Battle of Amiens
8 August 1918
Between late March and late July 1918 the strategy of the German Army on the Western Front was to firstly force a wedge between the British and French armies, and then destroy the British before overwhelming the French. The German commanders argued for this strategy because Russia pulling out of the war provided the opportunity to move German divisions from the east and use them in the west. The strategy had to be carried out quickly, before the rapid build-up of American forces meant the Allies became too powerful for Germany to ever win.
The German offensive began against the British on 21 March and from then until late July the Germans everywhere took the initiative in seeking to bring the French and British to battle.
On 14 July 1918, the German Army launched its last great attack on the French in the area of the Marne River, east of Paris and on either side of the major city of Rheims. The French had anticipated this move and had held their front line lightly. Then, as the Germans went forward, they encountered strong French reserves and were repulsed. On 18 July the French, accompanied by fresh American divisions, counter-attacked. This Franco-American advance drove the enemy back towards his main supply railhead. Taken by surprise, the Germans began to pull back and a major offensive against the British in Flanders was called off as reinforcements were sent south. It was a turning point on the Western Front. The great German offensive had faltered and was not resumed. The initiative now passed back to the Allies and it was decided that a major British attack would be made east of Villers-Bretonneux. It was thought that because of constant Australian harassment there, the Germans’ morale was low and their fortifications weak.
The Battle of Amiens, fought between 8 and 11 August 1918, marked the beginning of the British advance that culminated in the Armistice of 11 November 1918. The preparations for the battle included unprecedented security in order to achieve maximum surprise. The Canadian Corps was secretly moved to the Somme area and took over the southern half of the Australian front line. The Australia Corps was concentrated between the Canadians and the Somme River while the British held the line north of the river. The infantry moved into their assembly positions in the small hours of 8 August. A dense fog gathered and unseen aeroplanes droning above drowned out the noise of the tanks that would support the infantry. The fog was still dense at 4.20 am when the artillery barrage opened fire and the advance began.
These early attacks were carried out in dense fog with infantry and tanks moving in what they hoped was the right direction. The first objective was seized by 7.30 and some German positions were bypassed and then attacked in the rear. Most of the German field artillery was overrun and quickly captured. By 8.20 the fog had began to thin and fresh troops resumed the advance. Charles Bean, the Australian official historian wrote:
A little later the mist suddenly cleared, and for a moment all eyes on the battlefield took in the astonishing scene: infantry in lines of hundreds of little section-columns all moving forward – with tanks, guns, battery after battery, the teams tossing their manes.
Charles Bean, Anzac to Amiens, Canberra, 1948, p.471
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When the fog lifted German guns opened up at the tanks and put many out of action, but the Australian infantry kept going and soon overran most of the guns. The greater part of the final objective for the day, the old outer line of the Amiens defence system, was captured. The Canadian and French attacks had gone as well as those of the Australians and 25 kilometres of the German front south of the Somme was swept away in a victory that far surpassed any previous success of the British Army on the Western Front. More than 13,000 Germans were made prisoners and more than 200 guns captured. The French had taken 3500 prisoners. General Eric von Ludendorff, the German commander, later wrote of 8 August 1918:
[It] was the black day of the German Army in this war. ... The 8th of August put the decline of that [German] fighting power beyond all doubt. ... The war must be ended.
Ludendorff, quoted by Charles Bean, Anzac to Amiens, Canberra, 1948, p.473
The advance continued on the following days with the Australians taking Etinehem, Lihons and Proyart. Australian casualties for the offensive, mainly from 9–12 August, were 6,000 killed and wounded.
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - December 2010