Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

HAMEL, a Battleground Europe Guidebook of the Somme

Australian Tank Knocked Out of Action at Hamel, 4 July 1918

by Peter Pederson
Pen & Sword Books, Ltd, 2003
Bruce G. Sloan, Reviewer

This is most definitely a guidebook. Besides a detailed description of the battle for Hamel, it includes a review of the relevant cemeteries.  It also has recommended auto and walking tours of the battlefield, with maps, stopping points and descriptions of what is there and what to look for.  

Despite twelve years of studying WWI, I was blissfully unaware of this battle. In the ranks of other battles of the war, it is a relatively small one. It is about the Australian Corps versus the Germans, with a smattering of American AEF troops. (They somehow got included against the wishes or knowledge of Pershing, who was rather annoyed when he found out.)

     Hamel is the first time that a relatively new commander, Lt. General Sir John Monash, a militia officer before the war, was able to plan and command a battle: 

...he developed a tactical philosophy that rested on the intellectual underpinnings of his civilian profession as an engineer.  Besides insisting on the most meticulous preparations to keep the unforeseen at bay, Monash emphasised [sic—Aussie spelling] mechanical resources as the main means of preventing the thin khaki line from foundering when it went over the top.  The all-arms nature of Hamel epitomised [sic] his approach. 

This “all arms” approach involved infantry attacking with tanks and supported by artillery and aircraft.  One of the interesting factors was the use of very noisy FE2b aircraft constantly patrolling over the German lines in order to mask the noise of the approaching tanks.  Also, the artillery fired colored smoke rounds simulating gas, so the Germans donned their gas masks and hunkered down in their bunkers, totally fooled and taken by surprise when the Australian troops got there.  

Most of the maps are difficult to read—until you have studied them for a while, and the author gives extremely detailed map coordinates (ex: K.20.a.7.4) which are useless unless you happen to have a detailed military map of the area.  However, you are able to get the gist of the action. Listed in the “Advice to travelers,” are suggested places to stay, and there is a small section on how to use the book. If I were to go to Hamel, I would definitely read this book and take it with me. Also, having a copy of the appropriate military map would be helpful.

Bruce G. Sloan


  1. It almost seems to be the norm that maps provided in WWI publications are almost impossible. Nevertheless, a fine review. Thank you!

  2. I think your review will result in a revisit of Hamel for me. And I will use the book. Monash continues to get deserved praise. Thanks!