Amiens in the First World War

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) Arrives in Amiens, France, 1914

When the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) first deployed to France from 9 August 1914 an advance base for its General Headquarters (GHQ) was established in the city. Field Marshal Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, arrived in Amiens on 14 August. Between 12 and 17 August British troops, horses, vehicles and equipment were disembarked from ships at Le Havre. Many of them passed through Amiens on their way to the Army's place of concentration north-east of Amiens between Maubeuge and Le Cateau. As British troops arrived in the vicinity of Amiens they were welcomed by the local people. There are photos of civilians visiting the bivouack tented camps.

First Royal Flying Corps Squadrons Land near Amiens

The first four squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps (2, 3, 4 and 5) landed in a field north of Amiens on the morning of 13 August 1914. Lt Hubert Harvey-Kelly of No. 2 Squadron was the first British pilot to land in France with the first deployment in war of a British air force.

Brief German Occupation

The city of Amiens was captured by the German Army on 31 August 1914 but the French Army recaptured it a month later on 28 September during the battles known as “The Race to the Sea”.

An Important Railhead

The railhead and railway system linking the Allied rear areas to the north and south of Amiens on the Western Front were of great importance to the British and French Armies. It was vital to retain control of the city for this reason.

City Behind the Lines

The city was visited during the four years of war by Allied servicemen and personnel in the rear of the Allied lines. It was a place to spend time out of the line away from the fighting. Life was relatively normal with shops, cafés and hotels doing trade with the military population. The Hotel Carlton was used by British officers in those days and features in some autobiographical accounts.

Allies Defend the German Advance on Amiens in 1918

The capture of the city and its railhead was to be one of the prizes for German Supreme Command when the German Spring Offensive was launched on 21 March 1918. The plan was for an offensive push to the west, with the first attack launched towards Amiens called Operation Michael. The intention was to split the British and French Armies apart at this point and press on to the coast. The critical strategic importance of the possible loss of the Amiens railhead for the Allies was not a key factor in the German plan. Fortunately for the Allies the German Army's advance in March faltered a few miles east of the city at Villers-Bretonneux. Units of Australian, British and Canadian troops held onto the village. A gap in the Allied defence south-east of the village was forced on 4 April by the advancing German troops. A counter-attack at 17.45 south of the railway line by the Australian 36th Battalion was joined on its left and right flank by Australian and British units still in the village. The German advance to Amiens was finally stopped here. A Demarcation Stone marks the place at Villers Bretonneux as the furthest point of the German advance towards Amiens.

The Advance to Victory 1918

An Allied offensive launched on 8 August 1918 began east of Amiens called the Battle of Amiens. This battle was the start of the 100 Days' Advance to Victory, which concluded with the German surrender and the Armistice of 11 November 1918.

Related Topics

Battles of the Somme