Though a relatively small-scale affair, the battle at Hamel was the most successful in which the Australians had yet participated. It had become the great ambition of just about every Australian soldier on the Western Front that the five Australian divisions be brought together in one corps, fighting as an integrated national unit. In May 1918, General Sir John Monash was given command of the corps as a fitting recognition of his masterful ability as a soldier and a commander.
Monash planned his first set-piece battle at Hamel and, because the Australians would also be joined by American troops, Monash set the battle down for 4 July. His planning was meticulous: he had large models prepared of the battlefield so that the soldiers could familiarise themselves with every detail of the terrain over which they would fight. He also insisted on involving tanks in the battle, ensuring that the Australians trained long and hard with the tanks to learn how best to work with them.
It was the artillery, however, that gave the attackers the edge at Hamel. Employing a ‘creeping barrage’, where the shells fell just in front of the advancing troops, and using 600 guns, the Australians had a clear advantage over the Germans. With the tanks to provide movement and terror and aircraft used to attack and to resupply the advancing troops with ammunition, the battle at Hamel was an overwhelming success. Monash had timed the battle in his plans and orders to take just 90 minutes. In fact, the troops were a little slow – the battle was over in 93 minutes. By the end of the battle of Hamel, the Australians had 850 casualties, but the Germans suffered 1,000 casualties, losing another 1,000 of their soldiers who had become prisoners of war.
Do you have an ancestor who served at Hamel? Share your story.