The Battle of Fromelles was a World War I battle fought between the German Army and the Australian Imperial Force, from July 19 to July 20, 1916, during the Somme Offensive in France. Because of the intensity and fierceness of this armed confrontation, the Battle of Fromelles is considered to be the worst 24 hours in the Australian Army’s history. It was also the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front. Nevertheless, it was a decisive victory for Germany, as the Allies did not gain any ground despite the great losses sustained by the Australians and the British. The attack just north of the German-occupied village of Fromelles, 10 miles from the city of Lille, was intended partly as a diversion to a larger battle, and also at taking a German salient.

The German 6th Bavarian Reserve Division held a salient that pointed north-west. It was called the “Sugar Loaf” by the Allies, because of its distinctive shape. It provided a vantage point to the occupiers as it allowed them to survey and cover the stretches of no man’s land on either flank. Devised by the British General Richard Haking, the battle plan called for infantry to rush past the first line of German trenches in a surprise assault in broad daylight, following an artillery bombardment, and to advance a total of about 400 metres to a secondary line. But the seven-hour preparatory bombardment deprived the attack of any surprise, and ultimately proved ineffective in subduing the well-entrenched defenders.

The troops of the 5th Australian and 61st British Divisions attacked at 6 pm on July 19, 1916. But they suffered heavily at the hands of German machine-gunners. Small parts of the German trenches were captured by the 8th and 14th Australian Brigades, but, devoid of flanking support and subjected to fierce counter-attacks, they were forced to withdraw. By 8 am on July 20, 1916, the Battle of Fromelles was over. The 5th Australian Division suffered 5,533 casualties, rendering it incapable of offensive action for many months. The 61st British Division suffered 1,547. The German casualties were no more than 1,000. The attack was a complete failure as the Germans realized within a few hours that it was merely a feint. So, it had no impact whatsoever upon the progress of the Somme offensive.

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