The Battle of Amiens
In late July 1918, General Rawlinson revealed his plans for one more great battle that year.
The planners were counting on unprecedented firepower to break the German line, as well as the element of surprise. By this time in the war the Canadians had acquired a reputation as a formidable fighting force, and the Germans knew that if the Canadians were moving into an area, an attack was imminent.
To maintain secrecy, an elaborate subterfuge tricked the Germans into thinking that the Canadians were moving back to Ypres, while instead four divisions were moved into position at night under cover of darkness.
The attack by Canadian, Australian and British forces on 8 August 1918 caught the Germans unprepared and by days end the Allies had advanced eight miles and captured hundreds of German guns and thousands of prisoners. It marked the beginning of the end for the German Army and 100 days later, the First World War finally ended with the Armistice.
In July 1918, Allied Commanders General Foch and Field Marshall Haig determined that Amiens France had to be taken to drive the Germans back. Foch and Haig knew that if Amiens could be taken, it would be the beginning of the end of the war.
The Allied Commanders agreed that it would be the Canadians and Australians, the elite colonial storm troops, who should have the principle roles in the attack. The assault was planned secretly, including the implementation of a massive deception to lead the Germans to believe that the Canadians were planning to move north for an attack in Flanders.
The deception, devised by General Currie, required that two medical units and two infantry regiments (the 4th Mounted Rifles and 27th Winnipeg Battalion) were sent north to Flanders. In addition, the Canadian radio sections began transmitting false messages, all of which led the Germans to believe that the Canadian Corps was leaving Amiens. The deception worked.
On the 8 August, 1918, at 4:20 a.m., after a twenty minute artillery barrage, the Canadians attacked with the Australians and French on their right respectively. The infantry and tank regiments moved forward so quickly and with such effectiveness during 8 August that the Canadians Corps made an advance of eight (8) miles, a remarkable achievement.
Currie's Battle Plan
Using General Currie's favoured “three wave” attack, which prevented holes from developing in the lines, the four Canadian Divisions moved forward efficiently and quickly to take three objectives in turn. By the evening of 8 August, the Canadians had taken all of their first objectives and moved past the towns of Harbonnieres and Caix, although LeQuesnel did not fall until 9 August 1918.
There were many acts of gallantry on 8 August and four Victoria Crosses were awarded. The first went to Cpl. Harry Miner of the 58th Battalion who was killed as he made his third single handed charge of the morning.
Private John Croak and Cpl. Herman Good of the 13th Battalion were both awarded VC's for heroism, while Captain James Tait of the 78th Battalion won a VC for single handedly capturing a machine gun, which allowed his men to capture twelve more machine gun positions.
During the capture of LeQuesnel, medical officer Captain Bellenden Hutchesen won the Military Cross for retrieving wounded soldiers while under fire. (Captain Hutcheson, an American citizen, would later win a Victoria Cross on 2 September 1918).
French Canadian Major Georges Vanier, who would later command the Royal 22nd Regiment and in 1959 become Canada's best loved Governor General, won the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his part in the battle on 8 August.
As the battle continued and the Canadians advanced on 9 August, four more Victoria Crosses were awarded for extraordinary valour. Sergeant Raphael Zengel of the 5th Battalion and Cpls. Alexander Brereton and Frederick Coppins, both of the 8th Battalion, won VC's.
The Victoria Cross won by Lieutenant Jean Brillant of the Royal 22nd Regiment was a particular achievement. On two occasions, Lt. Brillant charged and captured enemy machine guns. During both actions he was wounded, but refused to leave his men. Finally, Adjutant Sherwood Lett of the 46th Battalion won a Military Medal for his role in consolidating his unit's position during the continued fighting on 10 August.
The Battle for Amiens had been a stunning and complete success and a great tactical victory. Although the battle cost Canadian casualties of 4,000 killed or wounded, it caused irreparable damage to the morale of the German Army. In fact, as a result of German losses during the battle, on 15 August 1918, the Kaiser ordered his foreign minister to initiate negotiations for peace. The battle changed the course of the war and as the London Times wrote; "It was primarily a Canadian battle."