Amiens 1918

Victory on the Somme

By Imperial War Museums

Battery of 8-inch howitzers (Royal Garrison Artillery) in action on the roadside at St. Leger. Note dust rising from road as result of concussion of discharge, 29 August 1918. (1918) by Second Lieutenant Thomas Keith AitkenOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205247096

It was the remarkable success that opened the doors to victory on the Western Front.

For the Allies in the First World War, success at the Battle of Amiens demonstrated that their superior tactics and equipment and greater material strength could win the war. Its impact on the morale of their German opponents was profound, utterly destroying the last illusions they may have had about the war’s outcome. It was the German army’s ‘Black Day’.

On 8 August 1918, British and Imperial forces, in co-operation with the French, launched a major attack against the Germans astride the River Somme, east of the city of Amiens.

The stunning achievement on the first day of this battle was the beginning of the period known as the ‘Hundred Days’ (8 August – 11 November 1918), in which the battlefield successes of the armies of Britain, France, the United States and their allies finally forced Germany to sue for an armistice. This eventually led to the end of the war.

Victory in the battle was achieved by a coalition of forces from several nations. Most prominent in the British Fourth Army’s attack were the Australian and Canadian Corps.

A crowd of German prisoners taken by the British Fourth Army in the Battle of Amiens. Near Abbeville, 27 August 1918. (1918) by Second Lieutenant David McLellanOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194920

Perhaps the most famous image associated with the Battle of Amiens is this photograph, taken on 27 August 1918 at Abbeville, well behind the front lines. It shows German prisoners captured during British offensive operations throughout the month.

Australians in the Battle of Amiens, 8 August 1918 (1918-08-08) by George Hubert Wilkins and Australian War Records SectionImperial War Museums

This video shows Australian infantry and pioneers moving forward on 8 August 1918. The foggy conditions, which helped the attackers to surprise the Germans, are very obvious in this film.

The Australian and Canadian Corps were most prominent in the British Fourth Army’s attack.

These, together with the British III Corps, were supported by more than 2,000 guns from the Royal Artillery, over 500 tanks from the Tank Corps and over 1,900 aircraft from the Royal Air Force and its French equivalent.

Our Wonderful Tanks (1918) by Ministry of Information, Topical Film Company and F A BassillImperial War Museums

Large numbers of the latest tank types were available to the Tank Corps for the attack.

These included the mechanically more-reliable and more handy Mark V, seen here out of the line with the more unwieldy Mark V Star version.

These tanks gave the attackers the means to deal with opposition from any strongpoints or machine-gun ‘nests’ (in the terminology of the time). Also available were 72 machine-gun laden Medium A ‘Whippet’ tanks, which were able to move at the relatively quick speed of 8 miles per hour.

An armoured car about to start on a reconnaissance near Biefvillers, 25 August 1918. (1918) by Lieutenant John Warwick BrookeOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205238893

British armoured cars (depicted here in 1918) were very important during the battle of Amiens. They exploited initial successes beyond the shell-torn battle zone.

Battle of Amiens. The first German wounded from Hangard at 6.30a.m. on 8 August 1918. Stereoscopic. (1918)Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194920

In this image, taken at 6:30 a.m on 8 August 1918., the first German wounded from Hangard Wood are brought in.

The Fourth Army succeeded in advancing over 8 miles in a single day on their main front while the French forces on their southern flank gained 5 miles.

For their German opponents, it represented the beginning of the end of a war that had already lasted four years. The battle was a complete surprise.

Deception to mislead the Germans and disguise the fact that an attack was being planned was very important.

German Prisoners in the Battle of Amiens (1918-08-08) by George Hubert Wilkins and Australian War Records SectionImperial War Museums

This film clip shows German prisoners being interrogated by their captors.

The senior German commanders, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, knew from this point on that the war was lost.

Because of the scale of the losses, the number of prisoners captured, and the distance the attackers advanced, Erich Ludendorff, who was effectively the commander of the German armed forces in the war, described 8 August 1918 as ‘the black day of the German Army’ (‘der Schwarze Tag’).

French infantry reinforcements make their way over open and broken ground to the front (1918-08-25) by Section Cinématographique de l'Armée FrançaiseImperial War Museums

Whilst the story of the battle usually focuses almost solely on the role of the Australians and the Canadians, the role of the French is almost completely ignored. So, too, is the contribution of the British - infantry, tank crews, engineers, artillerymen, and pilots - which is often marginalised.

Soldiers of the 8th Battalion, London Regiment (Post Office Rifles, 58th Division) examining German captured MG 08/15 machine guns. Near Malard Wood, 8 August 1918. (1918) by Lieutenant John Warwick BrookeOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205238792

The success represented a major propaganda opportunity for the British and French and IWM’s collection holds film and photographs made precisely for this purpose.

In this image, soldiers of the 8th Battalion, London Regiment (Post Office Rifles, 58th Division) examine a German-captured machine gun near Malard Wood on 8 August 1918.

The Great British Offensive (1918) by Ministry of Information, Topical Film Company and William F JuryImperial War Museums

Prisoners taken by the British during the battles of August 1918, including those captured at the Battle of Amiens.

The ruins of Chipilly the day after it was taken by the 58th Division aided by a regiment of the 33rd Division of the American Army, 10 August 1918. (1918) by Lieutenant John Warwick BrookeOriginal Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205238811

Despite the initial success in the battle, there was much more hard fighting - with tremendous casualties on all sides in the final months before the war was won.

Indeed, many of the technological innovations that led to success on 8 August 1918 were precisely the reason why casualties on the Western Front were so high.

Victory would be secured, but at an appalling cost.

Credits: Story

Find out more about the First World War and how it has shaped the world at iwm.org.uk.

Curated by Bryn Hammond, Head of Collections at IWM

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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