Bryn Hammond, Head of Collections at Imperial War Museums
Tuesday 31 July 2018
A crowd of German prisoners taken by the British Fourth Army in the Battle of Amiens. Near Abbeville, 27 August 1918.
IWM (Q 9271)

It was the remarkable success that opened the doors to victory on the Western Front. For the Allies in the First World War, it demonstrated that their superior tactics and equipment and greater material strength could win the war. Its impact on the morale of their German opponents was profound, utterly destroying the last illusions they may have had about the war’s outcome. It was the German Army’s ‘Black Day’. 

Using the IWM archive as inspiration, Bryn Hammond, who heads IWM’s team of curators, looks at the Battle of Amiens - a crucial victory in the Allied war-winning offensives of 1918. Perhaps the most famous image associated with the Battle of Amiens is the photograph above, taken on 27 August 1918 at Abbeville, well behind the front lines and shows German prisoners captured during British offensive operations throughout the month.

On 8 August 1918, British and Imperial forces in co-operation with the French, launched a major attack against the Germans astride the River Somme, east of the city of Amiens. The stunning achievement on the first day of this battle was the beginning of the period known as the ‘Hundred Days’ (8 August – 11 November 1918) in which the battlefield successes of the armies of Britain, France, the United States and their allies finally forced Germany to sue for an armistice, which eventually led to the end of the war.

Victory in the battle was achieved by a coalition of forces from several nations. Most prominent in the British Fourth Army’s attack were the Australian Corps and the Canadian Corps.

© IWM (IWM 286)

Australian infantry move forward

Australian infantry and pioneers move forward on 8 August 1918. The foggy conditions, which helped the attackers to surprise the Germans, are very obvious and the cameraman noted “the foggy weather made it impossible to get a connected story of good quality film”.

These, together with the British III Corps, were supported by more than 2,000 guns from the Royal Artillery, over 500 tanks from the Tank Corps and over 1,900 aircraft from the Royal Air Force and its French equivalent.

© IWM (IWM 357)

'Our Wonderful Tanks'

Large numbers of the latest tank types were available to the Tank Corps for the attack. These included the mechanically more-reliable and more handy Mark V, seen here out of the line with the more unwieldy Mark V Star version. These tanks gave the attackers the means to deal with opposition from any strongpoints or machine-gun ‘nests’ (in the terminology of the time). Also available were 72 machine-gun Medium A ‘Whippet’ tanks, able to move at the relatively quick speed of 8mph (almost 13kph).

Fourth Army succeeded in advancing over 8 miles (almost 13km) in a single day on their main front while the French forces on their southern flank gained 5 miles (8km). For their German opponents, it represented the beginning of the end of a war that had already lasted 4 years .

Photographs

The first German wounded

Photographs

The first German wounded

6.30am: The first German wounded from Hangard Wood are brought in.

The battle was a complete surprise. Deception to mislead the Germans and disguise the fact that an attack was being planned was very important and remains an important feature of many modern battle plans.

© IWM (IWM 286)

German prisoners are interrogated by their captors

By this stage of the war, the ‘classic’ trench systems that people associate with the First World War were largely gone after the major advances accomplished by the Germans in their Spring Offensives between March and May 1918.

Photographs

British armoured cars

Photographs

British armoured cars

British armoured cars (depicted here later in 1918) were very important during the battle of Amiens in exploiting the initial success beyond the shelltorn battle zone.

© IWM (IWM 508-76)

The French in the Battle

Whilst the story of the battle usually focuses almost solely on the role of the Australians and the Canadians, the role of the French in the battle is almost completely ignored and the contribution of the British (infantry, tank crews, engineers, artillerymen, pilots) is often marginalised.

The senior German commanders, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, knew from this point on, that the war was lost. The battle’s most important impact was on the morale on both sides. Meanwhile, because of the scale of the losses in prisoners captured and the distance the attackers advanced, Erich Ludendorff, who was effectively the commander of the German armed forces in the war, described 8 August 1918 as ‘the black day of the German Army’ (‘der Schwarze Tag’).

Photographs

The Spoils of War

Photographs

The Spoils of War

Soldiers of the 8th Battalion, London Regiment (Post Office Rifles, 58th Division) examining a German captured MG 08/15 machine guns near Malard Wood, 8 August 1918.

The success represented a major propaganda opportunity for the British and French and IWM’s collection holds film and photographs made precisely for this purpose.

© IWM (IWM 322)

The Great British
Offensive

Prisoners taken by the British during the battles of August 1918, including those captured at the Battle of Amiens.

Despite the initial success in the battle, there was much more hard fighting with tremendous casualties on all sides in the final months before the war was won. Indeed, many of the technological innovations that accomplished the success on 8 August 1918 were precisely the reason why casualties on the Western Front were so high. Victory would be secured, but at an appalling cost.

Photographs

What Price 'Victory'?

Photographs

What Price 'Victory'?

The ruins of the village of Chipilly the day after it was captured.

Find out more

Related Content

Captain A W L Paget MC and Second Lieutenant P R J Barry MC of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards reading news of the Armistice to their men at Maubeuge, 12 November 1918.
First World War
How Did The Armistice End The First World War?
In the autumn of 1918, Germany and its allies were exhausted. Their armies were defeated and their hungry citizens were beginning to rebel. As early as 29 September German General and Stategist Erich Ludendorff decided that a cessation of hostilities must be sought. 
Battle of Canal du Nord. A 60pdr. firing in the dawn barrage, dimly seen field batteries go forward on the right, part of the British advance near Moeuvres, 27th September 1918. (See also Q 9324).
First World War
Voices of the First World War: The Beginning Of The End
Episode 45: By the summer of 1918, the German offensives on the Western Front had stalled. The Allies suffered greatly in these attacks – but held on. By August, they were ready to launch an offensive of their own. 
French troops manning a captured German Maxim gun at Fort Douaumont, Verdun, 1916.
© IWM (Q 69971)
First World War
10 Significant Battles Of The First World War
From the largest naval battle, and the longest battle, to the most painful and infamous battle, and the battle that marked the end of mobile warfare on the Western Front, discover 10 significant battles of the First World War that took place between 1914-1918.