The 1918 Spring Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front beginning on March 21, 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914.
During April 24–27, 1918, as part of the final stage the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, the Germans launched a desperate assault against the Allied lines to the east of Amiens.
The Allies triumphed in very short order, soon re-taking the town with British, French and Australian troops on April 25.
To be sure it was a worthy Anzac Day for all Australians and New Zealanders that took part in that sortie.
However, it was more notable in military history for being the first battle in which there was engagement between opposing tanks.
While the Battle of Cambrai in April 1917 is generally credited as being the first engagement where tanks made a significant impact, during April 1918 English Mk IV and German A7V came face to face during the battle to take back Amiens.
Of course, the Mk IV came out on top, and this became very helpful for the government back home in Australia. It wasn’t that better tanks meant less Allied deaths. What it meant was that the final days of the Sixth War Loans campaign could revel in the glory of a public that had been told that tanks would make a difference.
Since the early governmental fundraising effort at the beginning of the war, the government had learned a thing or two about public relations and effective advertising to a tired and jaded audience. Instead of just long speeches about service to “King and Country” and expecting money to roll in, the ad men had worked out a new angle.
The idea came from overseas and the Tamworth Observer of March 13 detailed it thus: “In England and America banks have collected hundreds of millions for war purposes and it is expected that this form of appeal in Australia, with the ever-present reminder in the grim land ships of what the money is for, will encourage people to do their utmost”.
“Grim land ships” was the lingo of the day for tanks. But, there were no tanks in Australia, so that was not what the public, including folks out “in the sticks” got to see. Instead they were treated to a tank “shell” – an outside casing of what a tank looked like – placed on a sledge for easy movement.
That representation was enough though. Tanks were modern, tanks were a technological dream come reality, and a representation of that was parked in the local main street for all to wonder at. So, it was no surprise the queues formed, in Gunnedah as well as in other local communities to see this miracle of modern engineering that was going to help win the war.
With the queues came the money – but not immediate victory. Tanks might have been spruiked well – but it wasn’t such “ironsides” that would bring victory.
It was people. And a lot more of them were going to die before it came.
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