One of the most important battles in which the AIF was engaged in World War 1. Not because of its strategic significance at the time, but rather because it was a demonstration in 'miniature' albeit involving large numbers of troops, of how the War would be won; by breaking the supremacy of 'the Defence' that had defined trench warfare, through the application of "Combined Arms" tactics developed by General Monash and the AIF, to return manouevre to the battlefield.
This account from the 44th Battalion illustrates the 'flow' of the battle and the "Combined Arms" effects of coordinated artillery, tanks and determined infantry attacking in echelon to maintain momentum. In this battle, small quatities of gas were fired with smoke at the outset to force the German defenders to 'mask up', impairing their vision and reflexes. Prior to the assault, the gas was ceased but the smoke maintained, maintaining the illusion and keeping the defenders masked, allowing the attackers to assault without protective equipment and conferring a local advantage combined with the shock effect of tanks - armoured pillboxes that could accompany the assaulting troops onto the objective.
At ten minutes past three our barrage came down with ferocious suddenness upon the enemy’s front line area, and pounded, battered, and chopped it to pieces with shells of every caliber – light, medium, heavy, gas, shrapnel, high explosive, and phosphorous shells. The Boche [German] here suffered four minutes’ hell before the barrage began to lift in hundred yards’ stages every minute, allowing our first wave (43rd Battalion) to advance to the attack with the cooperation of the ‘tanks’ which smelt out the vicious machine guns in the enemy strong-points, and summarily dealt with them in their own quaint manner.
Not many minutes passed before the first waves (43rd Battalion) had taken the first objective, and the on-coming tide of the 44th Battalion swept over it and on up the coveted ridge, ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies working round the left and ‘C’ and ‘D’ companies round the right of the village of Hamel, leaving the village to the mercies of Hotchkiss (Ed - strip fed machine guns) and the Pounder (Ed - 6 pounder Quick Firing Guns in sponsons either side of the tank hull) aboard six ‘tanks’. Three ‘tanks’ accompanied each half of the battalion around the village.
Whilst our advance was in progress the enemy followed his usual procedure by filling the air with Verey lights and rockets – white, red, green, golden and showers – but whatever their significance, this barrage remained particularly feeble, and our boys advanced with practically no resistance from artillery, the machine guns giving the most trouble. A kind spurt from the uncanny ‘tank’, however, soon disposed of the defending ‘gallants’.
A feature of the offensive was the effectiveness of the smoke barrages which were used on either flank to cover our advance. These consisted of thick white clouds of smoke which were worked across the front by the action of the wind.
The first ‘tank’ flying the Tricolour [French flag] denoting its return, was seen moving back at ten minutes past four apparently delighted with its success and leaving the village behind blazing furiously.
As darkness gave place to day, our men could be seen working their way steadily but surely to the crest of the ridge, whilst eight tanks wobbled here and there over the slopes and summit of the ridge clearing the Boche out of his strong defences commanding our old forward area.
By twenty-five minutes to five the ridge was ours, and, with ‘C’ Company in support, the remainder of the battalion commenced to consolidate their new front line, an old Boche trench just below the summit on the eastern slope. No.1 Platoon moved out on the left and dug an outpost about a hundred yards in front of the front line. ‘B’ Company in the centre also pushed out an outpost whilst ‘D’ company secured the right flank.
[From ‘Narrative of Hamel Offensive, July 4th-6th 1918’, War Diary, 44th Australian Infantry Battalion, 23/61/22 Part 1, July Appendices, AWM4.]
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