Australians in the Battle of Amiens 8 to 11 August 1918

 

The Australian armed services played a significant role in the Battle of Amiens. It was a major turning point in World War I. The battle took place on the Western Front near the town of Amiens (now a city) in northern France.

The Australian Corps was part of a British-led surprise attack on German lines that started on 8 August 1918. The advance concluded in the Armistice of 11 November 1918, which ended fighting on the Western Front.

The Australian divisions were assigned to the southern sector of the battlefront, near the village of Villers-Bretonneux. They played a crucial role in the initial assault, advancing rapidly and capturing key objectives.

The Australian artillery, infantry, mounted infantry and support units worked well with the British tanks, demonstrating exceptional skill, courage and determination. The infantry successfully breached heavily fortified German positions and overcame strong resistance. The Australians captured many prisoners and gained significant enemy territory.

Lead up to the battle

Between late March and late July 1918, the strategy of the German Army on the Western Front was first to force a wedge between the British and French armies and then destroy the British before overwhelming the French.

The German commanders had argued for this military strategy. With Russia pulling out of the war, they could move German divisions from the east and use them in the west. Their strategy had to be carried out quickly, though. A rapid build-up of United States (US) forces in Europe meant the Allies would be too powerful for Germany to win the war.

Germany's strategic Spring Offensive against the Allies started on 21 March. From then until late July, the Germans launched a series of offensives to defeat the British and French armies.

The German Army launched its last great attack on the French on 14 July. The Second Battle of the Marne was fought in the area of the Marne River, east of Paris and on either side of the city of Rheims. Anticipating Germany's attack, the French held their front line lightly. As the Germans went forward, they encountered strong French reserves and were repulsed.

On 18 July, the French launched a counterattack with fresh US Army divisions. This Allied advance drove the Germans back towards their main supply railhead. Taken by surprise, the Germans began to pull back. They also called off a major offensive against the British in Flanders to send reinforcements south.

This small Allied victory at the Marne was a turning point in the war on the Western Front. The German Spring Offensive had faltered and was not resumed. The initiative now passed back to the Allies.

Start of the Allied offensive

The Allies decided on a major British attack east of Villers-Bretonneux. They selected this site partly because the constant Australian harassment of the enemy in that area meant 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.

All 5 divisions of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) went into the battle under an Australian commander, Lieutenant General John Monash.

As first executed in the Battle of Hamel in June, Monash used combined arms tactics – coordinating infantry, mounted infantry, artillery, tanks and air support. British tank crews and British and French aircraft – including the 3rd and 4th Squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps – supported the Australian infantry, artillery and support units.

The mounted infantry, Australian Light Horse, conducted successful cavalry manoeuvres and exploited gaps in the German lines, contributing to the overall success.

About 20 men dressed in army uniforms with tin helmets standing around a row of 6 large military field guns and piles of ammunition shells in a field of long grass.

Members of the 6th Battery of Australian Field Artillery with 18-pounder guns in action near Villers-Bretonneux, on the morning of the Amiens offensive. There's a motor ambulance in the field nearby. Front row, left to right (sitting): Gunner (Gnr) West; Gnr Ferrier MM; Gnr Mannell; Gnr Baker; Gnr Thompson. Back row (standing): Corporal (Cpl) Dean, Fitter; Cpl Harrison. AWM E02926

First day of fighting

The preparations for the battle included unprecedented security 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 Australian 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 planes 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. Then 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 am. 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 am, the fog had begun 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]

When the fog lifted, German guns opened up at the tanks, putting many of them out of action.

The Australian infantry kept going and soon overran most of the German guns. The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) captured the main part of the day's final objective: the old outer line of the Amiens defence system.

The Canadian and French attacks had gone as well as those of the Australians. Altogether, 25 km of the German front south of the Somme had been taken. It was 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 were captured. The French had taken 3,500 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]

About 60 men dressed in army uniforms with tin helmets pose in front of or standing on a large army tank in a field of long grass.

Australian soldiers pose with a British tank crew at Lamotte-Warfusée on the first day of the Battle of Amiens, France, 8 August 1918. AWM E04922

As the sun set on 8 August 1918, both sides took stock. For the Allies, it had been a day of unprecedented success.

According to Charles Bean, this day was described by Sergeant Francis Clausen, 59th Battalion, of Newport, Victoria, as ‘a très bon stunt … that I wouldn't have missed for worlds.'

Four days later, King George V knighted the Australian Corps commander, Lieutenant General John Monash. The investiture was held on the steps of the Chateau de Bertangles, Corps headquarters. Drawn up in a semicircle around the driveway in front of the King were dozens of German guns captured by Australians on 8 August.

The advance continued in the following days, with the Australians taking Etinehem, Lihons and Proyart. Australian casualties for the offensive, mainly from 9 to 12 August, were 6,000 killed and wounded.

The Australians' actions at Amiens helped break the stalemate on the Western Front. The battle marked the beginning of the Hundred Days – several Allied offensives that eventually led to the war's end.

Three men dressed in army uniforms with tin helmets in a rural landscape - two standing in front of some large bushes and one sitting on top of a large army tank that is carrying timber logs.

A tank breaking through an obstruction on the roadside during the Australian attack at Bayonvillers, France, 8 August 1918. AWM E02862

Two men dressed in army uniforms with tin helmets stand near the top of a hill as they watch about 60 other men running up the hill and away from smoke rising from the fields below them.

German prisoners near Susan Wood flee from their own artillery fire, Morcourt, France, August 1918. AWM E03017

Four men dressed in army uniforms with tin helmets stand on a forested hill and pose with a large army tank.

German gun captured by Australian soldiers on 8 August 1918. AWM E02898

Sources

Australian War Memorial, Captain Godfrey Manning, Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry file, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/R149131]\=

Australian War Memorial (no date), The Battle of Amiens: 8 August 1918, https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/1918/battles/amiens

Department of Veterans' Affairs (2013), 'Battle of Amiens 8 August 1918', Australians on the Western Front, 29 March 2013, accessed 5 July 2023, https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20130329014518/http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/battlefields/amiens-8-august-1918.html

Department of Veterans' Affairs (2013), 'A thousand guns speak as one – The road to Lamotte–Warfusée', Australians on the Western Front, 29 March 2013, accessed 5 July 2023, https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20130329005858/http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/heath-cemetery/index.html

Department of Veterans' Affairs (2013), 'With great dash and skill – the advance to the Morcourt Valley', Australians on the Western Front, 29 March 2013, accessed 5 July 2023, https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20130329040801/http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/heath-cemetery/morcourt-valley.html

Department of Veterans' Affairs (2013), 'Death already imprinted upon his face – Heath Cemetery', Australians on the Western Front, 29 March 2013, accessed 5 July 2023, https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20130329040855/http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/heath-cemetery/harbonnieres.html

First World War Official Histories, ANZAC to Amiens (1983 reprint), Chapter XXVII - The climax - August-October, 1918, AWM RCDIG1070029, https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/awm-media/collection/RCDIG1070029/document/5520779.PDF

London Gazette, 2 December 1918, page 14286 at position 8, Recommendation for Military Cross, Lieutenant Arthur Phillip Percival Kemp, 46th Battalion AIF.

Sir John Monash Centre (2018, 8 August), 'THE BATTLE OF AMIENS', Department of Veterans' Affairs, France, https://sjmc.gov.au/the-battle-of-amiens/

Turner, Daniel (2012, 4 November), 'Operational Analysis on The Battle of Amiens', The Cove, https://cove.army.gov.au/article/operational-analysis-battle-amiens

Virtual War Memorial Australia (no date), The Battle of Amiens 8th August 1918 - The Beginning of the End of the Great War / "der Schwarze Tag", https://vwma.org.au/collections/home-page-stories/the-battle-of-amiens-8th-august-1918---the-beginning-of-the-end-of-the-great-war---der-schwarze-tag

Wikipedia contributors. (2023, June 19). Battle of Amiens (1918). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:34, July 18, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Battle_of_Amiens_(1918)&oldid=1160991964


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Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Australians in the Battle of Amiens 8 to 11 August 1918, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 28 February 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/ww1/where-australians-served/western-front/hundred-days/battle-of-amiens-1918
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