The Battle of Amiens | 100 years on

A century on : Forbes resident Margaret Adams, Forbes and District Historical Society, continues her series on the 100th ​anniversaries of significant battles of World War I.

The Battle of Amiens, also known as the Third Battle of Picardy, was the launch  of the Allied offensive which began on 8 August 1918, later known as the Hundred Days Offensive, that ultimately led to the end of the First World War.

The Germans realised that an attack was coming but they thought the French would attack in Rheims, or Flanders, while the British would attack near Albert.  Amiens was never considered to be the focus of the attack.

This deception was achieved by the Allied troops only moving around at night while continuing to attack in the areas where the Germans commonly believed the main offensive would happen and misleading radio reports.

In response, the German soldiers withdrew from Amiens and Lys. When the attack finally happened on August 8th at 4.20am, the Germans only had six divisions at the front with two reserves.

The Allies, 1st French and 4th British armies, were led by combined Australian and Canadian forces. They attacked under the cover of mist which assisted in the surprise. It also reduced the use of gas as the Germans were unaware of the numbers of the attacking Allied forces.

The heavy artillery 18 pounder guns of the 6th Battery of Australian Field Artillery in action near Villers-Bretonneux, on the morning of the offensive.   

This surprise allowed the Allied troops, with 500 tanks in support, to advance rapidly and break through the German defences to achieve their first goal at 7.30am. Supporting fire from Royal Air Force planes prevented the retreating Germans from striking back.

Setting out from their positions at  Villers-Bretonneux and Hamel, the Australian troops in two hours had accomplished all their objectives, and the Canadian troops had advanced several kilometres.

In just over three hours, the enemy's front line had been overrun with the capture of 338 guns and causing 27,000 casualties, including taking an estimated 12,000 prisoners.

This led the German General Erich Ludendorff  to describe the first day of the battle as "the black day of the German Army". Allied forces advanced over 11 kilometres on the first day, one of the greatest advances of the war.

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The battle is also notable for its effects on both sides' morale and the large number of surrendering  German forces. However, the advance was achieved at a high cost, with 21,243 Allied casualties, one-quarter of whom were killed.

From 9 - 11 August the fighting continued as the Allies advanced, however they suffered heavy losses with little ground gained. The combat was still led by the Australians but their attack was restricted as fewer tanks were used as support.

The major combat lasted until August 12th and was a success for the Allied armies due to the number of surrendering German forces and the capture of their weapons.

The four-day battle saw 44,000 soldiers lost from the Allied side, 22,000 men from the French and the British Empire’s forces making up the rest, and a loss of 75,000 from the German side, including 50,000 prisoners. The advance liberated 116 French towns and villages.

Fighting continued throughout August, as Lieutenant General Sir John Monash kept pushing Australian troops who felt they were better suited to this more mobile, above-ground form of fighting, forward.

They captured many retreating disillusioned German troops, many of whom thought that their officers were attempting to prolong the war when they were encouraging them to keep fighting.

By August 27th official reports stated the Allies had captured almost 50,000 soldiers and 500 guns. 

It was during this advance that the German field gun that we have on display at the Forbes Museum was captured by the 4th Battalion AIF near Proyart on the 23rd August.

It was shipped back to Australia and allocated to Forbes as a war trophy in 1922 by the NSW State Trophy Committee of the Australian War Museum Committee.

It is a 7.7cm Krupp Feldkanone 96n.a. No 1580,1907 – the most widely used field gun of the German Imperial Army. It could fire a 7kg projectile up to 6,000 metres at the rate of 5 projectiles per minute.

An inscription on the front of the Forbes gun translates to “For Glory and Fatherland” while the rear inscription states, “The King’s final argument.”

By the 29th, the front line was brought up to within 3 miles of Péronne.

Margaret’s other stories on World War I battles