The Battle of Amiens.
8th August 1918, after almost three and a half years of blood soaked and stalemated trench warfare, the Battle of Amiens was to change the tide of the First World War.
The Battle of Amiens was the allied response to the German Spring Offensive of 1918. Consisting of 75,000 men, 500+ tanks, 2,000 guns and 1,900 aircraft , this battle was not thought possible in July 1918, due to the heavy loses sustained in the German Spring Offensive. This plan was at first designed by General Henry Rawlinson to be a small attack on the enemy just south of the Somme, in order to release pressure on the vital train hub that was Amiens. Yet Sir Douglas Haig wanted more.
The preparation for the attack was conducted in absolute secrecy, “KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT” was pasted into the soldiers pay books, this order given to all those involved regardless of rank. This intense secrecy was to continue, all movements were made at night under the cover of a ground mist, with no lights and in absolute silence.
4:20am 8th August 1918. Rawlinson’s British III Corps were positioned between the River Somme and Ancre, the Australians positioned in the centre between Villers Bretonneux and the Somme, the Canadians to their right between Villers Bretonneux and Noyon Road, and finally, the French XXXI Corps to the right of the Canadians. Rawlinson outlined three territory objectives for the offences, 3 lines were drawn:
- The green line drawn 2 miles behind the German line, was to be reached within 2 hours.
- The red line situated 3 miles beyond the green line.
- Finally the blue line: this would have meant the allies had gained 8 miles of new territory in one day.
Under the cover of mist and fog the opening allied bombardment began. This bombardment would move forward 100 meters every 3 minutes with the infantry following close behind to overcome the enemy. Once met with strong opposition the Mark-V, Mark- V* and Medium- A (Whippet) tanks were called to overcome the German forces once more.
After 3 hours most of the Allied forces had reached Rawlinson’s green line, this included the taking of the village of Marcelcave by the Canadians with the help of a British Mark- V tank. The push to the red line was undertaken by fresh troops following behind the first stage of the offence. As the ground mist lifted Rawlinson was able to utilise his air support in the form of the newly established RAF. These planes dropped phosphorous bombs on German machine guns and artillery, as well as engaging machine gun fire of their own, which allowed the allies to capitalise on gaps in the German line.
The British were pinned down at Chapelle Ridge by German machine-gun fire without the aid of tanks, but the rest of the allies had reached Rawlinson’s red line by mid-morning. Chapelle Ridge became a much larger problem as battle continued, and the British were unable to take it due to the German artillery based on the ridge, that also began devastating the Australian forces. This would not be taken by the allies until August 9th 1918. After the taking of the red line Rawlinson mobilised his 2 cavalry divisions to push forward to the final objective, the blue line, completing an 8 mile offence.
By noon, there was little remaining of the German defenses leading to the capture of thousands of prisoners as well as the mass surrender of German soldiers, who had lost faith in the their chances of winning the war. German General Erich Ludendorff described August 8th as “the black day for the German Army”. The countdown to the end of the First World War had begun.
- History, Battle of Amiens, < https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/amiens-battle-of> [accessed 24/07/2018].
- Imperial War Museum (London), 01/3(4-15).92 [1918 Amiens], ‘1st Tank Brigade Battlefield Tour, The Battle of Amiens: August 8th ‘, 1918, 15th- 19th February 1937.
- Alaa Ahmed, 20th Century Battlefields- Episode 1- 1918 Western Front [Video], < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJe2CsdwXZw> (accessed 19/07/2018).
- John Terraine, ‘The Battle of Amiens, August 8th 1916’, History Today, Vol 8, 1958, pp. 7.