The Battle of Neuve-Chapelle was the first WW1 battle that Canadian troops fought in. They had just arrived from Salisbury Plain, England, where they had been training. While not a large battle, it was not without significance from a Canadian perspective in that it was the first time that the Canadian Expeditionary Force had been fully involved in action with the enemy.On March 10 at 7:30 am. the Canadian divisional artillery opened a barrage on enemy positions. The attack was launched 35 minutes later with gunners opening salvoes of rapid fire that continued intermittently every 15 minutes for the whole day. The tactic was successful and it caught the enemy entirely by surprise. In less than 20 minutes, a 1,750 yard breach was created in the German line. By 9:00 am., British troops had swept Neuve-Chapelle without encountering any resistance. Advancing units had been given an order to halt at a predetermined line and wait for their General Headquarters to give them the go-ahead to continue. This is where the offensive, successful up until that point, completely broke down. Telephone and telegraph lines, which were much too vulnerable, had been quickly destroyed by German shelling. The transmission of information from Headquarters to troops all along the front line was, as a result, too slow in reaching the unit commanders. As a result a golden opportunity to rapidly exploit the territory gained at the centre of the advancing line was missed. It was only at 5:00 pm. that all brigades, battalions, and companies finally resumed their advance, just as the sun was setting and the day's operations had to stop.The following day before dawn on March 12th., the Germans bombarded Allied positions and counter-attacked with 20 battalions. British units were well prepared and repelled the enemy successfully. But once again, because of a breakdown in communications the troops obeying previously issued orders stayed in place and failed to exploit their advantage. The advance was further delayed because of thick fog. The the Canadian 1st, 2nd and 3rd Brigades on hearing rumours of spectacular gains elsewhere along the Allied line wanted to advance, but were ordered to remain in their trenches. By 8:40 pm. General Haig saw no other recourse but to order the establishment of a new line of defence on newly-conquered territory. The Battle of Neuve-Chapelle was over. When the British assault finally got under-way, it resulted in heavy losses. The British sustained 12,892 losses, of which 100 were Canadian.The main lessons of Neuve-Chapelle were as follows: the artillery bombardment was too light to suppress the enemy soldiers sheltering in their trenches; that more good artillery observation points were necessary; that reserves were too few to follow up success quickly; and most importantly, that the procedure of transmitting information and sending orders to the advancing front line troops was slow and difficult. The existing system of communication was far too vulnerable to enemy artillery fire.
In the first week of April 1915, Canadian troops were moved from a quiet sector to a bulge in the Allied line in front of the City of Ypres. The notorious Ypres Salient, where the British and Allied line thrust into the German line like the point of a bayonet. The Germans held the higher ground and because of the bulge in the allied line were able to fire into the trenches from three sides. On the Canadian right were two British divisions, and on their left a French division, the 45th (Algerian). Here on April 22, the Germans following an intensive artillery bombardment, released 160 tons of chlorine gas into a light north-east wind from cylinders dug into the forward edge of their trenches. As thick clouds of yellow-green chlorine drifted over the French trenches their defences crumbled; their soldiers completely unnerved by this terrible weapon fled, leaving a four mile gap in the Allied line.German troops pressed forward, threatening to encircle the 50,000 Canadian and British soldiers in the salient - but the Germans, in a gross oversight, failed to provide adequate protection for their own men against the poison gas. Due to this oversight the Germans, also lacking adequate reserves, were unable to exploit the gap that the gas had created. After advancing two miles they stopped and dug in.All through the night the Canadian troops fought to close the gap. A counter-attack was mounted to drive the enemy out of Kitcheners' Wood and in the morning two more attacks were made against enemy positions. Little ground was gained and casualties were extremely heavy, but these attacks bought some precious time to close the flank.Then on April 24 the fierce battle of St Julian began; the German plan was to obliterate the Salient once and for all. The Battle started with a violent bombardment against the Canadian line, followed by another gas attack. The fighting was intense, but the Canadians withstood intense shrapnel and machine-gun fire, and fought on. To complicate matters they were equipped with the controversial Ross rifle, which proved to be inadequate and frequently jammed. These courageous men, though violently sick and gasping for air through handkerchiefs that they had soaked with their own urine, to neutralize the effects of the chlorine gas, held on until reinforcements arrived.In this, their first major appearance on a European battlefield, the Canadians established a reputation as a indomitable fighting force. Congratulatory messages were cabled to the Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden. In 48 hours, 6,035 Canadians, one man in three, became casualties and more than 2,000 died.
Gassed - John Singer Sargent
In February 1916 German Chief of the General Staff, General Erich von Falkenhayn, attacked fortress-ringed city of Verdun. A position he correctly elieved to be so essential to the French, that France would fight to the last man to hold it. He hoped to lure French forces into a narrow, dangerous salient, and slaughter them with artillery fire. On February 21, the German barrage began and for the next ten months both sides fought viciously, at huge costs to both sides.When the Battle finally ended, casualties for both sides totalled 680,000, of whom some quarter of a million were killed. During the fight for Verdun the French sent frantic appeals to Sir Douglas Haig, the new British commander, to hasten the Somme offensive and take the pressure off Verdun. With French forces being so thoroughly decimated at Verdun, the British now had to assume a far greater burden.The Somme campaign was planned well in advance with a massive build-up of men and munitions. By the end of June all was ready and Haig was quietly confident that his planned assault would destroy the enemy lines and open the way for the cavalry to ride into open countryside and attack the German rear areas, battery positions, headquarters and communications. Meanwhile, the German Army, long forewarned of the attack, had engaged in a massive restructuring of their defences, especially in the northern area of the British attack. They were firmly entrenched along the ridges and the villages of the northern Somme countryside. On July 1, at 7.30 am, at a time dictated by the French to allow their artillery observers clear views, thousands of British and French troops began their advance across No Man's Land on a front of over 25 miles. The assault resulted in bloodbath; with 57,500 British soldiers killed, wounded or missing in one day. The heaviest loss ever suffered by the British Army in one day. At the end of the day the French had gained nearly all of their objectives as had the British divisions to the south; but for two thirds of the British sector almost nothing at all had been gained.At Beaumont-Hamel, the 1st Battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment, part of the 29th British Division, lost two-thirds of its entire strength in about an hour's exposure to German artillery and machine guns. July 1 in Newfoundland is still a day of commemoration. The Battle of the Somme continued through the summer months. In late August 1916, the Canadians moved from the muddy fields of Flanders to the Somme, where they took over a section of the front line west of the village of Courcelette. They ran into heavy fighting and suffered some 2,600 casualties before the full-scale offensive got under-way. In this major offensive which began at dawn on September 15, the Canadian Corps on the extreme left of the attack, assaulted on a 2,000 yard sector west of the village of Courcelette. Advancing behind a creeping barrage the infantry was also aided by the newly introduced tank.IThe Somme had cost Canada 24,029 casualties, but it was where the Canadians confirmed their reputation as hard-hitting shock troops. "The Canadians," wrote Lloyd George, "played a part of such distinction that thenceforward they were marked out as storm troops; for the remainder of the war they were brought along to head the assault in one great battle after another. Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst."
The Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge in April 1917.The ridge is an escarpment 5.0 miles north-east of Arras on the western edge of the Douai Plains. The ridge rises gradually on its western side, and drops more quickly on the eastern side. At approximately 4 miles in length, and culminating at a height of 200 ft above the Douai Plains, the ridge provides a natural unobstructed view for tens of miles in all directions.The task would not be easy – previous French attacks had failed with over 100,000 casualties. To capture this difficult position, the Canadians would carefully plan and rehearse their attack. To provide greater flexibility and firepower in battle, the infantry were given specialist roles as machine-gunners, rifle-men and grenade-throwers. These same soldiers underwent weeks of training behind the lines using models to represent the battlefield, and maps crafted from aerial photographs to guide their way. To bring men forward safely for the assault, engineers dug deep tunnels from the rear to the front. Despite this training and preparation, the key to victory would be a devastating artillery barrage that would not only isolate enemy trenches, but provide a moving wall of high explosives and shrapnel to force the Germans to stay in their deep dugouts and away from their machine-guns. In the week leading up to the battle, Canadian and British artillery pounded the enemy positions on the ridge, killing and tormenting defenders. A nearly limitless supply of artillery shells poured down on the Germans destroying hardened defences and barbed wire. The Canadian infantry would be well supported when it went into battle with over 1,000 artillery pieces laying down withering, supportive fire. British Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, later to become Governor-General of Canada, was in command. Attacking together for the first time, the four Canadian divisions stormed the ridge at 5:30am on 9 April 1917. More than 15,000 Canadian infantry overran the Germans all along the front. Incredible bravery and discipline allowed the infantry to continue moving forward under heavy fire, even when their officers were killed. There were countless acts of sacrifice, as Canadians single-handedly charged machine-gun nests or forced the surrender of Germans in protective dugouts. Hill 145, the highest and most important feature of the Ridge, was captured in a frontal bayonet charge against machine-gun positions. Three more days of costly battle delivered final victory. The Canadian operation was an important success, even if the larger British and French offensive, of which it had been a part, had failed. But it was victory at a heavy cost: 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 wounded.The capture of Vimy was more than just an important battlefield victory. For the first time all four Canadian divisions attacked together: men from all regions of Canada were present at the battle. Vimy became a symbol of sacrifice for the young Dominion and it has often been said that Canada became a nation on that blood soaked battle field.In 1922, the French government ceded to Canada in perpetuity Vimy Ridge and 250 acres surrounding it.A little piece of land that will forever be Canada is where the iconic Vimy monument now stands.
Launched on 31 July 1917, the British offensive in Flanders had aimed to drive the Germans away from the essential Channel Ports and to eliminate U-Boat bases on the coast. But unceasing rain and shellfire had reduced the battlefield to a vast bog of water-filled shell craters, mud and corpses. After months of fighting, that saw 100,000 Australian and New Zealand casualties, the attack ground to a halt. Passchendaele ridge was still stubbornly held by German troops.Early in October, Sir Douglas Haig, the commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force, ordered the Canadians to relive the battered ANZAC forces and take part in the push to capture Passchendaele. Canadian commander Lieutenant-General Arthur Currie inspected the battlefield and was shocked at the conditions. He tried to avoid having his men fight there but was overruled. As at Vimy, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps would see action. However, the mud, flat terrain, and relative lack of preparation time and artillery support would make Passchendaele a far different battlefield than the one the Canadians encountered at Vimy Ridge.Currie took the time to carefully prepare as much as possible and on October 26, the Canadian offensive began. Success was made possible due to acts of great individual heroism to get past spots of heavy enemy resistance. The advance through the mud and enemy fire was slow and there were heavy losses. Despite the adversity, the Canadians reached the outskirts of Passchendaele by the end of a second attack on October 30 during a driving rainstorm.On November 6, the Canadians launched an assault to capture the ruined village of Passchendaele itself. In heavy fighting, the attack went according to plan and they took it that day. After weathering fierce enemy counter attacks, the Canadians attacked on November 10. They cleared the Germans from the eastern edge of Passchendaele Ridge. In this last phase of the battle, the Canadian soldiers succeeded in the face of almost unbelievable challenges.
Canada’sHundredDays,refers to a series of attacks made along the Western Front by the Canadian Corps during the last 100 Days of World War I. This period became known as Canada's Hundred Days due to the substantial role the Canadian Corps played in a series of major battles. It was the advance from Amiens to Mons, which along with other Allied offensives, that ultimately led to Germany's final defeat and surrender. During this time, the Canadian Corps fought at Amiens, Arras, the Hindenburg Line, the Canal du Nord, Bourlon Wood, Cambrai, Denain, Valenciennes and finally at Mons, on the final day of the First World War.The allied command was aware that the Germans had learned to suspect and prepare for an attack when they found the Canadian Corps had moved in and were deployed in a new sector of the front lines. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George reflected this attitude when he wrote in his memoirs, “Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.” For that reason a plan was devised to conceal from the Germans the actual disposition of the Canadians at the front.On August 8 the attack began. The attacking forces broke through the German lines in dramatic fashion, with the Canadians pushing as far as 8.1 miles from their starting points. In many places the fog provided good cover for their advances in and through the furrows of the valley of the Luce River, which ran through the centre of the Canadian portion of the battlefield. Tanks were very successful in this battle, as they attacked German rear positions, creating panic and confusion. Continuing to press the advantage gained, the advance continued for three more days but slowed, since the rapid advance outran the supporting artillery. The Canadians stopped their advance at Amiens.At Amiens the four Canadian Divisions faced, defeated and put to flight ten full German Divisions and elements of five others that sat astride their boundaries with the Australians and French on either side of them. In the five intense days of fighting between the 8th and 13th of August the Canadian Corps captured 9,131 prisoners, 190 artillery pieces, and over 1,000 machine guns and trench mortars.On the 23rd the Canadians were pulled out of the line and sent to prepare a line east of Arras for an attack that was to commence three days later. In Arras, the Canadians attacked eastward, smashing the outer defence of the Hindenburg line along the Arras-Cambrai road. Then on September 2, 1918, the Canadian Corps, smashed the Drocourt-Queant line, and broke its main support position, taking 5622 casualties, which brought the total losses of the Arras-Cambrai operation up to 11,423 casualties. After this, the Germans retreated across the Canal du Nord, which was almost completely flooded. The Canadians then smashed through the Hindenburg line a second time, this time during the Battle of Cambrai, which along with the Australian, British and Americans fighting further south at the Battle of St. Quentin Canal, broke German resistance and resulted in a near collapse of German morale. As the war neared its end, the Canadian Corps pressed on through Belgium towards Germany. This final phase of the war became known as the 'Pursuit to Mons'. The war ended with the Canadians in possession of Mons.