Battle of Hamel
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The Battle of Hamel (4 July 1918) was a successful attack launched by the Australian Corps of the Australian Imperial Force and several American units against German positions in and around the town of Hamel in northern France during World War I. The battle was planned and commanded by Lieutenant General John Monash (later knighted).
Many of the tactics employed, such as the use of combined arms from the massed attacks mounted earlier in the war, illustrate the evolution of modern military tactics. All the allies' objectives were achieved in 93 minutes, just three minutes more than Monash's calculated battle time of 90 minutes. Using conventional tactics, the fighting could have lasted for weeks or months, with much higher casualty rates. For example, a similar defensive position had resisted allied capture for two months at the Battle of the Somme.
The battle was the first time in the war that American troops participated in an offensive action under non-American command. Four American companies joined with Australian troops under Australian command, although three were recalled before the battle.
The allied victory owed much to Monash's detailed planning and to the briefing of all the troops on their objectives. The allies made novel use of a number of tactics, such as parachute drops of medical supplies and rifle ammunition in cases, and resupply by tank rather than by troops carrying supplies forward. The supply tanks and aircraft brought stores quickly to the troops as they advanced. The carrying power of the tanks equated to about 1,000 troops doing the same job, the planes would drop. There was advanced coordination between infantry, artillery and armour – the latest, highly manoeuvrable Mark V tank was used after it had been demonstrated to Monash and the British commander, General Rawlinson. Five companies (60 sabre and four supply tanks) of the 5th Brigade of the Tank Corps were provided for the assault.
The battle plan called for a creeping barrage, in which the artillery barrage moves slowly in front of the advancing troops. This protected the troops by suppressing enemy activity, thereby easing their advance. Some 600 British and French guns were used for the barrage and counter-battery fire, including regular barrages in the days leading up to the attack. Monash was adamant that the infantry should not be sacrificed in an unprotected advance, hence his care to ensure that they were well covered.
American involvement 
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Rawlinson, commanding the British Fourth Army, suggested to Monash in late June 1918 that American involvement in a set-piece attack alongside the Australians would give the American troops experience and strengthen the Australian battalions by an additional company each. On 29 June, General Bell, commanding the American 33rd Division, selected two companies each from the 131st and 132nd Infantry regiments of the 66th brigade. Nevertheless, Monash had been promised ten American companies, and on 30 June the remaining companies of the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 131st regiment were sent. Each American platoon was attached to an Australian company. A difficulty in integrating the 60-man American platoons into the 100-strong Australian companies was overcome by reducing the size of each American platoon by one-fifth and sending the removed troops, which numbered 50 officers and men, back to battalion reinforcement camps.
On the morning of 3 July, the day before the attack was scheduled to commence, General Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France ordered the withdrawal of the additional six American companies. This meant that battalions had to rearrange their attack formations and caused a serious reduction in the size of the allied force. For example, the 11th brigade was now attacking with 2,200 men instead of 3,000. There was a further last-minute call for the removal of all American troops from the attack, but Monash protested to Rawlinson and received support from Douglas Haig.
At 22:30 on the night of 3 July, the British Mark V and Whippet tanks began to move from Fouilloy and Hamelet to their assembly areas half a mile (0.8 km) behind the front lines. Guides from the infantry marked out tracks from there to the battalions, which had already sent parties ahead to cut paths through their own wire.
Initial barrage 
The Australian artillery opened fire at 03:00 on the morning of 4 July with its usual harassing bombardment, providing cover for the noise of the sixty tanks as they moved the last half-mile to the front line. No. 101 Squadron of the British Royal Air Force providied additional cover by dropping 350 25-pound bombs to the east of the Australian front. Each pilot in the squadron flew at least three missions between dusk and dawn.
The artillery batteries gradually shortened their range until they reached the start line for the creeping barrage. Then, at 03:10, the main barrage began with flanking smoke screens laid down by the artillery and trench mortars. The creeping barrage began 200 yards in front of the attacking troops and continued 600 yards beyond that. The infantry rose along the whole line and began following the barrage at a distance of 75 yards. Although the barrage was mostly accurate, a part fell short at the junction of the 4th and 11th brigades, virtually wiping out one American squad and one platoon of the 43rd battalion. Further to the south, a dozen men of the 15th battalion were killed and 30 wounded in a similar incident.
At 03:14, the barrage advanced and the infantry continued to follow it into the cloud of smoke and dust, which made observing the line of the barrage difficult. The American troops, keen to keep up with the experienced Australians, dashed into the shell-fire and at least one Australian was killed while turning round an American platoon that had entered the barrage.
Pear Trench 
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Pear Trench, named after its shape, was one of many German defenses that the soldiers had to overcome.
The Woods 
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While small in scale, the Battle of Hamel was to have far-reaching consequences for trench warfare, because, like the Battle of Cambrai (1917), it provided a practical demonstration of tactics for attacking an entrenched enemy. The strategy employed at Hamel was then successful on a much larger scale in the Battle of Amiens and was a major factor in Allied successes later in the war. Field Marshal Montgomery, the World War II British army commander, later described Monash as the best World War I general on the western front in Europe.
There were 1,062 Australian casualties (including 800 dead) and 176 American casualties (almost 100 dead). Around 2,000 Germans were killed and 1,600 captured, along with the loss of much of their equipment.
Two Australians, Thomas Axford and Henry Dalziel, were awarded the Victoria Cross for their conduct during the battle. Lieutenant Thomas Roberts was awarded the Military Cross and Sergeant Ivan Eldredge the Military Medal for their actions on 18 August, when they led their sections in an out-flanking movement and the capture of a key enemy machine gun position.
American Corporal Thomas A. Pope received the British Distinguished Conduct Medal from King George V on 12 August 1918. Pope and seven other doughboys were awarded the US Army's Distinguished Service Cross for actions during the Battle of Hamel. They were:
- Cpl. Albert C. Painsipp, Company A., 132d Infantry
- Sgt. James E. Krum, Company E, 131st Infantry
- Pvt. William F. Linzky, Company E, 131st Infantry
- Cpl. Andrew C. Shabinger, Company E, 131st Infantry
- Cpl. Lester C. Whitson, Company E., 131st Infantry
- Pvt F. B. A. Wilkins, Company A, 132d Infantry
- Pvt. Christopher W. Keane, Medical Detachment, 131st Infantry.
Pope was the first recipient of the Medal of Honor during the war and a member of Company E, 131st Infantry, 33rd Division. General Pershing presented him with his medal on 22 April 1919.
See also 
Media related to Battle of Hamel at Wikimedia Commons
- Bean, pp.326-327
- Bean p.262
- Bean p.263
- Bean p.265
- Bean p.276
- http://www.historynet.com/world-war-i-battle-of-hamel.htm Historynet.com
- Bean p.280
- Bean p.281
- Bean p.285
- Bean pp.286-287
- C.E.W. Bean Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume VI - The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Allied Offensive, 1918.
- Huidekoper, Fredrick L (1921). The History of the 33rd Division, A.E.F. Springfield, Ill.:: Illinois State Historical Society..
- The Battle of Hamel: History and Memory
- ABC Documentaries | Australia | http://www.abc.net.au/tv/documentaries/interactive/monash/%7C Monash - The Forgotten ANZAC