Battle of Amiens

Battle of Amiens

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On August 8, 1918, the Allies launch a series of offensive operations against German positions on the Western Front during World War I with a punishing attack at Amiens, on the Somme River in northwestern France.

After heavy casualties incurred during their ambitious spring 1918 offensive, the bulk of the German army was exhausted, and its morale was rapidly disintegrating amid a lack of supplies and the spreading influenza epidemic. Some of its commanders believed that the tide was turning irrevocably in favor of Germany’s enemies; as one of them, Crown Prince Rupprecht, wrote on July 20, “We stand at the turning point of the war: what I expected first for the autumn, the necessity to go over to the defensive, is already on us, and in addition all the gains which we made in the spring—such as they were—have been lost again.” Still, Erich Ludendorff, the German commander in chief, refused to accept this reality and rejected the advice of his senior commanders to pull back or begin negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Allies prepared for the war to stretch into 1919, not realizing victory was possible so soon. Thus, at a conference of national army commanders on July 24, Allied generalissimo Ferdinand Foch rejected the idea of a single decisive blow against the Germans, favoring instead a series of limited attacks in quick succession aimed at liberating the vital railway lines around Paris and diverting the attention and resources of the enemy rapidly from one spot to another. According to Foch: “These movements should be exacted with such rapidity as to inflict upon the enemy a succession of blows….These actions must succeed each other at brief intervals, so as to embarrass the enemy in the utilization of his reserves and not allow him sufficient time to fill up his units.” The national commanders—John J. Pershing of the United States, Philippe Petain of France and Sir Douglas Haig of Britain—willingly went along with this strategy, which effectively allowed each army to act as its own entity, striking smaller individual blows to the Germans instead of joining together in one massive coordinated attack.

READ MORE: World War I Battles: Timeline

Haig’s part of the plan called for a limited offensive at Amiens, on the Somme River, aimed at counteracting a German victory there the previous March and capturing the Amiens railway line stretching between Mericourt and Hangest. The British attack, begun on the morning August 8, 1918, was led by the British 4th Army under the command of Sir Henry Rawlinson. The German defensive positions at Amiens were guarded by 20,000 men; they were outnumbered six to one by advancing Allied forces. The British—well assisted by Australian and Canadian divisions—employed some 400 tanks in the attack, along with over 2,000 artillery pieces and 800 aircraft.

By the end of August 8—dubbed “the black day of the German army” by Ludendorff—the Allies had penetrated German lines around the Somme with a gap some 15 miles long. Of the 27, 000 German casualties on August 8, an unprecedented proportion—12,000—had surrendered to the enemy. Though the Allies at Amiens failed to continue their impressive success in the days following August 8, the damage had been done. “We have reached the limits of our capacity,” Kaiser Wilhelm II told Ludendorff on that “black day.” “The war must be ended.” The kaiser agreed, however, that this end could not come until Germany was again making progress on the battlefield, so that there would be at least some bargaining room. Even faced with the momentum of the Allied summer offensive—later known as the Hundred Days Offensive—the front lines of the German army continued to fight on into the final months of the war, despite being plagued by disorder and desertion within its troops and rebellion on the home front.

The importance of the battle of Amiens

You say the battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918 “brought the war out of the trenches” (William and PM to attend Battle of Amiens centenary, 7 August). That’s not the case. While Amiens started the 100 Days offensives that won the war, trench warfare wasn’t replaced by mobile warfare until after the Hindenburg line was breached at the end of September. Elaborate deception allowed the whole Canadian Corps to secretly join the whole Australian Corps for the battle, along with British III Corps, the Cavalry Corps and three divisions in reserve. The BEF was now the best army on the western front and dominion troops were by now the BEF’s best soldiers. So it’s no surprise that when the whole weight of the Australians and Canadians were thrown against the Germans at Amiens that Ludendorff described it as “the black day of the German Army”.
Rory Newman
Margate, Kent

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The Battle of Amiens

General Ludendorff described 8 August as ‘the black day of the German Army’. Many British Historians consider it the final turning point in the First World War.

To say that the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, and Field Marshal Haig did not get on well is an understatement. They were different in terms of personality, style and especially in their perspective on how the war was being conducted. Haig thought that the army was being deliberately starved of much-needed manpower resources. Lloyd George thought that Haig ‘squandered’ those men and materiel he already had. Haig was convinced that the war could only be won on the Western Front Lloyd George thought otherwise.

Despite their differences and mutual dislike, the Prime Minister was unable to dismiss Haig. There were few men who could realistically take over from him. Such a high level replacement would be perceived at home and by the allies as a lack of confidence in the military leadership, and crucially could affect army morale. Had he attempted it, Lloyd George would have also faced problems with the War Cabinet – part of the agreement between the liberals and the conservatives in the coalition government was that there would be no change in command of the war. But the high human costs of the Battles of the Somme and of Third Ypres – Passchendaele - meant that Haig’s position was not completely safe.

The Allies agreed that lack of coordination was hindering the war effort. So in February 1917 Lloyd George placed Haig under the command of the French commander-in-chief, Robert Nivelle. In part, the aim was also for certain elements of the British government to take over control of the war from the military. Haig soon made his displeasure known to the King. In May that year Nivelle was sacked and replaced by Philippe Pétain. In March 1918 Petain was replaced by Ferdinand Foch, who was then named Generalisssimo of the Allied Forces and given responsibility for coordinating the whole allied war effort on the Western Front. In their diaries, both Lloyd George and Haig claim to have made the suggestion that Foch should take charge, although the credibility of both documents has been questioned.[i]

The cooperation of the allied forces on the western front, 1914-1918 (Q 7180) Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, and Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the C-in-C of the British Army, after the inspection of the Guard of Honour of the C Company, 6th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders at Iwuy, 15 November 1918. Copyright: © IWM.

The last German offensive ended in mid-July 1918 and from 15 July to 6 August the allies counter-attacked, resulting in the Second Battle of the Marne. Many French historians regard this battle as the turning point in the war. For Germany, it came at the same time as a burgeoning domestic crisis, exacerbated by the British naval blockade preventing imports to Germany. The influenza pandemic that would ultimately be responsible for more deaths than the war, further weakened the German forces and civilian population. For the Central Powers, there was no hope of a powerful, previously uncommitted ally joining their side with fresh supplies of men and materiel equivalent to the United States joining the Entente powers. The last country to join the Central Powers was Bulgaria in 1915.

General Sir Henry Rawlinson had suggested the vicinity of Amiens as the area from which a British attack should be launched when Foch was considering future plans in the spring of 1918. The strategic importance of Amiens was the railway, which ran from Paris to northern France the terrain was also better suited for an attack than the areas proposed by Foch, which waterlogged easily.

The allied offensive at Amiens began on 8 August 1918. It was an international effort of British and French forces with a single American division, and spearheaded by Australian and Canadian troops. The expensive lessons of the Somme and Passchendaele came together: proper maintenance of the element of surprise integration of air power, cavalry, infantry and tanks and moving men in single file rather than extended lines that could be more easily targeted. Most importantly, when the strong initial momentum of the attack started to falter on 11 August, the offensive shifted to other parts of the line.

Pile of captured German MG08/15 machine guns and gun carriages discarded after capture during the Battle of Amiens, 8 August 1918. AWM P01546.004

The Germans were pushed back at points nine miles along a ten mile front. There were heavy German casualties and many prisoners were taken as whole units surrendered. The battle was an allied success. This boosted allied morale and further destroyed that of the German army. In 1918, the British military and government had predicted that the war would last until at least 1919. However, despite its success, Lloyd George argued that Haig had not pressed the attack at Amiens. The relationship between the two men did not improve with the victory that followed.

A British Mark V tank (B56, 9003) of the 2 Battalion, Tank Corps crossing the ditch at the side of a road at Lamotte-en-Santerre, 8 August 1918. Copyright: © IWM.

Amiens 1918

Amiens marks a true turning point on the Western Front. On 8 August 1918 the Australian and Canadian Corps of Fourth Army attacked German positions east of the city. To the north, British III Corps acted as a flank-guard, while a French Corps served a similar function to the south. The attack was planned as an essentially limited operation, a larger scale version of Hamel (although Haig had pushed for more distant objectives during the planning stage), and it achieved complete surprise. The attackers advanced up to eight miles, the longest single advance achieved on the Western Front in one day. Fourth Army’s casualties amounted to 9,000 – heavy enough in terms of human misery but amazingly light given the magnitude of the military achievement. The Germans lost about 27,000 men (including 12,000 prisoners) and 450 guns. Impressive as these statistics are, they do not tell the whole story. Amiens was truly a watershed battle.

The first clue to the decisiveness of the battle lies in the number and nature of the German losses. These losses were particularly significant because the loss of substantial numbers of prisoners and, especially, guns is usually the mark of a major defeat. This need not have been immediately terminal for the Germans – it had not proved so for the British on 21 March 1918 – except for one fact. Amiens not only struck a crushing blow against the troops of German Second and Eighteenth Armies: it had a similar impact on the morale of Erich Ludendorff. Shortly after the war, Ludendorff wrote that ‘August 8th was the black day of the German army in the history of the war. This was the worst experience I had to go through … August 8th made things clear for both army Commands, both for the German and for that of the enemy.’

‘Having gambled recklessly and often ineptly with the fortunes of the German empire for two years’, Ludendorff decided that ‘it was suddenly time to leave the game’. Ludendorff had clearly suffered an enormous psychological shock, perhaps even a nervous breakdown. He offered his resignation to the Kaiser, who rejected it, while agreeing with Ludendorff that ‘the war must be terminated’. Ludendorff’s collapse contrasts sharply with the ample mental reserves on which Haig and Foch were able to draw at the darkest moments of the German spring offensives. Although pessimism ebbed and flowed in German High Command for the remainder of the war, at best they believed that they could hold out for some sort of compromise peace. They recognised that an outright, crushing victory over the Allies was no longer a realistic possibility. Millennia ago, the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu emphasised the importance of deception and psychological warfare in achieving victory. By judiciously combining this approach with a thoroughly Clausewitzian belief in applying overwhelming combat power, in August 1918 Haig achieved what for early twenty-first-century military leaders has become the glittering prize: psychological dominance over the enemy commander.

How sophisticated the BEF had become by the middle of 1918 is shown by the odyssey of the Canadian Corps. At this time it was the strongest and freshest formation in the BEF. Based around Arras, its sudden appearance on the Amiens front would be a clear indication to the Germans that a major offensive was about to take place. As a result, an elaborate security and deception plan was put into operation, which included two Canadian battalions being left in the north to simulate the presence of the entire Corps by the use of false radio traffic. Immediately prior to the battle, aircraft flying up and down the front masked the noise of tanks moving up to the start line. By such means, and the advances in artillery techniques first demonstrated at Cambrai, an element of surprise was achieved. The Australian 57th Battalion was certainly taken in. ‘A few officers and NCOs went to the front line to view the ground,’ reported an Australian infantryman. ‘The returned round-eyed with wonder. The woods on the right were full of Canadians. Canadians? We thought they were at Arras’. More importantly, a map prepared for Crown Prince Rupprecht’s Army Group, dated 8 a.m. on 8 August, shows that Germans also believed that the Canadian Corps were still concentrated around Arras. Surprise was complete.

This had several important consequences. The German positions about to be attacked were weak, held by understrength divisions of no more than about 4,000 infantry, about 37,000 men in all. With no inkling that they were about to be attacked, there was little enthusiasm for speeding up the desultory strengthening of their positions, let alone the creation of new ones in the rear. Neither did the Germans reinforce this sector. The complacency of the German commanders rendered the psychological impact of the BEF’s assault all the more impressive. Above all, surprise denied most of the defenders the opportunity to fight back in an effective fashion. The first the German troops knew about the attack was when, at 4.20 a.m., masses of infantry came into view and the world exploded about them.

Out of 1,236 guns and 700,000 shells available to the BEF, 700 artillery pieces fired 350,000 shells during the Amiens battle. Perhaps even more remarkable than the number available was the accuracy of their fire. No less than 504 out of 530 German guns had been identified before the attack. The Royal Artillery had 450 heavy guns available for counter-battery work, each with sufficient ammunition to fire four rounds every minute for four hours. The British gunners killed or drove off their German counterparts, leaving the guns to be captured by the advancing infantry. Deprived of artillery support, the German infantry were at a huge disadvantage when faced by tanks and Dominion infantry, largely untouched by enemy artillery fire, debouching from the early morning mist. ‘Whenever we found ourselves in trouble,’ an Australian infantryman recorded, ‘we signalled to the tanks, and they turned towards the obstacle. Then punk-crash, punk-crash! … another German post was blown to pieces.’ Some of the defenders stood and fought and were overrun. Many did not.

German problems certainly played a role in the Allied victory many positions were weak and formations understrength, and the morale and tactics of many of the defenders were poor. The skill and high morale of the attacking Dominion infantry was another important factor, as was the overwhelming advantage in numbers. Canadian divisions rivalled those of the Americans in size. Whereas British and Australian divisions disposed of about 7,000 infantrymen, the four Canadian formations fielded at least 12,000 bayonets each, giving Fourth Army an infantry strength of around 100,000 (as against 37,000 German troops). Other factors, such the efficiency of the BEF’s logistic support, and the domination of the air by the RAF and the French air arm (albeit at heavy cost), were also important. However, Prior and Wilson are surely correct in emphasising that it was the BEF’s weapons system that was the battle winner: ‘the Germans, however parlous their circumstances, were defeated by superior firepower tactics, which even their best troops could not withstand.’

It is important to give credit to the BEF, and not just the Canadian and Australian Corps, for the effective use of this weapons system. Until the 1990s, writing on Amiens often emphasised one or other of the Dominion Corps while giving scant credit to other units. This approach is misleading and ignores the nature of a weapons system. The infantry were important, but so were the guns, the vast majority of which were operated by British soldiers, as were all of the tanks. The Canadian and Australian infantry were undoubtedly elite, but as we shall see, part of the significance of the BEF’s way of battle lay in the fact that it enabled even average infantry to achieve feats that would have seemed miraculous only a year before.

Battle of Amiens

Canadian and Allied troops won a major victory against Germany at the Battle of Amiens between 8 and 11 August 1918. Amiens was the first in a string of offensive successes, known as the Hundred Days Offensive, that led to the end of the First World War and the 11 November 1918 armistice.

A Tank passing 8th Field Ambulance, Hangard. Battle of Amiens. August, 1918.

Major McGill and assistants, 5th Canadian Field Ambulance, dressing wounded outdoors, Battle of Amiens. Canadian medics dressing a wounded soldier at an open-air field dressing station at Le Quesnel. Canadians filling their water bottles, etc. Amiens, August 1918.

Battle of Amiens: Key Facts

19,000 Allied casualties (including 11,800 Canadians)

Map of the final Allied offensives on the Western Front, 1918, during the First World War.
(Courtesy History Department, US Military Academy West Point/Wikimedia CC)

Surprise Attack

By July 1918, Allied forces in the First World War held a superior position on Europe’s Western Front troops from the United States were also pouring in to reinforce the war effort. Allied commanders decided it was time to switch from defence to offence and push German forces out of France. As part of this, French General Ferdinand Foch planned an attack in the Amiens region of northern France that would protect the vital Paris-Amiens railway.

The attacking force comprised the Canadian Corps (see Canadian Expeditionary Force), the British Fourth Army, the French First Army, the Australian Corps and others. In early August, the Allies tricked the Germans by appearing to weaken their front line so that German officers expected no assault. Troops moved to the front lines at night to fool the enemy. False moves were also made in daylight, amid much noise, dust and bogus radio communication.

Secrecy was so important that the soldiers saw the warning “KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT” added to their service and pay book.

Combined-arms Assault

The Allies sneaked into position with thousands of heavy and super-heavy field guns, howitzers, more than 600 tanks, and 2,000 aircraft. The Germans were greatly outnumbered and, in the words of German military chief Erich Ludendorff, “depressed down to Hell.” The Germans were protected by three lines of trenches, which were poorly wired for communications and without good dugout shelters.

The Canadian Corps was assigned to hit the German Fourth Army. The attack was scheduled for 8 August at 4:20 a.m. Unlike earlier attacks in the war, the Amiens assault would not be preceded by bombardment. This would keep the assault secret as long as possible.

A Royal Air Force squadron laid smoke screens over the battlefield to hide the attacking Canadians. A heavy mist also concealed no man’s land as the attack grew nearer on that moonless night. At exactly 4:20 a.m., 900 Allied guns opened fire and the infantry headed toward the German lines. Tanks roared across the battlefield and planes droned overhead.

The Germans were entirely unprepared for this scale of attack and many surrendered at the first chance. Allied soldiers fought through woods to clear German machine-gun positions and take prisoners. The tanks lagged behind, struggling across boggy terrain and in thick fog. Canadian forces captured several key targets and pressed forward amid waves of German prisoners being marched back behind Allied lines.

After 8 August, the Allied assault slowed but continued for another three days as it pressed through fields thick with tangles of barbed wire, abandoned trenches and a mess of shell holes.

Canadian troops clearing dug-outs during the Battle of Amiens, August, 1918.


The Battle of Amiens ended on 11 August. It was Germany's worst defeat since the start of the war. In their sector of the attack, the Canadians pushed the Germans back as many as 12 km, a huge achievement in a war often fought over metres. It came at the cost of more than 11,800 Canadian casualties. This included 1,036 Canadians killed, 2,803 injured and 29 taken prisoner on 8 August, the first day of the battle. Overall, more than 19,000 Allied soldiers were killed or injured, while the Germans lost more than 26,000 casualties. The Canadian Corps captured 5,033 prisoners and 161 guns.

Ludendorff described the opening day of the battle, 8 August, as "the black day of the German Army in the history of this war . . . Everything I had feared, and of which I had so often given warning, had here, in one place, become a reality.”

Ludendorff informed German Kaiser Wilhelm II of the German disaster at Amiens. The Kaiser replied,

Indeed, Amiens sparked the Hundred Days campaign, the successful Allied push that would drive the Germans backwards until their ultimate defeat, and result in the signing of the armistice on 11 November 1918.

Victoria Crosses

Canadian Corps soldiers received more than 3,000 decorations for their bravery during the Battle of Amiens. This included several Victoria Crosses, the British Empire's highest award for military valour.

One VC recipient was Harry Miner, a 27-year-old corporal and farmer from Ontario, who rushed three enemy posts. He attacked two of them by himself and turned a captured machine gun on the Germans. Miner ran alone into an enemy bombing post, killed two soldiers and chased the rest off before a German grenade killed him. His actions earned him a posthumousVictoria Cross,

Lieutenant Jean Brillant, a 28-year-old from Quebec, rushed ahead of one mop-up operation to capture a German machine-gun post. He was wounded but the next day led two platoons to capture 15 more machine guns and 150 prisoners. He was wounded again and led a charge against a German gun firing on his fellow soldiers. He was wounded a third time and died. Brilliant was also awarded the Victoria Cross.

Private John Bernard Croak, Corporal Herman James Good, Lieutenant James Edward Tait, Sergeant Raphael Louis Zengel, Corporal Frederick George Coppins and Lance Corporal Alexander Picton Brereton also received VCs for their bravery during the Battle of Amiens. Two other soldiers of the Canadian Corps received VCs for their actions on 12–13 August, following the official end of the battle: Private Thomas Dinesen and Sergeant Robert Spall.

Amiens 1918 : The Birth of Blitzkrieg

“Tactical success in war is generally achieved by pitting an organised force against a disorganised one”.

The Battle of Amiens

Amiens 1918 : The Birth of Blitzkrieg ‘Blitzkrieg’, a sudden and utterly irresistible military attack that can strike anytime, anywhere leading to rapid collapse of defences and quick defeat.

British Imperial forces called it the Battle of Amiens. The French called it the Battle of Montdidier. In many ways what was happening one hundred years ago today as I write just north of the French city of Amiens was the birth of a new way of war that would span World War One, World War Two and beyond.

The unleashing of combined arms warfare on German forces that wartime summer day would become the inspiration for what Hans von Seeckt, Heinz Guderian and others would later dub ‘blitzkrieg’.

The Allied victory that day was so complete that German Commander-in-Chief Erich Ludendorff was moved to call 8 August 1918, “a black day in the history of the German Army’. This is the (brief) story of the Battle of Amiens?

German commanders were caught completely by surprise. The first German front lines knew of the attack was the sight of some 400 massed British tanks rumbling forward supported by 800 aircraft of the then new Royal Air Force in both air defence and ground attack roles with an artillery barrage provided by over 2000 guns creeping forward in front of the advancing British, Australian, Canadian and French forces.

At 0710 hours the Royal Tank Corps captured the first of the German strongholds, whilst at 0730 hours British III Corps captured another.

Thereafter, the German front rapidly began to collapse as the Allies advanced over a front of 4000 yards/3500 metres punching a large hole in German lines. By 1100 hours Australian and Canadian forces had advanced over 3 miles/5 kilometres with British forces capturing over 400 German guns and destroying half the enemy force. Entire enemy formations began to surrender en masse having been completely de-stabilised by the force, pace and surprise of the attack. By 2100 hours Fourth Army had advanced a further 5 miles/8 kilometres.

Over the ensuing three days the pace of the advance slowed but such damage had been done to the German Army that whilst bloody the ensuing ‘Hundred Days Offensive’ did not stop until the November 1918 Armistice. In March 1919 the newly-formed British Army of the Rhine conducted a victory parade in Cologne.

By the end of the Battle of Amiens the British and the French had both lost 22,000 men. However, the by then resource-poor Germany Army had lost 75,000 men.

The Origins of Amiens

What eventually led to Ludendorff’s ‘black day’ had commenced on 21 March 1918 with Imperial Germany’s last great gamble – Operation Michael.

With the Royal Navy’s successful blockade of Germany triggering starvation and industrial unrest in the Fatherland it was clear to Berlin that unless the situation on the ground in France could be changed radically Germany would be forced to accept unfavourable peace terms. America’s 1917 entry into the war and the arrival of General Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force all but ensured an Allied victory.

In March German ‘Stormtroopers’ had made stunning advances pushing the British back over the land they had gained at the Third Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. More poignantly the German Army had advanced rapidly over the old Somme battlefield of 1916.

Ludendorff’s aim had been to split the Allied armies and force the British back to the Channel. He failed. Critically, British Imperial forces did not break under the German assault and by and large retreated in reasonably good order.

In May 1940 Blitzkrieg was further inflicted on Belgian, French, Dutch and British forces, all of which were over-stretched and wrongly-deployed having been deceived into believing their own prejudices about the Germans and each other. In 1943 at the Battle of Kursk Soviet forces began to do the same to over-extended German forces as the British had done at Amiens, albeit on an epic scale.

The massed forces of Marshals Rokossovsky and Zhukov did not stop advancing until they sacked Berlin in May 1945.

Having gained victory via a new way of offensive warfare the Western democracies did what they have so often done in peacetime. They handed the concept and technology of victory to illiberal enemies in the interbellum. It was ever thus. Innovative and disruptive thinkers were marginalised whilst disarmament became a metaphor for a retreat from political Realism.

The likes of Fuller, Basil Liddell Hart, Charles de Gaulle and Billy Mitchell tried to keep the flame of military innovation alive in the West. However, it was thinkers like Hans von Seeckt in Germany and Mikhail Tuckachevsky in the then Soviet Union who really pushed forward innovation.

Shock and Awe: Lessons of Amiens for today

The essence of Amiens was ‘shock and awe’. Many iterations of such tactics have taken place since, notably General Norman Schwarzkopf’s attack on Iraqi forces in 1991. What links Rawlinson to Schwarzkopf and beyond is the ever-growing distance between attacker and target and between intent and effect as technology has enabled greatly more diverse ways and means of generating shock and awe.

With a seismic shift again underway in the military balance of power away from the Western democracies the conditions are again fast being created in which the unthinkable could become the thinkable and in time the frighteningly plausible.

The problem with the ‘unthinkable’ is that it is normally the leaders of western democracies who refuse to think it. They prefer instead to believe the unthinkable is the impossible, thus creating the perfect conditions something catastrophically nasty in Europe.

Today, ‘blitzkrieg’ would better be dubbed ‘blitz-crash’: sudden, overwhelming, co-ordinated impact on already vulnerable and under-protected civilian and military systems using mega-disinformation, mass disruption and targeted mass destruction designed to create panic amongst populations, decapitate national and multinational command authorities and prevent an organised defence and response.

Perhaps the most fitting end to the story of Amiens came in 1952 when German General Heinz Guderian published his book Panzer Leader. It was Guderian who had almost pushed the British Army into the sea at Dunkirk in June 1940. The Foreword to the book was written by Basil Liddell Hart.

Amiens 1918 : The Birth of Blitzkrieg Written by Professor Julian Lindley-French

Analyst, author, commentator and speaker with ten books to my name, including two for Oxford University Press (and about to publish my third for Oxford “Future War and the Defence of Europe), My job is to speak truth unto power in an age when the gap between power, people and politics is growing dangerously wide. My focus is the tension between strategy and politics with an emphasis on security and defence policy. My analysis is the product of many years policy and practitioner experience, allied to long and deep research. Sadly, I also support Sheffield United Football Club – the triumph of endless hope over long, hard, and painful experience!

Future War and the Defence of Europe (Oxford University Press English Edition and Kosmos Press German Edition)

2017: The Geopolitics of Terror – Demons and Dragons (Routledge)
2015: NATO: The Enduring Alliance 2015 (Routledge)
2015: Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power ( 2nd and paperback edition) (Amazon)
2014 The Oxford Handbook of War (paperback edition) (Oxford University Press)
2014: Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (Kindle e-book)
2012: The Oxford Handbook of War (Oxford University Press)
2007: A Chronology of European Security and Defence (Oxford University Press)
2007 NATO: The Enduring Alliance 2007 (Routledge)
2003: Terms of Engagement (EUISS)
1998: Coalitions & the Future of Security Policy

Battle of Amiens - HISTORY

By Mike Phifer

The drone of a Royal Air Force bomber could be heard overhead in the early morning of August 8, 1918, as it flew up and down the Allied line near Amiens, France. The lone aircraft sought to cover the rumbling and clanking of hundreds of tanks moving forward to the start line to support an imminent attack. The noise of the bomber soon faded as it flew away, only to be replaced with the deafening crash of artillery.

All hell broke loose on the German lines at 4:20 am when a heavy barrage erupted, lighting up the dawn. It was a “terrific racket,” wrote Lt. Col. Andrew McNaughton, the Canadian Corps counterbattery officer, in a letter to his wife. “[The] Boche is getting his now,” he told her. The German guns returned fire, but owing to McNaughton’s counterbattery planning, the enemy’s artillery fire was mostly neutralized.

Through a heavy fog blanketing the terrain near Amiens, soldiers of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Canadian Divisions pushed forward. With visibility down to just a few dozen feet, the Canadians followed the rolling barrage that hurled a curtain of death forward in 100-yard intervals. One of the most significant Allied offensives of the Great War was beginning.

The Allied offensive would be a key turning point, considering the Germans had launched a massive offensive five months earlier. The impetus of the Kaiserschlacht Offensive that began on March 21 was to strike a blow against the British, Commonwealth, and French forces on the Western Front before the men and matériel of the United States turned the tide of battle irreversibly in favor of the Allied powers.

At that point, the Germans had the advantage in numbers because the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed March 3 had freed up 50 German divisions previously committed to the Eastern Front. The Kaiserschlacht Offensive would ultimately fail in large part because the German logistic system was unable to support the rapidly advancing German stormtroopers in the early weeks of the offensive. The Germans had come to within nine miles of Amiens in the British sector in early April before they were halted. Although the danger of a German breakthrough to Paris had ended later that month, the Germans continued to make gains. Before the offensive drew to a close in mid-July, the Germans had advanced to within 40 miles of the French capital.While the Germans were still attacking, Allied Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch had approached British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig in May about crafting plans for an offensive in mid-June. Haig in turn ordered Fourth Army commander Lt. Gen. Henry Rawlinson to investigate the possibility of attacking east of Amiens. The British assault was to be carried out in cooperation with the French First Army to the south. The plan was temporarily set aside, though, to deal with the continuing German offensive.

Rawlinson had thoughts of renewing the plan when he later met with the Australian Corps commander, Lt. Gen. John Monash. Monash had employed both Australian and American troops, along with British tanks, on July 4 to capture the town of Hamel not far from Amiens. Monash wanted to try something bigger and told Rawlinson his Australians could push up to five miles. Rawlinson inquired if he could go farther. Monash replied that he could as long as he received adequate support on his right flank so that it was not vulnerable to counterattack. Rawlinson suggested a few different corps, but none was to Monash’s satisfaction until the British Fourth Army commander mentioned the Canadians. The Canadians had proved in previous battles that they were tough fighters, and they were much sought after for difficult missions. Monash quickly became enthusiastic about the idea.

A British corporal stands beside his camouflaged Mark V tank. Allied tanks were tasked with punching through the barbed wire and destroying German machine guns.

Foch suggested to Haig on July 12 that he launch an offensive in Flanders. Haig did not like the suggestion. He favored an attack east and southeast of Amiens. The concept was not unlike what Rawlinson had in mind. In a meeting with Haig, Rawlinson explained his plan. He proposed having the Fourth Army attack south of the River Luce where it might punch through the old Amiens Outer Defense Lines, which were held by the British during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. To do this, Rawlinson wanted the Canadian Corps of the British First Army. Haig liked the idea and told Rawlinson to continue planning the attack.

Six days later the French struck the Germans on the Marne, thereby moving up the timetable for the British Fourth Army offense. Foch held a conference at Melun with the top British, French, and American commanders on July 24. Foch was optimistic. He believed an Allied victory was possible no later than the summer of 1919. The current operations against the Germans would continue driving them back from the Paris-Chalons-Toul-Avricourt railway. A second offensive launched from Amiens would remove the German threat on the Paris-Amiens railway. This area was a major rail center, and controlling it would be crucial for future offensives. A third offensive was to be launched against the Saint-Mihiel salient, freeing the eastern part of the Paris-Avricourt railway line by the just formed First American Army. This attack was to be delayed until the American army was fully assembled.

Haig eventually was given overall command of the French First Army under General Marie-Eugene Debeney, which was to operate on his southern flank. The reorganized British Fourth Army for the Amiens offensive consisted of Lt. Gen. Charles Kavanagh’s British Cavalry Corps, Lt. Gen. Richard Butler’s British III Corps, Lt. Gen. Arthur Currie’s Canadian Corps, and Monash’s Australian Corps. The combined arms offensive was designed to stun the Germans long enough to make considerable territorial gains. To achieve its objectives, the Fourth Army would use tanks, armored cars, armored troop carriers, horse cavalry, aircraft, artillery, and infantry.

The offensive, which was scheduled to begin on August 10, was moved up two days. The Canadian Corps, which was positioned 30 miles north of its starting point, would have the enormous task of moving from one zone to another while keeping the Germans deceived as to where they were going. Secrecy was of key importance to the operation. The soldiers received a stern warning in their paybooks to keep silent and not to talk about any preparations for an attack to soldiers from other units, strangers, or in public places where they might be overheard.

The Canadians had been planning an attack on Orange Hill, east of Arras, which the Germans had taken in their earlier offensive. The Allied high command canceled the operation. Nevertheless, Currie continued his preparations for the attack to deceive the Germans. To fool the enemy and draw its attention to another sector, he sent two battalions and several support units to the Ypres salient. In addition, the Royal Air Force increased its activity over the salient.

The rest of the corps began to move out of the Arras sector on July 30. Traveling by trucks, trains, buses, and on foot, the troops headed north. They would soon shift direction and head south by night. The more direct routes were avoided as the troops moved quickly through the short hours of darkness. The Canadians were told they were going into the General Headquarters Reserve to be able to support either the French First Army or the British Fourth Army. The divisional commanders and senior administrative officers had been informed of their true destination just a day earlier. Fortunately for the Allies, the weather cooperated. The overcast weather and foggy conditions on the ground concealed the high volume of traffic on the roads.

The offensive marked the beginning of the slow but steady advance by the Allies on the Western Front that continued unabated until the end of the war.

The 51st Australian Battalion, positioned astride the Amiens-Roye Road on the morning of August 4, reported alarming news. Five of the battalion’s soldiers had been captured during a German raid. The Australians were under orders to transition control of their sector to the Canadians by August 6. This process already had begun and Canadian artillery was by that time deployed behind the Australians.

It was unclear, though, how much the Australian prisoners knew of the offensive. If the Germans learned that a major offensive was afoot, it could conceivably prove disastrous to the entire operation. It turned out, however, that the Germans had learned nothing of the preparations underway at the time.

The Canadians had the advantage of larger battalions than the British. The British were forced in early 1918 to reduce their division strength from 12 battalions to nine. The extra men brought the remaining battalions up to strength.

The British had recommended that the Canadians do the same, but Currie had refused. If he had, the four Canadian divisions in the field, along with the 5th Division in England, would have increased to six divisions, enabling them to have two corps and an Army Headquarters. But Currie did not want to do anything to reduce the Canadian Corps’s esprit de corps. Instead Currie broke up the 5th Division and distributed the men to his other divisions. As a result, the Canadian battalions were 100 men or more overstrength.

As the buildup continued, Haig met with Debeney, Rawlinson, and Kavanagh on August 5. Haig informed his corps commanders that Foch had decided to include the French Third Army in the operation. They would go into action to the right of Debeney’s army. The size of the operation was now much larger and the emphasis was now on exploitation rather than consolidation. Three British divisions were to be held at Headquarters Reserve ready to take advantage of any success. The Fourth Army was to push forward to the Roye-Chaulnes Lines, which had been held by the British until the Germans withdrew to the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line in 1917.

With a frontage of 8,500 yards, the Canadian Corps had the task of delivering the main blow on the Fourth Army’s right. On the corps’ right flank at the Amiens-Roye Road was the French First Army, while the Australians were on their left at the Amiens-Chaulnes railway. To the left of the Australians was the British III Corps attacking north of the Somme.

German troops haul a mortar into position to support stormtroopers during the Kaiserschlacht Offensive. By the time of the Amiens offensive, the stormtroopers had suffered heavy attrition.

The Canadians had three objectives: the Green Line, the Red Line, and the Blue Line. In the first two lines, support element troops would leapfrog and push onto the final objective, the Amiens Outer Defense Lines, designated the Blue Line, which was located about eight miles from the Canadian starting point. The British 3rd Cavalry, which included the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, would push onto the Roye-Chaulnes Line. Acting as liaison between the foot soldiers and the cavalry, as well as protecting the troopers’ right flank, was the Canadian Independent Force. This mobile unit consisted of a couple of motor machine-gun brigades, nine Lewis gun detachments of the Canadian Corps Cyclists Battalion, and two trench mortars mounted on trucks.

The British 4th Tank Brigade assigned 42 fighting tanks to each Canadian division, except for the 4th Division, which received just 36 tanks. Most of these were the 29-ton Mark V tanks, which were classified as either males (meaning they were armed with two
six-pounders and four machine guns) or females (meaning they were armed with six machine guns).

In addition to the Mark V tanks, there also were Mark V Star tanks, which were six feet longer than the earlier version. This gave the tank more mobility in crossing trenches. Besides it crew of eight men, the Mark V Star was also able to carry 13 men armed with two Lewis guns and a Vickers machine gun. These heavily armed teams were to be dropped off on their objective and entrench until help arrived.

A faster tank than the Mark Vs, the smaller Whippet weighed in at 14 tons. With a crew of three men, the tank was armed with four machine guns. The Allies also planned to use aging Mark IV tanks that had been converted to carry supplies, such as trench mortars, ammunition, drinking water, and shovels. In total, the 4th British Army planned to employ 612 tanks in the offensive.

The 4th British Army had 2,000 field guns, howitzers, and heavy guns. The French fielded 1,600 guns. There was to be no preliminary bombardment before the attack for the Canadian soldiers, or the Australians and British. For the most part, the tanks were expected to deal with the barbed wire and German machine guns.

Allied heavy artillery conducted a rolling barrage behind which the Canadian infantry advanced. By the end of the first day, the Allied Fourth Army had penetrated eight miles into the German defenses.

In preparation for the attack, Canadian engineers worked in the dark in the marshes around the River Luce where part of the 3rd Canadian Division would cross. The engineers built mats and footbridges across the 300 yards of marshes and the river. This had to be done in silence as the far side of the river was not held by infantry in strength, but rather patrolled every hour. Enemy machine-gun fire and shelling did not make the task any easier.

On August 6, two days before the attack was to be launched, the Germans struck first. A heavy barrage crashed down on the British III Corps. The German 27th Wurttemberg Division recaptured the Brick Beacon Ridge, recently lost to the Australians, and pushed up to 1,500 yards behind the front line. This put them near the huge ammunition dumps ready to supply the upcoming attack. The Germans had managed to reach the gun line where they had taken prisoners. The British counterattacked, driving the Germans back to the old Australian line. The Germans tenaciously clung to their positions. The British III Corps tried to dislodge the Germans the following day, but it failed to retake the ridge.

Holding the line across from the British 4th Army was the German 2nd Army, under the command of General Georg von der Marwitz. This army consisted of 10 divisions in the front line, with another four in reserve. Facing the Canadians were the German 225th Division, 117th Division, and part of the 41st Division. The 117th was considered an excellent division, with its regiments at full strength. They were new to the line, having just replaced the 109th on the night of August 7.

Like the British, the Germans had no choice but to reduce the size of their battalions to keep the same number of units at the battlefront. The motivated stormtroopers that produced considerable success for the German Army at the outset of the Kaiserschlacht Offensive had by that point been used up.

The German defenses facing the Canadians consisted of three lines of trenches poorly wired. There were other trenches behind these, including the abandoned Inner Amiens Defense system constructed by the French in 1915 and the Amiens Outer Defense Lines constructed in 1916. They had strong belts of wire, but they were facing the wrong way. The numerous machine-gun posts were the strongpoints in the 2nd Army’s defense.

German troops advance near Bapaume during the Amiens offensive. Morale plummeted with entire divisions falling back without putting up their usual tenacious resistance.

First Quartermaster-General Erich Ludendorff, second in command of the German military, believed the German defenses were strong. “We should wish for nothing better than to see the enemy launch an offensive, which can but hasten the disintegration of his forces,” he informed his troops on August 4.

But Ludendorff was expecting only local attacks. German intelligence reported that the Canadians were in Flanders, but the Germans had no inkling that the Allies were planning a major offensive. Lt. Col. Wilhelm Wetzel, chief of the Operations Section, was skeptical. He believed that the Allies might attack on the Somme front. German frontline troops also knew that something big was afoot when they heard increased vehicle traffic. For the most part, the German high command neither took the rumors seriously nor heeded the warning signs. They would pay a heavy price for their complacency.

The Canadian troops surged forward on the morning of August 8, following the rolling barrage. On the Canadian right the 43rd Battalion, 9th Brigade, 3rd Division attacked the Dodo Wood, which was situated on a steep hill. The 43rd got hit by German artillery fire at its jumping off point, but fortunately it did not last long. Four companies moved forward into the fog and took the German position with few casualties. The tanks, on the other hand, had some difficulty, with three getting stuck in the swamps while a fourth one stopped due to gas fumes.

The 43rd Battalion reached the Dodo Wood by 5:30 am. From there, it pushed on to capture a smaller wooded tract. The woods were in Canadian hands less than two hours later. In the process, the 43rd had captured 400 prisoners and a German battery. The battalion reached the Green Line having suffered 194 casualties in the process.

Fighting on the left flank of the 43rd was the 116th Battalion whose objective was the Harmon Wood. The lead company was hit hard losing 60 men and all its officers before it outflanked the wood, giving the remaining three companies an easier task in taking the German position. By 7:30 am they had taken their objective.

Another unit from the 9th Brigade, the 58th Battalion had its lead company underway at dawn. Their objective was the village of Demuin, located along the south bank of the River Luce, as well as Courcelles, southeast of Demuin. The infantry and tanks worked well together, knocking out German machine-gun posts as they pushed toward Demuin.

Major Henry Rose’s company also had trouble with an enemy machine-gun nest. When the company became pinned down by machine-gun fire, the major assembled 30 men for the purpose of outflanking the enemy. When he was reconnoitering the enemy position, the Germans threw stick grenades at him. Rose took cover in a shell hole to avoid the deadly blast. The force the explosions were so great that he was thrown out of the shell hole. He unloaded his pistol at the Germans to buy himself time until his men could assist him. They killed the Germans, but not before Rose had received eight wounds.

The 58th finally battled its way into Demuin, taking the village at 6:30 am, and pushed onto Courcelles, capturing it 35 minutes later. The battalion achieved all of its objectives at the cost of 10 killed, 147 wounded, and one missing.

Allied tanks rolled along German trenches with their guns blazing, prompting scores of German soldiers to surrender. The Allies captured 15,000 prisoners on the first day.

The rest of the Canadian attack continued like clockwork. Next to the 9th Brigade, the 8th Brigade of the 3rd Division attacked. This brigade was composed of four Canadian Mounted Rifle battalions that had been converted to infantry in 1916. These foot soldiers moved through the fog toward the village of Hangard to Cemetery Copse. Once past the destroyed village, they took machine-gun fire from the top of a large gateway leading into the cemetery. Return fire from the Lewis gun failed to silence the German machine-gun nest. Some of the Canadian soldiers put their helmets on the ends of their rifles and held them up, which was a previously agreed signal to indicate they required tank assistance. Although six tanks were out of action by that point for a variety of reasons, one working tank came to the Mounted Rifles assistance, rumbling over the enemy machine-gun nest. The attack ground on.

The 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles then leapfrogged over the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. They pressed on to secure the bridge crossing the Luce at Demuin. They soon discovered the bridge had been blown up, but the river was crossed anyway when a tank brought up crib fascines.

In the intervening time, the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division attacked to the right of the 3rd Division. The 1st Division faced the tough German 117th Division. Going was tough for the 16th Canadian Scottish Battalion on the 3rd Brigade’s right flank. The ground was rough and the fog heavy. As the troops moved across no-man’s land the fog eventually began to lift.

A company of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) found that it had gone too far north. To correct its bearing, it marched southeast and stumbled upon a ravine full of German artillery batteries. German artillerymen streamed out of a dugout and began preparing their guns for action.

With a loud cheer, the Canadians rushed down the embankment toward the Germans. The enemy gunners withdrew to another position farther up the valley where they took cover in their dugouts. The Canadians gave chase, but ran headlong into heavy fire from German machine guns. Other troops came to their assistance, though. Some of the Canadians scooped up bombs designed to be used against the Allied tanks and flung them into the dugouts. The Canadians flushed out the survivors and took them prisoner.

Other elements of the 16th Battalion succeeded in achieving their Green Line objectives. They also managed to bag an enemy regimental commander and his staff of the 157th Regiment, 117th Division. The other two battalions in the 3rd Brigade, the 13th and 14th, also had great success. However, the 13th Royal Highlanders had the misfortune of suffering 30 casualties from friendly fire. Nevertheless, they pushed on to reach their objective. Two members of the 13th Battalion received the Victoria Cross. Private John Croak single-handedly knocked out an enemy machine-gun nest. Although seriously wounded, he directed his platoon as it captured three more machine-gun positions. He received a second wound that proved fatal.

The other Victoria Cross recipient from the 13th was Corporal Herman Good. He succeeded in knocking out several machine-gun positions by himself. Afterward, Good and three of his fellow soldiers encountered a German battery of 5.9-inch guns. Good figured the German gunners would not be trained in hand-to-hand combat, so he and his mates charged the battery and compelled the Germans to surrender.

The tanks supporting the 14th Battalion moved along the German trenches firing into the enemy soldiers and knocking down their parapets in a number of places. When the tanks rumbled on, the Germans from the 117th returned to their stations and opened up on the Canadians. The Canadians were forced to flank the Germans. White flags soon popped up. Some of the soldiers from the 14th moved forward to accept the surrender and were shot down by the Germans instead. Angered by this treachery, the men from the 14th opened fire, and when more white flags appeared they were ignored. The Canadians then mounted a bayonet attack and did not bother taking any prisoners. By 8:15 am the two battalions had taken their Green Line objectives.

Meanwhile, the 4th Brigade of the Canadian 2nd Division also was having success. Despite suffering 150 casualties, the 18th Battalion had reached its objective by 7:45 am. Fighting to its left was the 19th Battalion, which was flanked on its right by the Australians. At one point during the advance, the 19th was held up by German machine-gun fire, but two men charged the position. Although one was gunned down, the other succeeded in killing the German machine-gun crew.

Supported by the 21st Battalion, the 19th attacked Marcelcave after the village was hammered by a barrage at 6:23 am. The town quickly fell to the Canadians who also captured another German regimental headquarters. Casualties for the four battalions of the 4th Brigade were more than 500 men. The Canadians had met all the Green Line objectives. Now troops headed for the Red Line.

After the barrage was lifted at 8:20 am, the Allied troops moved their artillery forward so that it could effectively support the troops engaged against the enemy. With the mist evaporating, Allied air support began bombing and strafing enemy targets.

Pushing past the 8th and 9th Brigades, the 3rd Division’s 7th Brigade moved forward on a three-battalion front. The 49th Battalion advancing on the left flank passed through grain fields and reached its Red Line objective at 10 am, having met little German resistance. The 42nd in the center, with four tanks, overran two German batteries, and after crossing the plateau of Hill 102, reached its Red Line objective 20 minutes later than the 49th Battalion. Meanwhile, the men of the Royal Canadian Regiment, also with a few supporting tanks, advanced toward their objective, clearing the Germans from two wooded tracts.

With the capture of the Red Line objectives on the Canadian right flank, much of the German 225th Division was in a perilous position. The Canadians had overrun the division’s guns, its frontline positions, and its support battalions. The German division was informed at 10 am that the 376th Regiment of the 109th Division was on its way from Cayeux to aid them. Additionally, Regiment Bellmann, made up of three battalions from the 192nd Division, was preparing to go into action from its position in the forest southeast of Beaucourt. Meanwhile, the 1st Reserve Division from the 18th Army was ordered along the Roye-Amiens road to stop the Canadians in the Beaucort-Fresnoy area.

The 1st Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division pushed forward. The brigade’s 2nd Battalion had already taken a number of prisoners during the advance to the Green Line. Despite having no tank support, which was still far behind them, the 2nd took their Red Line objectives by 11 am.The 4th Battalion of the 1st Brigade also attacked without tank support. The troops took their Red Line objectives at the cost of 135 casualties. Fighting alongside them in their three battalion front was the 3rd Battalion. Because of its heavy casualties, the battalion did not begin its attack until 8:40 am. Aided by a single tank, the 3rd Battalion took its objective later in the morning. In the process, the battalion captured 450 prisoners and 11 artillery pieces at a cost of 200 casualties.

The 2nd Division also continued its advance with the 26th and the 24th Battalions and tank support. With the Australians on their left flank, a platoon of the 24th fought on the Australian side, while a platoon of the Australian 57th Victoria Battalion served with the Canadians. The Australian liaison officer was concerned that the Canadians would not be able to keep up with them. A Canadian lieutenant said they would and then offered to race them to the Red Line. The Australians took them up on their offer.

Destroyed and disabled British tanks on the Amiens battlefield. The Germans knocked out 109 tanks on the first day of the offensive.

At 8:20 am the 24th kicked of its attack. Enduring heavy machinegun fire the Canadians took Pieuret Wood with tank support. Wiencourt fell at mid-morning, and a short time later Guillaucourt fell as well with the assistance of Australian covering fire and nine Whippet tanks. Hard fighting followed as the 24th pushed on toward its Red Line objective. Two hours later the 24th had reached its objective at the cost of 189 casualties. A few minutes later the Australian 57th reached its Red Line objective to discover they had lost to race to the Canadians.

With the Red Line reached, Kavanagh committed his troops. The infantrymen had advanced from their assembly area southwest of Villers-Bretonneux around 7 am. The 1st Cavalry Division followed the Australian 2nd and Canadian 2nd Divisions, while the 3rd Cavalry Division moved behind 1st and 3rd Canadian divisions. Thirty-two Whippet tanks advanced in their support.

At 10:30 am the Canadian Cavalry Brigade made contact with Brutinel’s Independent Force, which in its armored vehicles had been pushing ahead on the Amiens-Roye road. The horsemen of Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment advanced along the road with the Royal Canadian Dragoons on its left. Before the Blue Line objective could be reached, the villages of Beaucourt-en-Santerre and Le Quesnel had to be taken. Machine-gun fired erupted from Beaucourt, causing the vulnerable horsemen to gallop away from the Whippets and bypass the village. The soldiers quickly overran some German positions and rounded up 40 prisoners.

Two troops of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse then swung into the French sector and captured Fresnoy-en-Chaussee and 125 prisoners. Soldiers from the German 1st Reserve Division were soon moving toward the village and nearly circled the two troops of cavalry, which escaped just in time. The Germans were back in control of the village and would cause the Canadians grief for the rest of the day with enfilading fire.

Beaucourt fell to the Royal Canadian Dragoons and Fort Garry Horse aided by the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. The horse soldiers swept up 300 prisoners and pushed onto the eastern side of the village where they came under heavy fire from three battalions of the German 192nd Division at Beaucourt Wood. Because they were unable to take the wood, the Canadian horsemen fell short of their Blue Line objectives.

The infantrymen of the 4th Canadian Division were two hours behind the cavalry. They crossed the Red Line at 12:40 pm but had to halt 50 minutes later to let the Mark V Star tanks go by. Transporting infantry in these lumbering beasts was not working as well as had been hoped. The heat and fumes were causing many of the soldiers to become sick and even faint. These tanks ran into trouble south of the Beaucourt Wood where two German guns concealed by stacks of grain knocked out 10 guns.

Heavy fire coming from northeast of Le Quesnel, which the Germans had been reinforcing to plug the hole in their line, forced the tanks to pick up their infantry and pull back. The tanks moved in beside the Royal Canadian Dragoons and waited for help from the 4th Division.

The 11th Brigade of the 4th Division soon arrived on the scene. Two of its battalions, the 54th and 102nd, moved past the pinned-down cavalry troopers and attacked Beaucourt Wood. Casualties were heavy, but the Canadians managed to reach the woods and clear out the Germans by 4:30 pm.

Another unit of the 11th Brigade, the 75th Battalion, was not doing as well. Heavy fire from Le Quesnel and Fresnoy across the flat terrain had caused it to call off the attack until the next day when heavy artillery could support it.

German prisoners carry a wounded Canadian past a tank on the Amiens-Roye road during the first day of the battle.

The 6th British Cavalry, north of the Canadian cavalry, encountered little opposition as it reached its Blue Line objective at 1 pm. An hour and half later they had cleared the south side of the River Luce. At midafternoon the 12th Canadian Brigade of the 4th Division arrived to reinforce the British cavalry’s gains. Although the countryside ahead seemed free of enemy soldiers, the British cavalrymen of the 6th and the 7th Brigades refrained from advancing farther.

The 12th Battalion had met little opposition in its advance, except at the northern end of Beaucourt Wood where the 78th Battalion came under heavy fire. Lieutenant James Tait of the 78th Battalion took matters into his own hands during the advance when a German machine-gun halted his company. Tait snatched up a rifle and rushed the machine gun, killing the gunner. Inspired by his actions, the rest of his men charged forward and captured 12 machine guns and 20 prisoners. Tait, who did not survive the war, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

The 72nd Battalion passed through the 78th Battalion, reaching its Blue Line objective at 6:15 pm. Meanwhile, the 85th Battalion leapfrogged the 38th Battalion. With the exception of Le Quesnel, which was strongly held by German reserves, the 4th Division achieved all of its remaining Blue Line objectives.

The 1st and 2nd Divisions also met their Blue Line objectives. During the bloody fighting, they suffered 1,036 men killed, 2,803 wounded, and 29 captured. The Canadians had succeeded in driving the Germans back eight miles.

To the Canadians’ right, the French did not fare so well. They lacked tanks, having lost them in previous battles, and therefore had to rely on a 45-minute preliminary bombardment of the German positions to their front. The Canadians gave them assistance whenever possible for example, the Canadians sent armored cars to assist the French at Mezieres. The horsemen of Lord Strathcona’s Horse also crossed the line into the French sector and secured Fresnoy. The French advanced five miles.

The Australians, like the Canadians, had a better time of it. They advanced seven miles at the cost of 2,000 casualties. The British III Corps, on the other hand, advanced only two miles and suffered an estimated 700 casualties. When it was over, the Fourth Army had suffered 8,800 casualties. It had been a hard day on tanks with only 145 available for action the following day.

The Germans lost 700 officers and 12,000 men. They also lost 30,000 troops who were captured. The Allies had destroyed 400 German artillery pieces.

Fighting would continue in the following days. The Canadians would advance another six miles before they began to be withdrawn by the night of August 19. By then the Allied advance has stalled. The Germans had stiffened their defenses as a result, the Allies sustained heavier casualties. When the offensive was over, the Canadians Corps returned to the British First Army.

The Allied victory at Amiens “was the blackest day of the German Army in the history of the war,” said Ludendorff. Most importantly, the British Fourth Army’s victory at Amiens broke Ludendorff’s will. Although the Germans remained capable of maintaining a determined and well-coordinated defense up until the armistice was signed on November 11, Amiens spelled the beginning of the end for the Germans.

Australian infantry move forward

Australian infantry and pioneers move forward on 8 August 1918. The foggy conditions, which helped the attackers to surprise the Germans, are very obvious and the cameraman noted “the foggy weather made it impossible to get a connected story of good quality film”.

These, together with the British III Corps, were supported by more than 2,000 guns from the Royal Artillery, over 500 tanks from the Tank Corps and over 1,900 aircraft from the Royal Air Force and its French equivalent.

4. It was the end of trench warfare on the Western Front.

Australian soldiers rally during the fight.

Due to the fast advance of the armies, the British trenches that had previously been on the front lines were left behind as they gained more territory. At points in the battle, the two enemy lines were within 500 meters of each other. The use of gas was low as the Germans were unaware of how big the attacking Allied forces were.

The Germans were taken by surprise and didn’t even begin firing back for five minutes, and when they did the Allied forces had left their positions.

The British Third Army had almost no effect due to the lack of armored support, but the Fourth Army troops pushed deep into German territory with around a thousand tanks.

The Somme Bridges

In response to fighter reconnaissance reports from midday, which stated the Somme bridges were crowded with retreating German troops and transport, Salmond, according to the official history ‘presumably on instructions from GHQ’,[19] ordered all IX Brigade RAF’s fighter and day bombers to cancel existing missions and instead bomb the bridges, which were technically challenging targets for the time. This report from a Bristol Fighter of Major Keith Park’s fighter reconnaissance No 48 Squadron is typical:

Corbie — Bray Road, from [map ref] to Bray congested with mixed traffic moving East. From [map ref] to Proyart road full of horsed transport moving East. Amiens — St Quentin Road between Proyart and Estrees seen to be congested with mixed traffic, general trend easterly…”.[20]

On 8 August the British attacked the bridges with 205 sorties and dropped twelve tons of bombs. The Camel fighters had no bomb sight, their four small bombs were ineffectual and also prevented them from protecting the bombers. Furthermore, the German airfields were adjacent to the bridges and they fought hard to protect the vital bridges. As the RAF official history notes ‘the German pilots, for the first time in the war, stayed to fight without calculation’. In the fierce fighting, Hermann Göring’s elite Richthofen Jagdgeschwader was soon reduced from fifty to eleven aircraft.[21] Two thirds of the 97 RAF aircraft lost or damaged beyond repair on 8 August 1918 were at the Somme crossings, and seventy of these aircraft were engaged in low-flying attacks on the Somme bridges or ground strafing when damaged.

Nevertheless, attacks against the bridges continued on 9 August, when British fighters were ordered to escort the bombers rather than bomb themselves. Salmond then ordered all available aircraft to attack the bridges at 1700 when thirty bombers were escorted by fifty fighters and another seventy-four aircraft flying sweep. RAF losses were fewer on 9 August at forty-five aircraft overall. Seventy-five per cent of those were when attacking the bridges as the fighters, unpractised in escorting bombers, flew too high to be effective. The underpowered DH9 aircraft were particularly vulnerable No 107 Squadron lost five of twelve aircraft in one attack,[22] whereas No 205 Squadron’s DH4s attacked the bridges on nine occasions over three days without loss, claiming to have shot down three German aircraft.[23] Nonetheless, not one bridge had been destroyed though the raids added significantly to the confusion. On 10 August the bombers were switched to the interdiction of rail centres, too late to disrupt the arrival of German reinforcement divisions.

5. The battle was the start of the Hundred Day Offensive, which led to the end of the First World War.

American soldiers on their way to the Hindenburg Line.

After the Battle of Amiens, a fresh offensive began in Albert on August 21 st that ultimately pushed the Germans back 55km. On August 27 th Phillip Gibbs, a British war correspondent stated that the Germany ‘is on the defensive’ and credited Amiens with a change in the morale of the Allied troops, saying the army was geared up with ‘enormous hope.’

Then the Germans were pushed back to the Hindenburg Line, a major defensive point of theirs constructed in the Winter of 1916-1917, and a series of battles were held there before the British army broke through on October 8 th . It was this breach that forced German commanders to face up to the fact that the war had to end. Towards the end of 1918, they retreated through territories they had gained in 1914, and fighting took place up until 11 am on November 11 th , 1918 when the Armistice took effect.

The Hundred Days Offensive saw the tides of fortune turn against Germany in the First World War. From there the fate of the German Army was sealed. After the Battle of Amiens, it was only a matter of time before the war would be over, with Germany on the losing side.

Watch the video: Battle of Amiens, 8 August 1918 in the Great War (November 2022).

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