Primary Documents - Philip Gibbs on the Battle of Amiens, 27 August 1918
Reproduced below is an extract from a newspaper account of the Battle of Amiens by the official British wartime reporter Philip Gibbs. As an officially accredited journalist Gibbs' account was inevitably upbeat. In the event its tone was largely justified; the opening of the Amiens battle on 8 August 1918 transpired to be the onset of the final phase of the war, namely the Allied advance to victory culminating in the Allied-German armistice on 11 November 1918.
Philip Gibbs on the Battle of Amiens, 27 August 1918
In July it was Rupprecht's army that was the chief threat against us, and it was an army of perhaps 250,000 fresh troops, apart from those in line waiting to be hurled against us if the German Crown Prince could do without them.
We knew then that some of Rupprecht's divisions had been sent down hurriedly to his relief, but the question still remained whether the armies holding our part of the battlefront would still be strong enough to attack us or strong enough to check any attempt of ours to advance against them.
After that the tide turned in an astonishing way. It is now the enemy who is on the defensive, dreading the hammer blows that fall upon him day after day, and the initiative of attack is so completely in our hands that we are able to strike him at many different places.
Since August 8th we must have taken nearly 50,000 prisoners and nearly 500 guns, and the tale is not yet told because our men are going on, taking new strides, new batches of Germans, and more batteries.
The change has been greater in the minds of men than in the taking of territory. On our side the army seems to be buoyed up with the enormous hope of getting on with this business quickly. They are fighting for a quick victory and a quick peace so they may get back to normal life and wipe this thing clean from the map of Europe and restore the world to sane purposes.
That is, I am sure, their hope, and for almost the first time in very truth they see something of its reality in sight.
But there is a change also in the enemy's mind. Those German soldiers and their officers are changed men since March 21st, when they launched their offensive. They no longer have even a dim hope of victory on this western front. All they hope for now is to defend themselves long enough to gain peace by negotiation.
Many of them go even further than this and admit they do not care how peace comes so long as there is peace. They are sullen with their own officers, and some of those whom I saw today were more than sullen.
The arrival of the Canadians on August 26th was an immense surprise to the Germans. The last heard of them was outside of Roye after their glorious advance on the left of the French, and the last thing in the world which the enemy expected was to find them right in the north beyond Arras.
That was a brilliant piece of secret manoeuvre. Before the Germans had any inkling of their presence the Canadians were advancing upon them with a sweep of shellfire in front of them. Without encountering much resistance, they swung around by Guemappe and Wancourt over the high ground on each side of the Cojeul.
Germans of the 214th Division, made up of men from Rhineland, Stettin, Lower Schleswig, and Hessians, were aghast at this sudden assault, and either retired or gave themselves up in the early stages of the Canadian advance.
Their resistance stiffened on the crest of Monchy Hill, and there was fierce fighting all night in the trench on the top of Wancourt Spur. But the Canadians were determined to get this place, and with great individual gallantry and good leadership and most dogged spirit, they worked around the machine guns which were holding them off and rushed them in the darkness.
By morning they held the spur, and this body of Canadians, who had taken over 820 prisoners yesterday morning, added another 150, with many machine guns, most of which were captured in the valley below the ridge. All told, the Canadians and Scots attacking with them had taken about 1,800 prisoners.
The highest point most desired by the Canadians was the old Wancourt tower on the tip of the crest, and this they gained in time for a new departure this morning, having to change their direction three times, owing to the lie of the ground, and face south instead of east after the beginning of the battle, which is always a difficult operation.
A little further north other Canadian troops, who had crossed Orange Hill and Monchy, that hill which dominates many miles of country, so that the loss of it a few months ago was serious to us, advanced again this morning to two woods on equally high ground beyond for which our men strove many times in vain in May of last year.
Those are the Bois du Sart and the Bois de Vert, which we used to see like green eyes staring down on our lines around Wancourt and Henin, and from which always there used to come wicked machine-gun fire when any of our troops moved in the open valley below.
The success of our infantry is the more remarkable because in this battle very few tanks have been used, and machine-gun nests had to be taken in many cases without their help.
This advance gives a sense of the enormous movement behind the British lines, and there is not a man who is not stirred by the motion of it. They are feeling that they indeed are getting on with the war. It is like a vast tide of life moving very slowly but steadily.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
A "creeping barrage" is an artillery bombardment in which a 'curtain' of artillery fire moves toward the enemy ahead of the advancing troops and at the same speed as the troops.
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