«LONDON PRINTED BY AUTHORITY OF THE MINISTRY, OVERSEAS MILITARY FORCES OF CANADA. REPORT of the MINISTRY Overseas Military Forces of Canada LONDON ...»
108 Overseas Military Forces of Canada In addition to the preparations above mentioned, the enemy assumed early in February a very aggressive attitude, raiding our lines very frequently, using for the purpose specially trained storm troops. His destructive shoots and intense gas shelling were also of frequent occurrence.
I decided to quell this activity, and numerous counterraids, retaliation shoots and gas projections, especially in the Lens Sector, soon had the desired effect.
Prisoners captured in our raids stated that all their Divisions had been brought up to strength and were undergoing hard training in the tactics of semi-open warfare. They stated, or left it to be understood, that the forthcoming German attacks were based on a very deep initial penetration and the rapid exploitation of success. No indications were given as to the points at which attacks would be launched, but they stated that every one of their sectors was prepared and practically ready. It was also definitely established that the enemy reserve divisions were kept near railways, ready to be moved quickly to the parts of the Front selected for the coming drive.
Second Period. 21st March—7th May.
Battle of Amiens.—In the early morning of March 21 the enemy launched a violent attack on the fronts of the Fifth and Third British Armies.
It was soon evident that the opening stages of the battle were going in favour of the Germans, and that, notwithstanding the strenuous resistance offered, our defences were being overrun, more particularly the southern portion of the British line on the front of the Fifth Army.
The Canadian Corps was not directly involved in the battle and my dispositions on that date were as follows:— 3rd Canadian Division-(Maj.-Gen. L. J. Lipsett), in the line, Mericourt-Avion Sections.
4th Canadian Division-(Maj.-Gen. Sir D. Watson), in the line, Lens-St. Emile Sections.
1st Canadian Division-(Maj.-Gen. Sir A. C. Macdonell), in the line, Hill 70 Section.
2nd Canadian Division-(Maj.-Gen. Sir H. E. Burstall), resting, Auchel Area.
At 3.50 p.m. on the 21st, First Army ordered Canadian Corps to take over the front of the 62nd Division (left Division Corps Operations. 109 of XIII. Corps) in the Acheville Sector, the relief to begin on the night 21st/22nd and to be completed on the night 23rd/24th.
The 2nd Canadian Division was warned immediately for this relief, but at 4.04 p.m. First Army ordered Canadian Corps to keep one complete Division in Army Reserve. The warning order to the 2nd Canadian Division was, therefore, cancelled.
The 3rd Canadian Division was then ordered to extend its frontage and relieve the 62nd Division in the AchevilleArleux Sector.
A little later, a further order arrived from First Army instructing Canadian Corps to be prepared to relieve the 56th Division (right Division of XIII. Corps), and in accordance with this the 2nd Canadian Division was warned by wire at 7.40 p.m. In the evening this order was cancelled.
On the 22nd, at 9.00 p.m., I ordered the relief of the 1st Canadian Division, then holding the Hill 70 Sector, by the 4th Canadian Division, so as to have a reserve in hand.
During the same night, 22nd/23rd, at 11.00 p.m., following a telephonic conversation with General Headquarters, the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, then in the line on the Vimy Sector, was withdrawn and ordered to be prepared to move south to the Fifth Army area.
On confirmation of the order by telephone through the regular channels, this Unit left Verdrel at 5.30 a.m. on the 23rd to report to the Fifth Army. By midnight all batteries were in action on a 35 mile front east of Amiens, having travelled over 100 miles during the day.
" The 1st C.M.M.G. Brigade (Lt.-Col. W. K. Walker), under orders of the Fifth and later of the Fourth Army, was ordered to fight a rearguard action to delay the advance of the enemy and to fill dangerous gaps on the Army fronts. For 19 days that Unit was continuously in action North and South of the Somme, fighting against overwhelming odds. Using to the utmost its great mobility, it fought over 200 square miles of territory. (See Sketch No. 4.) It is difficult to appraise to its correct extent the influence, material and moral, that the 40 machine guns of that Unit had in the events which were then taking place. The losses suffered amounted to about 75 per cent. of the trench strength of the Unit, and to keep it in being 110 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
throughout that fighting, I authorised its reinforcement by personnel of the Infantry branch of the Canadian Machine Gun Corps."
On the 23rd, at 10.50 a.m., the 2nd Canadian Division was ordered to concentrate at once west of Arras in the Mont St. Eloi area, and having carried this out passed into General Headquarters Reserve. The 1st Canadian Division, in process of relief by the 4th Canadian Division, passed therefore into Army Reserve in compliance with the First Army order of the 21st, referred to above.
The relief was completed on the 24th, and my dispositions were then as follows:— In the line-on a total front of 17,000 yards:— 3rd Canadian Division, Acheville-Mericourt-Avion Sections.
4th Canadian Division, Lens-St. Emile-Hill 70 Sections.
In Army Reserve—1st Canadian Division, Chateau de la Haie area.
In General Headquarters Reserve—2nd Canadian Division, Mont St. Eloi area.
On the night of the 25/26th, at 12.40 a.m., I was ordered to extend my front to the north, and preparations were made accordingly to relieve the 11th and 46th Divisions with the 1st Canadian Division. The intention was to concentrate an Army Corps on the southern flank of the First Army for action on the northern flank of the German attack, which was still progressing rapidly.
This order was, however, cancelled at 10.20 p.m. on the 26th, and instead the following dispositions were substituted, with effect from the night 27/28th:— (a) The 3rd Canadian Division in the line to come under orders of the G.O.C. XIII. Corps at noon, March 27.
(b) The 1st Canadian Division to move to the area to be vacated by the 2nd Canadian Division, west of a line MaroeuilCarency, and to pass into General Headquarters Reserve.
(c) The 4th Canadian Division to be relieved by the 46th Division (I. Corps) and pass into General Headquarters Reserve.
(d) Canadian Corps Headquarters to pass into General Headquarters Reserve.
Corps Operations. 111 Meanwhile, under instructions from First Army, the 2nd Canadian Division was ordered by telephone at 3.30 p.m., 26th, to move as soon as possible to the area PommierBienvillers-Bailleulval, with Headquarters at Basseux. On completion of the move, the 2nd Canadian Division would cease to be in General Headquarters Reserve and be transferred to Third Army. Accordingly, during the night 26th/27th the 2nd Canadian Division moved by bus and march route to the Basseux area.
On the 27th, at 4.05 p.m., the 1st Canadian Division was ordered to move to Couturelle area.
Both these Divisions were transferred from General Headquarters Reserve to Third Army.
"The 1st Canadian Division was moved by buses to Couturelle area, embussing at about midnight, 27th/28th. At dawn, March 28, the enemy struck heavily astride the River Scarpe, and the 1st Canadian Division was ordered at 10.30 a.m. to retain the buses by which they had moved south and to move back to the Arras-Dainville area at once, coming there under orders of the XVII. Corps. This move was very difficult because some buses had already been sent back to the Park, many Units were still en route to the Couturelle area, and the mounted Units and transport were in column on the road Hauteville-Saulty-Couturelle. The Division, however, extricated itself, and on the night of the 28th, under orders of the XVII. Corps, placed two Battalions in the forward area in support of the 46th Infantry Brigade, 15th Division. At daybreak on the 29th, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade moved to support the 15th Division, and during the night 29th/30th 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade relieved the 46th Infantry Brigade in the Telegraph Hill Sector, that brigade front being transferred from the 15th Division to the 1st Canadian Division on March 30."
"The 2nd Canadian Division passed under orders of the VI. Corps on March 28, and moved forward in support of the 3rd (British) Division in the Neuville Vitasse Sector. On the night of March 29th/30th, it relieved the 3rd (British) Division in the line, and on 112 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
the night of March 31/1 April extended its front southwards by relieving the left battalion of the Guards' Division.
The front held by the 2nd Canadian Division extended from south of the Cojeul River, east of Boisleux St. Marc, to the southern slopes of Telegraph Hill (where it joined with the 1st Canadian Division), a total length of about 6,000 yards. The 2nd Canadian Division held this front for an uninterrupted period of 92 days, during which time it repulsed a series of local attacks and carried out no less than 27 raids, capturing three officers, 101 other ranks, 22 machine guns, two trench mortars, and inflicting severe casualties on the enemy. The aggressive attitude adopted by this Division at such a critical time and under adverse conditions had a most excellent effect on our troops, and it certainly reduced to the lowest point the fighting value of two German Divisions, namely, the 26th Reserve Division and the 185th Division. The 2nd Canadian Division returned under the orders of the Canadian Corps on July 1.
In compliance with First Army Orders, I had handed over command of the 3rd Canadian Division in the line to the XIII. Corps at 12 noon, March 27.
The 4th Canadian Division was warned for relief by the 46th Division on the night 27th/28th, and would then come into General Headquarters Reserve.
The 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions had been placed under orders of the Third Army.
Thus, under the pressure of circumstances, the four Canadian Divisions were to be removed from my command, placed in two different Armies (Third and First), and under command of three different Corps (VI., XVII. and XIII.).
This disposition of the Canadian troops was not satisfactory, and on receipt of the orders above referred to I made strong representation to First Army, and offered suggestions which to my mind would reconcile my claims (from the standpoint of Canadian policy) with the tactical and administrative requirements of the moment.
Divisions. The attack was renewed in the afternoon, north of the Scarpe, on the front of the 56th Division, but did not there meet with greater success. A certain amount of ground had, however, been captured by the enemy.
The troops of the Canadian Corps were not directly engaged in this fighting.
The renewed attack on the 56th Division had considerably lowered its power of resistance. German prisoners captured in the morning were insistent that the attack would be renewed again on the 29th, by storm troops which had been held in reserve for the purpose of capturing the Vimy Ridge by attacking it from the South. It was most urgent that the 56th Division should be supported without delay.
I received instructions from the First Army at 8.15 a.m., March 28, to the effect that the 4th Canadian Division, then holding the Lens-St.
Emile-Hill 70 Sector, would be relieved on the night of the 28th/29th by the 46th British Division, I. Corps, and would in turn relieve the 56th British Division in the Oppy-Gavrelle Sector.
On the completion of this relief the Canadian Corps would relieve the XIII. Corps, and I would assume command of the 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisions.
In the meantime, all the battalions which the 4th Canadian Division could spare were to be sent at once by the quickest way to the support of the 56th Division.
The 4th Canadian Division, therefore, immediately organised a Composite Brigade, under Brigadier-General V. W. Odium, consisting of the three reserve battalions of the 10th, 11th and 12th Brigades, and the support battalions of the 11th and 12th Brigades. This Composite Brigade was moved in haste by light railway and lorry to the vicinity of Mont St. Eloi, from whence it marched into reserve positions during daylight on the 28th.
On the night of the 28th/29th the Units of the 56th Division which had been most heavily engaged were relieved by these five Canadian battalions, which came under orders of the 3rd Canadian Division.
It was not until about 10.00 p.m. on the night of the 28th/29th that the leading troops of the 46th Division arrived and began to relieve the 4th Canadian Division.
In view of the seriousness of the situation, Units of the 4th Canadian Division were moved, as the relief progressed, (642) I 114 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
by lorry and light railway to Neuville St. Vaast, and marched quickly into the line to relieve elements of the 56th Division.
Due to the energy shown by the G.O.C., 4th Canadian Division (Maj.-Gen. Sir D. Watson), and his staff, and to the initiative and discipline of his troops, this difficult three-cornered relief, under the menace of an impending attack, was quickly and smoothly carried out.
On the morning of the 29th, at 8.00 a.m., the G.O.C., 4th Canadian Division, handed over command of the Lens-St. EmileHill 70 Sector to the G.O.C., 46th Division, I. Corps, and the I. Corps took over this sector from the Canadian Corps at 8.30 a.m. on the same day.
At 6.45 a.m. on March 30, the relief of the 56th Division by the 4th Canadian Division having been completed, the command of the XIII.
Corps front passed to Canadian Corps.
This was the first result of my representations regarding the removal of the Canadian Troops from the control of the Canadian Corps.
The situation of the Canadian Divisions at noon, March 30, was as follows (see Sketch No. 5):— Third Army.
Under VI. Corps—2nd Canadian Division: Neuville Vitasse Sector.
Under XVII. Corps—1st Canadian Division: Telegraph Hill Sector.
Under Canadian Corps—3rd Canadian Division: Acheville Mericourt-Avion Sector.
Under Canadian Corps—4th Canadian Division: Gavrelle Oppy Sector.