4 July 1918 – Battle of Hamel

Early this morning Australian Forces (with a small US contingent) under General Monash successfully attacked the town of Le Hamel within 93 minutes. The attack is cited as one of the earliest attempts to implement a combined arms attack using infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft.

Overnight aircraft had flown over the front to mask the noise of tanks moving up. This was repeated at 0302 by 101 Squadron RAF who dropped bombs behind the lines whilst the artillery opened fire.

At 0310 a creeping barrage was laid down and the troops began to advance. 3k Squadron AFC provided contact patrols and the objectives had been taken by 0443. A few minutes later at 0445, aircraft from 3 Squadron AFC  began photographing the new front line so that maps could be produced. They continued to monitor the new front line for enemy counter attacks and carried out counter battery work.

At 0600, 9 Squadron RAF, began flying aerial resupply sorties dropping ammunition to the advanced troops. This was done by employing specially designed parachutes (developed by Australian airman Captain Lawrence Wackett). This supplemented supplies brought up by tanks.

As well as this 23, 41 and 209 Squadrons harassed the Germans behind the lines with machine gun fire and bombs. No German fighters appeared over the lines until around 0930 and at that point the RAF became involved in air to air combat as well. The RAF appears to maintained air superiority as losses were slight and the other tasks allotted to the squadrons were completed.

9 Squadron suffered a number of casualties all from ground fire which was unsurprising given the nature of their task.

Lieutenant Harry Heatly Riekie and 2nd Lieutenant William Knowles from 3 Squadron AFC were killed when their RE8 (B5073) crashed after being hit by ground fire while ammunition dropping.

RE8 C4580 after crashing

Lieutenant Sidney Ernest Harris and Lieutenant D E Bell, USAS were on their second run in RE8 C4580 when the came across a group of enemy fighters. They were shot down and crashed south of Hamel. Harris was killed but Bell survived. A little later Lieutenant Hugh Erfyl Pryce was wounded by another enemy pilot but he managed to escape.

In addition, 2nd Lieutenants Eric Raymond Moore and Richard Ernest Hagley were also wounded, though in Moore’s case it was as a result of a crash landing following an engine failure. The pilot Lieutenant David Shearer Ogilvie was unhurt.

For more detail of the contribution of aircraft to the battle see Air Power and the Battle of Hamel.

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