The Battle of Amiens
8 – 11 August 1918
German General Erich Ludendorff said that 8 August 1918, the beginning of the Battle of Amiens was the « Black day of the German army ». Indeed, the first phase of this One Hundred Days Offensive which would lead ultimately to the Allied victory in the First World War, is known as Les Cent Jours du Canada in France.
The battle followed the Kaiser’s Battle (Kaiserschkacht) – German offensive which had begun the previous March with an assault on the right wing of the British Expeditionary Force. After some initial success, the final offensive, led by Ludendorff, ended in defeat after the Second Battle of the Marne in July 1918. The Kaiser’s Battle was motivated by two factors : the freeing of nearly fifty divisions after the Russian surrender and recognition that the United States’ entry into the war would soon bring an influx of material and troops to the Allied side.
As the German forces withdrew, the Allies were working on plans for an attack to take place at Amiens, a commune located some 120 km to the north of Paris.
Surprise was considered a key element in the offensive and extensive use would be made of advances in aerial photographic reconnaissance. There would be no artillery fire until prior to the Allied advance and the troop movement would be preceded by a creeping barrage, first used to such a great effect the previous year at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Four infantry divisions of the Canadian Corps managed to enter Amiens undetected by the enemy. In fact, a feint had led the Germans to believe that the Canadians were all on their way north to Flanders.
On 6 August, two days before the planned assault at Amiens, the German Second Army attacked north of the Somme River. The incident occasioned adjustments to the Allied plan.
Just after four o’clock on the foggy morning of 8 August, Canadian, British and Australian forces attacked the front to the north and south of the Somme. After an intentional delay of 45 minutes, they were joined by the French.
Fighting was fierce and it took more than three hours before the first German position was captured. Finally, with armoured support, the Canadian and Australian forces in the center managed to breach the German line. They advanced pushing the line 5 km forwards and capturing German officers as they ate breakfast. The advance at a rapid pace was such that the divisions involved outdistanced their supporting artillery. They created the 15-km gap which couldn't be closed.
By the end of the day the German forces lost more than 30,000 men. 16,000 of them were captured by Allied forces.
For three more days the Canadians continued their assault against an enemy suffering increasingly from low morale. By 11 August 1918 the Germans had pulled out of the area.
In three days of fighting German army suffered 74,000 casualties at the Battle of Amiens, more than three times the Allies’ number. The stalemate brought by the trenches in the autumn of 1914 had been well and truly broken. The Black day of the German Army would be followed by 95 more days before the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918.