Wednesday 8 August 2018

A Great Attack at Amiens

Thursday 8th August 1918

The army has been sensing it for some time but today the great attack on the enemy took place. Ever since the German offensive petered out just short of Amiens in April there has been the feeling that it will be necessary to push him out of the positions he took. Amiens is a vital rail-head. In addition any successful attack here which took the city would effectively split the British and French armies, giving a flank to attack on each formation. 

Today all thoughts of enemy success have been swept away by the allied forces. The attacking forces were drawn from all over the English-speaking World - the British III Corps, north of the River Somme and the Australian Corps and 33rd US Division (Illinois) south of the river. South of the Australians are the men from the mountains and prairies of Canada. 

The initial attack was undertaken by 2nd and 3rd Australian Divisions, Canadian 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions and 58th (2nd/1st London) and 18th (Eastern) Divisions. The latter formation, of course, includes the 2nd Bedfords, though they are currently in the rear, recovering from the attack by the Germans two nights ago. In retrospect this attack can be seen as a "spoiling operation", perhaps the Hun had got wind that something was in the offing and decided to try to disrupt it. To some extent they may have succeeded.

Mark V Tank at Bovingdon Tank Museum

Success seems to have been near total with a huge hole punched through the enemy's defences. For the first time for months the cavalry has even been in action - three brigades of the British Cavalry Corps assisting the advance in the Australian and Canadian sectors. Nowadays it also seem to go without saying that tanks have played a major part - both the traditional rhomboid-shaped tanks as well as a quicker vehicle armed with four machine guns and known as a Whippet.

Whippet Tank at Bovingdon Tank Museum

It is always to be difficult to be sure and, it may be imagined that reports coming from the thick of the action can be contradictory, but the advance seems in the centre and south, where the Canadians have been attacking, to have reached nearly two and a half miles. The Australians have also managed a good advanced. We understand that the bulk of the tanks have been assisting the colonial formations and that only a few assisted 18th and 58th Divisions who, anyway, were not expected to advance so far since they are the hinge with the rest of the army which has not, as yet, been ordered to attack. It may be that the attack of two nights ago also played its part in hampering the attack. Be that as it may the divisions still took their first objective.

A significant element of today's attack was the use of the new Royal Air Force, which replaced the Royal Flying Corps in April this year. Around five hundred machines have been involved in reconnaissance, bombing and straffing all day. Thus the attack has involved all arms involved in modern land warfare - infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft. 

It seems as though the allied armies have taken in excess of 15,000 prisoners, 3,000 or so by the French, who pushed forward to the south of the Canadians(1). Such a number is stupendous - it means that the equivalent of an entire division, with all supporting arms, has been taken. Informed opinion here at the front thinks that a few more days like today may see the beginning of the end for the enemy, especially considering the millions of Americans arriving daily whereas the Germans can have few, if any, reserves of manpower left(2)

(1) Total German casualties on 8th August are reckoned to have been about 30,000 - dead, wounded, missing and captured. Casualties among the attackers were around 10,000.

(2) The Battle of Amiens has come to be seen, in retrospect, as the turning point of the war, the point at which the allies continuously advanced and the enemy continually fell back before them, losing ever more men in the process.

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