27th Mar 1918: ‘No retirement’ order as AIF engage German patrols

At day break the Australians of the 4th Brigade, now detached and under temporary command of the British 62nd Division, found themselves looking out over the old Somme battlefield, in many places utilising the remnants of the old 1916 support trenches along with their now rusting wire entanglements. Shortly after noon wave after wave of advancing Germans came on in a direction that would take them to the south of Hebuterne and the village of Sailly-au-Bois but the attack was broken by the 15th and 13th Battalions of the 4th Brigade pouring fire into their flank. At 4pm another column of some 150 men were seen advancing but were soon scattered by the joint efforts of the British artillery and the machine-guns of the 4th Company firing at almost a mile’s range. During the day the order came through to the 4th Brigade and all ranks that ‘no retirement’ from the present position was permissible.

To the south, by 2.30pm two battalions of the 12th Brigade lay across the eastern end of the summit of the Lavieville Down astride the Albert-Amiens Road, followed shortly by the 13th Brigade to their rear. In the confused state, troops of the 47th & 48th Battalion moving down the slope were both shelled by the Germans and attacked by British planes that had been told that any soldiers to the east of Lavieville were certain to be Germans. They took up positions along the western side of the railway. The divisional artillery had during the day reached the area of Acheux-Lealvillers-Varennes with orders to cover the front between Albert and Dernancourt.

Sailly E04661Meanwhile arriving in convoys of London buses the 38th, 37th, 43rd & 42nd Battalions of Monash’s 10th & 11th Brigades, now the right flank of the British Third Army, took up positions between the Ancre and the Somme in the now overgrown old French trenches, without wire, taking over their occupation from small parties, remnants of British battalions that had been over-run and had retreated as the offensive rolled on. Also in the vicinity of this green, farming land devoid of mud and shell holes were patrols of British cavalry that were in contact with the enemy, which by now had taken the village of Morlancourt. As the retreating rear-guard British soldiers of mixed units melted through the AIF 3rd Division, the newest of the Australian divisions for the first time on the Somme came into contact with the German skirmishers and numerous patrols pushing forward, and were met by well-directed rifle and Lewis gun fire causing heavy losses. Towards nightfall the attempts to continue his advance died away and as events unfolded this marked the furthest that the Germans went during this part of the offensive. To their north, the AIF 4th Division had had a similar effect on halting the German advance opposite Albert and Dernancourt.

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