Amiens, 8th to 12th August 1918 Part 2


External Circumstances

After the assaults of the Kaiser’s Offensive died down in June 1918, the Allied Army found itself being boosted by the coming into the line of American divisions. Following careful planning by General Sir John Monash of an all-arms attack, his Australian Corps’ 4th Division with 8 companies of Americans dressed in Australian uniforms (to defy American General Pershing who had ordered them out of the line hours before the attack began, to their annoyance) launched a spirited attack at le Hamel on American Independence Day, the 4th of July. A stunning victory was gained in just 93 minutes and the assault brought to a close before German resistance hardened into a battle of attrition. One interesting feature was the parachuting in from aeroplanes of containers of bullets to feed the machine-guns. The lessons learned were used in planning the major attack in front of Villers-Bretonneux scheduled to begin on the 8th of August.


Selection of the Assault Units

Two British divisions, the 58th (London) and the 18th Divisions, were to attack the stronghold of the Chipilly Spur, with the Australian Corps to their right in the valley, the Canadian divisions to their right and the French forces beyond. Supporting them were the Mark V heavy fighting tanks, the light Whippet tanks, the supply tanks and the 6 armoured cars (towed through the German trenches before being released to drive into the German rear areas). Over 2,000 cannons were supplied.

Becausae the Germans now recognised that the BEF High Command was used to using the Canadian Corps as shock-troops to launch an assault, the High Command put in place an intense security operation to hide the movement of the Corps from the northern part of the Western Front. Bringing the Canadians forward into the assault trenches on the eve of the battle lessened the risk of an individual soldier being captured thereby revealing the presence of the Corps. Complete surprise was achieved when the Germans found themselves fighting Canadian troops.


The Methods of Assault Adopted

As at Cambrai, the short intensive bombardment coupled to the launch of the tanks completely surprised the Germans. With the infantry protected by the creeping barrage and benefiting from the heavy mist, the German trenches were soon overwhelmed except on the Chipilly Spur. The Canadians swept forward some thirteen kilometres, the Australians some ten, although hindered by enfilading fire from the Spur, a consequence flowing from their unfortunate raid at Morlancourt a week before. The Whippet tanks and armoured cars created havoc in the rear areas.


The Rival’s Reaction

The Germans were still capable of hitting back hard, except against the tanks. After the Australians raided the German lines at Morlancourt as a form of parting gift on leaving that section of the line, the Germans used an assault division to strike back hard on the 6th of August, a few nights later when unfortunately one British unit was relieving another. The Germans broke in and captured sections of the British front-line. Before the British units could launch their attack on the 8th, they had to expend energy and incur casualties recapturing the line lost as a consequence of Australian fighting exuberance and their not thinking about the impact of their actions within the context of the whole offensive strategy.


Lessons from Amiens

Careful co-ordination of all the fighting techniques and machines mean that the Allies’ clear technological lead could now be put to full competitive advantage. Rapidly this destroyed the morale of many German units already weakened by their appalling losses during the Kaiser’s Offensive, the recognition that their last chance for victory was gone, the worsening environment (political conflict and widespread hunger) in their Fatherland, and the onset of Spanish influenza. German troops surrendered in their thousands.

Amiens was a battle won by troops of countries which had been fighting since at least 1915. It has to be recognised that the calibre of the British, Canadian and Australian troops had been severely affected by a high proportion of their most audacious warriors being lost in the earlier battles of the Great War. By the time of Amiens, the British in particular consisted of cynical survivors of earlier battles, many still not properly healed from their wounds, and youngsters fresh out of school given basic training before being posted into the front line trenches. Yet together, and with the support of the land and air machinery (including the artillery), they cleared the still formidable German machine-gun emplacements.

Their resilience and ability to cope with local problems that they encountered were strategic assets which Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig and the BEF High Command were able to exploit properly, giving the continuous run of successes over the One Hundred Days (actually 98 days) until the Armistice on the 11th of November.


Rating the Quality of the Operation

Rating the Quality of the Operation
The analysis of the 34 questions using the Likert Scale shows the most significant deviation of 37.3%. The concentration of answers into the very good and good categories with none being either poor or very poor demonstrates that Amiens had a quality of performance which was outstanding. The German Commander, General Erich von Ludendorff recognised this fact in his memorable quote that the 8th of August was the ‘black day of the German Army’.


Views of the Battlefield

027

Villers-Bretonneux town and plateau from the direction the advancing German troops came during the Kaiser’s Offensive to capture the town on the 24th April until the Australians cleared them out of the town the next day. 35mm photograph taken August 1998.

029

The Australian National Memorial and the Villers-Bretonneux plateau from the direction of Villers-Bretonneux showing where the BEF forces prepared for the decisive attack on the 8th of August. 35mm photograph taken August 1998.

031

Below the Chipilly Ridge, the 58th Division Memorial is an artilleryman tending his wounded horse, an emotive memorial to the thousands of horses who were casualties of the War. 35mm photograph taken March 1999.er

032

The line of advance eastwards from the Hamel Ridge towards Proyart showing the landscape over which the Advance to Victory began on the 8th of August. 35mm photograph taken August 1998.

033

The village of Framerville-Rainecourt where one of the
British armoured cars created havoc and saucily attached the Australian flag to the gates of the local German headquarters. 35mm photograph taken August 1998.

034

The graves of the Australian National War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux taken from the tower, the walls alongside the tower commemorating the Missing in the many battles the Australians fought from 1916 to 1918. 35mm photograph taken March 1999.