«LONDON PRINTED BY AUTHORITY OF THE MINISTRY, OVERSEAS MILITARY FORCES OF CANADA. REPORT of the MINISTRY Overseas Military Forces of Canada LONDON ...»
In furtherance of those of my suggestions which had been accepted, it was arranged that the 1st Canadian Division should relieve the 4th British Division astride the Scarpe on the 7th/8th April, and come under orders of Canadian Corps ; the Army boundaries being altered.so as to include the sector taken over by the 1st Canadian Division in the First Army front.
In the meantime, on the night 28th/29th, owing to operations astride the River Scarpe, the front line system had been abandoned under orders of the XIII. Corps and the troops withdrawn to the Blue Line in front of the Bailleul-WillervalChaudiere-Hirondelle Line, as far north as the Mericourt Sector.
Corps Operations. 115 This Blue Line was originally sited and constructed as an intermediate position, and consisted in most parts of a single trench none too plentifully supplied with dug-outs. This meant that until a support line was dug and made continuous the troops had to be kept in strength in the front line, subject to heavy casualties from hostile shelling and. to probable annihilation in case of an organised attack.
Any advance beyond the Blue Line on the 4th Canadian Division front would have brought the Germans within assaulting distance of the weakest part of the Vimy Ridge, and the severity of the shelling seemed to indicate that a renewal of their attacks was probable.
I therefore directed that every effort should be made to give more depth to our new front line system by pushing forward a line of outposts and by digging a continuous support line, as well as by constructing reserve lines at certain points of greater tactical importance. Switch lines facing south were also sited and dug or improved.
Every available man was mustered for this vital work, and the need of properly organised Engineer Services was very keenly felt.
To increase the depth of our defences, Machine Gun Detachments were extemporised by borrowing men from the Machine Gun Battalions, who had then completed their organisation on an eight-battery basis.
Some 50 extra machine guns were secured from Ordnance and other sources, and also. a number of extra Lewis guns.
Personnel from the Canadian Light Horse and the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion were organised in Lewis and Hotchkiss Gun Detachments and sent forward to man the defences in Vimy and Willerval localities, under orders of the 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisions.
The Machine Gun Companies of the 5th Canadian Division had arrived in France on March 25, and in view of the extreme urgency of the situation the personnel and armament had been moved by lorries, sent specially by Canadian Corps, from Le Havre to Verdrel, where they were in Corps Reserve.
Their horse transport, having now arrived, these Machine Gun Companies (17th, 18th, and 19th) were moved to the Vimy Ridge and allotted definite positions of defence on March 30.
The relief of the 4th British Division by the 1st Canadian Division was completed at 7.00 p.m., April 8, and at that hour I (642) 12 116 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
took command of this additional sector astride the River Scarpe.
The Front held by the Canadian Corps on April 8, 1918, was approximately 16,000 yards in length. It will be remembered that the, 2nd Canadian Division under the VI. Corps (Third Army) was holding 6,000 yards of front, making a total of 22,000 yards of front held by Canadian troops. (See Sketch No. 6.) Battle of the Lys.—On April 9 the Germans attacked on the Lys Front between La Bassee and Armentieres. Making rapid progress, they crossed the Lys River on the 10th, and on the following days advanced west of Merville-Bailleul. They were well held at Givenchy by the 55th Division and their attack made no progress southwards.
The Canadian Corps was not involved in this fighting, but it now found itself in a deep salient, following with anxiety the development of the Battle of the Lys.
Orders had been issued (9/4/18) for the 2nd Canadian Division to be relieved from the line on the VI. Corps front and to then come into Canadian Corps Reserve in the Chateau de la Haie Area. These orders were now cancelled.
The Battle of the Lys added a new burden to the already sorely tried British Army, and it was imperative that troops should at once be made available to stop the German advance.
On the 10th, at 8.40 p.m., I received orders from First Army to extend my front by taking over from the I. Corps the line held by the 46th Division (Lens-St. Emile-Hill 70 sector), the relief to be commenced on April 11 and to be completed as soon as possible. This relief was completed on the night of the 12th/13th by the 3rd Canadian Division ; concurrently with it, the inter-Divisional boundaries were readjusted and the Artillery redistributed to meet as well as possible the new conditions.
The Front held by the three Divisions then in the Canadian Corps had a length of approximately 29,000 yards ; and of necessity the line was held very thinly and without much depth.
with strong fighting patrols and bold raiding parties. Gas was also projected on numerous occasions.
This activity on the immediate flank of the Lys salient greatly perturbed the enemy, who gave many indications of nervous uncertainty.
The situation was critical, and extensive steps were taken at once to increase the ability of the Canadian Corps to withstand hostile attacks.
The success of the German offensives emphasised the need of greater depth for defensive dispositions, which depend very largely on the stopping power of the machine gun. Unfortunately the number of machine guns with a Division was inadequate to give the required depth of defence on a front exceeding 4,000 yards in length. Each of my Divisions was now holding a front approximately 10,000 yards in length, and the extemporised Machine Gun Detachments formed previously, added to the Machine Gun Companies of the 5th Canadian Division, in my opinion were far from sufficient for the task.
I decided, therefore, to add a third Company of four Batteries to each Battalion of the C.M.G. Corps, thus bringing up to 96 the number of machine guns in each Canadian Division. This entailed an increase in personnel of approximately 50 per cent. of the strength of each Machine Gun Battalion.
These Companies were formed provisionally on April 12 by withdrawing 50 men from each Infantry Battalion. Of these men a portion was sent to the Machine Gun Battalion to be combined with the trained personnel, so that each machine gun crew would include at least four trained gunners. The remainder of the Infantry personnel withdrawn as above stated was sent to a special Machine Gun Depot, formed for the purpose, and there underwent an abridged but intensive course of training. Thus an immediate supply of reinforcements was ensured.
Twenty three-ton lorries had been borrowed from General Headquarters to supply a modicum of transport to the new Units, and on April 13 some of the new Machine Gun Batteries were already in the line at critical points.
Sufficient troops were not now available to garrison the local defences of Vimy Ridge, or to reinforce parts of the front if the enemy was successful in effecting a deep penetration.
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Two special Brigades were therefore organised as under The Hughes Brigade.—Commanded by Lieut.-Colonel H. T.
Hughes, and composed of:— " A " Battalion—185th, 176th, 250th Tunnelling Companies R.E., and 2nd, 4th,' and 5th Army Troops Companies C.E.
" B " Battalion—1st Canadian Divisional Wing.
" C " Battalion—4th Canadian Divisional Wing.
Approximate strength-Officers, 184; Other Ranks, 4,050.
McPhail's Brigade.—Commanded by Lieut.-Col. A. McPhail, and composed of:— " D " Battalion—(5th Canadian Division Engineers, Pioneer Reinforcements).
(1st Tunnelling Company C.E. and Third Army Troops Company C.E.) " C " Battalion—2nd Canadian Divisional Wing.
" C " Battalion—3rd Canadian Divisional Wing.
Approximate strength-Officers, 148; Other Ranks, 4,628.
Proper staffs were organised for these Brigades and several alternative plans of engagement providing for different contingencies were prepared and practised.
In addition to these measures, each Division organised its own " last resort " Reserves, consisting of the personnel of the Infantry Battalions left at transport lines, transport personnel and Divisional Headquarters.
All these Units were given a refresher course in musketry and drill and they were detailed to defend definite localities.
Two Companies of the 11th Tank Battalion (24 Tanks) were placed at the disposal of the Canadian Corps on April 13. These Tanks had officers, drivers, and armament, but no other personnel. A sufficient number of trained Lewis gunners were found from the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Canadian Divisional Wings, and the C.F.A. supplied the required number of gunners.
In the gap between the Souchez River and Boisen-Hache, facing east-three Tanks.
On the Ridge line behind Angres, facing east-three Tanks.
It was intended that these Tanks should form points of resistance to check any forward flow of hostile forces and so give time to our Infantry to re-form in case they should be forced back. In any event the Tanks were to remain in action for 12 hours after coming in contact with the enemy and thus gain the time so essential in a crisis.
The 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, now returned from the Amiens battle, was held as a mobile reserve at one hour's notice.
Bridges, railways, roads and pumping stations were prepared for demolition, to be blown up as a last resort.
Every contingency was prepared for down to the minutest detail, and nothing could be more inspiring than to witness the extraordinary spirit displayed by everybody in their untiring labour and ceaseless vigilance.
Extended almost to the breaking point, in danger of being annihilated by overwhelming attacks, the Corps confidently awaited the assault. All ranks of the Corps were unanimous in their ardent resolve to hold to the last every inch of the ground entrusted to their keeping.
It was for them a matter of great pride that their Front was substantially the only part of the British line which had not budged, and one and all felt that it could not budge so long as they were alive.
Eventually, the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Canadian Divisions were relieved in their sectors by the 15th, 51st, 52nd, 20th and 24th British Divisions. The relief started on May 1 and was completed on the 7th.
As the relief progressed, the Canadian Corps handed over command of the Avion-Lens-St. Emile-Hill 70 sectors to the XVIII. Corps and the balance of the front to the XVII. Corps.
The length of front held by the Canadian Corps at the various stages of the German offensive has been given previously, but it is here recalled that from April 10 until relieved the Corps held a line exceeding 29,000 yards in length ; the 2nd Canadian Division, then with the VI. Corps, was holding 6,000 yards of front, making a total length of 35,000 yards of front held by the four Canadian Divisions.
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The total length of the line held by the British Army between the Oise and the sea was approximately 100 miles, therefore the Canadian Troops were holding approximately one-fifth of the total front.
Without wishing to draw from this fact any exaggerated conclusion, it is pointed out that although the Canadian Corps did not, during this period, have to repulse any German attacks on its front, it nevertheless played a part worthy of its strength during that period.
3rd Period. May 7 to July 15.
The depth to which the enemy had penetrated in the Somme and the Lys Valleys had created a situation of extreme gravity with regard to the maintenance of communication.
It was known that notwithstanding the heavy losses suffered by the Germans they still enjoyed a sufficient superiority of forces to retain the initiative, and a renewal of their attacks on the line between the Oise and the sea was possible.
In prevision of these expected attacks, reserves comprising British and French Divisions were assembled behind the threatened front.
Tactical Dispositions.—On completion of the relief on May 7, with the exception of the 2nd Canadian Division which was still in the line in the Third Army area, the Canadian Corps was placed in the General Headquarters Reserve in the First Army area and disposed as follows:— Headquarters
1st Canadian Division................ Le Cauroy Area.
3rd Canadian Division............... St. Hilaire Area.
4th Canadian Division................ Monchy-Breton Area.
Under instructions received from First Army, one Infantry Brigade and one Machine Gun Company from each Canadian Division were billeted well for wardin support of the Corps in the line as follows :—
These Brigades were kept under one hour's notice from 5.00 a.m. to
7.00 a.m. daily and under four hours' notice during the remainder of the day. The remainder of the Canadian Corps was under four hours' notice.
Reconnaissances of the front which the Corps would have tp support in case of an attack were ordered and carried out by Staff and Regimental Officers.
The Brigades billeted forward were relieved from time to time under Divisional arrangements.
On May 23 the 74th British Division, newly arrived in France from Palestine, came under Canadian Corps for administration and training.
It was then necessary to rearrange the areas amongst the Divisions in the Corps to make room for the 74th Division and to equalise the training facilities.
With the exception of these moves, the disposition of the Canadian Corps remained substantially the same until. June 25, 1918.
Organisation.—The reorganisation of most branches had been delayed by the considerable; efforts of the preceding months, by the shortage of transport and materiel consequent on the great demands made by the reorganisation of British Units, and by the simultaneous requirements of the American Army, which was, in part, being equipped from British stores. In some cases also the necessary authority had not yet been obtained.
On May 24, 1918, it was decided to proceed with the reorganisation of the Canadian Engineers, for which authority had been obtained on March 21, 1918, but which had not been begun earlier for the reasons mentioned above.