The Battle of Pozieres was a World War I Allied assault on the German-infested French village of Pozieres and the ridge on which it stood. It was part of the longer and larger Battle of the Somme of 1916. Although British divisions were in action during most phases of the fighting, Pozieres was essentially an Australian battle. The Battle of Pozieres was fought from July 23 to August 5, 1916, and ended with the British forces in possession of the plateau north and east of the village. However, the cost had been enormous for the Australians who had suffered around 19,000 casualties.
The village of Pozieres lay on the Albert-Bapaume road, atop a ridge in the center, facing the British sector of the Somme battlefield. Close by the village is the highest point on the battlefield and it was a first rate observation post over the surrounding countryside. So, Pozieres was key to the German defences as the fortified village formed an outpost to their second defensive trench system. The British Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Douglas Haig, planned to maintain the pressure and take Pozieres by a steady, methodical, step-by-step advance.
The main British attacks would be carried out by the Fourth Army and were aimed to the south of Pozieres, with responsibility for taking the village itself being given to the British III Corps of Fourth Army. The 1st Australian Division was ordered to attack the village itself. The first assault by the Australians was launched at 12.30 am on Sunday July 23, mounted in 3 stages. The first, to capture the German Pozieres Trench, was up the slope south of the village. Once the Trench was captured, the attackers moved on to the back hedges on the southern outskirts of Pozieres and the third stage involved capturing the whole south-east of the village up to the line of the Old Roman Road. The Australians were joined to the north-west of Pozieres village by the British 17th Warwickshire Regiment.
The Australian 1st division achieved all its objectives by about 5.30 am on July 24 and then successfully cleared the Germans from the rest of the village. Unfortunately, the attacking formations on either side had not kept pace and the Australians now found themselves dangerously exposed and subject to counter-attacks from the front and either flank. Then, for the next four days the division beat off repeated determined German counter-attacks and was subject to the heaviest and most concentrated shelling of the war. Despite this, the 1st Division held on and was relieved by the 2nd Australian Division on July 27.
On July 29, the 2nd Division attempted to capture the German defences north of the village, known as the ‘Old German (OG) Lines’. But it failed with heavy losses, for preparations had been poor, in particular to construct ‘jumping off’ trenches close to the enemy lines, leaving the assaulting infantry exposed to artillery and machine gun fire for too long. The second attempt, on August 4, was much better planned and executed. On a gory day of fierce fighting, the Australians captured a Windmill that stood on an artillery-torn hummock on August 5, 1916, enabling them to overlook the German defensive positions. Casualties were so great however, that the Australian 2nd Division had to be relieved by the Australian 4th Division on August 6. This relief occurred during a period of prolonged fierce German counter attacks, but the line, now including all of Pozieres and the high ground around it, was held.
Map of Battle of Pozieres