In August 1918, just months before the end of World War One, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s British Expeditionary Force spearheaded an attack on the Western Front that became known as the Amiens Offensive or the Battle of Amiens. Lasting for four days, it marked a turning point in the war and signalled the beginning of the Hundred Days Offensive that would sound the death knell for Germany.
The offensive begins
Led by General Sir Henry Rawlinson’s Fourth Army, the Allied offensive was aimed at clearing parts of the railroad running from Amiens to Paris that had been held by the Germans since March.
It began on 8 August with a short bombardment followed by a methodical advance along a 15-mile (24-kilometre) front. More than 400 tanks led the way for 11 divisions, which included the Australian and Canadian Corps. Support was also offered by the left wing of General Eugène Debeney’s French First Army.
Germany’s defences, meanwhile, were manned by General Georg von der Maritz’s Second Army and General Oskar von Hutier’s Eighteenth Army. The two generals had 14 divisions on the front line and nine in reserve.
The Allied attack proved overwhelmingly successful with the Germans being forced back up to eight miles by the end of the first day alone. Though this pace wasn’t sustained for the rest of the battle, it nonetheless marked a hugely significant advance in a war where minute gains had generally only been won at great costs.
But the Allied victory went beyond geographical gains; the Germans had been unprepared for the surprise offensive and its impact on German morale was crushing. Some front line units had fled the fighting after putting up barely any resistance, while others, some 15,000 men, quickly surrendered.
When news of this response reached General Erich Ludendorff, the deputy chief of the German General Staff, he called 8 August the “Black Day of the German Army”.
On the second day of the battle, many more German troops were taken prisoner, while on 10 August the focus of the Allied offensive shifted to the south of the German-held salient. There, General Georges Humbert’s French Third Army moved toward Montdidier, forcing the Germans to abandon the town and enabling the reopening of the Amiens to Paris railroad.
The Germans’ resistance did begin to increase, however, and, in the face of this, the Allies brought the offensive to a close on 12 August.
But there was no disguising the scale of Germany’s defeat. Around 40,000 Germans were killed or wounded and 33,000 taken prisoner, while Allied losses totalled some 46,000 troops.