Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
France, 4 July 1918
Hamel, the first set-piece operation planned and conducted under Lieut.-General Sir John Monash, the newly appointed commander of the Australian Corps, took place on 4 July 1918. The action was actually a fairly small affair - little more than divisional scale - but has since become famous as a model of the completely successful all-arms battle. In particular, the methodical and thorough way in which preparations were made, the new procedures devised, and the use of conferencing as a means to both inform and consult subordinates, set new standards of generalship which were emulated subsequently by other commanders on the Western Front.
In reality, the scale and nature of the operation left little to chance. Its purpose was limited to straightening the line by carrying it eastwards no further than two kilometres on a frontage of 6.5 kilometres. Covering this movement were 650 guns, and the advancing infantry was supported by the British 5th Tank Brigade containing no less than 60 of the latest Mark V tanks. Overcoming the Australians' unhappy experience of working with tanks at the First Battle of Bullecourt (q.v. ), these armoured vehicles were ordered to accompany the assault troops immediately behind the creeping barrage, operating under infantry control to break down wire obstacles encountered and deal with troublesome enemy strong points.
Monash's main worries were concerned with the manning levels in his divisions, the ranks of which were already reduced by losses and being thinned even more by an influenza epidemic. To avoid totally crippling any one of the divisions, he resorted to assembling an assault force using a brigade from each of the 2nd (contributing the 6th Brigade), 3rd (11th Brigade) and 4th (4th Brigade). Command of this force in the attack was given to Major-General Ewan Maclagan, the General Officer Commanding 4th Australian Division, from whose sector it would primarily be launched. Bolstering the Australian strength were four companies of troops from the American 33rd Division, which were attached by platoons to Australian battalions to gain combat experience.
Arrangements for the operation were developed with remarkable attention to detail. To mask the sound of the tanks moving into position during the night of 3 July, Allied aircraft bombed Hamel and enemy rear areas. Several diversions were also planned, the main one requiring the 15th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division to strike beyond Ville north of the River Somme. To lighten the normal burden of the advancing infantry, innovative use was made of carrier tanks to bring forward supplies and of air-dropping ammunition to the forward troops.
The result of all this effort was that the assault met with outstanding success. The attack was over barely 90 minutes after it started at 3.10 a.m., and all objectives had been seized for a cost of just 1,062 Australian and 176 American casualties; the 15th Brigade's diversion added another 142 to the tally, making a total of less than 1,400. German casualties were assessed at considerably more than 2,000, including 1,600 taken prisoner. In addition, the enemy lost 200 machine-guns and trench mortars, plus some anti-tank weapons.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 148-149.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean (1937) The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Main German Offensive, 1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Citation: Hamel, France, July 4, 1918