The Battle of Amiens
The Battle of Amiens was a four day British offensive on the Western Front. In great secrecy the British massed tanks, aircraft, guns and infantry, and at 4.20am on 8 August more than 100,000 allied servicemen advanced against thinly held German lines near the French town of Amiens.
In the spring of 1918, German offensives on the Western Front forced the British and French into retreat. Both sides suffered terrible losses, and the Allied line had buckled and stretched but, despite ferocious German attacks, it never broke. By early summer German soldiers were exhausted, and were suffering from the effects of an influenza pandemic which was sweeping through Europe. On 15 July, the Allies attacked on the Marne, driving back German forces. On 8 August, they would begin a major co-ordinated counter-offensive near the French town of Amiens.
Australian soldiers during the Battle of Amiens © IWM E (AUS) 2790
Just before first light on 8 August 1918, British Empire servicemen advanced alongside French troops on a 14-mile front behind a devastating artillery barrage. Planned in utmost secrecy, and now shrouded by dense mist, their assault came as a complete surprise.
Shock troops of the Canadian and Australian Corps made significant advances, and the infantry was supported by more than 400 wire-crushing tanks and hundreds of ground-strafing aircraft. By early afternoon, the Allies had achieved almost all of their objectives. It had been an incredible success with the bulk of the British force advancing nearly 8 miles. German casualties were estimated at 27,000 killed, wounded or captured, and they had suffered a devastating psychological blow. German commander Eric Ludendorff later described it as the ‘black day of the German Army’.
The fighting continued for three more days, but with German resistance stiffening, the battle was halted on 11 August.
Victorious Canadian infantry catch a lift on a British tank, 8 August 1918.© Library and Archives Canada MIKAN 3405524
In four days of fighting the French and British forces advanced over 12 miles. French casualties numbered about 24,000 . British casualties amounted to nearly 22,000, of whom 9,000 were dead. In comparison, there were between 48,000 and 75,000 German casualties, including nearly 30,000 German soldiers taken prisoner by the Allies. The battle was a truly multi-national effort, with American, Australian, British, Canadian, French, and French Colonial troops all playing roles. Above all, it was a victory for co-operation and co-ordination, and began a three-month campaign that would lead to the Armistice. Officially termed the ‘Advance to Victory’, it was also known as the ‘Hundred Days’.
Crowds of German soldiers captured on 8 August 1918 © IWM Q 9272
Commemorating the fallen
Today, the French countryside bears few scars of the dramatic events of 8 August 1918. The cemeteries and memorials of the CWGC are some of the only permanent reminders of this decisive battle 100 years ago. In France, the CWGC commemorates more than 6,200 service personnel who died during the four days of the battle. They lie at rest in cemeteries across the former battlefields, and the names of the missing can be found on our memorials throughout the region.
Memorials to the Missing
More than 1,250 of those who died during the Battle of Amiens have no known grave.
The striking Vis-en-Artois Memorial commemorates the missing of British and South African forces who died between 8 August 1918, and the end of the First World War. Designed by John Truelove, who had served with the London Regiment during the war, it bears almost 9,000 names, including more than 550 who died during the Battle of Amiens. At the heart of the memorial is an elaborate depiction of St. George slaying the dragon, placed here as these men died in the battles that finally defeated Germany.
Australian and Canadian troops were involved in some of the heaviest fighting at Amiens. More than 200 Australian and almost 400 Canadian servicemen who died during the battle have no known grave. The Australian soldiers are commemorated upon the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, while the Canadian missing are commemorated on the Vimy Memorial.
CWGC Vis-en-Artois Cemetery and Memorial.
On 8 August 1918, the French village of Harbonnières was liberated by Australian soldiers. Heath Cemetery, so called from the wide expanse of open country on which it stands, was made after the Armistice. Designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, today this is the final resting place of more than 1,850 servicemen. Over 600 of those buried here died during the four day period of the Battle of Amiens, including over 30 tank crewmen and more than 450 Australians.
Commemorating the missing of Australian forces in France, the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial is a focal point of remembrance for Australians. Like the memorial, the cemetery was constructed after the Armistice, when remains of soldiers from many national forces who died across northern France were brought here for burial. Both the cemetery and memorial were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The cemetery is the final resting place of almost 2,150 servicemen, close to 450 of whom died during the four days of the Battle of Amiens.
Bouchoir village was liberated on the second day of the Battle of Amiens by the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade. The cemetery was built after the Armistice when the battlefields were searched and cleared. Today, this is the final resting place of more than 760 servicemen; over 230 remain unidentified. Almost all the burials date from the fighting for Amiens in March, April and August 1918 and almost 400 of those buried here died during the four-day period of the Battle of Amiens. The cemetery was designed by William Cowlishaw, who served with the London Ambulance Brigade of the Red Cross during the War, and Sir Herbert Baker.
This area to the south-east of Amiens was captured by advancing Canadian forces on the first day of the Battle of Amiens. The cemetery was built after the Armistice when the graves of seven smaller cemeteries were brought together, along with other isolated burials from across this region. Designed by William Cowlishaw and Sir Herbert Baker, this is the final resting place of more than 370 servicemen. Most died during the four day period of the Battle of Amiens, the majority while serving with Canadian forces.
On the first day of the Battle of Amiens the French village of Sailly-Laurette was on the German front line. In the early hours of the battle the German defenders here were overrun by the British 58th (2nd/1st London) Division, and the village was liberated. The cemetery, named from a brick beacon on the summit of a nearby ridge, was made by the 18th (Eastern) Division Burial Officer on 15 August. At the Armistice there were just 100 burials here, but the cemetery was later greatly enlarged.
Designed by George Goldsmith, who served with the Lancashire Fusiliers and the Royal Engineers during the War, and Sir Edwin Lutyens, today, this is the final resting place more than 770 servicemen: half of who remain unidentified. Almost 230 of those buried here died during the four day period of the Battle of Amiens.