12. Breaking the Hindenburg Line
In the central sector, 40 British and Empire divisions supported by the American II Corps faced 57 German divisions protected by the Hindenburg Line, a series of formidable defensive fortifications stretching from Cerny on the River Aisne to Arras. The line had resisted several Allied attacks the previous year and took advantage of a series of wide canals that ran though deep cuttings. The offensive began on 27 September with an attack on the Canal du Nord by the First and Third British Armies that succeeded in overrunning two lines of the defences near Cambrai.
On 30 September the Allies attacked on the St Quentin Canal. Australian and American troops assaulted a strongly defended sector at Bellicourt with tanks, artillery and aircraft once again being used in a co-ordinated attack. Two days later, a British division made an amphibious crossing of the canal to the south. During the following days the Allied attacks met with more success and all the lines were fully breached.
'The great thing now is to get ahead. We had got on to a lovely main road, ahead we can see a railway cutting with a lovely stone bridge crossing it. When we get within a quarter of a mile or so up goes the bridge in the air, with the result that we have to carry the cycles down a very step embankment, follow the railway lines which have been blown up every hundred yards or so, until we can find a place where we can climb up the embankment... We can now see that the Germans must be in full retreat. Trees are cut down, and have fallen across the road, bridges are blown up, all telegraph lines sawn down, canals dammed and roads mined'
Typescript memoir by Second Lieutenant Edwin Blomfield, MC, The New Zealand Cyclist Battalion, 1918
British troops crossing the Crozat Canal, September 1918