The Battle of Hamel, 4 July 1918
The growing appreciation within the BEF of the need to conserve manpower through more efficient battle-planning and better exploitation of new technologies was clearly demonstrated in a small-scale surprise attack on Hamel by Monash’s Australian Corps in early July. In this limited-objective ‘all-arms’ assault, based on the most thorough preparations, little was left to chance.
With the aim of improving Fourth Army’s defensive lines on the Villers-Bretonneux plateau and gaining observation up the Somme valley, Brigades of the 4th Australian Division (with four companies of American infantry), supported by tanks, aircraft and precise artillery barrages, attempted a 2,500 yard advance to eliminate the awkward Hamel salient. Careful and well-concealed preparations underpinned operational success: training programmes encouraged good working relations between infantry and tanks; additional artillery was allocated to the attack frontage; flying units were clearly instructed in their support role.
Assault troops took up their positions during the two nights prior to the attack; on the evening of 3 July the tanks were brought forward to their start lines. At 3.10am the following morning, infantry and tanks advanced behind the cover of a devastating creeping barrage. Despite some early setbacks resulting from British shells falling short and problems with uncut wire in front of Pear Trench, the co-ordinated attack went exceedingly well. The more heavily defended enemy-held localities, Vaire and Hamel woods and Hamel village, were dealt with by special detachments, whilst the remaining attackers pressed on to their objectives, which were gained in just over ninety minutes at a cost of around 1,000 Australian and American casualties. German losses were considerable and well over 1,000 prisoners and much equipment was taken; more notably, a precedent had been set for Allied offensive practice, which would be followed successfully, and on a far more massive scale, at Amiens the following month.
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