The campaigns of 1918 had seen irreversible changes on the Western Front, both for the Allies and the Central Powers.
Early in the spring, Germany had played its final offensive hand of the war, committing almost a million men towards their “Kaisersclacht” - or, nearly 1/5th of their fighting force. Elite German stormtroopers swarmed over the Allied lines, recapturing lost ground from the campaigns of 1916-1917. Allied forces lost huge swathes of ground, including their positions at Passchendaele.
The Canadians had been moved back to their old grounds at Vimy. Little German activity was taking place in the region, and the Corps’ took time to rest, refit, and rehabilitate themselves after the punishing campaigns of Passchendaele and Lens a few months before. Luckily enough, they were spared the German onslaught.
As British and French troops stemmed the oncoming assault, they ground down their own fighting strength as well. By the end of the offensive, both Armies were sapped of strength. However, the Germans had paid a much higher cost than the Allies. Not only were their losses irreplaceable, but their newly captured lines were nearly untenable, and over-extended.
Allied High Command knew that a strategic offensive could shatter the depleted Germans and open up the real possibility of ending the war.
Operations in Amiens were supposed to be conducted as “surprise attacks”. However, the some 300,000 troops being committed to the attack made the planning difficult to hide. In addition to the Canadians, the B.E.F also called upon John Monash’s Australian Corps, considered elite troopers in the same vein as the Canadian Corps. If the German Army caught wind of both corps’ being there, it would have been obvious to them a decisive offensive was being planned.
However, the secret nature of the offensive was remarkably well kept. By the kickoff date of August 8th, the Germans were oblivious to the attack that would soon befall them.
The attack was aimed at Amiens, an important logistical and railway centre for the German Army.
At 4:20 AM on August 8th, 2,000 guns went off along the whole of the Allied front. A creeping barrage covered the way for the attacking Corps, who hugged the wall of steel falling just before them.
The first day of battle saw the single biggest day’s victory for the Allies, and a devastating defeat for the German forces. Erich Ludendorff called it the “black day” of the German Army. He was right in doing so - three German Divisions were shattered, and 5,000 troops taken prisoner.
Following the substantial gains made by the Canadian Corps (up to 13 kilometers in some sectors) the German Army had reinforced their front line with 5 divisions, digging in opposite to the Canadians. It became clear the Canadians would be fighting a much more prepared enemy within the days to come.
It was difficult for the Allied forces to replicate the success of the August 8th offensive. With Ludendorff continuing the reinforcement of German lines, the attackers found themselves experiencing diminishing gains. On August 12th, General Haig called off the offensive.
The Amiens campaign, while resoundingly successful, had demanded much from the Allies – and the Canadians were no exception. The Corps took 11,822 casualties through the 6 days of fighting, illustrating the price paid for ground gained. However, an influx of returning (formerly wounded) soldiers and conscripts from Canada soon joined the Corps at the front. The Canadians were quickly back up to full strength and ready to finish the fight.