In the meantime, Canadians did not prepare to move to the Somme front until late mid-August 1916. The Canadian Corps was optimistic about the move, having grown tired of the dreary conditions of the Ypres Salient which had too many unpleasant memories. They received advanced training in the conduct of attacks and began taking over trenches in early September, followed by their first major action at Flers-Courcelette on 15 September. Morval and Lesboeufs fell on 25 September while Gueudecourt held out an additional day, prompting the Germans to withdraw from Combles. The Morval battle gained a belt of ground 2,000 yards wide on average, necessitating the capture of Thiepval to bring the left flank into line and move the Germans off the Thiepval Ridge. The task fell to the Reserve Army to whom the Canadian Corps belonged.
While officially this phase of fighting is known as the Battle of Thiepval, in actuality it represented an extension of the general assault on the series of German trench lines around Courcelette that had begun on 15 September.2
Thiepval Ridge, 26-28 September
The heights at Thiepval gave the Germans the ability to observe Allied rear areas on the southern slopes leading to Albert, and conversely would permit observation over the valley of the upper Ancre River. For that reason the operation orders emphasized the need to move the enemy off the entire crest line. The 6,000 yard front between Thiepval and Courcelette was split in two. On the left, Lieutenant-General C.W. Jacob's 2nd Corps was assigned notoriously objectives that had held out since the start of the offensive in July. On the right, the Canadian Corps was depending on Jacob's men to take Mouquet Farm, Zollern Redoubt, and Stuff Redoubt on the crest 500 yards further back, yet one more strongpoint anchoring the German Second Position. The overall objective of the 2nd Corps was to assault Thiepval and the Schwaben Redoubt, overlooking the Ancre River from the western edge of the Thiepval Ridge. The Canadians were to attack a spur projecting east from the main ridge.
The 1st Canadian Division was tasked with taking successive trench lines, all of which linked up with redoubts in the 2nd Corps sector. Attacking on the left of the Canadian Corps, the 1st Division was to clear Zollern Graben, Hessian Trench and Regina Trench (and the adjacent Kenora Trench) though the east of Zollern was already in Canadian control and Hessian merged with Regina opposite the centre of the 1st Division's front. The Division was to advance no further due to uncertainty of the condition of German wire. An isolated stretch of Sudbury Trench on the right of the divisional line was also marked as an intermediate objective, described later as among the "deepest and strongest the men had ever seen." The 2nd Division aimed at the branching network of Kenora trench behind Courcelette and out to the Bapaume Road.3
A three day artillery preparation harassed enemy troops. Tear gas was used to silence mortars at Thiepval on 24 September and the Reserve Army attacked with fresh troops at 12:35p.m. on 26 September under warm, sunny skies. At one minute before Zero Hour massed machine guns of the 2nd Corps and the Canadian Corps began overhead fire. Sixty seconds later a barrage from 800 guns, howitzers and mortars provided a barrage of shrapnel and high explosive.
Initial Infantry Attack - 2nd Division
The infantry was organized into two waves, followed by a mopping up party, and then two more waves, at intervals recorded in one battalion of 70-100 yards. The 6th Brigade on the right had rapid success northeast of Courcelette where the 29th Battalion seized enemy front line trenches in just 10 minutes. To their left, the 31st Battalion met heavy small arms fire from the German 72nd Regiment and managed limited gains. On the extreme right of the Canadian Corps front the 28th Battalion was ordered to make a subsidiary attack next to the Bapaume road with the Canadian Corps' two remaining tanks. One broke down before arriving at the start line and the other was set aflame by a German shell exploding its ammunition. The battalion remained in its trenches.
Initial Infantry Attack - 1st Division
The 3rd Brigade occupied the right of the line and sent the 14th and 15th Battalions forward, both meeting heavy shell and machine gun fire. The second wave was caught as they mounted the parapet.
On the 3rd Brigade's right, the 14th Battalion made a rapid advance to Sudbury Trench and took 40 prisoners. Just after 1:00p.m. the battalion was moving up the slope to the eastern end of Kenora Trench to seize its final objective. The 15th Battalion on their left were unable to keep up due to unexpectedly heavy German resistance from strongpoints in No Man's Land. The 31st Battalion, too, was held up particularly on their left flank. The 14th Battalion, exposed on both flanks, came under heavy counter-attack, enfilading machine gun fire and heavy shell fire for the remainder of the day and into the next. The following night they drove off several enemy bombing parties, and by the evening of 27 September Kenora Trench had changed hands twice. Attempts to reinforce the 14th with two companies of the 16th Battalion had been to no avail as the battered remains were required to fall back halfway in the direction of Sudbury Trench. On the afternoon of 26 September, the 15th Battalion managed an advance in open space not covered by Hessian or Kenora trenches, to reach within 150 yards of Regina Trench where they dug themselves in.
On the 1st Division's left, the 2nd Brigade under Brigadier-General F.O.W. Loomis was required to advance over the highest part of the Thiepval Ridge. The 5th and 8th Battalions attacked on the right and left respectively, with the 10th Battalion reinforcing each with a company. Heavy machine gun fire from Zollern Redoubt, Stuff Redoubt and the area of Mouquet Farm along with heavy shell fire hampered the attack but the Canadians were not denied. Pockets of resistance remained inside Zollern Trench, preventing it from being completely secured, while the left stretch of Hessian Trench remained in German hands until both were fully cleared the next day up to the corps boundary. On the afternoon of 27 September, German counter-attacks dislodged the Canadians from part of Hessian Trench temporarily.
Continued Attacks 27 September
With results considered successful, the 2nd Corps to the left of the Canadians managed to secure all of Thiepval except for a small corner of the village, as well as the majority of the western half of Zollern Graben. The two corps had been required to make diverging attacks away from each other, creating a gap, and despite his losses, the enemy seemed capable of continued resistance and moreover still occupied commanding high ground on the Thiepval Ridge itself. At 8:45 p.m. on 26 September General Gough ordered the tasks of 26 September to be completed and the Canadian Corps commander directed the 2nd Canadian Division to secure the front line north-east of Courcelette while the 1st Division was to attack Regina Trench to link up with the right of the 2nd Corps.
General Byng, commanding the Canadian Corps, hoped to have both Kenora Trench and Regina Trench in Canadian hands before relieving the 1st Canadian Division with the 2nd Canadian Division. When Kenora Trench was lost early on 27 September for the second time, hope of this occurring dwindled. Brigadier-General Tuxford nonetheless sent his 14th Battalion, under pressure from 1st Division headquarters, to make a final attack at 2:00 a.m. on 28 September. With only 75 men available following 40 hours of continuous fighting, the attack floundered in a sea of mud, rain and enemy flares as it approached the German positions. Hit by flanking fire the assault was called off after half an hour. The 14th Battalion suffered the loss of 10 officers and 360 other ranks during all the Thiepval fighting, and Kenora Trench would remain in enemy hands for five more days while Regina Trench remained in enemy hands until 21 October.
The 2nd Division likewise made attempts to gain ground, and the 26th Battalion launched an attack astride the Courcelette Trench that ran north from the ruins of the village. Two failed attempts to gain Regina Trench were followed by a combined effort by the 24th and 25th Battalions later in the afternoon on the brigade's left, foiled by uncut wire obstacles and heavy machine gun fire.
Final Day: 28 September
The 4th and 5th Brigades entered the right of the Canadian line in a series of reliefs on 28 September while the 8th Brigade replaced the 2nd Brigade on the left, linking up with the 2nd Corps. Early in the day the 19th Battalion advanced up the Dyke road and found the Practice Trenches deserted. They pressed on to the east where fire from Destremont Farm drove them to ground and they established new positions just north of the Bapaume road.
The links on the left with the 2nd Corps did not extend beyond Zollern Trench. General Gough was impatient to reduce Stuff Redoubt and Schwaben Redoubt and a renewed attack at 12:00 p.m. on 29 September by the 11th Division and 3rd Canadian Division east of Stuff Redoubt against German-held areas of Hessian Trench resulted in hand to hand fighting and a gain of 300 yards of trench. Heavy counter-attacks retook ground temporarily and 200 yards still in German hands the next day were taken once again on 30 September by three battalions of the 11th Division. The Germans remained in the northern part of both redoubts.
The Battle Honour "Thiepval" was awarded to units for participation in these actions.