Summary: An Efficient, Day-by-Day Account
Comment: The successful Anglo-French attack upon the German 2nd and 18th Armies near Amiens on August 8, 1918 - referred to by Ludendorff as `the black day of the German Army' - marked the beginning of the collapse of Imperial Germany's war effort in the First World War. After years of frustrating failures on the Western Front, the Allies finally were able to gain significant ground and inflict crippling losses on the German Army. In Amiens 1918: The Black Day of the German Army, Osprey's Campaign #197, serving British officer Alistair McCluskey has written a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the campaign during the period 8-11 August 1918. Combined with Osprey's normal high standard of maps and artwork, Amiens 1918 does an excellent job covering one of the war's critical military actions. Indeed, the author describes this battle as "the first truly joint (air/land) and combined (multinational) operation of the 20th Century."
Graphically, Amiens 1918 is typical of Osprey's matured Campaign series in full stride; maps, artwork, photos and text are all efficiently packaged. This volume has five 2-D maps (Western Front, July 1918; individual sitmaps for 8, 9, 10, 11 August 1918) and three 3-D BEV maps (Chipilly Spur, 8 August; attack of the French XXXI Corps at Fresnoy, 8 August; attack of the 10th and 13th Australian Brigades, 10 August). Overall, the maps pack quite a lot of information - just at the edge of `too much' - but the fact that they cover only discrete periods is helpful. There are only two battle scenes by Peter Dennis (the defense of Cerisy; dogfight between 32 Squadron RAF and Jasta 15), but as usual his artwork is superb. The numerous B/W photos are also quite good, even though they are mostly familiar Imperial War Museum images, and the author has a knack for writing efficient, value-added captions. Even though the author visited the battlefield and provided several color photos for the volume, the section on the Battlefield Today is barely two paragraphs. Finally, the bibliography is adequate, but a bit on the thin side.
Following Osprey's standard format, the volume begins with a brief introduction on the origins of the campaign, followed by short sections on opposing commanders, opposing plans and opposing leaders. I was a bit surprised that the author omits any reference to the desperate, `backs-to-the-wall' straights that the Allies were in just four months before the Battle of Amiens and makes it sound as if the Anglo-French armies were in fine fettle (no mention that the British were running out of replacements). Furthermore, in the opposing armies section he makes no mention of the French mutinies of 1917, which continued to affect their operations in 1918. These introductory sections appear to cast the German troops as exhausted and their leaders as oblivious to the impending Allied attack, while the Anglo-French (very little mention of the arrival of U.S. forces) are depicted in fine form. The most interesting sub-section was on opposing plans, which indicates that deception was a key ingredient of the Allied plans; the location of the Canadian Corps was a key I&W; indicator for the Germans, which the Allies succeeded in concealing right up to the offensive. It is also clear that air operations were a major component of the offensive and the Allies enjoyed a 5-1 numerical superiority in the air. The BEF was tasked with five main missions, ranging from defensive/offensive counter-air to battlefield interdiction, CAS and aerial re-supply. However, it is not clear from this section where the British 4th Army's main effort was, since the supporting tanks were divided up fairly evenly between the three main corps involved.
The battle narrative proper consists of 60-pages and follows a straight chronological method, charting the course of each major corps in turn. This method becomes quite tedious after awhile, particularly since the author fails to break it up with any accounts about individuals (e.g. VC recipients) and some readers will find the battle narrative exhausting. Nevertheless, the author's method is efficient and it conveys most of the major details about the battle, although it does leave some questions. For example, he provides very little detail on the opening artillery preparation on 8 August, although clearly revised British artillery tactics were part of the equation for success. It also appears that thick mist aided the attackers - just as it aided the Germans during their offensives in March 1918 - so weather may have played a large role in the Allied success, too. Several of the photos show troops wearing gas masks and the author mentions use of gas once or twice, but it would have been useful to know who was using it, how and where.
The author concludes that the Germans had suffered about 30,000 casualties on 8 August 1918 and that "six German divisions had been virtually wiped out." He mentions that the British suffered about 9,000 casualties (plus heavy losses of tanks and aircraft) but makes no mention of French casualties. He continues the narrative to cover the residual Allied advance and German counterattacks during 9-11 August, by which point it was clear that the Allies were not going to achieve a breakthrough. It was also apparent that new German anti-tank tactics were inflicting very heavy losses on Allied tanks - which is a bit surprising for an army supposedly in the midst of a catastrophic collapse. The author takes a brief look at the impact of the battle on German thinking, which first raised the idea of an armistice, even though it did not take root for another three months. Overall, this volume is a bit parochial and plodding at times, but nonetheless a good addition to the series.