Men of the 46th Division pictured on the banks of the St Quentin Canal after their victory.
September 29 1918, Bellenglise–The fourth and final hammer blow of the Allied offensives in late September fell on the Hindenburg Line behind the St Quentin Canal. The main attack was to be undertake by the Australians, but after months of hard fighting they were exhausted, and they were reinforced by an American corps. During the rapid advance on August 8, plans for the sector were captured by a tank officer. While somewhat out of date, they were still extraordinarily detailed and allowed the Allied bombardment to hit its targets with pinpoint accuracy. Despite this, and extensive tank support, the Australians and Americans were quickly bogged down. The rolling barrage started too far away and advanced too quickly (in an effort not to hit survivors of a failed trench raid who may still have been in no-man’s-land).
However, further to the south, the 46th Division had a stunning success. In what they thought would be a purely diversionary attack, they crossed the canal using equipment salvaged from cross-Channel passenger ferries an hour after the Americans attacked, and took the Germans completely by surprise. Private George Waters recalled:
The men were on top of the Germans before they knew what was happening. A corporal, Crutchley, suddenly came to a German machine gun post protecting the bridge and he shot the German crew down before they could get their guns into action.
They were able to secure the bridge before the Germans had a chance to set off the demolition charges, and more troops streamed over (while still others swam across with the help of life belts).
By the end of the day, the 46th Division had advanced three miles, taking the bulk of the Hindenburg Line in their sector. A single regiment took over 4200 PoWs themselves. Following up on this success, by the end of the next day over 30 miles of the Hindenburg Line were in Allied hands, with only one German reserve line in between them and open country beyond.
Today in 1917: British Victory at Ramadi
Today in 1916: Romania Launches Last Attack into Transylvania
Today in 1915: Haig Blames Sir John French for Failures at Loos
Today in 1914: Belgian Cyclist Saboteurs Return to Antwerp; There, German Artillery Destroys Forts’ Magazines
Sources include: David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall; Nick Lloyd, Hundred Days.