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World War I: Battle of Amiens

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Battle of Amiens - Conflict:

The Battle of Amiens occurred during World War I (1914-1918).

Battle of Amiens - Dates:

The British offensive began on August 8, 1918, and the first phase effectively ended on August 11.

Armies & Commanders:

Allies

  • Marshal Ferdinand Foch
  • Field Marshal Douglas Haig
  • Lieutenant General Sir Henry Rawlinson
  • Lieutenant General Sir John Monash
  • Lieutenant General Richard Butler
  • 25 divisions
  • 1,900 aircraft
  • 532 tanks

Germans

  • Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff
  • General Georg von der Marwitz
  • 29 divisions
  • 365 aircraft

Battle of Amiens - Background:

With the defeat of the 1918 German Spring Offensives, the Allies swiftly moved to counterattack. The first of these was launched in late July when French Marshal Ferdinand Foch opened the Second Battle of the Marne. A decisive victory, Allied troops succeeded in forcing the Germans back to their original lines. As the fighting at the Marne waned around August 6, British troops were preparing for a second assault near Amiens. Originally conceived by the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the attack was intended to open rail lines near the city.

Seeing an opportunity to continue the success achieved at the Marne, Foch insisted that the French First Army, just to the south of the BEF, be included in the plan. This was initially resisted by Haig as the British Fourth Army had already developed its assault plans. Led by Lieutenant General Sir Henry Rawlinson, the Fourth Army intended to skip the typical preliminary artillery bombardment in favor of a surprise attack led by the large-scale use of tanks. As the French lacked large numbers of tanks, a bombardment would be necessary to soften the German defenses on their front.

Battle of Amiens - The Allied Plans:

Meeting to discuss the attack, British and French commanders were able to strike a compromise. The First Army would take part in the assault, however its advance would commence forty-five minutes after the British. This would allow the Fourth Army to achieve surprise, but still permit the French to shell German positions Before attacking. Prior to the attack, the Fourth Army's front consisted of the British III Corps (Lt. Gen. Richard Butler) north of the Somme, with the Australian (Lt. Gen. Sir John Monash) and Canadian Corps (Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Currie) to the south of the river.

In the days prior the attack, extreme efforts were made to ensure secrecy. These included dispatching two battalions and a radio unit from the Canadian Corps to Ypres in an effort to convince the Germans that the entire corps was being shifted to that area. In addition, British confidence in the tactics to be used was high as they had been successfully tested in several localized assaults. At 4:20 AM on August 8, British artillery opened fire on specific German targets and also provided a creeping barrage in front of the advance.

Battle of Amienes - Moving Forward:

As the British began moving forward, the French commenced their preliminary bombardment. Striking General Georg von der Marwitz's Second Army, the British achieved complete surprise. South of the Somme, the Australians and Canadians were supported by eight battalions of the Royal Tank Corps and captured their first objectives by 7:10 AM. To the north, the III Corps occupied their first objective at 7:30 AM after advancing 4,000 yards. Opening a gaping fifteen-mile long hole in the German lines, British forces were able to keep the enemy from rallying and pressed the advance.

By 11:00 AM, the Australians and Canadians had moved forward three miles. With the enemy falling back, British cavalry moved forward to exploit the breach. The advance north of the river was slower as the III Corps was supported by fewer tanks and encountered heavy resistance along a wooded ridge near Chipilly. The French also had success and moved forward approximately five miles before nightfall. On average, the Allied advance on August 8 was seven miles, with the Canadians penetrating eight. Over the next two days, the Allied advance continued, though at a slower rate.

Battle of Amiens - Aftermath:

By August 11, the Germans had returned to their original, pre-Spring Offensives lines. Dubbed the "Blackest Day of the German Army" by Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff, August 8 saw a return to mobile warfare as well as the first large surrenders of German troops. By the conclusion of the first phase on August 11, Allied losses numbered 22,200 killed wounded and missing. German losses were an astounding 74,000 killed, wounded, and captured. Seeking to continue the advance, Haig launched a second assault August 21 with the goal of taking Bapaume. Pressing the enemy, the British broke through southeast of Arras on September 2, forcing the Germans to retreat to the Hindenburg Line. The British success at Amiens and Bapaume led Foch to plan the Meuse-Argonne Offensive which ended the war later that fall.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
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  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: 1900s
  6. World War I
  7. World War I Battles - Western Front
  8. World War I: Battle of Amiens (1914-1918)

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