The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel Tommies, Diggers and Doughboys on the Hindenburg Line 1918
By Dale Blair
Published by Frontline Books (www.frontline-books.com)
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On the Western Front between August and November 1918 the Allies fought a series of victorious battles. These battles hugely contributed to the eventual demise and defeat of the Imperial German Army.
The book concentrates on the battles for Bellicourt Tunnel. Unlike the more famous battles such as the Somme, Ypres etc Bellicourt Tunnel has received less coverage. This book aims to fill this gap and it eloquently discusses these battles.
Firstly, one has to define the scope of these engagements and the area of Bellicourt Tunnel. Bellicourt Tunnel consisted of a 6,256 yard underground section of the continuous waterway (canal) that connected the cities of Cambrai and St Quentin. A towpath ran along the length of the eastern edge of the canal. It was completed by Napoleon’s engineers in 1812 and the canal had numerous names such as Canal de l’Escaut, Canal Souterrain and the Canal de St Quentin. The main tunnel was called the Bellicourt Tunnel. It ran in a southerly straight line from Vendhuille, under Bellicourt town to Bellenglise near Riqueval.
It was the high ground to the west of the Tunnel that caused problems for the advancing allies. The Tunnel was of limited defensive value in itself and the area was well defended by the Germans. The German canal defences south of the Tunnel benefitted from steep buffs whilst the tunnel sector presented a natural bridge in the German line.
It was into this location that the “green” American troops were asked to attack. Their inexperience in combat was evident as the battle unfolded. Indeed the inexperienced Americans received significant advice and help from a liaison group of combat experienced Australians. The Australians were very disappointed in the untested Americans both at company and divisional level and the Generals were known to argue on this issue.
The book is an outstanding account of this battle. The author has broken the chronology of the events into those of each division. They are chapters on the (British) 46th North Midland’s, the American 30th & 27th, and the Australian 3rd and 5th Divisions. These chapters give an excellent in-depth treatment of how the battles evolved for each of these formations.
The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel was fought primarily by seasoned Australians and combat inexperienced Americans. Undoubtedly it enabled the war to come to an earlier conclusion and unfortunately the successes of the coalition of Americans and Australians are often overlooked.
The author has performed a great service to historians and this book will no doubt become the foremost authority on the effects of the coalition and the battle they fought.