HAMEL 4TH JULY 1918: The Australian & American Triumph
by John Hughes-Wilson
Uniform Press, London
Paperback: 160 pages
Reviewed by Anthony Staunton
The Battle of Hamel on July 4, 1918, was a small battle lasting just 93 minutes that established the model for combined arms actions in conventional war. It was the first-time artillery, airpower, armour, deception and surprise worked together.
This British-published work credits Australian battalions and U.S. Army companies supported by British tanks in achieving a “dramatic turning point in the First World War”. The operation was mounted by the Australian Corps and was the first battle planned and executed by its commander, General Sir John Monash, as a corps commander.
Hamel is well known in Australian military history circles and many Australians may have heard of the battle or visited the battlefield site in France. However, it would be little known in both the United Kingdom and the United States. The author has written a book for readers in all three countries that is easy to read and informative, showing how the allies got to 1918 and how the lessons learned in four years of costly fighting were so brilliantly executed at Hamel.
At the end of 1917, nearly 3½ years of trench warfare found the war going badly for everyone. The Russian Revolution had been overthrown by the Bolsheviks. The French Army’s morale had failed leading to strikes and mutinies. The Americans, who had entered the war with great promise in April 1917, were still not organised and trained and it was to be months before significant forces entered the line; it was not until September 1918 that an American Army would take the offensive.
The Canadians had captured Vimy Ridge in April 1917, and British – including Australian divisions – had great success at Messines in June that year, but Third Ypres, from July to November 1917, had been disappointing and costly.
The first major British tank raid at Cambrai in November 1917 had resulted in great gains but German counterattacks had quickly recaptured most of the lost ground. The attrition of German forces from the allied offensives horrified the German High Command.
Having forced Russia to seek terms, Germany decided on a gamble to win on the Western Front before massive American forces could play a decisive role. With new German tactics, massive artillery, reinforcements from the Eastern Front and the creation of special shock troops, Germany launched a great offensive in late March 1918.
The attack between the Somme and the Oise rivers saw the allies give up much territory before reinforcements, including four of the five Australian divisions, were rushed to the Somme to stem the German advance. From March to July, the Australian Corps manned the British line south of the Somme and it was here that the Battle of Hamel was fought.
The Australians, the Americans, the British and the Germans are all well covered in this work, as well as the planning and the execution of the battle. Eleven days after Hamel, the Second Battle of the Marne witnessed the last major German offensive on the Western Front. The French and Americans were prepared and three days later counter-attacked and overwhelmed the Germans.
Planning commenced immediately after the Hamel victory for a major offensive using the tactics tested on July 4. Three corps, the Australian, the Canadian and the British III Corps, launched the Battle of Amiens on August 8 and the German defeat marked the start of the Allied 100-day advance that ended with the Armistice on November 11.
This book is an excellent introduction to the how the allies got to 1918, the remarkable quick victory at Hamel and how this helped end the fighting on the Western Front just four months later.
And it was commanded by the great Australian general, Sir John Monash!