George Clemenceau, then Prime Minister of France, visits the Australians after their success at Le Hamel, 7 July 1918. He is walking with Major General Ewen Sinclair-MacLagan, with Lieutenant General John Monash close behind. (AWME02527).
Australia's official historian of the First World War, Charles Bean, described the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918 as 'a big battle on a small scale'. Although almost a century has passed, it is still considered a masterpiece of logistics and combined arms warfare.
Ahead of his first battle as commander of the Australian Corps, Lieutenant General John Monash meticulously planned the attack, consolidating strategies used in previous battles by the British Expeditionary Force and coordinating infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft in an unprecedented manner.
This was the first occasion soldiers from Australia and America served together.
Unlike the Battle of Bullecourt, where tanks had proven unreliable and had failed to deliver as expected, their use at Le Hamel proved decisive. Apart from their use as an offensive weapon, each of the 54 Mark V tanks from the British 5th Tank Brigade carried ammunition and water for the Australian and American infantry – normally these supplies would have been brought up by supporting battalions.
It was also the first time ammunition was parachuted to advancing infantry by aircraft from the No. 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force, which flew offensive, protective and supply sorties.
Supporting the advance of the tanks and infantry were machinegun battalions and some 650 guns, comprising Australian, British and French artillery. For the two weeks prior to the battle, artillery had been shelling the Germans with explosives and gas daily. When the attack began no gas was used, but the Germans had become accustomed to wearing their masks, which hindered their vision.
The Allies achieved all of their objectives in 93 minutes, just three minutes longer than Monash had planned, with a relatively small number of casualties compared with other battles on the Western Front. In all, some 1,400 Australians and Americans were killed or wounded.
A commemorative service to mark the centenary of the Battle of Hamel will be held in France on 4 July 2018. Register to attend via the Overseas Commemorations section of the DVA website.