of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (Britain) and the Australian Army.

On March 16, 2010 it was reported that the first 75 lost Australian soldiers at Fromelles were positively identified using DNA.

Memorials and museum

There are several memorials in the Fromelles area commemorating the battle. The V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial
V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial
The V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial is a World War I memorial located in the commune of Fromelles, in the Nord departement of France, about 2 kilometres northwest of the village of Fromelles on the D22C road .-Battle of Fromelles:The Battle of Fromelles in July 1916 is...

 was constructed and unveiled in the early 1920s, the Australian Memorial Park was unveiled in 1998, and the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery
Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery
Fromelles Military Cemetery is a First World War cemetery built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the outskirts of Fromelles in northern France, near the Belgian border. Constructed between 2009 and 2010, it was the first new Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery for more than 50...

was established and opened in 2010. There are also several small cemeteries in the area that include burials from the Battle of Fromelles. In Fromelles itself, on the second floor of the town hall, there is a museum (Fromelles Weppes Terre de Mémoire), run by the local Association pour le Souvenir de la Bataille de Fromelles (ASBF).

On July 19, 2010, the anniversary of the battle, the burial of the last soldier, identity unknown, occurred with full military honors. The cemetery was then dedicated in the presence of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Kent, Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce, and a minister, a priest and a rabbi. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission hosted from afar relatives of the fallen, having letters from their loved ones, which they read aloud. Many of the letters showed clearly a prescience of death. The ceremony was broadcast live in part by the BBC America television channel and by other media.

Gallery

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