Centenary of the Battle of Lihons
Following the crushing defeat inflicted on the German Army during Battle of Amiens, the Australian Corps Commander, Lieutenant General John Monash was keen to press the advantage. He later said in his book, The Australian Victories in France in 1918:
“It was no part of our programme to rest content upon our oars, and allow the enemy time to collect himself at leisure. The resources of the Australian Corps had suffered scarcely any impairment as the result of that glorious day. Such small losses as had been incurred were more than counter-balanced by the elation of these volunteer troops at this further demonstration of their moral and physical superiority over the professional soldiers of a militarist enemy nation.”
Australian and Canadian troops were tasked with advancing to the East to capture the village of Chaulnes via the village of Lihons, where a strategically important hill was heavily defended by the Germans.
The advancing Australians of Brigadier Harold ‘ Pompey’ Elliot’s 15th Brigade were immediately met with intense machine-gun fire at the commencement of their assault on 9 August 1918. The Australians captured the villages of Vauvillers and Framerville along with hundreds of German prisoners and by the end of the day had reached the foot of the hill west of Lihons. The troops were confronted with bombing from German planes and gunners from the hill, which destroyed all but a few of the Allied tanks.
After fighting their way further up the hill against stiff resistance on 10 August, Monash paused the attack overnight, before attacking at dawn on 11 August with the assistance of a morning fog. The Australian and Canadian forces took the hill and following a stubborn German defence of the village of Lihons involving attacks with gas and tanks the village was in Allied control on 11 August 1918.
The cost of the Battle of Lihons was high. Australian casualties were in excess of 1,880 men. Official Historian, Charles Bean was critical of the attack saying the manner in which “brigadiers and battalion commanders [were] rushed into half-known situations in newly captured territory …furnish a classic example of how not to follow up a great attack”.
After the war Sir John Monash described the Battle of Lihons in the following manner:
“It was a great feat to the credit of the First Australian Division, and ranks among its best performances during the war. Some 20 field-guns and hundreds of machine-guns were captured. Such a battle, with such results, would, in 1917, have been placarded as a victory of the first magnitude. Now, with the new standards set up by the great battle of August 8th, it was reckoned merely as a local skirmish.”
Private Robert Beatham of the 8th Battalion was awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave actions in the Battle of Lihons. Private Beatham and Lance-Corporal William George Nottingham DCM MM fought the crews of four German machine guns and killed 10 of them and captured 10 others, allowing the advance of the whole battalion and preventing further casualties. Despite being shot through the leg during the engagement with the crew of the first gun, Private Beatham continued on to rush another machine-gun, bombed and silenced it, but was riddled with bullets. His award of the Victoria Cross was posthumous. The citation praised his ‘most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice’ which had ‘inspired all ranks in a wonderful manner’. Private Beatham is buried at Heath cemetery, Harbonnières.
Seven brothers from the Beatham family served in World War One. Four of the brothers died and one spent two years as a prisoner of war.
Australian losses in the battle were higher than on the first day of the Battle of Amiens, but ultimately the Germans were pushed further east and despite stiff resistance had been dealt a further defeat by the Australian and Canadian troops.
http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302421h.html (The Australian Victories in France in 1918, Sir John Monash)
Valour &Violets – South Australia in the Great War, Wakefield Press, pages 326-327
The Western Front Diaries – The Anzacs’ Own Story Battle by Battle, Scribe Publications, pages 389-396