First battle of Villers-Bretonneux I, 30 March-5 April 1918

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The first battle of Villers-Bretonneux, 30 March-5 April 1918, was part of the wider second battle of the Somme, and is the name allocated to the fighting in front of Amiens. Villers-Bretonneux is ten miles east of Amiens. Possession of the town would have given the Germans a position from where they could have bombarded Amiens.

The German advance towards Amiens began on 30-31 March, and pushed the British line back towards Villers-Bretonneux, making particular progress to the south of the railway that linked Amiens and Villers-Bretonneux. A three day lull followed, while the Germans prepared for their next attack.

Part of that attack fell on the centre and left of the French First Army (Debeney), which had taken over part of the line south of Villers-Bretonneux. Part of the French line fell back, but a counterattack regained much of the lost ground.

The British XIX corps still held the line east of Villers-Bretonneux. From north to south the line was held by 14th Division, 35th Australian Battalion and 18th Division. On the morning of 4 April the 14th Division fell back under attack from the German 228th Division, but the Australians held off the 9th Bavarian Reserve Division and the 18th Division held off the Guards Ersatz Division and 19th Divisions. That afternoon they were forced to pull back by the retreat of the 14th Division. An attack that afternoon pushed the 18th Division even further back.

The Germans were now within 440 yards of Villers-Bretonneux and there was a real chance that the town might fall. The situation was saved by a counterattack led by Colonel J Milne’s 36th Australian Battalion. At the head of a force of just over 1,000 men, the Australians forced two German divisions to retreat away from Villers-Bretonneux.

The attack on Villers-Bretonneux was the last significant German attack of the entire second battle of the Somme. Orders were issued for a renewed attack to the north and south of the town on 5 April, but the attack never really got going. Ludendorff was forced to admit that his armies could no longer overcome Allied resistance on the Somme and the entire offensive was brought to a halt.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 August 2007), First battle of Villers-Bretonneux I, 30 March-5 April 1918 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_villers_bretonneuxI.html

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