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Battle of Amiens, 8 August-3 September 1918

Battle of Amiens, 8 August-3 September 1918

Battle of Amiens, 8 August-3 September 1918

The battle of Amiens, 8 August-3 September 1918, is often seen as the turning point on the Western Front (First World War). The first half of the year had been dominated by German offensives, starting with the second battle of the Somme (21 March-4 April 1918), which had driven the British back almost to the outskirts of Amiens, creating a massive salient in the Allied lines.

The Allied counterattack began during the second battle of the Marne (15 July-5 August 1918). This saw the failure of the final German offensive and a Franco-American counterattack (Aisne-Marne Offensive, 18 July-5 August) that pushed the Germans out of the Château-Thierry salient. On 24 July, while this battle was going on, the Allied commanders-in-chiefs met at Bombon to decide what to do next. The general assumption was that the war would continue into 1919, but Foch planned a series of counterattacks for 1918. The initial aim was to push the Germans out of three awkward salients, at St. Mihiel, Château-Thierry and Amiens. If theses attacks went well, then a general offensive would follow.

The British contribution to this plan was the battle of Amiens. Even before the meeting at Bombon, Haig had directed General Rawlinson, in command of the Fourth Army around Amiens, to prepare for an attack on the salient. Rawlinson developed a plan for a tank battle. Rawlinson had a multi-national army, with American, Australian, Canadian and British divisions. He was given 530 British and 70 French tanks, of which 96 were supply tanks, 22 gun carriers and 420 fighting tank, including 324 Mark Vs. For the purposes of the Amiens attack Haig was also given control of the French First Army (Debeny), to the right of the British position. Eight French divisions would take part in the attack at Amiens.

The key to Rawlinson’s plan was surprise. He was planning a ten division attack against a 10 mile front (with the Canadians and Australians making up the majority of the infantry). It was essential that the Germans did not suspect what was coming – a well timed German counter-bombardment could have inflicted crippling casualties on the British attack. Accordingly, Rawlinson planned to attack without any preliminary artillery bombardment. The attack would begin with the tanks, supported by infantry and protected by a creeping barrage. The artillery would open fire at the same time as the tank advance. To the right the French First Army was short of tanks. In order to preserve the surprise, the French would begin an artillery bombardment at the same time as the British attack, and then follow up with their infantry 45 minutes later.

The German line was defended by twenty tired divisions from the Eighteenth Army (von Hutier) and Second Army (Marwitz). In the four months since they had captured the salient, the Germans had created a strong defensive system. According to Ludendorff, “the divisional fronts were narrow, artillery was plentiful, and the trench system was organised in depth. All experience gained on the 18th July had been acted upon”.

The attack began on 8 August. In the first few hours of the battle six German divisions collapsed. Entire units began to surrender. Ludendorff called 8 August the “Black Day of the German Army”. By the end of the day the Allied had advanced nine miles over the entire ten mile front. 16,000 prisoners were taken during the first day.

The first phase of the battle ended on 11 August. The Germans had retreated to the lines they had held before the first battle of the Somme. Haig felt that these lines were too strong to attack without a proper artillery bombardment – the old Somme battlefield was a wasteland of shell craters unsuited to tank warfare.

Instead, Haig launched a second attack further north, using the Third Army (Byng) and part of the First Army (Horne). The purpose of this attack, known as the battle of Bapaume, was to force the Germans back to the line of the Somme. This attack began on 21 August. After seeing off a German counterattack on 22 August, the British advance forced the Germans to retreat to the Somme. The attack expanded to include the First and Fourth Armies, while the French continued their own attack further south.

On 26 August the Germans held a new line running along the Somme south from Péronne, then across open country to Noyon on the Oise. On 29 August the New Zealanders capture Bapaume, in the centre of this line. The Australians made the next breakthrough, fighting their way across the Somme on the night of 30-31 August and capturing Péronne. Finally, on 2 September the Canadian Corps, fighting with the First Army, broke through the Drocourt-Quéant switch, south east of Arras. These breakthroughs forced the Germans to abandon the line of the Somme and retreat all the way to the Hindenburg Line.

The unexpected extent of the British and Commonwealth armies’ successes at Amiens and Bapaume encouraged Foch to plan a massive triple offensive for the end of September, with the intention of breaking the Hindenburg Line and forcing the Germans out of France (Meuse-Argonne offensive, battle of Flanders and battle of Cambrai-St. Quentin).

The Germans suffered very heavy losses during the battle of Amiens. The British and French captured 33,000 prisoners and inflicted between 50,000 and 70,000 casualties on the Germans. The British lost 22,000 men, the French 20,000. The great triple offensive would achieve its main aim, and trigger the eventual German collapse, but at much higher cost.

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Battles of the Somme 1918: Allied Summer Offensive

The Second Battles of the Somme 1918 were fought in the summer of that year, following the German spring offensive of Operation Michael. The Allied offensive of the summer opened with the Battle of Amiens on 8 August. The French Army attacked at the same time to the south of the river Somme in the Battle of Montdidier. Ten Allied divisions were involved including Australian and Canadian forces serving with the British Fourth Army. The Allied forces surprised the Germans on the first day of 8 August and made rapid progress eastwards of several miles, taking hundreds of German prisoners on the way. The significant advance recaptured much of the ground lost by the Allies in March, earlier in the year. This battle marked the end of the stalemate of trench warfare on the Western Front, the effective combination of infantry, air support and tanks. It was the beginning of several battles from August to November 1918, which became known as the Hundred Days Offensive. The Allied success of 8 August was a black day for the German Army.

The British Third Army and the United States II Corps launched the attack to recapture Albert on 21 August. The town of Albert was retaken on 22 and the town of Bapaume was captured on 29 August.

The success of the Battle of Amiens continued with the Second Battle of Bapaume from 21 August. The British Third Army and the United States II Corps launched the attack. The town of Albert was retaken on 22 and the town of Bapaume was captured on 29 August.

During the night of 30/31 August troops of the Australian 2nd Division crossed the marshy ground and the Somme river to make their way up the slope to the high ground of Mont St. Quentin. A German-held position on this hill overlooked the town of Péronne and provided the Germans with a good vantage point over any Allied attack in daylight. Successfully taking the summit of the hill, the Australians were pushed off it again when German reserves arrived to recapture the position. The next day, however, the Australians managed to push the Germans off the hill completely and it was finally under Allied control. The town of Péronne was captured on 1 September. The Australian units involved suffered high casualties but had achieved a great success in capturing the position, resulting in the start of a German withdrawal to the east.


From Amiens to Armistice: The Hundred Days Offensive

The Hundred Days Offensive, also known as the Advance to Victory, was a series of Allied successes that pushed the German Army back to the battlefields of 1914.

The German Spring Offensive came close to breaking the Allied front line but they just managed to hold on. In the Second Battle of the Marne (15 July-6 August), the Germans once again failed to deliver a decisive blow and on 18 July the Allied counter-attack, led by the French, pushed them back again. The Marne was to be the last German offensive. The Allies now seized the initiative.

Cooperation was a significant factor in the success of the offensive. General Ferdinand Foch was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces on the Western Front in March 1918. He directed overall strategy which ensured a coordinated approach by the French, British and American armies.

The Allies Control the Skies

The Allies Control the Skies

The Hundred Days Offensive actually spanned 95 days beginning with the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918 and ending with the Armistice on 11 November 1918.

By the summer of 1918 the Allies had control of the skies. British, French and American aircraft at times outnumbered their German counterparts five to one. Their dominance in the air enabled the Allies to photograph German positions and direct their artillery fire from aircraft as well as prevent the Germans from doing the same. This allowed the Allies to conceal their preparations and keep the German Army guessing about where the next attack would come from.

The Battle of Amiens Begins

The Battle of Amiens Begins

At 4.20am on 8 August 1918 the Battle of Amiens began. It was a morning of heavy fog and the Germans were taken completely by surprise. Some German officers were reportedly captured while still eating their breakfast! The Australian Corps and Canadian Corps spearheaded the attack and advanced quickly behind the 534 tanks, reaching their objectives within hours.​

​When the advance was halted on 11 August, the Allies shifted their attack to a different part of the line. This new strategy contributed to the success of the offensive by continually stretching the German Army’s resources and manpower. The Allies continued to attack in this way throughout the summer and autumn of 1918, giving the increasingly exhausted and depleted German Army little respite.

By the end of August the Allies had notably captured Albert, Bapaume, Noyon and Peronne during the Second Battle of the Somme.​

The Americans

The Americans

By the end of August there were over 1.4 million American troops in France. It was the arrival of these fresh troops that enabled the Allies to continue fighting after their significant losses during the German Spring Offensive.

The attack on the St Mihiel salient (12-15 September) was the first and only American led attack during the First World War. It was a relatively easy victory as it caught the German Army on the retreat but it established the American Army as a formidable fighting force.

With the success at St Mihiel the Americans were moved to support the ambitious attack planned by Marshal Foch at the Battles of Meuse-Argonne. This was the main contribution of the American Army in the First World War and the losses were high amongst their inexperienced troops.

Into the Open

Into the Open

The Allied armies deployed new tactics to overcome the stalemate of trench warfare. Artillery, tanks and air power were successfully utilised in a new coordinated all-arms approach. Allied success saw fighting move from the trenches out into the open. ​

Allied artillery dominated the battlefield paving the way for a breakthrough. However, German machine guns hindered their advances so that most attacks were made under cover of darkness.

Tanks were still relatively new weapons and were most useful for crushing barbed wire obstacles, destroying machine-gun posts and in village fighting. They would be followed by small groups of infantry. They carried cribs , frames made of wood and steel, which could be dropped to enable them to cross wide trenches.

The rapid movement caused difficulties in getting supplies to the front, and few of the soldiers who were in the field in 1918 had received training in open warfare.

The Hindenburg Line

The Hindenburg Line

By late September the Allied forces were facing the Hindenburg line, a series of heavily fortified positions that formed the main German defences.​

The Battle of St Quentin Canal (29 September 1918) was a crucial victory that broke through one of the strongest sections of the Hindenburg Line. Following the complete breakthrough of the line in early October, General Ludendorff is reported to have said that the “situation of the [German] Army demands an immediate armistice in order to save a catastrophe”.

Although it would still be several weeks before the Armistice, it was clear that Germany now could not win the war.

The 'Black Day of the German Army'

The 'Black Day of the German Army'

Throughout the Hundred Days Offensive, poor morale in the German Army contributed significantly to the Allied victories. The failure of the Spring Offensive and the surprise counter-attack at Amiens demoralised the German troops. Around 30,000 German soldiers surrendered during the Battle of Amiens. Ludendorff described the first day of this battle as the “black day of the German Army”. Huge numbers of German prisoners were also taken at the Battle of St. Quentin Canal. The 46th Division alone captured over 4,000 men. General Sir Henry Rawlinson remarked that the Hindenburg line would have been impregnable if it had been defended by the German Army of two years earlier.

The Canadian Corps Reaches Mons

The Canadian Corps Reaches Mons

The Canadian Corps reached Mons at 4am on 11 November 1918. They were surrounded by jubilant civilians as they marched through the streets. Mons had been the location of the first battle fought by the British Army in August 1914 and had been occupied by the Germans for the duration of the war.​

​ Fighting on the Western Front continued right up to the last minute until finally, at 11am on 11 November 1918, the Armistice came into effect and hostilities ceased.​

The Cost of victory

The Cost of victory

The Hundred Days Offensive brought victory, but at a huge cost. Allied casualties between August and November 1918 were around 700,000. German casualties were slightly higher at around 760,000.

Initially the Allies had not expected the offensive to end the war but were planning their final attack for the Spring of 1919. However, their impressive feat of arms during the Hundred Days broke the spirit of the German Army and inflicted losses from which they could not recover. ​


Military conflicts similar to or like Battle of Amiens (1918)

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Aftermath

The Battle of Amiens was a major turning point in the tempo of the war. The Germans had started the war with the Schlieffen Plan before the Race to the Sea slowed movement on the Western Front and the war devolved into trench warfare. The German Spring Offensive earlier that year had once again given Germany the offensive edge on the Western Front. Armoured support helped the Allies tear a hole through trench lines, weakening once impregnable trench positions. The British Third Army with no armoured support had almost no effect on the line while the Fourth, with fewer than a thousand tanks, broke deep into German territory. Australian commander John Monash was knighted by King George V in the days following the battle.

British war correspondent Philip Gibbs noted Amiens' effect on the war's tempo, saying on 27 August that, "the enemy. is on the defensive" and, "the initiative of attack is so completely in our hands that we are able to strike him at many different places." Gibbs also credits Amiens with a shift in troop morale, saying, "the change has been greater in the minds of men than in the taking of territory. On our side the army seems to be buoyed up with the enormous hope of getting on with this business quickly" and that, "there is a change also in the enemy's mind. They no longer have even a dim hope of victory on this western front. All they hope for now is to defend themselves long enough to gain peace by negotiation."

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Storm of Steel

For those fans of podcasts, Sir Hew Strachan has an in-depth look at the Battle of Amiens HERE.

Rob Thompson has also written a paper for the Western Front Association about the planning of the battle and the logistical challenges, click HERE for a PDF of the paper.

There's plenty there to get your teeth into!

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Comments

Really nice, is that n 8 x 6 grid If so is that standard for square bashing and who does those figures. Copying this to The Wargames Site as well. Thanks for posting this, I like grids and this is just very different.

Thanks Norm, I replied on TWW, but in case anyone else is reading this: the grids are 6" squares on a 4 x3 ft board, which is standard Square Bashing size. All figures are from Peter Pig, except two tanks from PSC's Great War expansion!


The Use of wireless at the Battle of Amiens 8 - 11 August 1918

A dissertation submitted as part of the requirements for the degree of MA in British First World War Studies at the University of Birmingham. This work won the WFA's prize for the best dissertation of 2013 which was awarded at the WFA President's Conference of 2014.

Introduction

  • Chapter 1 Signals Intelligence: The plans for secrecy and deception
  • Chapter 2 The use of wireless with the ground forces
  • Chapter 3 The use of wireless with the Royal Air Force
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Abbreviations

  • ADM Admiralty.
  • AFA Australian Field Artillery.
  • AIR Air Ministry.
  • AWM Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
  • BEF British Expeditionary Force.
  • CBSO Counter Battery Staff Officer.
  • CCHA Canadian Corps Heavy Artillery.
  • CW Continuous Wave.
  • GHQ General Headquarters (of the BEF).
  • GOC General Officer Commanding.
  • HQ Headquarters.
  • IWM Imperial War Museum, London.
  • LHCMA Liddle Hart Centre for Military Archives, London.
  • NAC National Archives of Canada, Ottawa.
  • O.A.D Official Army Despatch.
  • OR Other Ranks.
  • RA Royal Artillery.
  • RAI Royal Artillery Institute, London.
  • R.A.F. Royal Air Force
  • RFA Royal Field Artillery.
  • RFC Royal Flying Corps.
  • TNA National Archives, London.
  • WT Wireless Telegraphy.
  • WO War Office.

Introduction

There is a general consensus amongst historians that the Battle of Amiens marked the beginning of the end on the Western Front during the First World War.[1] The object of this dissertation is to examine the role and contribution of wireless communication to the success of the British Expeditionary Force (hereafter BEF) in the four days from August 8 to 11, 1918.

The significance of Amiens and wireless communication

Despite the consensus mentioned above, the British Official Historian, Brigadier-General Sir James Edmonds, opined that the success gained at Amiens was only 'what the Germans would call an ordinary victory'.[2] Edmonds went on to clarify this statement by explaining that, although Amiens was not a strategic victory, it did nonetheless deal the German Army a decisive blow to their morale, which resulted in a loss of faith in final victory.[3] However, it is probably more accurate to state that Amiens exacerbated the decline of morale in the German Army, a decline that had begun in the period following the failed March offensives.[4] This is confirmed by General Erich Ludendorff who although referring to 8 August as 'The Black Day of the German Army', believed that it was the prior loss of discipline and fighting capacity that had been the root cause of the collapse.[5] This loss of discipline was certainly evident at Amiens, a measure of which can be gained from the number of prisoners taken by the BEF more enemy troops were captured in the six days from August 6 to August 12 than in the previous nine months combined.[6] Amiens did therefore deal the German Army a decisive blow and as a result 8 August is deserving of the title coined by Charles Messenger: 'The Day We Won the War'.[7]

Paddy Griffith has argued that it was the failure of communications on the Western Front that was the limiting factor in achieving a decisive break-through.[8] Although Amiens was not a 'break-out' battle, it was nevertheless a successful 'break-in' during which communications played an important part. A measure of this importance can be gained from statistics relating to Fourth Army's telegraph traffic, which show that from 8 – 11 August there was an average of 6,100 telegraphs handled per day.[9] No breakdown of these figures is available but it is likely that the majority were handled by the ground and poled cable network rather than by wireless.[10] However, ever since the March retreat it had been recognised that wireless was an essential means of communication in mobile warfare.[11] Consequently a number of measures were adopted in the early summer of 1918 to force the integration of this technology into standard signalling policy. These included the allocating of certain days to be used solely for wireless communications and practice days to simulate the use of wireless in mobile warfare.[12] Amiens was the first real opportunity to determine whether this newfound confidence placed in wireless was justified.

Historiography

Even though the success at Amiens ultimately led to victory in the west this period of the First World War is strangely neglected, Britons preferring to remember the 'mud and blood' of the battles of 1916 and 1917.[13] Jonathan Boff has shown that this culture extends to historians in that 24 works of military history were published on the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme compared with only four on the 90th anniversary of the 'Hundred Days'.[14] One of the more obvious explanations for this dearth of historical works is the almost morbid fascination with the tragedy of war but Sydney Wise suggests that British historians have avoided this period due to its dominance by Dominion success.[15] The former is more plausible than the latter. A number of authoritative works do exist though, particularly concerned with the period of the Hundred Days, perhaps the most definitive of which is The Story of the Fourth Army by Major-General Sir Archibald Montgomery.[16] This work is written from a unique personal perspective with the author having privileged access to a wealth of original documents and as such it is rich in operational detail. However, it is distinctly lacking in detail with regards to communications and signalling. More recent secondary works fare no better in this regard, examples being Amiens to the Armistice and The Day We Won the War.[17] For instance, the latter does not mention the work of kite balloons or artillery aircraft, both of which used wireless extensively in the battle, this is despite a chapter dedicated to air operations.[18] Surprisingly, a similar criticism can be levelled at the Official History of the R.A.F. during the First World War.[19] The three national Official Histories also contain a paucity of references with respect to wireless, there being only 10 in total three British, three Australian and four Canadian.[20] The latter does go into a reasonable amount of detail regarding the deception plan at Amiens, which is the subject of Chapter 1, but provides little information concerning the wireless aspect of the plan.[21] A comprehensive history of the work of the Signal Service was written in 1921 and until recently this work remained the authoritative text. However its staccato narrative makes for a difficult read and was described by Paddy Griffith as 'positively the most impenetrable book ever written on the war'.[22] A distinctly more modern and readable study is Brian Hall's Ph.D. thesis on communications, which Jonathan Boff suggests will replace Priestley's and become the 'standard work'.[23] Although this work contains a 20-page chapter on communications at the Battle of Amiens, within which wireless is discussed in some detail, there is no measurement of its importance during the battle.[24] Hall's later work, which is dedicated to wireless communications, describes the 'learning curve' in relation to the importance of wireless to the mobile battle and its viability as an alternative to cable.[25] The limitation of this work is that it is wide in scope and therefore is unable to dwell on particular actions or engagements Amiens is only mentioned briefly in the broader context of the Hundred Days.

Primary Sources

The majority of the material used in this dissertation is contained within the various War Diaries at the National Archives, London. However, there are several gaps in these records, the largest of which are in connection with the wireless observation groups, signal schools and code breaking of the latter only 25 of the 3,330 files have survived.[26] In addition, there is only one diary remaining from the army signal schools and only one from the wireless observation groups both relate to the Middle East theatre and contain no useful information.[27] Personal papers and memoirs have been found to be useful although there is a distinct lack of memoirs in relation to wireless personnel.[28]

This dissertation will attempt to measure the effectiveness of wireless during the battle by analysis of three main subjects each with its own chapter. Chapter 1 will examine the importance of signals intelligence to the secrecy plan and what contribution it made to the fundamental objective of maintaining the element of surprise. The British Official History refers to this element of surprise as 'the essence of the Allied success'.[29] The key questions to be addressed in this chapter therefore are first, how important was the element of surprise to the overall success of the battle and second, what part did wireless play in maintaining the element of surprise? In order to answer these questions the secrecy plan will be broken down into three component parts namely the feint at Kemmel in Flanders, the feint at Arras, and the measures taken on the Fourth Army front at Amiens.

Chapter 2 will focus on a the use of wireless by the ground forces, including infantry, artillery, tanks, as well as ancillary formations such as the field survey companies. One of the key objectives of this chapter is to provide information that can assist in determining whether there is a relationship between combat effectiveness and the use of wireless. The initial problem is to determine which troops were the most combat effective. The Dominion troops gained a reputation as elite troops on the Western Front and this reputation was reinforced by Sir James Edmonds who believed that the Australian and Canadian officers and n.c.o's demonstrated superior leadership qualities in relation to their British counterparts.[30]Peter Simkins suggests that Edmonds criticism of British junior leadership is unjustified and has launched a convincing defence of British divisions.[31] Simkins cites the average success rate in opposed attacks for the nine British divisions who served in Fourth Army during the Hundred Days as 70.7 per cent.[32] This is identical to the figure for the five Australian divisions and similar to that of the four Canadian divisions, the latter achieving 72.5 per cent.[33] This comparative study of the combat performance of the British and Dominion divisions in Fourth Army will be mirrored with respect to the use of wireless in this dissertation. One of the problems faced in compiling this chapter was the paucity of primary sources in relation to the British divisions that took part at Amiens. This is in complete contrast to the Canadian and Australian records that contain a wealth of detailed information, which makes a comparison difficult. The key questions to be addressed in this chapter are first, to what extent was wireless used with the ground forces at Amiens, second, how does the use of wireless compare between the Dominion and British divisions and third, how important was wireless in the overall communications scheme.

Chapter 3 will examine the use wireless by the R.A.F., specifically aircraft and kite balloons. These balloons have received little attention from historians despite being a key component of the artillery counter battery function as well important gatherers of intelligence both at a tactical and operation level. This chapter will show that balloons were actually responsible for the neutralisation of more hostile batteries by wireless than dedicated artillery aircraft during the battle. This is despite the fact that artillery aircraft had been using wireless extensively since 1917 as Bidwell and Graham have observed:

By 1917, as 90 per cent of counter battery observation was done by airmen using wireless, the success of the artillery battle had come to depend on the weather being suitable for flying, on wireless reception and on a network of telephone lines from the receivers to the users of the airmen's information.[34]

The key questions that will be examined in this chapter are first, to what extent was wireless used with the air forces and second how important were these wireless equipped craft to the overall effectiveness of the artillery function.

In summary this dissertation will add to the historiography of both the Battle of Amiens and communications by examining the use of wireless in the most decisive battle of the First World War. Tim Travers has argued that technology was more important than tactics when it came to the combination of arms in 1918 this is perhaps going too far but there is little doubt that technology when used correctly is important in warfare.[35] This dissertation will show that the BEF was using new technology such as wireless to good effect and attempting to integrate it into an evolving weapons system. It will also show that wireless was a useful but not essential component of that system.

Chapter 1

Signals Intelligence: The plans for secrecy and deception

On 17 July 1918 General Sir Henry Rawlinson, GOC Fourth Army, wrote to GHQ outlining his proposals for the offensive and emphasizing the importance of secrecy:

The success of the operation will depend to a very great extent, as was the case on the 4th July, on effecting a complete surprise. Secrecy, in my opinion, is therefore, of vital importance and must be the basis on which the whole scheme is built up.[36]

The measures used to bring about surprise form the basis of the discussion in this chapter, particularly with respect to wireless. In addition, an attempt will be made to determine how effective these measures were and what contribution they made to the overall success of the operation.

The plan to bring about surprise at Amiens was highly complex but the majority of its components were encapsulated in three operational documents, two of which were issued by GHQ and one by Fourth Army.[37] At this stage of the war GHQ was exercising much more control over matters of operational security and pursuing a 'definite policy' of misleading the enemy.[38] The plan was essentially in three parts, namely preparations for a feint attack at Kemmel, preparations for a feint attack at Arras and finally, matters pertaining to general operational security. An overview of these plans can be seen in the charts below.

The Kemmel feint was not only aimed at deliberately misleading the enemy as to the location of a potential offensive but more importantly, it was designed to camouflage the movement of Canadian Corps from Arras to Amiens. With a fighting strength of 118,000 men the Canadian Corps was the largest Corps in the BEF and they were well known to the Germans as attacking troops.[39] As Rawlinson noted shortly after the battle: 'wherever the Canadian Corps was identified by the enemy, he would certainly expect an early offensive'.[40]

Diagram 1.1: The Kemmel Plan

This plan, issued on 27 July, involved the Canadian and Tank wireless sets along with their respective operators, two Canadian infantry battalions, and two Canadian casualty clearing stations, all being relocated from First Army to Second Army.[41] In addition the R.A.F. was ordered to make arrangements with Second Army for occupation of additional aerodromes and to steadily increase aerial activity on this front up to two days before the battle.[42] The object of these arrangements was:

. to give colour to a plan for the interpolation of the Canadian Corps into the line with a view to delivering an attack. The wireless stations will operate and the Battalions be put into the line.[43]

It was hoped that this would give the impression of an advanced party paving the way for the imminent arrival of the whole Canadian Corps and to make this seem more convincing false movement orders were issued on 28 July.[44] The historian S.F. Wise has commented that the measures of deception used to hide the movement of the Canadian Corps are well known.[45] This is not strictly correct as although many abridged accounts have appeared in historical works they tend to be based almost entirely on information contained within the Official Histories, are lacking in detail and contain a number of inaccuracies. For example, Tim Travers incorrectly states that when the Canadian Corps moved to Fourth Army they disguised their move by 'leaving their radio units behind'.[46] The source of this inaccuracy is probably Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson who, in an uncharacteristic misquote of the Canadian Official History, state that 'dummy wireless stations were set up at Arras'.[47] The Canadian Official History correctly places these dummy wireless stations in Flanders.[48] However, it is not only the location of the wireless stations that is incorrectly cited but also details of the actual units that took part. For instance, Shane Schreiber states that these units were the Canadian Corps wireless section they were however divisional units as instructed in the operational orders.[49] Some confusion on this point is justified though as it is difficult to extract a definitive answer from the war diaries regarding exactly which units were involved. The diary of the 1 Canadian Divisional Signal Company states that orders were received from First Army on 30 July to send the headquarters wireless set, along with wireless operators, to Flanders and that X Corps took receipt later that day.[50] The 1 Canadian Division's after action report confirms this but adds that it was the wireless sets of all four Canadian divisions that were sent north to Second Army.[51] However, there is no mention of this in the respective war diaries of those other divisions. Further confusion arises as a result of an entry in the GHQ war diary, which contains an instruction to Second Army, dated 2 August to immediately return the 2 Canadian Divisional wireless sets to Fourth Army.[52] This diary though makes no mention of any other Canadian divisional sets, including those of 1 Canadian Division.[53] This leaves two possible explanations, either one of the GHQ or 1 Canadian Division war diaries could be in error, or both the 1 Canadian and 2 Canadian divisional sets were sent and the GHQ instruction regarding the 1 Canadian divisional set was either omitted or not required. The latter is the most likely as the original instruction to send the wireless sets to Second Army asked for 'two Canadian Divisional Wireless Sets'.[54] The Director of Second Army Signals war diary does record receipt of two wireless sets from First Army but erroneously gives the date of receipt as the 25 July, which is two days before the initial instruction from GHQ was sent out.[55] Further weight is added to the wireless sets being from both the 1 and 2 Divisional Signal Companies as both of their war diaries make specific reference to X Corps on consecutive days. Although the diary of the 2 Divisional Signal Company does not make reference to a wireless set being dispatched it does record that a visit was made to X Corps on 29 July by its commanding officer as well as one other officer.[56]

The final inaccuracy with regard to the movement of the Canadian divisional wireless sets and their operators concerns what happened to them after arrival in Second Army. Daniel Dancocks suggests that they were assigned to Sydney Lawford's 41 Division but examination of that division's war diary reveals that it was American and not Canadian wireless personnel that were attached to that division on 29 July.[57] Evidence in support of these men being American is compelling due to the fact that the Second Army war diary records four battalions of American infantry beginning their attachment to 41 Division and 6 Division on 26 July.[58] Furthermore 41 Division was allocated to XIX Corps and not X Corps. As neither the X Corps war diaries nor its associated divisional war diaries contain any reference to the Canadians and their wireless sets, their attachment within Second Army remains a point of conjecture. Once established with Second Army it is not entirely clear what messages the Canadians sent, to whom they were sent and in what format they were sent. Regarding the latter, once again there is an ambiguity as Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, GOC Canadian Corps, wrote that the messages were sent 'worded so as to permit the enemy to decipher the identity of the senders' whereas an after action report draft narrative states they were sent 'in clear'.[59] The latter would probably have raised too much suspicion, as the Germans were well aware that the BEF only sent messages in clear in emergencies.[60] One of the most likely methods that could have been used by the Canadian signallers to allow their identity to be discovered would have been to have reverted back to the insecure call sign system that had been replaced in First Army in May 1918. This system identified a formation by three letters such that the letters "AUO" would represent the Australian Corps and the "CAO" the Canadian Corps.[61] In addition, it would have been possible for the Germans to identify these units by the wavelength they employed. This had been recognised by GHQ by 5 August 1918 who were working on a system to allot new wavelengths although this was not done in time for the battle.[62]

The tank wireless sets were supplied by the 1 Tank Brigade Signal Company, whose war diary records that on 1 August 'Lt Mainprize and 10 OR's were sent for special wireless duty in Second Army area'.[63] Despite the fact that these men were performing this 'special duty' for nine days before returning to their unit very little information is available regarding the exact nature of their work. The British Official History simply records that 'great activity was exhibited by the wireless stations of First and Second Army on the tank wavelength which was well known to the Germans'.[64]

As the orders in Second Army area were being enacted a simultaneous plan was being put into effect on the front of First Army in the region of Arras.

Diagram 1.2: The Arras plan

The instructions contained in the Annexure to O.A.D 900/1 regarding this part of the deception plan read:

Every effort will be made by the First Army to foster the belief, which appears to exist, that an attack is imminent in the ARRAS sector.[65]

To assist this effort, on 27 July the First Army was instructed to make arrangements for one cavalry wireless set to be operated behind the Arras front.[66] Additionally, the wireless sets of the reserve divisions of First Army, together with those of the Second and Third Armies, were instructed to be setup and operated behind their respective fronts whilst wireless activity on all other fronts was ordered to cease.[67] The cavalry orders were changed on 30 July when instructions were given that only in the event of a relocation of the Cavalry Corps headquarters would the Corps wireless station be moved to First Army area.[68] Despite these instructions they were never implemented and instead the Cavalry Corps wireless duty station was simply dismantled under orders from GHQ and did not begin operating again until 2.30 a.m. on the morning of 8 August.[69] This change is probably due to GHQ realising that a silent wireless station could be just as useful as a dummy station with respect to the falsification of signals traffic. Two other activities were taking place within First Army front to complete the deception plan on this front. Firstly, a tank battalion was instructed to carry out manoeuvres in broad daylight as if in preparation for an attack, and secondly, Currie was busying himself with false plans for a feint in the Orange Hill area near Arras. This feint was first proposed by Currie at a conference with Rawlinson on 21 July and was as much about convincing Canadian troops of an impending attack as it was about convincing the Germans.[70] The next day, on the 22 July, he outlined the dummy plans to his divisional commanders and, according to the Canadian Corps CBSO, Lt. Colonel Andrew Macnaughton, gave a very convincing performance.[71]

Finally, a series of general security measures were implemented prior to the opening of the offensive on 8 August these were designed to maximise the element of surprise. They included dispensing with the preliminary barrage and instead relying on accurate survey techniques and the mass use of tanks, the engine noise of which being cloaked by low flying aircraft, minimising unusual activity near the front line and pasting a notice in the men's pay books ordering them to 'keep their mouth's shut'.[72] Even the lie of the country favoured a surprise attack with its covered approaches.[73]

Diagram 1.3: The general secrecy measures at Amiens

Additionally, in July 1918, the wireless security measures adopted by the British Armies in France were revised and improved. The improvements involved the use of 'silent days' and an overhaul of the wireless call signs used by all formations. A 'silent day' was usually a 12-24 hour period within which the use of field telephones, power buzzers and wireless was strictly forbidden. It was well known that any abnormal communications silence or activity, particularly with respect to wireless was a 'sure sign' that an offensive was impending.[74] Silent days were therefore an attempt to obfuscate the conclusions that would otherwise be drawn from listening in to the BEF's signals activity. John Ferris suggests that these periods of silence were random but it seems much more likely that they were deliberately planned, particularly with respect Amiens.[75] For example, the war diary of 30 Division records only three silent days for the whole of 1918 and these occurred on 24 July, 1 August and 10 August. The 30 Division was part of X Corps during this period and although there is no record of silent days in that formation's war diary a wireless operator in 30 Division confided to his personal diary that 24 July was a 'silent day for the corps'.[76] It would therefore seem probable that 1 and 10 August would also have applied to the whole corps. The three silent dates fall just before, and during the Battle of Amiens, and given that X Corps were located within Second Army, who were the hosts of a wireless deception plan with respect to the Canadian Corps, this would seem to suggest that these days were part of a carefully orchestrated plan.

In addition to the silent days the system of calls signs underwent a radical change beginning in May 1918 when, according to a captured German document, four letter codes were introduced to identify units.[77] This same document also states that the Germans had succeeded in penetrating this system by July 1918 after which call signs were changed daily these statements are quoted by John Ferris in his 1988 journal article.[78] A significant proportion of Ferris's article is based on this document, however the latter is fundamentally flawed for two reasons. First, what happened in May was not the introduction of four letter codes but rather the frequency of change became daily instead of bi-monthly, and second, in July it was not the daily change that was introduced but a much higher level of security through encryption of the call signs.[79] As a result, the statement that the Germans succeeded in 'penetrating this system' lacks credibility, as the system they claimed to penetrate was not the one in existence.[80] The conclusion that the Germans were not successful in penetrating the system of daily call sign changes is supported by another translated document, dated 1 August, from the German 51 Corps that noted 'a striking improvement has lately taken place in the telephone and wireless discipline of our enemies'.[81] This general tightening of wireless signals security ultimately helped facilitate the element of surprise at Amiens. How effective though were the other wireless deception measures at Kemmel and Arras and did they also succeed in their objective?

According to Sir Arthur Currie, when the offensive at Amiens was launched on 8 August the surprise was 'complete and overwhelming'.[82] Prisoners from four separate divisions, captured by the Australians early on 8 August, also stated that the attack had been a 'complete surprise'.[83] This is not entirely true as a number of prisoners captured on 8 August testified that two factors had led them to believe that an attack was expected, although not imminent these factors were an increase in air activity and movement behind the lines.[84] The latter had been a concern of 2 Canadian Division who, prior to the battle reported:

. a very large movement by day of heavy artillery and ammunition lorries. Although the visibility from the air was poor, it was certain that some of this movement was observed by the enemy.[85]

In addition, on 4 August the German Oberste-Heeresleitung reported that two Canadian divisions previously on the Arras front had been replaced and that this required particular attention to be paid to the fronts of the British Third and Fourth Armies.[86] A certain amount of suspicion was also raised by the communications silence that had preceded the attack.[87] It is interesting that no mention was made of the British Second Army front despite the fact that the Germans had established the presence of Canadian troops in Flanders.[88] The Australian Official History states that it was only the presence of Canadian Wireless and not infantry that was detected in Flanders, although the source of this assertion is unclear.[89] Ernst Kabisch states that both the presence of the two Canadian battalions and their wireless sets were detected, as does the German Official History.[90] Despite this the German Army staff did not update their situation maps, which, on the morning of 8 August, still showed the four Canadian divisions, clustered around Arras.[91] It is unlikely that this was as a result of the Orange Hill feint, it is probably more the result of incomplete intelligence confirming that the entire divisions had moved. The result of all of this uncertainty was that the German staff were confused, but not convinced enough by the deception plans to change their troop dispositions.[92] However, the uncertainty combined with the other secrecy measures was enough to give the offensive at Amiens a high degree of surprise, even if that surprise was not total. Prior and Wilson argue that the deception plans served only one purpose and that was that the Germans did not move their artillery positions.[93] They also argue that not enough time would have been available to improve the poor state of the defences and adding more troops to the front line would simply have increased the number of casualties.[94] Regarding the first point, the Germans did actually move their artillery positions back eight days before the battle as a direct result of the Australian raid on 29 July.[95] This made very little difference as 95 per cent of the German guns were still located prior to the battle.[96] The latter point regarding adding of troops is somewhat moot as the Germans would have been more likely to bring in Eingreif divisions as their defensive doctrine was based on elastic defence in depth which called for a weakly held front line and counter attack troops in the rear.[97]

Two Canadian authors have opined that the deception plans were a major factor in the success on 8 August.[98] These plans do appear to have at least confused the Canadian troops according to an entry in Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig's diary dated 7 August, which reads:

The move of some Canadian battalions and casualty clearing stations to our Second Army front seems to have quite misled the Canadian troops and many spoke of the "coming offensive to retake Kemmel"![99]

The evidence suggests though that the Germans were more confused than deceived by these plans. The wireless stations in Flanders do seem to have come to the attention of the Germans, even more so than the two infantry battalions according to the Australian Official History, which suggests that wireless did make a significant contribution to this confusion. Other wireless security measures such as the new system of wireless call signs, the introduction of wireless 'silent days' and instructions to the Canadian Corps not to open wireless stations before zero simply added to this confusion.[100] The result was that German intelligence did not detect the relocation of the Canadian Corps from Arras to Amiens.[101] This was the decisive factor in the surprise at Amiens.

Chapter 2

The use of wireless with the ground forces

This chapter will discuss the extent to which wireless was used by the ground forces during the Battle of Amiens. In order to facilitate this discussion, two questions will be posed namely did the Dominion divisions use wireless to a greater extent than the Imperial divisions and how did the use of wireless as a communications medium compare with other forms of communication during the battle?

The official signals policy that applied at the Battle of Amiens was laid down eight months before in the training pamphlet S.S 191.[102] This recommended that in the case of a move from static to open warfare each advancing division should make use of 'as many means of transmission as circumstances will admit'.[103] It was recognised that it would not always be possible to connect divisional communication routes by telephone and therefore suggested a number of alternatives such as visual signalling, portable wireless sets, mounted orderlies and message carrying rockets.[104] Emphasis was placed on restoring telephone communications as soon as possible. Wireless though was a new science and, as John Terraine observed, was not a habit carried over from civilian life.[105] This made the staff reluctant to adopt wireless, despite the official endorsement in the training pamphlets in addition, the certainty of buried telephone cables in static conditions had created an air of complacency. Since 1 April 1916 orders had been issued that cable must be buried to a minimum depth of six feet in order to ensure immunity from a 5.9-inch shell.[106] This reluctance persisted up to the Battle of Amiens as evidenced by an after action report from the 4 Canadian Signal Division:

In stationary trench warfare seven foot buried cable has made the telephone service so certain that all other methods of communication have become superfluous and it is only the keenest optimism that has maintained the efficiency of such alternatives as wireless, visual and cable wagons.[107]

Attempts had been made, during the early summer months, to encourage the use of visual signalling and wireless by the use of what became known as 'silent days'.[108] These days were the complete antithesis of those mentioned in the previous chapter in so far as they only allowed the use of wireless and visual, the use of the telephone and telegraph being strictly forbidden. Unfortunately these days were not always successful as recorded by an artillery officer in the 1 Canadian Divisional Artillery.[109] There were also significant inherent problems with wireless. These included a lack of trained operators, susceptibility to jamming, heavy weight of sets, conspicuous aerials and the problem of enciphering and deciphering each message.[110] Despite these problems wireless technology was improving rapidly in 1918 and this resulted in greater confidence in the medium. For instance the 1917 pattern 'spark' trench set, which became available in large numbers in 1918, was capable of transmitting on 16 wavelengths instead of just two.[111] A Canadian Corps wireless intelligence report suggests that by August 1918 the BEF's wireless technology was one year ahead of the Germans who had been suffering from material shortages.[112]

However, the use of wireless at corps, division and brigade level varied tremendously at Amiens as shown in the table below.

Table 2.1: The use of wireless between infantry formations


BATTLE OF AMIENS 1918, and Operations 8th August-3rd Sept 1918.

BATTLE OF AMIENS 1918, and Operations 8th August-3rd September, 1918.' by Lt Col Kearsey.

First published in 1950 this book is a reprint of that edition. This is one of a series of studies on campaigns and battles of the Great War by Lt Col Kearsey, designed to help the student of military history, particularly those studying for Staff College. Sub-titled
‘The Turn of the Tide on the Western Front' the book examines the offensive
that marked the beginning of the end for Germany.

The Australians with their Canadian comrades, launched on the 8 August 1918, the Battle of Amiens the great offensive that was to bring the war to a victorious end.

Setting out from the positions of Villers-Bretonneux and Hamel, the Australian troops in two hours had accomplished all their objectives, and the Canadian troops who had begun
the attack alongside them had advanced several kilometres. In just over 3 hours,
the enemy's front line had been overrun. In total, the Allied forces captured
29,144 prisoners, 338 guns, and liberated 116 towns and villages. Ludendorff,
the German commander, famously called the 8th August "the black day of the German
Army"


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.


Battle of Amiens, August 10, 1918

Saturday We were up this a.m. at 5 o’c and moved about 12 miles up the line tis a great day am well, (11:20 a.m.) After a forced march this a.m. we pulled into action after a hurried lunch about 400 yds from the front line After an advance of 12 miles we were stopped by machine gun nest


Today’s reports are not particularly consistent, but the general outline is clear. At 1:30 this morning the 5 th Canadian Divisional Artillery is ordered forward in support of an attack by the 32 nd Division, (1) a British division which has been attached since yesterday to the Canadian Corps and is about to move forward to take the place of the 3 rd Canadian Division. (2) The 32 nd ’s artillery have been delayed because of German bombing last night. (2) The brigade leaves its camp near Dromart at dawn to be in a positions of readiness near Beaufort by late morning Percy has enough time to jot in his diary after a hurried lunch they go into action “on the run, kits and equipment flying in all directions.” (3) They are close to the front lines, too close, in fact, within machine-gun range, and only 700 yards behind the front-line infantry. Since the infantry are being held up by those machine guns, the battery retires to a position beside a stretch of disused trench, to the east of Folies. (3,1)

Why this happened is unclear: The 13 th Brigade officers say they were too close because they received wrong information from the 32 nd Division (1) much later, Nicholson, Canada’s official historian of the Great War, says that “by some misfortune the 32 nd Division jumped off a mile or more short of its assigned start line.” (4) In other words, the Canadians were where they were supposed to be the British weren’t.

I’ll quote again from the 43 rd Battery History: “So you will see that we are not qualified to give the military details of these operations and it remains only to discourse a little concerning the way in which the … fighting affected us, ‘who never could know and could never understand.”’ (5)

Generally the problem, when the infantry are moving quickly (13 km the first day another 6 yesterday), is getting the guns close enough to provide effective cover and wire-cutting. Today, the third day of the Battle of Amiens, the advance is slowing as German resistance is stronger: reinforcements are arriving – four fresh German divisions opposite the Canadians – with replacement guns and deadly machine guns. (6)

And they are now facing each other across land that shows the scars of much earlier fighting, “a belt some three miles wide pitted with shell-holes and the remains of old trenches, and befouled with tangles of rusty barbed wire overgrown with long, concealing grass. There was no lack of good sites for machine-gun posts, and the attackers were quickly to realize that the operation had suddenly reverted from open pursuit almost to the former pattern of trench warfare.” (4)

The infantry are attacking Le Quesnoy, Parvillers and Damery, and make some progress in the morning, but by the afternoon they are stalled, “stopped by machine-gun nest” says Percy. “Nest” is such a cosy word, but we must think of wasps rather than fledglings.

“The villages were alive with machine-gun nests which were used to deadly effect on the allied troops.” (7) The 5 th CDA guns will remain in action all night. (8)

***
The photograph © IWM (Q 9334) shows Canadian 18 pounders going forward. It will be taken about seven weeks from now.

The first map (from the McMaster University Digital Collection) shows Beaufort (A) where the 13th Brigade gathered in readiness, Folies (B) east of which they took up firing positions, and Parvillers-Daméry which are the infantry’s objectives. The second map (from the Canadian War Museum) indicates with purple dots where these locations are in reference to the territory we have been covering since the early morning of August 8th — a long way from that first position near Cachy and from last night’s near Dromart (also marked).


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: Timeline of World War 1 in movies (January 2022).