September 29 - October 2, 1918
|The massive German attacks in the spring of 1918 came close
through the Allied lines and winning the war. Instead, their
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
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
portion of the canal went through four mile long tunnel, an
marvel when it was completed in 1810. It was at this point that
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
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.
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
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