St-Quentin Canal

September 29 - October 2, 1918

The massive German attacks in the spring of 1918 came close to breaking through the Allied lines and winning the war.  Instead, their repulse created a much longer line held by fewer, war-weary troops.  A British counterattack on August 8th turned the tide, and from then on, the Allies were advancing.  By late September, however, the British were approaching the Hindenburg Line, a strong, well planned defensive position that had been built in relative leisure behind German earlier German front lines.  The defenses incorporated the St-Quentin Canal and its steep banks.

A portion of the canal went through four mile long tunnel, an engineering marvel when it was completed in 1810.  It was at this point that the Hindenburg Line was most vulnerable, and it was here that the British 4th Army assigned the attached US 2nd Corps to attack.  The II Corps was made up of the 27th and 30th Divisions, both National Guard units.  The British 46th Division attacked to their south.


Riqueval Farm Bridge

This bridge over the canal was captured intact by the 6th Bn, North Staffordshire Regiment.  The original bridge stands today, and a concrete German pillbox can be seen on the east side.  During the fight, British troops swam the 10 meter wide canal and continued up the east bank under enemy fire.  After the battle, a famous photo was taken of Brig. Gen. Campbell addressing his 137th Brigade on the canal bank.

Southern End of Canal Tunnel

The southern exit of the tunnel is also features a cut and steep banks.  Many Germans used the tunnel for cover.  Today, pedestrians are prohibited from entering the tunnel.  A concrete German position, likely a command facility, is on the bank overlooking the canal.

Southern End of Canal Tunnel

The 30th Division captured this end of the tunnel.  Passing beyond it, they were attacked by Germans emerging from the tunnel.


Bellicourt Monument

Directly above the tunnel is the American Bellicourt Monument, offering views to the west over the terrain captured by US troops.  The 30th Division penetrated three German trench systems to capture Bellicourt.

From Guillemont Ferme

The 27th Division had a tougher time.  Their jump off point was actually occupied by the Germans!  Attacks to reach the jump off point were repulsed, but the main attack proceeded on September 29th regardless.  Tanks were destroyed, and the troops were unable to keep up with the advancing artillery barrage.  In a confused fight, German troops were bypassed, attacked the Americans from the rear, and were then mopped up by the Australian 3rd Division.  On the first day, the 107th Regiment lost 995 men, the largest daily loss in an American regiment during the war, but isolated troops were able to reach the town of Bony before Australian troops took over the front lines.  

Somme American Cemetery and Memorial

Although the battle has been overshadowed by the much larger American operations at St. Miheil and Meuse-Argonne, the importance of the fight at St-Quentin Canal is clear.  The last major German defense line was penetrated, and the Allies continued to advance and attack the demoralized German troops in the more open country beyond.  The collapse of Germany was not far off.  All the Allied armies moved forward, with the main American army's advance in the Meuse-Argonne sector threatening Germany's sole rail supply line into France.  Just a few weeks after the battle at St-Quentin Canal, on November 11th, the fighting would end.  

The II Corps lost 7,500 men during the battle, 13,500 during all the fighting in the area.  Nineteen Medals of Honor were earned by the II Corps during the war, nine of them during the assault on the St-Quentin Canal.  Although many of the dead were returned to the United States, the American Somme Cemetery became the final resting place 1,844 American service men and women, three of them Medal of Honor recipients.  The cemetery was dedicated in 1937, just two years before war would once again engulf the continent.




The large star on the floor has 48 small stars representing the number of states during the war.  The names of the 333 Americans missing during the fighting on the Somme are engraved in the walls.  The stained glass windows on either side feature unit insignia.


Medal of Honor Grave

William Bradford Turner, one of the recipients of the Medal of Honor, led a small group of men through three German defense lines while wounded, charging machine gun nests.  Reaching a fourth German line, he was killed during a German counterattack.


November 11, 2010

One of the highlights of my trip to Europe was visiting the American Somme Cemetery on Armistice Day.  French veterans and civilians attended, the head of the cemetery read a proclamation from the President, and American Boy Scouts and their families from the NATO command laid a wreath.

Maps are from "27th Division Summary of Operations in the World War" prepared by the American Battle Monuments Commission and from "US Army in the World War".

Copyright 2010-11 by John Hamill

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