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"A Dinkum Glorious Fourth!": Americans at Hamel


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A rough draft of something I have been working on: (part of a larger account of the 33rd Division ILNG). Lots has been written about Hamel from the Australian perspective I am trying to look specifically at the role of the US troops -- this is a framework, into which I will add first had accounts.

It's rough - but the occasion of the centenary could not be missed.


Comments/Corrections/Additions much appreciated




A dinkum "Glorious 4th"[1]


The first true combat for units of the 33rd Division came on the 4th of July 1918 at Hamel. This action and the involvement of 33rd Division units in it was both successful and controversial.  While the date had been chosen by the British General, Rawlinson with specific regard to the symbolism of American involvement, it nearly did not happen at all and when it did it was only with the very grudging and partial permission of Pershing's AEF command.

Since the end of May 1918 the 33rd Division had been attached to the British 4th Army for training, a relationship that was to persist until the last week of August. On June 21st the division relocated to Molliens-au-Bois on the Somme under the British III Corps. Training consisted of  general familiarization with the current weapons and tactics, and also later in the period, rotating companies in and out of the line, serving alongside the more experienced British and Australian troops to get a taste of front line action. During the period, in order to simplify the logistics the US forces had exchanged their M1903 or M1917 rifles for British Lee-Enfield rifles and were also training with British Lewis and Vickers machine guns.

The location of the village of Hamel and the ridge behind it offered a number of tactical advantages to the Allies. Situated some 2000 yards south of the Somme River its capture would straighten and simplify the Allied line (by taking an area roughly triangular in shape and approximately 2000yards deep by 5000yards wide).  Its loss would also deny the enemy oversight of the Allied lines, whilst simultaneously providing a good observation point down into the Somme valley. An attack at Hamel (and Vaire Wood) although later categorized by the British Official History among  "Minor Affairs" would also provide an opportunity to test the strength and organization of German defenses and hone emerging operational doctrine before the anticipated offensive in the late summer.  Rawlinson determined that a relatively limited force would be used for the operation and gave overall control to Lieut-General J. Monash and his Australian Corps. The 4th Australian Division, supported by 60 tanks and three squadron of aircraft were assigned the central role in the attack. While other Australian units (elements of the 6th Bde 2nd Australian Division) covered the flank and both French and British artillery would provide cover and support on the flanks.  Four companies of 33rd Division were "incorporated by platoons into the attacking battalions" (OHOTW 1918 Vol III pp 198-199). Originally the involvement of US troops had been planned to be significantly higher (around 2,500 men was initially proposed) this was later reconsidered and the number reduced to 1,000.  Just the day before the attack General Rawlinson was informed that Pershing had reversed his permission for even their involvement. When informed of this Monash argued vehemently that such a reduction at this late point was likely to prove fatal to the plan, compromising both the secrecy (by which Monash set great store) and the required manpower. There then followed several meetings and exchanges at various levels of command until it was finally agreed that removing those troops who were already in position would imperil the entire operation and they were, reluctantly on the part of the US high command, allowed to remain. The reason for this reversal remains somewhat unclear. Monash himself indicated in his memoirs that he never discovered if "the objections were founded upon policy or an underestimation of the fitness of the troops for offensive action" (Monash pp51-54). The official postwar record of the 33rd Division tactfully relegates discussion of this two notes, and tellingly relies upon Rawlinson and Monash to describe the decision rather than US Army sources!   The main reasoning appears to have been political rather than based on any evaluation of the readiness of the troops to be involved.  Pershing was under instructions (which which he personally agreed) that the AEF should be an independent force operating under US control, albeit in close coordination with the allies.  Assignment of US units operating under the control of non American commanders challenged this position.  While this had happened previously in the fighting to stem the German advance in the Spring and would continue to happen on occasion and in unique circumstances - such as those of the African American units assigned to the French - as a matter of policy it was to be avoided.  The decision was unpopular with the units themselves as a number of firsthand accounts testify.  The recalling  of some units which had originally been intended for the attack has given rise to a number of stories and secondary accounts of 33rd Division personnel "disguising themselves as Australians" in order to remain and participate in the attack, however little concrete evidence of this can be found and while individual instances are conceivable it seems somewhat unlikely[2], nonetheless there can be no doubting the keenness of many of the men to be involved, and the disappointment when they were at least for a time, denied that opportunity. The keenness and vigor with which the 33rd Division men pressed the attack is mentioned in several official and unofficial reports of the action. These are detailed below.

The force involved was not to be huge, "Ten battalions of infantry, five companies (sixty tanks) of the 5th Tank Brigade (Br. Gen. A. Courage) and the 8th and 9th and 3rd Australian Aeorplane squadrons" (British Official History 1918 Vol III p199). The units of the 33rd Division which participated officially at Hamel were Companies A and E of the 131st Infantry and Companies A and G of the 132nd Infantry. Their assignment in the plan of attack was as follows:

Company A, 131st Infantry

                1st Platoon  Company A, 131st Infantry assigned to Company A, 42nd Australian Battalion.

                2nd Platoon Company A 131st Infantry assigned to Company B, 42nd Australian Battalion.

                3rd Platoon, Company A , 131st Infantry assigned to Company C, 42nd Australian Battalion.

                4th  Platoon, Company A, 131st Infantry assigned to Company E, 42nd Australian Battalion.



Company E, 131st Infantry

                1st Platoon, Company E, 131 Infantry assigned to Company B, 43rd Australian Battalion.

                2nd Platoon, Company E, 131 Infantry assigned to Company C, 43rd Australian Battalion.

                3rd Platoon, Company E, 131 Infantry assigned to Company A, 43rd Australian Battalion.

                4th Platoon, Company E, 131 Infantry assigned to Company D, 43rd Australian Battalion.



Company A, 132nd Infantry was attached to the 13th Australian Battalion



Company G 132nd Infantry was attached to the 15th Australian Battalion

                1st Platoon Company G  132nd was attached to Company A, 15th Australian Battalion

                2nd  Platoon Company G  132nd was attached to Company B, 15th Australian Battalion

                3rd  Platoon Company G  132nd was attached to Company C, 15th Australian Battalion

                4th  Platoon Company G  132nd was attached to Company D, 15th Australian Battalion



The German defenses were made up of  approximately four infantry regiments rated by British intelligence as  first-class units, the sector had, however just been handed over from the German 77th reserve division to the 13th Division on the night of the 3/4th of July which meant that the new defenders were perhaps less familiar with their surroundings and somewhat fatigued by the move when the attack started the following morning. The 13th Division had also suffered fairly significant casualties during the March offensives. The official British accounts indicate that these regiments were split between the front, reserve and rest lines with a battalion in each (1918 Vol III p199).



While Hamel was not an engagement to rival may of the huge battles that had torn the French countryside apart in the previous three and a half years of war, and it's significance in the overall story of the conflict should not be exaggerated,  the encounter in which these first elements of the 33rd Division were involved was significant in a number of ways.  It was, as Sir John Monash pointed out in his memoir (Australian Victories in France) the first significant British offensive action since the Autumn of 1917, and marked an important turning point in the war.  For much of the Spring of 1918 the British had been engaged in a series of sometimes desperate defensive battles against the full weight of the German Army, newly strengthened with units from the East after Russia had sued for peace.  Hamel marked the end of this period and laid the groundwork for  the vital victory at Amiens a month later.  Hamel was also, in many ways, a very modern battle which sits uneasily with the stereotypical images of the earlier attritional battles (The Somme, Verdun etc) which have become the image of the great war in the modern mind. Hamel was meticulously planned, combined-forces operation which did not seek to win the war at a stroke or deliver a "knock out blow" to the enemy, but rather to gain immediate local advantage, to deliver a significant morale boost and to effect a full scale trial of tactics which had been evolving over the previous two years. Artillery, Aircraft, Armor and Infantry were deployed in a carefully coordinated manner, seeking to attain important but limited and realistic, goals. The plans for the battle, which had been developed with a particular attention to secrecy, embodied many of the lessons of the previous successes and failures and were arguably one of the first examples of the style of fighting that was to dominate both the last months of the First World War and most of the Second, twenty years later. A balance between surprise and preparation, always crucial yet often elusive was in this instance achieved. Tanks, which previously had often failed to live up to their obvious (if perhaps sometimes exaggerated, given their technical limitations at the time) potential, were deployed in numbers, over favorable terrain, and in ways that acknowledged and sought to mitigate their limitations. Aircraft provided both offensive cover and provided important reconnaissance information and were also used to mask the considerable noise of the 64 tanks assembling at their pre-planned starting  positions. 



The artillery barrage was a carefully calculated mix of lethal rounds and smoke, intended to both subdue and confuse the enemy. Considerable attention and resources were also committed to counter-battery work, both within the area of attack and on the flanks by supporting British (to the North) and French (to the south) artillery. Testament to the effectiveness of this is provided by the fact that at no point during the offensive were the attackers significantly hindered by artillery fire which in other contexts had wrought havoc on the attacking forces if they were caught out in the open while crossing no-man's land. The attackers were eventually subjected to significant artillery fire but much of this was considerably after the objectives had been taken and consolidated. The artillery also provided effective protection to the assaulting troops through its carefully timed lifting barrages.  There was some concern regarding this barrage because, as a result of the need for secrecy and concealing the true intentions, some of the fire was delivered from guns which had not previously been registered. Despite this, the effectiveness of the barrage which lifted about 100 yards ever four minutes, is remarked upon in several accounts contained within the War Diaries of the attacking units.  This barrage was not without some cost. "Short" rounds from the artillery and the tendency of new troops drilled for months in the importance of keeping up with the barrage to actually get to close, led to some casualties among the attacking forces, including those of the 33rd Division.  Several of the accounts by officers of the 33rd Division who participated note that the artillery failed to cut the wire. While cutting the wire with artillery fire was standard practice, examination of Monash's plans and other accounts suggest that was not, in this case, the intent and it was expected that the infantry and particularly the tanks would be able to deal effectively with the relatively thin entanglements in this area, a calculation which proved correct in this instance.



The care in planning also extended to logistical and resupply elements of the attack. In the past several initially successful assaults had foundered when troops ran low on ammunition and grenades and the materials needed to consolidate captured positions, leaving them vulnerable to counter-attack as the supply line lengthened over the battlefield.  Indeed this had become part of the defensive tactics on both sides by this point in the war, to absorb the initial strike and then launch a counterblow.  In the case of Hamel, in another very modern departure, both supply drops from aircraft and the use of four transport tanks ensured that this would not be the case.



In the days immediately preceding the attack the four companies assigned to participate practiced with the Australians .  In particular they were drilled in cooperation with the Tanks and practiced "Leap-frogging" moving one unit forward who would then consolidate and hold the ground and allow others following up to pass through and press on the attack. This was a strategy that had been evolving over the past several years of hard experience on the Western Front.  On the night of the second of July the companies moved up to the front line trenches where they rested, taking great care to be quiet and to conceal their true number from enemy observation.  At around midnight on the night of the 3rd/4th the assaulting troops made their way forward to start lines taped out well into no-man's land and lay silently waiting for the barrage proper to begin.  The taped lines lay at an angle to the front to allow for the swinging round movement of the attack. While moving into this position some harassing artillery fire was continued and aircraft flew overhead in an attempt to mask the noise of the tanks that were also moving into position on their start lines.



The barrage proper began just after 3am and ten minutes later when it lifted and moved forward the assaulting troops went into action. Because the four US companies were distributed among different Australian battalions, each tasked with a slightly different role the precise details of their experiences vary.  Some met little or no significant opposition whilst others were at some points held up by stubborn resistance of well sited strong points and machine gun nests. The Tanks provided invaluable in dealing with these. 



Initial objectives were attained by 4am and the attacking waves paused to reorganize, covered by a concealing barrage containing a high proportion of smoke shells to aid in the concealment. This may have been overkill as accounts universally remark on the dark at this early hour and the additional fug created by dust from the movement of tanks and the early artillery fire on the July soil.  One additional purpose of the high concentration of smoke was to convince the defenders that gas was being used (it was not although at this point in the war it commonly was).  This ruse appears to have worked as several reports (ref) indicate that a number of the German dead were wearing gas masks, which notoriously reduced vision and effectiveness of fighting forces.



After the ten minute pause the attack continued and the final objectives were reached by 5am. In the village of Hamel itself there were some sharp exchanged during which the defenders were killed, captured or driven back. By 7am on the 4th consolidation of the new positions was under way in earnest and supplies were being hurried forward to sure up the defenses in expectation of a German counter-attack.



The performance of the untried men of the 33rd Division units drew both official and unofficial praise at a number of levels. After-Action reports which make up part of the War Diaries of the Australian battalions involved all mention aspects of this, commenting favorably upon the fighting spirit and attitude of the American soldiers, yet at the same time perhaps suggesting there was room for experience and tempering of expectations:



                "They were a good, intelligent, keen lot of fellows who are likely to do well in the near future"                  (A coy 43rd Batt AIF RCDIG105584)



Remarking on the need to reel in the enthusiasm and stick to the limited plan (a lesson hard learned by the Australians over the previous years, one NCO wrote,



            "The Americans behaved well but did not relish the idea of stopping when the final objective    was reached" ( A coy 43rd Batt AIF RCDIG105584)



An commenting on the companies solidity under concentrated enemy barrage on the afternoon and evening of the 4th, the first time the US troops had experienced this, another NCO wrote:



            "It was while in this line that the Americans had their first experience of enemy fire, the Hun almost continually shelling this position during our time there. A considerable amount of    excitement and anxiety was caused among the men by the presence of gas in the bombardment but the SBR being ordered to be worn the men soon gained confidence and stood up to it like             veterans" (A coy 43rd Batt AIF RCDIG105584)



This final comment is interesting given the somewhat controversial record with Gas that the 33rd Division was to experience during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in October and November (see Chapter X).  It should be noted that these comments were, in the main, written by experienced NCOs engaged in the thick of the fighting and not by Staff Officers with a keen eye for the politics of the situation and an equally keen sense of their own reputations. Reports of this nature came later and it is these that are the mainstay of the official accounts in Huidekoper.  Although the American combat experience at Hamel varied depending upon which Battalion the companies of the 131st and 132nd were assigned to there is a account by a US Lieutenant which might serve to convey the experience of many of those involved. In comparison to the accounts from the Australian units it is a little more breathless and perhaps indicative of some inexperience as indicated above.



Impressions of Attack


APPROACH MARCH Although the approach was long and rather tiring the American boys stuck it out well and showed god discipline and were always cheery. It was about 2am when we arrived at the front line and the people that were handing over were in a great hurry to get out and men were left wandering about without anyone to look after them.


JUMPING OFF After inspecting the taps (taped?) line I decided with Lt Plummer[3] to send to sections to lay up to the right of Coy sector and the other 3 along the taps (sic) on the left of Coy sector. The right 2 were kept behind the wire.


ASSEMBLY Was carried out in perfect order


BARRAGE At 3.2 (sic) AM harassing fire started and lasted until 3.10am When a line of smoke shells fell across the front and the barrage opened.  The general line of barrage seemed good except on the right of our Coy sector just where the taps(sic) ran to the rear of the wire. It was here at approx. P8 6 2 4 that 2 sections of Americans and a  Coy HQtrs were knocked out. Only one man of these(?) American sections moved forward and most of the Coy HQ were killed or wounded. At the first lift of the barrage it seemed to jump backwards towards us about 20 yds and everyone doubled back a little and lay down. It was here that a lot of our men became casualties. Lts Plummer, xxxxxx(?) and xxxxx(?) all being wounded. From this time on the men became a little  ???ed but still kept a good fair line.  When we reached the Hun front line our men split some going to the right and others following the trenches towards Hamel. The (?ridge?) into the valley running into Hamel and the men who swung left and came down the valley on the right of the village. At several points the Hun persisted with MGs but these were successfully overcome, most of the enemy were eager to surrender.




TANKS The tanks that came through us just west of the village did work in crushing in strong points. The tank on the right flank of the village ran amok and inflicted several casualties on our men before we were successful in stopping his fire. The officer in charge didn’t seem to have any excuse to make. While this was going on we were waiting for the 10 minute halt of the barrage and for the A-44 (Australian 44?) to go through us. Owing to casualties and some of the Americans going with the 44th I could only collect 5 men so I  sent them into the village with our other boys. We found several dugouts at P9.6.30.0but both here and in the village the Hun was ready to surrender. Men now started to come back to our line at 4.45am and we started using their prisoners to help our men.


RETALIATION From 1 to 6 PM the Hun bombarded the left of the village with HE and Sneezing Gas and we were compelled to wear our gas masks a good deal of the time.


ENEMY CASUALTIES Our bombardment did not seem to have inflicted many casualties on the enemy


OUR CASUALTIES Most caused by bombardment falling short in initial stages and by a tank. Leaving these two causes out casualties would have been down to a minimum.


RELIEF We were relieved at approaching midnight of the 6/7th by the 41st Bn and had a quiet trip out.






T.B. Robert, Lieutenant.


American Platoon


Attached 43rd Infantry Battalion Australian Imperial Force.






From Appendix to War Diary 43rd Batt AIF (Austalian National Archive ref RCDIG105584)

The majority of the heavy fighting then, was over in less than four hours. While several counter-attacks of various strength were repulsed and the troops consolidating their newly won positions were subject to significant artillery bombardment later in the day, the fighting caused, at least in the context of the conflict at the time, relatively light casualties. Australian reports note the casualties as "slight[4]" and the more detailed US accounting in Huidekoper indicates the following casualties among the 1,000 American participants.




Officers KIA

Officers WIA

Officers MIA




131st Inf.


3 (5)[5]





132nd Inf.






























German losses, as reported in several allied accounts including the 33rd Division histories while they make no accounting of enemy killed, claim "41 officers, 1431 other ranks, 171 machine-Guns, 26 trench mortars and two 77mm field pieces[6]" (The 33rd Division 1920:117)



In his diary, 1st Sgt Johannes Anderson, who was not part of the companies involved wrote two days later (July 6th 1918) when the companies rejoined the rest of their regiment :"Company A and G got back from the front. Six of each gone for good and lots for a time"



The attack was successful in almost every respect and laid the groundwork for the battle that was ultimately, to turn the tide of the war a few weeks later at Soissons. The success did much to cement Monash's reputation and in addition the British and Australian commanders, perhaps mindful of the controversy that had so nearly interfered with the operation, were fullsome in their praise of the contribution of the 33rd Division.



In writing to Rawlinson, Haig was at pains to comment upon the American contribution:



"Will you please convey to Lieut. General Sir J. Monash and all ranks under his command including the tanks and the detachment of American troops, my warm congratulations on the success which attended the operation carried out this morning and on the skill and gallantry with which they were conducted”





In addition to words, the performance of the American soldiers was also recognized in medal awards:



British Gallantry awards to members of the 33rd Div




Military Cross

1st Lt A Jefferson C Co. 131 Inf

2nd Lt M Komorowski B Co 132 Inf

1st Lt F Schram Medical Corps 132 Inf

2nd Lt H Yagel G Co 132 Inf



Distinguished Conduct Medal

Cpl J DeSmidt G Co 132nd Inf

Cpl A Painsipp A Co 132nd  Inf

Cpl T Pope E Co 131st Inf

Pvt H Shelley A Co 132nd Inf



Military Medal

Pvt C Keane Med Detachment 131st Inf

Sgt F Koijane G Co 131st Inf

Sgt J Krum E Co 131st Inf

Pvt W Linskey E Co 131st Inf

Cpl R Powell E Co 131st Inf

Cpl A Schabinger E Co 131st Inf

Cpl L Whitson E Co 131st Inf

Pvt F Wilkins Co A 132nd Inf

Sgt A Ernhardt Co E 131st Inf

Cpl H Zyburt Co E 131st Inf

Pvt J Sweredo Co E 131st Inf



In the week after the operation the 4 companies which had been detached for the Hamel operation rejoined the rest of the Division had continued their training and organizing for the push that was to come. This would once again be in cooperation with Australian forces, but in this instance, at Chipily Ridge, as an separate force under US control.



A century on from the battle, perhaps the last words should be left to General Sir John Monash:



“…I desire to take the opportunity of tending to you as their immediate Commander, my earnest thanks for the assistance and service of the four companies of infantry who participated in yesterday’s brilliant operations

The dash, gallantry and efficiency of these American Troops left nothing to be desired, and my Australian Soldiers speak in the highest terms of praise of them. That soldiers of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and of AUSTRALIA should have been associated for the first time in such close cooperation on the battlefield, is an historic event of such significance that it will live forever in the annals of our respective nations,

Yours very sincerely,

John Monash, Lt General Commanding. Australian Corps.”









[1] From after action report, 42 Infantry Battalion AIF

[2] There were press reports in Australia and the US to this effect although they are difficult to substantiate. There is a note in both Australian and US sources (see below) that a number of American soldiers continued to press forward with the Australians in the second phase of the offensive when the plan called for them to hold and consolidate, it is perhaps conceivable that this "keenness" is what mutated into the story here.

[3] 1st Lieutenant Elmer R Plummer

[4] The British Official History offers more detail: 51 Officers and 724 other ranks killed or wounded. 5 of the tanks involved were put out of action but had been salvaged for repair by the following day (1918 Vol III p208)

[5] The more detailed account in Sandborn (pXI) lists five  officer casualties four severely and one lightly wounded (1st Lieut. Albert G Jefferson, Co. C, severely wounded/shrapnel, Major Harry E Cheney, 1st Bn severely wounded/shrapnel, 2nd Lieutenant Frank A Johnson Co D, severely wounded/shrapnel. 2nd Lt Elmer R. Plummer Co. E, severely wounded/shrapnel, 1st Lieutenant Herman Weimer Co H. Wounded Machine gun.) It also lists more casualties amongst other ranks. Why this discrepancy exists in two official records is unclear.

[6] To this total the British Official History adds "Two of the new anti-tank rifles"(1918 Vol III p208) These were presumably the 1918 13.2mm T-Gewehr  Mauser rifles just then appearing at the front.



Edited by 4thGordons
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Looks great, about time there was an American account, keep up the good work. Like to see the finished copy.

As Monash states, the Battle could not go on without the Americans, who performed extremely well considering their lack of experience in combat. 

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As a former aussie soldier I had the honor to served alongside your forces a number of times, in a number of countries between the 70's to the 90's.


I know we enjoyed that work, as your Army always had so much more then our small Army, and were always willing to share with us (weather they know it or not).


I always liked your PX system, where we had little in that way to make your service more comfortable.


That cooperation has been talked about a lot lately due to the Hamel battle here so can I add its always good to see what the other side said about that cooperation.






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  • 4 years later...

Love the topic!  And better late than never to the convo.   Been working on this little display for a while now.  Fits the mold for your topic I’d say.  A couple discrepancy here and there, but overall a decent representation of a 33rd division soldier and a Light Horse soldier with pattern 03 equipment on.  



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Nice looking display -- excellent.

That's an interesting 33rd Div patch on the shoulder - not seen that style before I have a few different 33rd Div tunics and there is quite a variety of styles.


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Love the topic!  And better late than never to the convo.   Been working on this little display for a while now.  Fits the mold for your topic I’d say.  A couple discrepancy here and there, but overall a decent representation of a 33rd division soldier and a Light Horse soldier with pattern 03 equipment on.  

4 minutes ago, 4thGordons said:

Nice looking display -- excellent.

That's an interesting 33rd Div patch on the shoulder - not seen that style before I have a few different 33rd Div tunics and there is quite a variety of styles.


Good eye.   And great article!  Ya, I suspect the patch is a just a little bit newer one than what you usually see for 33rd tunics.  I didn’t worry to much about it though, because I was focused on collecting AIF items at the time and just wanted an example to build out when it came up for sale.   When I read about the combat connection, I thought it was a great and very relevant area to branch into.  I loved how the Australians embraced the raw American troops, helped school them up, and even had some praise for them.  I read an interesting journal entry on the Australian War Memorial site, that basically said the American troops showed a lot of poise and determination, when they weren’t making rookie mistakes.   Sort of a tongue in cheek compliment.  *** 

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