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Canada in the First World War - The Last Hundred Days Part 1
After Passchendaele the Canadian Corps had returned to the First Army and the trenches around Lens and Vimy. When the German Spring offensive broke it was against the Fifth Army to the south. As the British retreated Canadian divisions were sent to hold the line in other sectors. The 1st and 2nd Divisions were reassigned on March 23rd, the 3rd and 4th Divisions on the 26th. Currie complained, the Canadian Corps needed to remain in being, 3 divisions were returned by April 8th.
In May the Canadian Corps was pulled from the line for reorganization and retraining in open warfare. The Canadian Corps was the only formation in the British Army that was up to strength. While British and Australian formations downsized to keep divisions in being the Canadian Corps upsized. Canadian infantry battalions were larger than their British counterparts, so were the brigades, engineer and machine gun battalions.
When the German offensive ran out of troops and supplies the Allied forces turned to the offensive. The first objective for the BEF was Amiens. Amiens was an essential road and rail hub for the Allies. The German offensive had brought the German artillery within range of the city and they needed to be driven back. The Australian Corps was given the lead in this operation but its commander insisted on the Canadians providing flank support. The Canadian Corps had to move from the First Army to the Fourth Army area in secret, otherwise the Germans would know that an offensive was about to begin. The secret move was successful and on August 8th the assault began.
The Canadian staff were given only 7 days to make plans. The assault depended on secrecy, rather than using a preliminary bombardment tanks were used to crush the barbed wire with the bombardment only beginning with the ground attack. The Germans were taken by surprise. The Australians advanced 7 miles, the Canadians 8, the French 5, the British 3. The Canadian Corps had suffered over 3,800 casualties but had captured over 5,000 prisoners. August 8th was called the Black Day of the German Army.
The second day of battle the Canadian Corps was able to advance 4 miles suffering over 2,500 casualties. Each further day of battle saw less gains and more casualties. On August 13th it was decided that no more useful gains could be had and on the 14th the Battle of Amiens was brought to an end. The Canadian Corps had suffered nearly 12,000 casualties in a week of fighting. They had captured over 9,000 prisoners and destroyed 3 German divisions and advanced over 14 miles. In the days following the Battle of Amiens the Canadian Corps was moved north to rejoin the First Army.
The Battle of Arras was an attempt to drive toward Cambrai and outflank the Hindenburg Line by driving to the Drocourt-Queant Line. The Hindenburg Line was a 30 kilometre deep series of trench lines and fortifications. By outflanking it, it would become useless to the Germans and force them to withdraw. The Canadian Corps was to spearhead the attack of the British First Army and again, they were given just seven days to plan and prepare.
This time the Germans knew they were facing the Canadian Corps, they knew that an assault was imminent. With no time for week long barrages and aggressive patrolling the Canadian staff decided on a night attack. General Currie refused to hurry his plans further than they already were when asked to attack on August 25th, so the battle began at 3 A.M. on August 26th.
Without the normal artillery barrages the Brigade commanders used flanking assaults to conserve men. Although the casualties of Amiens had been replaced they did not have the experience of the men they replaced. The change in tactics preserved lives while allowing success. On the first day of the battle the Canadian Corps advanced a little more than 4 kilometres.
The Germans brought up fresh divisions and special Marksman Machine Gun Companies. In three days of fighting the Canadian Corps had advanced 8 kilometres and suffered just over 5,800 casualties in its two assaulting divisions (the 2nd and 3rd). They were replaced by the 1st Canadian and 4th British Division (the 4th Canadian Division had not yet arrived from Amiens). These divisions continued the assault but the British Division, not as large as the Canadian Divisions and under strength was unable to continue the push to the D-Q Line (Drocourt-Queant Line). The 4th Canadian Division was committed to the battle immediately on its arrival from Amiens.
By September 3rd the Canadian Corps had broken the D-Q Line. Over 10,000 prisoners had been captured with over 11,400 casualties suffered. But the Hindenburg Line remained.