The Battle of Epéhy, 18 September 1918
Despite recent hard fighting Rawlinson acknowledged his faith in the superior spirit and attacking potential of his newly strengthened Fourth Army by outlining plans to close-up rapidly with the enemy. With the aim of establishing advanced positions from which a major strike could be made against the main Hindenburg Line, his proposal to capture the strong outlying German posts on the ridges between le Verguier and Epéhy was approved by Haig and the date of assault fixed for 18 September. Superior firepower of massed artillery support underpinned arrangements for this large-scale operation in which eight Fourth Army divisions were committed on an attack frontage of over 11 miles; on the left of the attack vital assistance would be provided by Third Army’s V Corps.
At 5.20am in the morning of Wednesday 18 September, having assembled in darkness and drenching rain, the infantry went forward behind the protective screen of a precise creeping artillery barrage and massed machine-gun fire. Regardless of rain, sodden ground, poor visibility and severe initial German resistance, good progress was made, especially in the centre, between le Verguier and Hargicourt, by the Australian Corps. Gains were less marked on the right and left flanks where unfavourable terrain and solid German defences posed considerable problems. Key to the day’s achievements lay in the Australians’ swift overrunning of enemy lines and the exploitation of this success; working with tanks their second objectives were taken by late morning. Subsequently units of the 4th Australian Division caused much disruption by breaking into the Advanced Hindenburg System.
Though fierce fighting continued long after nightfall, the battle represented a considerable Allied success with over 9,000 enemy prisoners taken and the British line advanced over two miles. Encouraged by this progress Haig began planning for his breakthrough assault on the main Hindenburg System.
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