An unknown intervention -The English tanks in the battle of Bullecourt

An unknown intervention

The English tanks in the battle of Bullecourt

April 11 and May 3 1917


Text, documentation and archive : Coilliot-Durant-Letaille

 Official historic Australia in War - Vol. IV 



History :
The first tank attack took place on the15th of september 1916 during the battle of the Somme, where 32 tanks (Of 50 planned) appeared for the first time. They belonged to companies "C" and "D" from "D" battalion of HBMGC (Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps). Sent unprepared, the heavy armored vehicles of 30 tons and advancing slowly at a speed of 5 Km/hr, However, could make some achievements in suffering heavy losses to penetrate the ennemy positions between Flers and Martinpuich (1).
We also saw tanks in the battle of Arras, which began the 9th of April 1917. At this time, 8  MKI and MKII tanks  took part in advance of the Canadians and 52 in the sector held by the british forces. In spite and of serious efforts  significant losses, they could only bring a small help to infantry advancing trench after trench in the middle of firing machine guns and heavy guns.
April 11, 11 tanks were involved with 2 Australian brigades between Riencourt and Bullecourt where their success was far from conclusive (2).
On April 23; there is another commitment of 8 tanks between Cojeul and North of the river Sensée.

Bullecourt002bis.jpg (1) We still saw tanks the 25th September 1916 in front of Gueudecourt where they destroyed a  lot of enemy positions on October 1 at Flers and November 13 in front of Beaucourt sur Ancre.
(2) In November 1917, nearly 400 tanks supported by 6 infantry divisions were engaged before Cambrai, again, success more important and a major advance noticed, the battle quickly got out breath again and the  losses of the British Tank Corps were large. The tanks were last used in our area in 1918 for fighting at Villers Bretonneux (Somme).

The attack on April 11, 1917.

If the Anglo-Canadians were engaged on a front stretching from the north of Vimy to Croisilles, Australians were progressing from Bapaume towards Cambrai. On the 20th March, many villages fell into their hands and on April 2 they took 6 other villages not far from Hindenburg line. After this success , the military staffs decided that the 4th Australian Division would attack April 11 at its eastern front between Bullecourt and Riencourt.
The 12th and 4th Infantry Brigades of the division spread over the plain (which includes the chemin Maret, Diagonal Road, and "6 cross roads" which was the junction of 6 roads located between Bullecourt and Riencourt).
After waiting the arrival of tanks (3), the infantry attacked on a white plain covered with snow, it was not the expected success , the Australians suffered terrible losses and this lasted until early May. From the 3rd to the 15th May, a second battle was fought between Bullecourt and Fontaine les Croisilles. 3 Australian and 2 British divisions were involved in the battle and suffered another massacre of lives.

If you cross these villages, please have a thought for all those men who have suffered, have fallen and some are still buried in our soil.


(3) March 1917, 4 battalions of tanks have been created in France: "A", "B", "C", "D". Each was composed of 12 armoured vehicles weighing 30 tons and moving at 5 Km/hr. The crews of "D" squadron has received tanks on the 1st April when they arrive at Achiet le Grand railway station. On April 10, 11 had arrived safely at 3 miles of Ecoust Saint Mein and were ready to take action to 4 h 45. The 12th, failed at Behagnies and could not fight.