History

Wars & Campaigns

Boer War
First World War

►►Western Front

►►►Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

►►Allied Offensive: 1916

►►►Allied Offensives: 1917

►►►German Offensive: 1918

►►►Advance to Victory: 1918

►►Siberia
Second World War
►►War Against Japan

►►Italian Campaign

►►►Sicily

►►►Southern Italy

►►►The Sangro and Moro

►►►Battles of the FSSF

►►►Cassino

►►►Liri Valley

►►►Advance to Florence

►►►Gothic Line

►►►Winter Lines
►►North-West Europe

►►►Normandy
►►►Southern France
►►►Channel Ports

►►►Scheldt
►►►Nijmegen Salient

►►►Rhineland

►►►Final Phase
Korean War
Cold War
Gulf War

Operations 

GAUNTLET Aug 1941

(Spitsbergen)

HUSKY Jul 1943

 (Sicily)

COTTAGE Aug 1943

 (Kiska)

TIMBERWOLF Oct 1943

(Italy)

OVERLORD Jun 1944

(Normandy)

MARKET-GARDEN Sep 44

(Arnhem)

BERLIN Nov 1944

(Nijmegen)

VERITABLE Feb 1945

(Rhineland)

Battle Honours

Boer War

►Paardeberg

18 Feb 00

First World War
Western Front
Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

Ypres, 1915

22 Apr-25 May 15

Gravenstafel

22-23 Apr 15

St. Julien

24 Apr-4 May 15

Frezenberg

8-13 May 15

Bellewaarde

24-25 May 15

Festubert, 1915

15-25 May 15

Mount Sorrel

2-13 Jun 16

Allied Offensive: 1916

►Somme, 1916

1 Jul-18 Nov 16

►Albert

.1-13 Jul 16

►Bazentin

.14-17 Jul 16

►Pozieres

.23 Jul-3 Sep 16

►Guillemont

.3-6 Sep 16

►Ginchy

.9 Sep 16

Flers-Courcelette

15-22 Sep 16

Thiepval

26-29 Sep 16

►Le Transloy

. 1-18 Oct 16

Ancre Heights

1 Oct-11 Nov 16

Ancre, 1916

13-18 Nov 16

Allied Offensives: 1917

►Arras 1917

8 Apr-4 May 17

Vimy, 1917

.9-14 Apr 17

Arleux

28-29 Apr 17

►Scarpe, 1917

.3-4 May17

►Hill 70

.15-25 Aug 17

►Messines, 1917

.7-14 Jun 17

►Ypres, 1917

..31 Jul-10 Nov 17

►Pilckem

31 Jul-2 Aug 17

►Langemarck, 1917

.16-18 Aug 17

►Menin Road

.20-25 Sep 17

►Polygon Wood

26 Sep-3 Oct 17

►Broodseinde

.4 Oct 17

►Poelcapelle

.9 Oct 17

►Passchendaele

.12 Oct 17

►Cambrai, 1917

20 Nov-3 Dec 17

German Offensive: 1918

►Somme, 1918

.21 Mar-5 Apr 18

►St. Quentin

.21-23 Mar 18

►Bapaume, 1918

.24-25 Mar 18

►Rosieres

.26-27 Mar 18

►Avre

.4 Apr 18

►Lys

.9-29 Apr 18

►Estaires

.9-11 Apr 18

►Messines, 1918

.10-11 Apr 18

►Bailleul

.13-15 Apr 18

►Kemmel

.17-19 Apr 18

Advance to Victory: 1918

Amiens

8-11 Aug 18

►Arras, 1918

.26 Aug-3 Sep 18

►Scarpe, 1918

26-30 Aug 18.

►Drocourt-Queant

.2-3 Sep 18

►Hindenburg Line

.12 Sep-9 Oct 18

►Canal du Nord

.27 Sep-2 Oct 18

►St. Quentin Canal .29 Sep-2 Oct 18
►Epehy

3-5 Oct 18

►Cambrai, 1918

.8-9 Oct 18

►Valenciennes

.1-2 Nov 18

►Sambre

.4 Nov 18

►Pursuit to Mons .28 Sep-11Nov

Second World War

War Against Japan

South-East Asia

Hong Kong

 8-25 Dec 41

Italian Campaign

Battle of Sicily

Landing in Sicily 

   9-12 Jul 43

Grammichele 

15 Jul 43

Piazza Armerina

16-17 Jul 43

Valguarnera

17-19 Jul 43

Assoro 

  20-22 Jul 43

Leonforte

 21-22 Jul 43

Agira

24-28 Jul 43

Adrano 

29 Jul-7 Aug 43

Catenanuova

29-30 Jul 43

Regalbuto

29 Jul-3 Aug 43

Centuripe

  31 Jul-3 Aug 43

Troina Valley

 2-6 Aug 43

Pursuit to Messina

 2-17 Aug 43

 Southern Italy

Landing at Reggio

 3 Sep 43

Potenza 19-20 Sep 43
Motta Montecorvino 1-3 Oct 43
Termoli 3-6 Oct 43
Monte San Marco 6-7 Oct 43
Gambatesa 7-8 Oct 43
Campobasso 11-14 Oct 43
Baranello 17-18 Oct 43
Colle d'Anchise 22-24 Oct 43
Torella 24-27 Oct 43

The Sangro and Moro

The Sangro

19 Nov-3 Dec 43

Castel di Sangro

.23-24 Nov 43

The Moro

5-7 Dec 43

San Leonardo

8-9 Dec 43

The Gully

..10-19 Dec 43

Casa Berardi

 ..14-15 Dec 43

Ortona

20-28 Dec 43

San Nicola-San

.31 Dec 43

Tommaso

.
Point 59/ 29 Dec 43-

Torre Mucchia

4 Jan 44

Battles of the FSSF
Monte Camino

.5 Nov-9 Dec 43

Monte la Difensa-

2-8 Dec 43

 Monte la Remetanea

.
Hill 720

25 Dec 43

Monte Majo

3-8 Jan 44.

Radicosa

4 Jan 44

Monte Vischiataro

8 Jan 44

Anzio

22 Jan-22 May 44

Rome

.22 May-4 Jun 44

Advance

.22 May-22 Jun 44

to the Tiber

.
►Monte Arrestino

25 May 44

►Rocca Massima

27 May 44

►Colle Ferro

2 Jun 44

Cassino
►Cassino II

11-18 May 44

►Gustav Line

11-18 May 44

►Sant' Angelo in

13 May 44

Teodice

.
►Pignataro

14-15 May 44

Liri Valley
Liri Valley

18-30 May 44

►Hitler Line

18-24 May 44

►Aquino

18-24 May 44

►Melfa Crossing

24-25 May 44

►Ceprano

26-27 May 44

►Torrice Crossroads

30 May 44

Advance to Florence
Advance

17 Jul-10 Aug 44

to Florence

.
Trasimene Line

20-30 Jun 44

Sanfatucchio

20-21 Jun 44

Arezzo

4-17 Jul 44

Cerrone

25 - 31 Aug 44

Gothic Line
►Gothic Line

25 Aug-22 Sep 44

►Monteciccardo

27-28 Aug 44

►Montecchio

30-31 Aug 44

►Point 204 (Pozzo Alto)

31 Aug 44

►Monte Luro

1 Sep 44

►Borgo Santa Maria

1 Sep 44

►Tomba di Pesaro

1-2 Sep 44

►Coriano

3-15 Sep 44

►Lamone Crossing

2-13 Sep 44

Winter Lines
►Rimini Line

14-21 Sep 44

►San Martino-

14-18 Sep 44

San Lorenzo

.
►San Fortunato

18-20 Sep 44

►Casale

23-25 Sep 44

►Sant' Angelo

11-15 Sep 44

 in Salute

.
►Bulgaria Village

13-14 Sep 44

►Cesena

15-20 Sep 44

►Pisciatello

16-19 Sep 44

►Savio Bridgehead

20-23 Sep 44

►Monte La Pieve

13-19 Oct 44

►Monte Spaduro

19-24 Oct 44

►Monte San Bartolo

11-14 Nov 44

►Capture of Ravenna

3-4 Dec 44

►Naviglio Canal

12-15 Dec 44

►Fosso Vecchio

16-18 Dec 44

►Fosso Munio

19-21 Dec 44

►Conventello-

2-6 Jan 45

Comacchio

.
►Granarolo

3-5 Jan 44

Northwest Europe
Dieppe

19 Aug 42

Battle of Normandy
Normandy Landing

6 Jun 44

Authie

7 Jun 44

Putot-en-Bessin

8 Jun 44

Bretteville

8-9 Jun 44

       -l'Orgueilleuse .
Le Mesnil-Patry

11 Jun 44

Carpiquet

4-5 Jul 44

Caen

4-18 Jul 44

The Orne (Buron)

8-9 Jul 44

Bourguébus Ridge

18-23 Jul 44

Faubourg-de-

18-19 Jul 44

       Vaucelles .
St. André-sur-Orne

19-23 Jul 44

Maltôt

22-23 Jul 44

Verrières Ridge-Tilly--

25 Jul 44

         la-Campagne .
Falaise

7-22 Aug 44

►Falaise Road

7-9 Aug 44

►Quesnay Road

10-11 Aug 44

Clair Tizon

11-13 Aug 44

►The Laison

14-17 Aug 44

►Chambois

18-22 Aug 44

►St. Lambert-sur-

19-22 Aug 44

       Dives

.

Dives Crossing

17-20 Aug 44

Forêt de la Londe

27-29 Aug 44

The Seine, 1944

25-28 Aug 44

Southern France
Southern France

15-28 Aug 44

Channel Ports
Dunkirk, 1944

8-15 Sep 44

Le Havre

1-12 Sep 44

Moerbrugge

8-10 Sep 44

Moerkerke

13-14 Sep 44

Boulogne, 1944

17-22 Sep 44

Calais, 1944

25 Sep-1 Oct 44

Wyneghem

21-22 Sep 44

Antwerp-Turnhout

   24-29 Sep 44

Canal

.

The Scheldt

The Scheldt

1 Oct-8 Nov 44

Leopold Canal

6-16 Oct-44

►Woensdrecht

1-27 Oct 44

Savojaards Platt

9-10 Oct 44

Breskens Pocket

11 Oct -3 Nov 44

►The Lower Maas

20 Oct -7 Nov 44

►South Beveland

 24-31 Oct 44

Walcheren

31 Oct -4 Nov 44

Causeway

.

Nijmegen Salient
Ardennes

Dec 44-Jan 45

Kapelsche Veer

31 Dec 44-

.

21Jan 45

The Roer

16-31 Jan 45

Rhineland
The Rhineland

8 Feb-10 Mar 45

►The Reichswald

8-13 Feb 45

►Waal Flats

8-15 Feb 45

►Moyland Wood

14-21 Feb 45

►Goch-Calcar Road

19-21 Feb 45

►The Hochwald

26 Feb-

.

4 Mar 45

►Veen

6-10 Mar 45

►Xanten

8-9 Mar 45

Final Phase
The Rhine

23 Mar-1 Apr 45

►Emmerich-Hoch

28 Mar-1 Apr 45

Elten

.
►Twente Canal

2-4 Apr 45

Zutphen

6-8 Apr 45

Deventer

8-11 Apr 45

Arnhem, 1945

12-14 Apr 45

Apeldoorn

11-17 Apr 45

Groningen

13-16 Apr 45

Friesoythe

14 Apr 45

►Ijselmeer

15-18 Apr 45

Küsten Canal

17-24 Apr 45

Wagenborgen

21-23 Apr 45

Delfzijl Pocket

23 Apr-2 May 45

Leer

28-29 Apr 45

Bad Zwischenahn

23 Apr-4 May 45

Oldenburg

27 Apr-5 May 45

Korean War
Kapyong

21-25 Apr 51

Domestic Missions

FLQ Crisis

International Missions

ICCS            Vietnam 1973

MFO                 Sinai 1986-

Peacekeeping

UNMOGIP

India 1948-1979

UNTSO

 Israel 1948-    ....

UNEF

Egypt 1956-1967

UNOGIL

Lebanon 1958    ....

ONUC

 Congo 1960-1964

UNYOM

Yemen 1963-1964

UNTEA

W. N. Guinea 1963-1964

UNIFCYP

 Cyprus 1964-    ....

DOMREP

D. Republic 1965-1966

UNIPOM

Kashmir 1965-1966

UNEFME

Egypt 1973-1979

UNDOF

Golan 1974-    ....

UNIFIL

 Lebanon 1978    ....

UNGOMAP

Afghanistan 1988-90

UNIIMOG

Iran-Iraq 1988-1991

UNTAG

Namibia 1989-1990

ONUCA

C. America 1989-1992

UNIKOM

Kuwait 1991    ....

MINURSO

W. Sahara 1991    ....

ONUSAL

El Salvador 1991    ....

UNAMIC

Cambodia 1991-1992

UNAVEM II

Angola 1991-1997

UNPROFOR

Yugosla. 1992-1995

UNTAC

Cambodia 1992-1993

UNOSOM

Somalia 1992-1993

ONUMOZ

Mozambiq. 1993-1994

UNOMUR

 Rwanda 1993    ....

UNAMIR

Rwanda 1993-1996

UNMIH

Haiti 1993-1996

UNMIBH

Bosnia/Herz.1993-1996

UNMOP

Prevlaka 1996-2001

UNSMIH

Haiti 1996-1997

MINUGUA

Guatemala 1994-1997

UNTMIH

Haiti 1997    ....

MIPONUH

 Haiti 1997    ....

MINURCA

C.Afr.Rep. 1998-1999

INTERFET

E. Timor 1999-2000

UNAMSIL

Sie. Leone 1999-2005

UNTAET

E. Timor 1999-2000

Exercises

 

Western Front
 

The Western Front was the name applied during the First World War to the theatre of operations in which the Canadian Expeditionary Force was mainly deployed. The Western Front referred to the battle lines of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies and the French, British, Belgian and other Allied troops opposing them. Hostilities in the west opened in August 1914 with the invasion of Belgium and later of France. The term "Western Front" differentiated that theatre from the "Eastern Front" on which Germany and its allies confronted Russia and its allies. Infantry and Cavalry regiments that served on the Western Front were entitled to the Battle Honour "France and Flanders".

The Western Front was fairly fluid in the opening months of the war, during the initial period of German invasion and the "race to the sea" in which the Allies and their enemies each tried to outflank each other to the north. Eventually, the Western Front was deadlocked, and both sides entrenched along several hundred miles of frontline, stretching from the North Sea to France's border with Switzerland.

Maneuver warfare gave way to "trench warfare", basically a state of siege extending all along the front. During the course of the war, the armies of both sides developed weapons and tactics to overcome the new dominance of the machine gun, including poison gas, flamethrowers, sophisticated use of artillery (mainly, for the first time in a major conflict, firing indirectly) and trench mortars, and tanks. Dramatic changes to the organization and employment of infantry were also made during the war on the Western Front.

The Alpine Front between Italy which was a member of the western alliance and Austro-Hungarian Empire which was allied to Germany and the Ottoman Empire, is usually considered to be a separate front. 

Western Front

Trench Warfare: 1914-1916
Allied Offensive: 1916
Allied Offensives: 1917
German Offensive: 1918
Advance to Victory: 1918

 

Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

The Canadian Expeditionary Force was hastily organized in the autumn of 1914 when the First World War broke out. A quick period of training in Canada, followed by a movement to the United Kingdom, was followed by training both in the UK and in the trenches on the Continent in early 1915. The 1st Canadian Division took over responsibility for part of the front line on 3 March 1915. For 21 days, the division garrisoned this 'quiet' sector, providing fire support and a diversion for a British offensive at Neuve Chapelle. That offensive gained a few square miles at the cost of 12,000 casualties. By the time the division was relieved on 25 March, 68 men had been killed and 210 wounded. As costly as offensive action was seen to be, the Canadians learned that even quiet sectors claimed lives steadily through sniper and artillery fire.

On 1 April, the division moved to the Ypres salient. The First Battle of Ypres had been fought in October 1914, and a small pocket of Allied territory bulged into the German line. The Canadians garrisoned part of the line in the Salient, and were in position when the first poison gas attack on the Western Front was carried out by the Germans on the night of 21-22 April at St. Julien. Filling a four mile gap in the line created by the hasty departure of two French divisions in the face of the gas attack (for which no protective equipment had yet been developed), the Canadians fought a series of confused and desperate battles over the course of three days, including a counter-attack at Kitcheners' Wood. Two brigades were withdrawn on the 25th, the crisis having passed, and the third on the 27th. The German offensive had been blocked, at a cost to the Canadian division of 60% casualties. One other Canadian unit, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), serving with the British Army, fought an equally desperate defensive action at Frezenberg on 8 May. They would serve with the British Army until 1916, when they joined the 3rd Canadian Division.

 


After a two week rest, the Canadian Division saw action again at Festubert. Allied strategy in 1915 was to create a breakthrough of the German lines, relying on massed artillery followed up by large scale infantry assaults. The basic unit of maneuver in this attacks was the Infantry Company. The first British attacks at Festubert failed, and the Canadians launched five separate attacks over flooded and open terrain against solid German defences on commanding high ground. Additional assaults on a strongpoint known as "K.5" also failed, including one action by dismounted Canadian cavalrymen who, though they volunteered to serve as infantry, had no experience in trench warfare. An operation against strongpoint "L.8" featured the first time the British authorized use of poison gas when Lord Strathcona's Horse carried 200 chlorine gas bombs with them. Unfortunately, due to the faulty maps the British were producing, they reported success when in actuality they had worked their way down the wrong section of trench. The Canadians left Festubert on 31 May for Givenchy, three kilometres south, leaving 2,468 casualties behind.

It would be another year before the Canadians earned more battle honours, though the period would be marked by steady losses in routine trench warfare, patrols, and occasional small unit actions. A major action at Givenchy was fought in June 1915, after which the division moved to Ploegsteert, where they remained for 9 months, being joined by the 2nd Canadian Division in September 1915. The Canadian Corps was thus created, and embarked on a program of trench raids, ranging from handfuls of men to entire brigades.
Allied Offensive 1916

In January 1916, the Canadian Corps bade farewell to its own cavalry force. Canadian mounted soldiers were now concentrated in a Canadian Cavalry Brigade and grouped into a British cavalry division - to await the days of open warfare that senior Allied commanders hoped were coming. The Brigade served for the rest of the war apart from the Canadian Corps.

In the first weeks of 1916, the 3rd Canadian Division joined the Corps, and recruiting in Canada - and the raising of new battalions - prompted plans for a 4th. In the first three months - in relative quiet - the Canadian Corps had 546 men killed, 1,543 wounded, 3 gassed and 1 taken prisoner - not counting 20 non-battle deaths and 667 injuries.

The Canadians were considered reliable enough by now to take over a more active sector of front, and exchanged places in the line with the British V Corps in the south-east corner of the Ypres Salient - but not before the British exploded several large mines at St. Eloi, altering the geography of the Canadians' new sector. The mines had been more powerful than expected, and friendly trenches were obliterated along with German ones. Lines of sight and fields of fire were also affected. The Canadians came to relieve the British on 4 April, and during that day and the next subjected the Canadians to a fearsome shelling that actually forced one battalion (the 27th Battalion, CEF) to withdraw. German attacks seized four of the immense craters and counter-attacks by the Canadians accomplished little. The 2nd Division had received its battle inoculation at the cost of 1,373 men. The Germans "reported far fewer casualties."1
 

Allied Offensive 1916

Somme, 1916 – Albert (Beaumont Hamel), 1916 – Bazentin – Pozières – Flers-CourceletteThiepval – Le Transloy –
Ancre HeightsAncre, 1916

General Alderson, the British commander of the Canadian Corps, was dismissed in favour of Lieutenant General Sir Julian Byng, who took command on 29 May 1916.

The Battle of Mount Sorrel took place in June 1916, on the only high ground at Ypres in Allied hands. By now a 3rd Canadian Division had joined the Corps and were in the line when the Germans sought to eliminate this salient. They led off their assault with a massive barrage; the battle was hard fought and the Germans inflicted punishing losses, with underground mines and flamethrowers being added to the mix of weaponry arrayed against the Canadians. German gains of over 600 yards were not threatened by Canadian counter attacks, which were poorly co-ordinated and executed in broad daylight at great cost. Canadian units were able to defend stubbornly in some areas such as Sanctuary Wood and Maple Copse. The 1st Division was tasked to counter-attack by Byng, determined to regain every foot of ground that had been lost. The Canadians returned the heavy bombardment on 12 June, and attacked the next day, in a properly co-ordinated attack making effective use of smoke shells. They regained their old front line positions, but at great cost; casualties for the entire month had been 8,000 men, including one division commander.

This success was an indication of the (Canadian Corps') increasing capabilities. So, too, was the way the Canadians followed the barrage closely and caught some Germans in their dugouts. In one hour, in the first attack in strength the Canadians had made in the war, (General Arthur) Currie's men had pushed the Germans back to their starting point. Burstall's artillery broke up two German counterattacks on June 14. The Third Canadian Division had undergone a rough initiation in battle, but the seasoned veterans of the First restored the situation, though not before the corps has sustained almost 8,500 casualties...With his careful planning and professional preparation so evident in the attack on June 13, General Byng had begun the process of turning the Canadian Corps into 'Byng's Boys.' The staff, the artillery, and the infantry had all worked on the problems involved in staging an attack, and they had produced some new approaches. At the same time, and just as important, they had made plans on how to defeat the expected German counterattack and made them pay off as well.2

The Canadians remained in the Ypres Salient until August, where they were joined by the 4th Canadian Division. As the Canadian Corps recovered from Mount Sorrel, a tremendous bloodletting had opened on the Somme.

Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme lasted from 1 July 1916 to November 1916 and primarily involved British forces pitted against German forces, though all four Canadian divisions were eventually involved in the fighting. The Somme battles were costly, but many improvements in military technique resulted from experience there.

The Somme battles began on 1 July 1916; an infamous date in British military history as more casualties were suffered in a single day than any other in the history of the British Army. Canadian Cavalry and artillery were at Bazentin and Guillemont but no Canadian infantry units saw action early in the battle (though the Newfoundland Regiment was commited on the first day and suffered grievous loss).

The 1st Canadian Division fought at Pozières on 31 August. On 3 September the Canadian Corps occupied 4,100 yards east and west of the Bapaume Road. Tanks were first used on 15 September when the Canadians advanced, captured the Sugar Refinery and Fabeck Graben and took Courcelette. On 17 September Mouquet Farm was taken and further advances were made from 20-22 September.

Thiepval Ridge

The battles at Thiepval were a continuation of the Somme fighting. On the 26th the 1st and 2nd Divisions took Zollern, Hessian and Kenora Trenches, and in the subsequent three days the Canadian line was advanced 1,000 yards. On 1 October the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Division took Regina Trench. Only the Canadian artillery remained at the Somme after 17 October, along with the 4th Canadian Division which had now also come south while the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions had moved back to the Lens-Vimy sector. By 11 November the 4th Division had advanced 500 yards and on 18 November captured Desire Trench. By 28 November all Canadian units had left the Somme, having gained 4,000 yards on a front of 3,000. Canadian casualties numbered 24,029.

The Somme had been costly, but the Allies were groping their way to new tactics; the Infantry Section was born out of experience on the Somme. And as the Allies reflected on their experiences in 1916, plans for 1917 were drawn up. In January 1917, it was decided the Canadians would attack and capture Vimy Ridge, a key piece of high ground that had been the object of Allied attacks for going on several years. The Germans too, were making plans, and began a strategic withdrawal between Arras and Soissons some 100 kilometres to a shorter line known as the Hindenburg Line. They implemented a new type of defence based on the concepts of strong-points and defence in depth. The withdrawal was phased over a period of weeks, with orders to their rear guards to resist stubbornly and attempt by the Allies to take advantage of the withdrawal. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade, relegated to dismounted operations in quiet sectors, now mounted and pursued the Germans east of Peronne from 24-28 March.

All the while, the Canadian Corps went into the line west of the formidable Vimy Ridge and began a complex program of planning, rehearsals, trench raids, tunneling, patrolling and getting ready for the main assault on 9 April 1917.

 

Allied Offensives 1917

 It has become commonplace to say that Canada came of age at Vimy Ridge. For seventy years it has been said so often - in Parliament, at hundreds of Vimy dinners and in thousands of Rememberance Day addresses, in newspaper editorials, school texts, magazine articles, and more than a score of books about Vimy and Canada's role in the Great War - that it is almost an article of faith. Thus it is difficult to untangle the reality from the rhetoric. Was Vimy the source of Canada's awareness of itself as an independent nation or the product of it?3

Pierre Berton leaves it to the reader of his emotionally charged book (Vimy) to decide. Certainly Canadians have placed great importance on Vimy Ridge ever since its capture. Non-Canadian historians have generally lumped the seizure of the Ridge in with the Battle of Arras, of which Vimy was only one small part. Modern Canadian historians, however, look to the battle with a more critical eye.

Allied Offensives 1917

Arras, 1917 – Vimy, 1917Arleux – Scarpe, 1917 – Hill 70 – Ypres, 1917 – Pilckem – Langemarck, 1917 – Menin Road – Polygon Wood – Broodseinde – Poelcappelle – Passchendaele – Cambrai, 1917


Vimy has achieved a status as the Canadian victory, the pinnacle of Canadian military achievement...and so it was in some ways...More important, while Vimy was an enormously strong and well-fortified position, and while its capture by...the Canadian Corps...was a significant victory, it was a set-piece battle without any follow-up exploitation...Vimy was a one-off encounter, a costly battle that, while it dislodged the Germans from a key position, mattered little in terms of the overall conduct of the war.
4

The victory at Vimy, however, is evidence that the Canadian Corps had graduated from a hastily assembled force of civilians in uniform to a professional, seasoned, highly proficient army. The post-Somme innovations were all brought together and for the first time, all four divisions fought side by side for a common objective.

Hill 70

The French, pounded at Verdun in 1916, were largely impotent in 1917; in June mutinies had rocked the army. The British would be forced to go it alone. After Vimy, German tactics changed - front lines were manned lightly and defences constructed in depth; Allied attackers might gain the forward trench, but then come under immediate and strong German counter-attacks. The Newfoundland Regiment, rebuilt after the Somme, was nearly wiped out in such a counter-attack at Monchy-le-Preux.

The Canadians received a new commander - General Arthur W. Currie, promoted to command the Corps and knighted. A prewar Militia officer, he had commanded a Brigade from the start of the war, had helped hold the line at Second Ypres, was promoted to command the 1st Division, and now replaced Byng - also promoted, to an Army command. He would take the Canadian Corps back to Ypres. Ordered to take Lens in August, Currie insisted that the objective should be Hill 70 instead. The high ground was tactically more important, and German counter-attacks would be cut to pieces from the heights. The attack went forward into a smokescreen on 15 August 1917. For the first time, wireless was used by artillery observers, spotting targets from atop Vimy Ridge.5 The attack gained 600 yards in just 20 minutes. Despite setbacks for two attacking brigades, the attacking force was in good position for the counterattacks, and 15 battalions - threw themselves at the Canadian positions. Again, even success was costly, and 3,500 Canadians had been killed or wounded in the first day. In the ten days of fighting at Lens, 5 German divisions would be mauled, at a cost of 9,198 Canadian casualties.6

Passchendaele

By October 1917, the war situation was still bleak; the Germans and Austro-Hungarians were preparing war-winning offensives in both Italy and on the Eastern Front, and in the west, the Americans were still not mobilized despite their declaration of war. The French had recovered from their mutinies of the summer but little was expected from them. And objectives set in July for the British armies still fighting in the Ypres area were still in German hands. This was Passchendaele, officially, the Third Battle of Ypres. And once again,the Canadians were called in to do what the British could not.
 

German Offensive 1918

In early 1918, the overthrow of the Czarist government in Russia the year before had allowed Germany to end hostilities on the Eastern Front and begin moving forces to the west - some 44 divisions. Italy's military collapse caused the redeployment of British and French forces to Italy, all of which created a temporary strategic advantage for Germany. The British government, weary after Passchendaele, considered simply holding on until 1919 and a final offensive, using American forces now rushing to Europe to join in the fighting after declaring war on Germany the year before. The Germans realized they could not wait for the Americans to arrive in strength, and so they too settled in for a period of quiet - and planning for an offensive to end the war. The Canadian Corps remained in the Lens-Vimy sector during this period, with the Canadian Cavalry Brigade holding the line at the Omignon River.

In January 1918, Conscription was enacted in Canada; problems in implementing the new policies meant that reinforcements would not arrive in the line until the summer. In the meantime, manpower shortages were felt in the Corps. A 5th Canadian Division, forming in England, was broken up to reinforce the Corps in France.


 

German Offensive 1918

Somme, 1918 – St. Quentin – Bapaume, 1918 – Rosières – Arras, 1918 – Avre – Lys – Bailleul – Kemmel

On 21 March 1918, 6,000 German guns opened an offensive on 65 kilometres of British front line, and 37 German divisions made sizable advances, penetrating into the rear of the British Fifth Army. Confusion and panic spread, and the Germans managed to drive towards Amiens for nine days before being halted. The Canadian Corps had not been in the path of the offensive, though the Canadian Cavalry Corps as well as the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade had both been involved in these defensive battles. The latter unit proved itself exceptionally valuable for its mobility; it also lent great firepower to British units who lost their machine guns in the opening hours of the German offensive. The Canadian cavalrymen helped cover the withdrawal of the British 18th Division, and fought a series of actions, both mounted and dismounted.By 29 March, though the advance on Amiens was threatening to drive a wedge betwen the French and British armies, German supply lines were stretching and their troops were tiring.

But Amiens was in sight, and the attack was renewed. British and French resistance had begun to stiffen but a gap several kilometres wide still existed at the junction of the French and British armies. It was at this point that the Canadian Cavalry Brigade was called up to play outs its most significant role of the whole of the war.7

German forces established themselves on a high feature at Moreuil Wood, firmly between the British and French. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade, operating mounted, managed to clear the Germans from the position, permitting an effective defence to be set up, assisted by the British 3rd Cavalry Brigade. German counter-attacks the next day were met by additional attacks by the Canadian cavalry, this time dismounted. "Operation Michael, the German advance in the direction of Amiens, came to a halt where the Canadian Cavalry stood at Moreuil Wood."

The effort to split the British and French armies, and to end the war by driving the British into the sea, had failed. But it was a near run thing. Over the course of the next two months the Germans would undertake several more offensives, and each indeed made notable advances. But their strength was spent, and their best chance for a decisive victory had been thwarted.

At the time, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade was given much of the credit for single-handedly stopping the German offensive at the very point when the threat was at its most intense. That, we now know, was not entirely accurate; the Germans just did not have the reserves - or the physical strength - to carry on much further. But no one can deny that our cavalry played a very important part in maintaining the link between the British and French armies at the very moment that the French were almost at the point of withdrawing to concentrate on the defence of Paris.8

From 23 to 27 March 1918, the Canadian Corps saw its divisions stripped away one by one to reinforce threatened points along the line. Currie understood the need for two divisions to be taken from him due to the strategic situation; when all four divisions were taken he protested strongly and received the 3rd and 4th divisions back under his control. They went into the line alongside the 1st Division in April; the 2nd Division, however, remained under British control until 1 July 1918.

The German offensives continued to gain ground despite the drive on Amiens being halted. In mid-April, much of the ground gained at Passchendaele at great cost the year before was taken by the Germans, and in late May a 50 kilometre advance towards Paris was made before being stopped on the Marne River.

The Canadian Corps went out of the line in early May, and prepared for two and a half months for a new offensive. The Corps reorganized, with an additional machine gun company, a mechanized transport company, and an engineer brigade added to each division. Training in small unit tactics prepared the men for open warfare, and the Corps returned to the front in mid-July in a high state of morale. The high command had selected Amiens as the spot for the next offensive, and the French and British agreed that it should be the Canadians and Australians who would play the principal roles.

At Kemmel Hill in Flanders, two Canadian battalions participated in a deception scheme. The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles and the 27th Battalion, CEF launched a Trench Raid, leaving equipment and insignia behind to allow the Germans to identify the nationality of the raiders. The Canadian Corps began broadcasting phony wireless traffic in the northern sector of the Western Front, as well as establishing casualty clearing stations near the front. The Germans were deceived into thinking a new offensive was in the offing. In the meantime, the Canadians moved 100,000 troops in strict secrecy to concentration areas south of Amiens, at night, from 30 July to 3 August.

Advance to Victory: 1918

The Hundred Days Offensive was the final act of the Allies on the Western Front, covering the period 8 August 1918 to 11 November 1918.

The German offensives on the Western Front had petered out by July 1918; while the Germans had advanced to the Marne River, they failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough. French Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Allied supreme commander, ordered a counter-offensive which became the Second Battle of the Marne forcing a German withdrawal to the north. The Allies then embarked on new offensives, and Field Marshal Haig agreed to attack east of Amiens and southwest of the 1916 battlefields of the Somme. The region was chosen for a number of reasons. As in 1916, the Somme area marked the boundary between the BEF and the French armies, in this case defined by the Amiens-Roye road. Picardy provided good terrain for tanks, which was not the case in Flanders. Finally, the German defences of the Second Army were relatively weak, having been subjected to continual raids by the Australians in a process termed Peaceful Penetration.

The Battle of Amiens opened on 8 August 1918 with an attack by 10 divisions and more than 500 tanks, breaking the German lines and opening a 15 mile wide gap. German losses were 17,000 men and 330 guns captured, with total losses estimated to be 30,000 on 8 August alone. The Allies suffered roughly 6,500 killed, wounded and missing. By 10 August 1918, the advance had slowed as Allied units outran the range of friendly artillery and the Germans withdrew to the Hindenburg Line. The offensive was called off on 15 August 1918. 
 

Advance to Victory 1918

Amiens – Arras, 1918 – Scarpe, 1918 – Drocourt-Quéant – Hindenburg Line – Epéhy – Canal du Nord – St. Quentin Canal – Beaurevoir – Cambrai, 1918 – Ypres, 1918 – Valenciennes – Sambre – Pursuit to Mons – Courtrai

The Canadians had managed to achieve surprise in spite of the logistical burdens of hiding thousands of men, 20,000 horses, and 1,000 guns. Heavy bombers were used imaginatively, flying over the German lines at night to mask the sound of hundreds of tanks moving up to support the attack - to maintain surprise, no inital bombardment was made. The tanks performed disappointingly, but it didn't matter - the first objectives were taken with little opposition in poor visibility conditions. German machine gunners performed better when the fog lifted in the afternoon, but in just over 14 hours, the Canadians advanced 12 kilometres, and the 5 Australian divisions almost as far. Some 5,000 German prisoners were taken, and their General Ludendorff later called it the "black day of the German Army in the history of this war." The Canadians advanced 5 kilometres more the next day, then 3 more on the 10th. In the face of increasing numbers of German reinforcements, and as the advance approached the edge of the 1916 battlefield with its impenetrable thickets of barbed wire still intact, the offensive was called off. It had been a great tactical victory, gaining 22 kilometres on a 10,000 metre wide front, capturing 9,000 prisoners - but at the cost of 12,000 men. The Canadian Corps headed for Arras beginning on 19 August. The Germans began to consider negotiating for peace.

The Second Battle of the Somme opened on 21 August 1918, aimed at Albert and eventually achieving a deep breakthrough, as German forces were driven back 35 miles. Albert fell to the Allies on 22 August, Bapaume on the 29th, and Péronne on the 31st.

The battle for the Hindenburg Line followed, as the Germans withdrew to this series of fortifications by 2 September 1918, entrenching from Cerny on the Aisne River to Arras. German salients west of the line were reduced in separate battles; at Havrincourt and St Mihiel on 12 September 1918, Epehy and Canal du Nord on 18 September 1918.

On 26 September 1918 a general offensive across much of the Western Front began. The Hindenburg line was broken by Allied troops within hours of the start of the assault.

The final period, known to the Canadian Corps as the Pursuit to Mons, was part of a general pursuit all along the front throughout October 1918. The Germans surrendered in November, with the Armistice declared to take effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1100hrs, 11 November 1918.

Notes
  1. Granatstein, Jack. Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace. (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, ON, 2002) p.87
  2. Ibid, p.92
  3. Morton, Desmond. When Your Number's Up: The Canadian Soldier In The First World War p.167
  4. Granatstein, Ibid. pp.111-112
  5. Morton, Ibid, p.170
  6. Granatstein, Ibid, p.120
  7. Marteinson, John. We Stand on Guard: An Illustrated History of the Canadian Army (Ovale Publications, Montreal, PQ, 1992) ISBN 2894290438 p.185
  8. Ibid, p.186

 


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