Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

8 August: First day

‘The Black Day of the German Army’: the first day of the Battle of Amiens, 8 August 1918

The Somme, scene of tragedy and disaster for the British Army in July 1916, was, two years later, the setting for an undisputed Allied triumph. A reconstituted and invigorated British Fourth Army A tank crew and Australian infantry with a British Mark V tank during a temporary halt in the attack on 8 August 1918.  E04922 Australian War Memorialspearheaded a crippling blow against the German Army and set in trail a series of memorable victories that would ultimately drive the enemy from the occupied territories.

After the most thorough and secret preparations the Allies launched a momentous offensive against German positions on the Somme uplands, east of Amiens, in the early morning of Thursday 8 August 1918. At 4.20am, just before first light, almost 100,000 Canadian, Australian and British infantrymen, with the support of hundreds of tanks, advanced behind a devastating artillery barrage. Shrouded by dense ground mist the assault, on a near 14 mile front, was a complete surprise to the enemy. In combination with a French attack in the south, the phased forward-moves of Fourth Army saw the leading shock-troops of the elite Canadian Corps (on the right) and Australian Corps (in the centre) reach their first objectives around 7.30am; a pause for consolidation was followed by two further controlled ‘steps’ forward. Displaying characteristic aggressive flair, Canadian and Australian troops swept forward, bolstered by wire-crushing tanks and ground-strafing aircraft. With final objectives gained the main fighting was over by 2pm. The only setbacks occurred on the extreme flanks of the attack: to the right (south) the French advance was slow and cautious; on the left, north of the Somme, British III Corps encountered stiff German resistance.

The day was a stunning Allied success and a triumph of all-arms co-operation. Enemy casualties were estimated at 27,000; the German Army and its leaders had been dealt an overwhelming physical and psychological blow. The offensive would be continued on the following day.

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