Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Per Scriptum E. Wesley -- Mackinac Center Intern
If I had to pick one battle that signaled the end World War I, the Battle of Amiens would be the one. Although this battle was not the last battle of the war, it ended on August 11th with the Entente possessing all of the land gained by Germany that year, and German losses numbering 74,000 killed, wounded, and captured. The beginning of this offensive, August 8th, is named the "blackest day of the German Army" by Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff. Amiens was the long awaited keyhole that matched the Triple Entente's key into German territory.
After Germany's last offensives had failed in spring of 1918, the Entente counterattacked with a French advance under the leadership of Marshal Ferdinand Foch in what is known as the Second Battle of the Marne. While this offensive was waning, the British prepared their offensive near Amiens with the intent of opening rail lines around the city. Foch, now being freed up from the fighting on the Marne, jumped at the chance to volunteer for this offencive as well. However, the British had planned to surprise the Germans with a tank advance. The French had fewer tanks, and consequently needed an artillery bombardment that would certainly ruin the British surprise. The British compromised by timing the French attack forty-five minutes after the British attack. The British Fourth Army's front entailed Lt. Gen. Richard Butler's III Corps stationed north of the Somme river, with Lt. Gen. Sir John Monash (Australian) and Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Currie (Canadian) to the south of the river. Two Canadian battalions and one radio unit were sent to Ypres in order to trick the Germans into thinking that was where all of the Allied force was coming from. The complete Entente force consisted of military leaders 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; and 532 tanks. The German force, led by leaders Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff and General Georg von der Marwitz, consisted of 29 divisions and 365 aircraft.
British artillery opened fire on specific targets at 4:20 am, August 8th, and completely surprised General Georg von der Marwitz's Second Army. The Australian and Canadian corps had advanced 4,000 yards and controlled their objectives by 7:10 am, being supported by eight Royal Tank battalions. The British attack ripped a fifteen mile hole in the German lines. They managed to keep the Germans from rallying, and continued the attack. The Canadian/Australian corps had advanced three miles by 11:00am, and as the Germans retreated the British launched a cavalry assault. Up north, the III Corps was slowed by wooded terrain near Chipilly and by the fact that they had fewer tanks. Meanwhile, the French had begun their artillery bombardment as planned, and advanced five miles before nightfall. The Entente's individual average of territory covered during August 8th was seven miles each (the Canadians achieved eight miles). The Germans had been pushed back to their pre-spring positions by the 11th. However, this Entente accomplishment had not come cheap: the Entente suffered losses of 22,200 killed wounded and missing.
The fallout from this battle was complete. Haig launched a second advance at Bapaume, and on September 2nd the Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line. Foch, encouraged by the victories at Amiens and Bapaume, planned the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which ended the war by that fall.