Military History

Operational Analysis on The Battle of Amiens

By Daniel Turner November 8, 2021


This an operational analysis on the Battle of Amiens in World War 1 from the German perspective. Based entirely from the book 'The Catastrophe' written by German officer Thilo Von Bose who fought in the battle; no other resources or references have been used to ensure purity and accuracy towards the authors account without outside interference. My operational analysis will cover the background and situation prior, the planning, the execution and results, and the lessons learnt from the Battle of Amiens. Personal attacks against German commanders and the German Supreme Army Command are the words and beliefs of Major Von Bose, and his alone. During the battle, Major Von Bose was a Captain; however, throughout this analysis I will refer to him as Major as this was his rank at the time of writing and at the time of his retirement from the army.

Major Thilo Von Bose credits the Battle of Amiens as a key factor towards the armistice request from Germany, ending the war. As General Ludendorff remembers the battle, 'the black day of the German Army'.

To the best of my knowledge and ability, I have left my own personal comments until the results and lessons learnt sections.

Introduction: The Battle of Amiens was an Allied four-pronged, three stage attack on the defensive lines of the German Army focused around the then town, now city, of Amiens. The Battle of Amiens occurred over several days, one month after the decisive Allied victory at Le Hamel, which saw the first use of Australian General Monash’s concept of 'combined arms', in which infantry, tanks and aircraft worked together simultaneously to achieve a shared goal. Amiens saw combined arms used on an even larger scale, with General Monash as one of the orchestrators and planners of the assault. The Battle of Amiens involved British, Canadian, Australian and French divisions simultaneously attacking the thinly stretched and understrength German 2nd and 18th Armies.

Planning/Background: Following the Battle of Le Hamel, which shook the German Army to its core, the Allies had one month to plan the attack for which Le Hamel was the test for – a multi-pronged major attack along the German line using the new concept of combined arms. In 1918 the German Supreme Army Command still believed that infantry was centric to success. With no tanks and artillery batteries short of both men and cannons, the Germans had no chance of success. If the German command did change their strategies and tactics, by August 1918 they did not have the resources or manpower to action them. Defending their trenches was no longer tenable – advice from the front which the German Command routinely ignored.

Following the German victory against Imperial Russia in 1917, Germany launched the 'Great battle of France' on 21 March 1918 to take Europe and win the war. On 30 May 1918 after 5 days of planning, German assault divisions arrived at Marne, France after initial success, then grew exhausted and halted, now left defending fronts 2-3 longer. In Major Von Bose’s words the German army was left 'hollowed out' after the relentless offensives of 1918 following three years of war and that no element of the army could withstand a major attack. Two weeks after the Battle of Le Hamel, a French spearhead involving 350 tanks with air support using combined arms tactics shattered the German positions at Marne. This form of attack had never been seen from the French before, intelligence from Marne was never passed along to the Supreme Army Command. The German 2nd Army for weeks sent reports to the Supreme Army Command, advising that the German lines around Amiens were no longer tenable, that any position along the line could not defend against anything more than a skirmish, a major attack was believed to occur soon and that the lines should be moved back at least 10 miles (16km); the 2nd Army was told to, 'stop being so pessimistic'. After the French victory at Marne, a major German attack was cancelled and 10 divisions were disbanded and sent to reinforce along the German line, none of whom were sent to reinforce Amiens.

These reports advising to move the lines back were sent prior to the build up to Amiens. After being told to stop being pessimistic, the German 2nd Army began hearing the sounds of hundreds of tanks moving behind and among the Allied lines at night, these daily reports were ignored. In 1916 Australian and Canadian troops were considered no more than 'militias' by German intelligence. In 1918 this was not the case, Canadians were considered the Allies’ best, followed by Australians then British and then the French. In 1918 Australians and Canadians were used and regarded as shock troops and used almost exclusively for coordinated, important attacks to shatter German lines. The 2nd Army sent distressed reports that multiple Canadian and Australian divisions had arrived with more coming, and with this intelligence the German command did nothing. For weeks prior to the Battle of Amiens, German planes were repelled every day and never even crossed No Man's Land due to major Allied increases in air power. The skies belonged to the Allies weeks before the battle, the Germans could gain no intelligence by air; however, Major Von Bose believes that a 'reconnaissance by force' could have pierced the Allied skies for long enough to gain intelligence on Allied positions. 36 hours before the Allied attack, a German plane by chance saw over 100 tanks harboured in some woods on the Allied northern flank, the pilot’s report was either lost or ignored.

In Major Von Bose’s words, Field Marshal Von Hindenberg and General Ludendorff were arrogant; after the defeat of Imperial Russia, Germany was in a position to offer concessions to the Allies on the Western Front in which Germany would claim vast areas of the Imperial Russian corpse. Instead of this course of action, Von Hindenberg and Ludendorff chose to launch multiple offensives on the Western Front, certain after their recent victory. Instead the offensives weakened the German army until it was compromised. Major Von Bose stated that 'the men did not lose Amiens, German command did' and also stated 'it should not have happened that the German command was so completely surprised by the enemy attack'.

In contrast to the German lack of planning, the Allies’ plan had very few gaps. Allied soldiers captured in the days before the attack knew nothing of it. General Monash decreed that news of the attack would not be given to the allied soldiers until midnight on the night of 06-07 August 1918, the day before the attack. The Germans feared a major attack but those they captured were deliberately ignorant of what was to come. Where the Canadian and Australian shock troops could be seen from the German lines, only enough to be seen were placed there to allow the Germans to strengthen the wrong parts of the line. The rest of their units were moving behind out of site to new positions, and the Canadian and Australian positions changed along the line every six hours to spread misinformation from allies captured the day before the attack. The allied shock troops would not move to their final positions until two hours before the attack on the morning of 08 August 1918. Allied air superiority allowed German artillery, strong points and communication lines to be mapped and pre-sighted by allied guns.

Execution: German artillery guns each covered 200-400m of the line, and most of them were too damaged to fire. At 0400h north of the Somme, British troops in assault kit were seen manoeuvring in No Man's Land near Thomas Gully, an area of the line without a single obstacle in the Allies’ way. Artillery was called in on the British scouts but was brief and ineffective. In the lead up to the Battle of Amiens, German artillery was sparing with its shells, it’s believed due to either a shortage or from the superior Allied artillery preventing resupplies to the German forward lines for weeks prior. German sentries later claimed a different result would have happened at Thomas Gully if they were given the materials for obstacles, artillery shells to defend them, and enough men to both fire the guns and man the trenches. The allied attack was planned for 0520h on 08 August, in the hour before the attack some of the heaviest fog witnessed on the Western Front descended on No Man's Land and the German lines, leaving the defenders blind – visibility was down to 20 paces. All along the 32km line, Allied troops pushed forward using the natural concealment, with Australians reportedly making it the closest, 150m from the German lines, just behind where the first Allied artillery shells were going to land.

When the attack came, all 32km of the German line were heavily shelled by Allied artillery, the rolling bombardment took 15 minutes by design, and screened the advancing infantry and tanks as they approached the defenders’ positions. German artillery had long been pre-sighted and only a few guns survived the first minutes of the attack, let alone the day. After the guns were wiped out, German communication lines were severed, isolating units less than 100m from each other. At first, German commanders in the Australian sector believed the bombardment was retaliation for a German shelling of Villers-Bretonneux, not realising that the entire line was under attack. After five minutes, German commanders began to realise that this wasn’t the routine shelling that was a daily occurrence by this point in the war, and was actually cover for a massed attack, but it was too late. The only obstacles in the Australians’ way were two anti-tank mines which never detonated. Six minutes into the bombardment, the first German trenches fell to Australian diggers, not even halfway into the rolling bombardment. Runners had never even left the defenders’ lines before the ANZACs seized them. In the days before the attack, Australians conducted daily raids, skirmishes and nuisance patrols in their sector; causing the Germans to reinforce their lines due to casualties and to respond to the pattern once it had been established. Thus, when the German lines fell on 08 August 1918, there was no defence in depth in the Australian sector. ANZACs stood at the doors to bunkers and yelled down to the Germans inside – taking shelter from the presumedly routine shelling – that if they didn’t surrender, the ANZACs holding the only escape routes would lob grenades into the bunkers. The Australian troops captured 60% of their sector’s defenders in the first ten minutes of the battle, by 0530h, German artillery guns along the line had already started running out of shells. Another five minutes at 0535h and the Australians had captured their entire sector for stage 1 of the attack, as the last shells of the initial bombardment were being fired. Australian tanks hadn’t even reached the lines when they fell.

The first British troops reached the defences in 5-7 minutes with the German 5th and 6th companies of the Reserve Infantry Regiment falling immediately, their lines taken at 0527h. By the time some defenders reached their positions, they’d already been cleared by the British troops who were already behind them, despite this no attack was attempted on the exposed British backs. In the British sector the defending division on the right fell immediately, along with the left flank, and with that the main line of resistance had fallen. Defending units like the RIR265 had approximately 375 men to defend 1600m of the line. At 0600h, Thomas Gully fell to British troops. The British used roads as arteries for tank deployments and from 0630h onwards, British tanks and troops branched off and encircled German lines one by one with mass surrenders taking place. One such road that would become an artery for the Allied advance on the British-Canadian sector’s border was Corbie-Bray road, it had no defenders at all, despite German commanders realising this 24 hours prior. The British advance halted at Corbie-Bray road at 0720h, they had strict orders not to advance further as the grand strategy involved reinforcements replacing the front line attackers at the completion of each stage. British commanders resisted due to the speed and success of their attack, but they obeyed orders reluctantly. This time spent halted gave the German defenders time to regroup and hold out until 1300h, though their lines and the communications between them were still chaotic. A communique from one defending unit to another didn’t reach its destination until an hour later, long after both units had fallen. German survivors later stated that if the British pushed on rather than halting at Corbie-Bray road, the sector’s defenders would have collapsed immediately and the sector taken hours earlier; however, British discipline and adherence to orders prevented this. In the British sector, Morlancourt fell at 0700h and the British halted at 0720h. If no halt occurred, large groups of surviving German artillery who regrouped would have been captured instead, and the British wouldn’t have been stalled until 1300h. Poor coordination led to German reinforcements running into each other, leaving massive gaps in the defender’s lines in the British and Canadian sectors.

The Germans defending the Canadian assigned sector had been in position for less than 12 hours when the attack came. They didn’t know the ground, they weren’t integrated into other units and spread out along the line; they were simply assigned a stretch of unfamiliar ground to defend by themselves and in the face of mounting intelligence and reports of massed Allied tank movements and reports of Australian and Canadian shock troops arriving in theatre. They were defeated immediately. The only point along the line where the Canadians stalled was at and around The Sunken Road. The Sunken Road was a muddy quagmire due to the mixture of the miserable weather and constant shelling. The ground was so soft and muddy that most of the allied artillery shells in the initial bombardment never detonated. They impacted and were absorbed into the mud, leaving the defenders and their defences mostly untouched. This proved to be the only stand against the Canadians the Germans could muster – however short-lived. German survivors later said they could have held The Sunken Road indefinitely if it wasn’t for the heavy fog. Without the fog the movements of both infantry and tanks would have been seen well in advance and artillery guns brought to bear on the advancing Allies. General Monash and his British counterparts were beyond lucky for the fog to descend in such thickness the morning of the assault.

The book '`The Catastrophe' did not contain any Allied reports on the conduct of the French troops, the only account from the Germans mentioning the French stated that in the sections defended against both the French and Canadians, the artillery units were so combat ineffective that they were either missing men or ammunition. Rather than having less units with both men and ammunition, to show more units on paper was preferred, despite compelling evidence of a massive Allied offensive in their immediate future. Due to this the French-attacked sections will not be mentioned further.

Results: The Battle of Amiens would span over multiple days, as pockets of German resistance were wiped out or more likely captured, and as the Allied supply train caught up to the troops at the front. On that first day of the battle, the day referred to by the German command as 'The Catastrophe, the Allies took 11km of ground. The Germans withdrew to establish an even weaker defensive line, which immediately capitulated upon contact.

Germany as a nation was weeks, if not days away from surrendering before the Battle of Amiens, with the battle becoming the initial spark to begin the German surrender. Some German officers stated the Battle of Amiens was the sole reason for their surrender three months later, as the German army and its nation lost their confidence in the army after the battle and it took a further three months for those in overall command to accept the reality that they’d been avoiding all year. At the time of the attack, the German army was too weak to withstand any attack along the lines, resulting in the lines breaking immediately. The final months of the war saw the numbers of German troops being captured skyrocket, with the conclusion that German officers enacted mass surrenders. After the war when these officers returned to Germany, they would pay with their lives for choosing to surrender instead of fighting to the death and taking the men under their commands with them. They would be used as scapegoats, their failure and cowardice to not hold the lines would be the story as to why Germany was defeated. Others including Adolf Hitler would blame the hardworking, immigrant Jewish population for Germany’s downfall. The Jews’ only ‘fault’ being that many were in core jobs of influence in medicine, business, education and politics – jobs that any German could but often refused to do. Accused of both weakening Germany before the war began and being an entire religion of conspirators, they would suffer in the next world war in retaliation.

Lessons learnt:

  • Combined arms is critical to success in modern warfare. Shortly before the Battle of Amiens, tanks were a key centre of gravity to Allied operations. Their technology improved dramatically before the battles of Le Hamel and Amiens. Their employment and numbers were boosted specifically for the assault on Amiens. Combined arms is critical, even at this stage the German army’s tactics were infantry-centric and their casualties late in the war show you the result – even after they learnt at their own expense how effective combined arms is.
  • Listen to reports from the front. On 06 August a German pilot spotted a group of 100 Allied tanks massed for what could only be a major attack. German soldiers in the trenches reported hearing massed tank movements at night. All of their reports were either ignored or never passed on, and they were told to stop being so paranoid. General Patton would state in the Second World War, 'the General at the front is always right'. It should extend to saying the soldier at the front should not be ignored. You must listen to the reports from the front.
  • Overconfidence gets you killed. Germany should have asked for a treaty with the Allies following the German defeat of Russia in 1917. Seizing the vast wealth of Russia and its natural resources and ending the war in 1917 would have changed world history. Instead the German high command grew overconfident and believed they could now focus everything on the Western Front and win again. They depleted their already exhausted army and kicked its gasping carcass until the Battle of Amiens tore straight through its well-rotted defensive lines.
  • Plans are pointless if nothing is done with them. German plans and designs for defensive lines looked very impressive on paper. They never went beyond that. Resources could not outfit the entire line and supreme high command refused to withdraw and make the line smaller and more defensible. Allied troops advanced unobstructed to the German lines. You must follow through with your plans. Actions prove why words mean nothing.

This concludes my operational analysis of the Battle of Amiens.

Thank you.


Portrait

Biography

Daniel Turner

LCPL

Daniel Turner serves as a Regimental Signals Section Commander for 3CER and is an army linguist who can speak, read and write in French, Italian and German. They are interested in international security studies, leadership and counter insurgency. They are currently studying towards a Bachelor in Security Studies.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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