Today marks the 100th Anniversary of The Battle of Hamel WWI – 04/07/1918
The Battle of Hamel (4 July 1918) was a successful attack by the Australian Army and US Army infantry, supported by British tanks, against German positions in and around the town of Le Hamel, in northern France, during World War I. The attack was planned and commanded by Lieutenant General John Monash, commander of the Australian Corps and Australian Imperial Force.
The Battle of Le Hamel Begins
Just after 3 O’clock in the morning of 4th July 1918, the night sky around the village of Le Hamel in northern France lit up with gun flashes and the thunder of a major artillery barrage rumbled across the countryside. The Battle of Le Hamel had begun.
The date had been carefully chosen – the 4th July was American Independence Day – and American troops would fight alongside Australians for the first time. It was also the first time during World War One that American troops had been led into battle by non-American officers.
The Australian Leader, General John Monash
The operation was commanded by the Australian officer Lieutenant General John Monash, and unlike many previous battles of the war this had been planned in meticulous detail, closely integrating air power, tanks, artillery and assaulting infantry forces.
Each facet of the operation was timed to the minute, and Monash’s initial estimation of one-and-a half hours to achieve his objectives was very close to the mark. In fact the main battle lasted 93 minutes, a tribute to Monash, his officers and fighting men that launched the attacks.
The operation was designed to punch through the German lines around Le Hamel, and it was thought that capturing the village would help set up “an aggressive posture” and relieve pressure on the Allies in the surrounding sector.
Australian and US forces totalled around 7000 troops, compared to the German forces of just under 6000, and although this was not a large battle in terms of personnel on the ground, because of the innovative tactics used, it was to have far reaching consequences.
Monash’s military philosophy shone through in the way that he launched the operation. He was determined that the infantry would not become “cannon fodder” and insisted on a careful support plan that protected them as much as possible. This included the use of a “creeping barrage” by the artillery where the fall of “friendly” shells moved out in front of the advancing infantry, keeping the enemy largely pinned down.
The attack was a great success, with the US and Australian troops combining in a highly potent battle force that carried the day. Around 800 Australians were killed together with 26 Americans. An estimated 2000 Germans were killed and 1600 were captured, long with their arms and equipment.
By: R. Whitaker
Image: American and Australian troops dug in together during the Battle of Hamel. Hamel was fought in the early morning and by a happy arrangement on what was their National Day, United States troops attacked, at battalion strength, for the first time in the British line. Their part in the operation not only made the day memorable for them, but created a great bond between the Americans and Australians. Left to right: five unidentified; Private Jamieson, 42nd Battalion; Lance Corporal Bellamy, 42nd Battalion, 1918, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.