“Everything was affected by the fearful impression that the fire-vomiting iron dragons had made on artillery and infantry. A true tank-panic…, and, where any dark shapes moved, men saw the black monster. ‘Everything is lost’ was the cry that met the incoming battalions”
Excerpt from a German Unit history on the fear of Allied Tanks at Amiens
General Erich Ludendorff described the Battle of Amiens as a ‘black day for Germany’ because of the catastrophic impact of the Allied victory. The decisive victory at Amiens was prefaced days before by the Allied victory in the second battle of the Marne.
Victory at the Marne was achieved when French, American and British Forces repulsed a German offensive and then inflicted a punishing defeat on the Germans in their subsequent counter-attack. The Allied counter-attack saw the Allies firmly in control.
Following the failure of the German Spring Offensive, the Australians were victors against the Germans in such actions as the battle of Hazebrouck where their bludgeoning defence inflicted high casualties on the enemy, and the daring night-time action in recovering Villers-Bretonneux barely twenty hours after the Germans had taken it.
The Australian victory at Le Hamel highlighted the effectiveness of the combined arms approach—a masterful feat of coordination by General John Monash. This combined arms approach would also prove to be successful when applied on a much larger scale at Amiens.
The British Expeditionary Force’s 4th Army Commander General Henry Rawlinson attacked the German positions at Amiens with a combined British and Commonwealth force supported by a vast array of tanks, aircraft and artillery pieces. The importance of Australia’s role in the attack was emphasised by Monash who sensed a moment of destiny,
“For the first time in the history of this Corps all five Australian Divisions will tomorrow be engaged in the largest and most important battle operation ever undertaken by the Corps. They will be supported by an exceptionally powerful artillery, and by tanks and aeroplanes on a scale never previously attempted. The full resources of our sister Dominion, the Canadian Corps, will also operate on our right, while two British Divisions will guard our left flank… we shall inflict blows upon the enemy which will make him stagger, and bring the end appreciably nearer.”
The battle of Amiens commenced at 4.30am on 8 August with a tremendous barrage and met with immediate success due to Rawlinson’s combined arms tactics. Rawlinson’s strategy also employed what we now term ‘dis-information’ in successfully deceiving the Germans as to the true intent of Allied objectives.
In a conflict previously mired in stagnant trench warfare, the Allies advanced eight miles, captured hundreds of German guns including the famous ‘Amiens’ rail gun, and killed, wounded and captured thousands of Germans.
A constant thread in accounts of the Battle of Amiens is the rapidity of the attack and the wholesale surrender of German troops. The use of tanks, armoured cars, effective counter-batteries and the high morale of the attacking troops were essential ingredients of this success.
Though the tanks seemed to have captured the imagination of the Germans, the Australian armoured cars also delivered an excess of death and destruction on the Germans in one sector. Undertaking deep reconnaissance for Monash four cars managed to surprise and machine gun German soldiers sitting at their breakfast in Proyart.
The four cars went on to kill and wound the occupants of German troop vehicles, before intercepting a German staff car, killing all its occupants except for its driver whom they made drive the car back to Australian lines. Unsurprisingly, the raid created panic amongst the German transports and may have even hampered the movement of German reinforcements.
Bold raids were not just the preserve of the Australians, with their dominion allies from Canada also engaged in outstanding acts of bravery. Jean Baptiste Brillant, a French-Canadian Lieutenant from Quebec and Harry Miner, a farmer from Ontario displayed the utmost bravery in destroying German machine gun nests and taking prisoners. Both men tragically succumbed to wounds received during the battle, with Brillant buried at the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery.
Success for the battle was generally attributed to the outstanding General-ship of John Monash. Diggers such as Sergeant Clausen of Newport, Victoria, iconically commented that it was a, “tres bon stunt… I wouldn’t have missed it for worlds”. Sober and fulsome accolades of Australian and Canadian military prowess have been written since the successful conclusion of the battle. Celebrated contemporary author and former British Army Brigadier, Allan Mallinson, wrote in 2016,
“…the black day of the German Army. That day belonged to Haig and the BEF for their tenacity and endurance, and to Rawlinson, his 4th Army, and the Canadians and Australians especially; for their flair. The high-water mark of the four year German offensive in the West was now visible; and now would be heard its melancholy, long, withdrawing, roar”
The talented Canadian Commander General Sir Arthur Currie and Monash were lauded for their leadership as well as the sacrifices of the Dominion armies. Monash received his knighthood from King George V shortly after the battle concluded.
The Allies in the following ‘Hundred Days’ offensive went on to roll back the German Army, who after successive defeats surrendered in November 1918.