Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

St Quentin Canal

The Battle of the St Quentin Canal, 29 September - 2 October 1918

Men of the 137th Brigade (46th Division) on a bank of the St Quentin Canal.As the series of momentous Allied offensives that had opened on 26 September continued, Rawlinson’s Fourth Army re-joined the fray on Sunday September 29 with the aim of breaking-through the main Hindenburg Position between St Quentin and Verdhuille. Monash’s Australian Corps and Braithwaite’s IX Corps were entrusted with the principal roles in the operation. The preparatory bombardment began on the evening of 26 September; gas shells drenched enemy headquarters and gun positions; high-explosives wreaked havoc on German field-defences.

At 5.50am on 29 September, having assembled in rain and darkness, Fourth Army infantry attacked on a 12 mile front through dense fog and smoke, amid the din of machine-guns, tank engines, and the clamour of the protective artillery barrages. In the northern sector, the drive eastwards towards the tunnelled sector of the St Quentin Canal was led by tanks and two inexperienced American Divisions; confounded by fog and wire, their progress was slow and casualties heavy. Supporting Australian units were drawn into a bitter slogging match for the ridges and by late afternoon had made far less ground than anticipated. Much better success attended IX Corps’ attack in the south, where 46th (North Midland) Division’s 137th Brigade, in a breathtakingly audacious thrust, overran the German outer defences, stormed across the canal and captured intact the surviving bridges, notably, and in the most dramatic circumstances, at Riqueval. Follow-up brigades breached the Main Hindenburg System in this sector by mid-afternoon, when 32nd Division moved through to continue the advance.

The battle, despite some setbacks, proved a stunning success; the Main Hindenburg Position had been categorically broken and in an advance of three-and-a half miles over 5,000 prisoners and many guns captured. Later that same night Rawlinson issued orders for further forward moves to secure the rest of Hindenburg Line and Hindenburg Support.

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