8 August – 3 September 1916
‘Mouquet Farm’ is the name given to a series of Australian attacks northwards along the Pozières Heights between 8 August and 3 September 1916. They followed on from the seizure of Pozières and the German lines at the windmill east of the village, in late July and early August. These operations all formed part of the British offensive east of Albert which began on 1 July 1916 and lasted until early November of that year. Collectively, they are known as the Battle of the Somme.
Mouquet Farm itself was a heavily defended German position half-way between Pozières and the German strongholds around Thiepval village. The British had thought that the positions around Thiepval would fall on the first day of the Somme offensive (1 July), but they had not. The objective of that unsuccesful first-day attack had been Bapaume. By mid-August the British still believed it was necessary to neutralise the German positions around Thiepval so that they could make eastward progress towards Bapaume. But in order to attack Thiepval, it was thought that Mouquet Farm would first have to be taken.
On the night of 6–7 August 1916 the Fourth Division took up positions on the Pozières Heights. At dusk on 8 August, behind a creeping barrage, the Australians attacked northwards towards Thiepval. But they made little progress. On the next night they seized their first objective and on 11 August two strong German counter-attacks were repelled.
During these attacks German artillery bombardments were intense. Moreover, as the Australians were advancing into an ever-narrowing bulge or ‘salient’ into the enemy line the Germans were able to shell them from three directions. All movement towards the front was observed by the enemy and the whole area was a sea of shell-craters which turned into a bog when rain fell. The shelling made it difficult to recognise landmarks. What Charles Bean, Australia’s official historian, had written of Pozières in July 1916 was equally applicable to the landscape around Mouquet Farm – ‘There is no undamaged surface here.’
By 13 August 1916, the Australians were close to Mouquet Farm and they attacked it that night. A quarry near the farm was captured and a company under Captain Harry Murray, 13th Battalion (New South Wales) seized part of the German ‘Fabeck trench’ north-east of the farm. But Murray and his men were outflanked by the Germans and had to fight their way back to safety.
- More information
- Australians at War article on Mouquet Farm
The Fourth Division was now exhausted. In ten days of continuous action the division had suffered 4649 casualties, many from German shelling. It was now relieved by the First Division. This division, attacking with comparatively light forces, made only slight gains and by 22 August had suffered 2650 casualties. By now large attacks were being made to seize small sections of trench which were defended by the Germans with equal intensity. The Second Division now took up the task and, on 26 August, reached Mouquet Farm. They discovered that it was held by the elite German Guard Reserve Corps, in deep shelters. The Second were unable to hold their gains.
The Fourth Division was thrown in again and attacked on the nights of 27 August, 29 August and 3 September, pushing towards Mouquet Farm. The farm, however, resisted capture and was still in enemy hands when the Australians were relieved on 5 September. Ten days later, on 15 September, in a major offensive on a wide front, with tanks being used for the first time, the British were moderately successful in advancing east of Pozières. But Mouquet Farm still held out and did not fall until 26 September 1916.
In less than seven weeks in the fighting at Pozières and Mouquet Farm three Australian divisions suffered 23,000 casualties. Of these, 6800 men were killed or died of wounds. It was a loss comparable with the casualties sustained by the Australians over eight months at Gallipoli in 1915. About this period in the war Australia’s official historian found little positive to say:
Haig [the British commander in chief] was certainly wearing down his enemy; but he did not realise that he was even more quickly wearing down the members … of his own army … the attempt to drive further the wedge behind Thiepval, was a grave mistake … it achieved no useful result and embittered the troops.
Charles Bean, Anzac to Amiens, Canberra, 1948, p.265
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - December 2010