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The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel (Paperback)

Tommies, Diggers and Doughboys on the Hindenburg Line, 1918

Military > Frontline Books > Frontline: WWI WWI

By Dale Blair, Foreword by Gary Sheffield
Frontline Books
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 11 black and white maps
ISBN: 9781526796967
Published: 15th April 2021
Last Released: 20th August 2021



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In the summer and autumn of 1918, the British Expeditionary Force, under Field Marshal Haig, fought a series of victorious battles on the Western Front that contributed mightily to the German Army’s final defeat. They did so as part of an Allied coalition, one in which the role of Australian diggers and US doughboys is often forgotten.

The Bellicourt Tunnel attack in September 1918, fought in the fading autumn light, was very much an inter-Allied affair and marked a unique moment in the Allied armies’ endeavours. It was the first time that such a large cohort of Americans had fought in a British formation. Additionally, untried American II Corps and experienced Australian Corps were to spearhead the attack under the command of Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, with British divisions adopting supporting roles on the flanks.

Blair forensically details the fighting and the largely forgotten desperate German defence. Although celebrated as a marvellous feat of breaking the Hindenburg Line, the American attack generally failed to achieve its set objectives and it took the Australians three days of bitter fighting to reach theirs. Blair rejects the conventional explanation of the US mop up failure and points the finger of blame at Rawlinson, Haig and Monash for expecting too much of the raw US troops, singling out the Australian Corps commander for particular criticism.

Overall, Blair judges the fighting a draw. At the end, like two boxers, the Australian-American force was gasping for breath and the Germans, badly battered, were back-pedalling to remain on balance. That said, the day was calamitous for the German Army, even if the clean break-through that Haig had hoped for did not occur. Forced out of the Hindenburg Line, the prognosis for the German army on the Western Front and hence Imperial Germany itself was bleak indeed.

Review as featured in

Classic Military Vehicle

 "This is a fine addition to the historiography of American and Australian troops in World War I. Those readers interested in Americans fighting under British command will greatly appreciate Blair’s detailed focus in this book."

Read the review here


While little of detail has been written on this desperately fought battle since the publication of the Australian official history and the corresponding American volume, The Battle for Bellicourt Tunnel presents a straightforward, fair and balanced account, that while generally following Bean's views, provides added emphasis to the part played by the American II Corps and the German defenders.

The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel: Tommies, Diggers and Doughboys on the Hindenburg Line, 1918 fills a void in the historiography of the Great War in providing a succinct, one volume account of a little known and severe action that rehabilitates the efforts of the doughboys of the American II Corps, highlights the extent of the German defence, and shows the fractures appearing in the battle experienced but depleted and exhausted Australian Corps. It is a story worth reading.

Australian Army Journal

A scholarly and forensic account...this is a quality book with some impressive research which questions conventional wisdom. For me, that makes it an important contribution to First World War literature.

Burton Mail

The author finds that this battle's disappointing results arose from an underestimation of the fighting qualities and stamina of opposing German forces and an overestimation of the abilities of raw American infantry.

The Listening Post, Pacific Coast Branch of The Western Front Association

The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel is a commendably succinct and sharp account of a 'British' battle fought by American, Australian and British divisions.

Stand To! Western Front Association

This is a detailed and very well researched account of a significant but often overlooked battle on the Western Front and a valuable examination of one of the last German successes of the war, and of one of the first attempts at coalition warfare involved the up and coming Americans.

History of War

The book is an outstanding account of this battle... 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.

Dr Stuart C Blank MilitaryArchiveResearch.com

In 1918 the British Expeditionary Force fought a series of victorious battles on the Western Front that ultimately led to the defeat of the German army. That the British did so as part of a coalition and the role of Australian "Diggers" and US "Doughboys" is often forgotten. The Bellicourt Tunnel attack, fought in the fading autumn light, was very much an inter-Allied affair and marked a unique moment in the Allied armies' endeavours.

Britain at War Magazine

The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel was a unique moment for the British and was the first time such a sizeable force of American troops was involved in fighting for a British Army. This book reappraises the entire battle, challenges received wisdom and sheds new light on events as the Germans fought the Americans to a standstill and forced the Australians to employ all their hard earned skills and wartime experience for the next three days to salvage a potentially disastrous situation.

The author takes the reader through the entire course of events, with good research and sound reasoning, and finally concludes by rejecting the long-held given explanation for the mission's failure. This is very well written and extremely well researched and is one of those books which is well worth reading. 10/10.

Mark Marsay

This is very well written and extremely well researched and is one of those books which is well worth reading. Highly Recommended 10/10

Great War Magazine

Professor Gary Sheffield's endorsement of the book calls it a distinguished contribution to the military history of the First World War. It is - I welcome this book and enjoyed it.


About Dale Blair

DALE BLAIR is a freelance historian from Melbourne, Australia. He has written numerous articles on the First World War and two previous books, Dinkum Diggers: An Australian Battalion at War and No Quarter: Unlawful Killing and Surrender in the Australian War Experience 1915-18.

About Gary Sheffield

Gary Sheffield was educated at the University of Leeds (BA & MA) and King’s College London (Ph. D). He began his academic career in the Department of War Studies, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
In 1999 he moved to King’s College London’s Defence Studies Department, based at the Joint Service Command and Staff College. Awarded a Personal Chair in 2005, in 2006 he was appointed as Professor of War Studies at the University of Birmingham. Since 2013 Sheffield has been Professor of War Studies at the University of Wolverhampton.
Gary Sheffield has published widely on military history, including the best-selling Forgotten Victory – The First World War: Myths and Realities (2001; new edition 2018), and The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army (2011; new edition 2016), both of which were acclaimed in scholarly and popular circles alike.
Sheffield is a Vice-President of the Western Front Association and a past President of the Guild of Battlefield Guides.

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