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Background of the Battle

Following the Germans' failure to obtain a quick decision in 1914 trench warfare and stalemate developed.  Both the British and French High Commands came to believe that prolonged artillery bombardment, if only heavy enough could crush out all life in an area, leaving assaulting infantry merely the task of mopping up. Time and again it was tried, but invariably after the barrage passed the Germans emerged from their deep dugouts and mowed down the advancing infantrymen with machineguns, firing in enfilade along barbed wire obstacles.  In 1916 the British produced an answer to the lethal combination of automatic weapons, field defences and wire - the tank; but it was long before it was properly employed.

By 1918 both sides were beginning to feel a shortage of men. (Infantry shortages led the British Army to reorganize its brigades into three, instead of four, battalions, at the beginning of rgr8.  Furthermore, it was now necessary to employ low, category men in forward units, with a further decrease in operational efficiency.  Although only three brigades of the five Australian divisions were so reorganized, this corps was experiencing periodic shortages of reinforcements.  The Canadian Corps retained its original organization.) The United States had not yet been able to deploy its great resources; and Ludendorff utilized the temporary advantage afforded by the Russian collapse of 1917, which gave him 192 divisions against the Allies' 173.  In March 1918 he attacked the weakest point of the Allied line.  Initial German penetration was deep but was halted.  It was not until July, however, that the Allies were able to regain the initiative.  Ferdinand Foch had been appointed Allied Generalissimo during the critical March days, and now his governing idea was to strike successively at widely dispersed points, to free his own lateral communications and give the Germans no respite while his own resources were growing.

Foch had wanted Haig to attack in Flanders, but Haig convinced him that it was more desirable to eliminate the German salient east and southeast of Amiens, which interfered with the use of the town and its railway running back to Paris.  Haig proposed a combined Franco-British operation under his own control, the main effort being made by General Rawlinson's Fourth Army which would attack north of the Luce River while the First French Army (Debeney) advanced on its right.

    By 1918 the Germans had become accustomed to regard the arrival of either the Canadians or the Australians as a notice of impending attack.  Four of the five Australian divisions were already on the Fourth Army front and it was planned to bring the 1st Australian Division back from Flanders to reinforce the coming stroke.  On 20 July Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, commanding the Canadian Corps, then under the First Army on the Arras front, was informed of the intended operation and told that his Corps was to take part.  Although Currie visited Fourth Army Headquarters for planning conferences, his divisional commanders were kept in the dark until 31 July.  To deceive the enemy two Canadian infantry battalions, two casualty clearing stations and the Corps wireless section were sent north to Flanders, where these Canadians made their presence known to the Germans opposite.  Only on 30 July did the Canadian Corps begin its secret move to the Fourth Army sector, with officers and men completely unaware of where they were going or what they were to do.  Pending their arrival a French corps was withdrawn southward and the Australian front extended.  Since British units had not previously served in this area, there was the added problem of creating rear area installations, which placed one more burden upon the overworked railways and limited motor transport.  By the night 3/4 August the Canadians had arrived in the Amiens area but vast quantities of ammunition still had to be brought to forward dumps for the artillery.  By the night of 6/7 August all was in readiness, however, and the troops could be informed of the pending operation.

To attract still more enemy attention to Flanders, the newly-organized Royal Air Force had been ordered to occupy additional airfields and to increase air activity there until 6 August.  Above the British Fourth Army front abnormal air activity n as avoided, although on the night preceding the attack Handley-Page bombers patrolled the front line to drown the noise of assembhn2 British tanks.  As an innovation, the officer commanding the R.A.F. formation had drawn up a memorandum, to be communicated to all pilots and observers on the afternoon prior to attack, setting forth the general outline of the plan of battle so that they would be better able to appreciate the operations and turn in more valuable reports.  At that time total available British air strength consisted of 147 day bombers, 92 night bombers 75 fighter reconnaissance aircraft: 376 fighters and 110 corps planes.  Similarly the French had concentrated 1104 aircraft to support their First Army.  The main German air strength was still in Champagne and there were only 365 aircraft of all types to oppose the Allies' 1904.

 On the German side the prospect of an Allied offensive was viewed with so much apprehension that Ludendorff felt it necessary, just four days before the attack, to issue a morale-raising order.  Evidently the German command was sufficiently uneasy about the defeatism which was spreading among the common soldiers to misread any omen.  Reports of tank noises were described by higher staffs as "phantoms of the imagination or nervousness."

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