«LONDON PRINTED BY AUTHORITY OF THE MINISTRY, OVERSEAS MILITARY FORCES OF CANADA. REPORT of the MINISTRY Overseas Military Forces of Canada LONDON ...»
Meanwhile the Canadian Divisions were busy preparing their scheme of attack on Orange Hill, and numerous Tanks were ostentatiously assembled in the vicinity of St. Pol.
A readjustment of boundaries between Divisions was made during the night July 23/24, when the 1st Canadian Division relieved the Left Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division in the Neuville Vitasse Sector, which Sector came under the.Canadian Corps (First Army). The remainder of the front held by the 3rd Canadian Division was taken over by the 59th British Division, and on completion of these reliefs, on July 27, the 3rd Canadian Division returned under Canadian Corps, and was held in General Headquarters Reserve in the Hermaville area.
On July 29 the XVII. Corps was ordered by First Army to relieve the Canadian Corps in the line during the night July 31/August 1, and August 1/2, reliefs to be completed by daylight on August 2, the Command of the Canadian Corps (4342) x 130 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
front to pass to the General Officer Commanding XVII. Corps at 10.00 a.m., July 30, at which hour all Units and formations then in the Canadian Corps area were to come under the command of the XVII.
Corps. This Army order stated plainly that the Canadian Corps would be prepared to move to Second Army, which, as indicated above, was then holding the northern section of the British front.
The 27th Canadian Infantry Battalion and the 4th C.M.R. Battalion respectively, from the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions, were moved by strategical train to Second Army area where they were placed in the line.
They did not rejoin their Divisions until August 6.
On this day, July 29, the Canadian Divisional Commanders were personally informed of the operations which were to take place on the Fourth Army front, and they were instructed not to discuss the operations with any of their subordinateCommanders.
On July 30 Canadian Corps Headquarters handed over to the XVII.
Corps at 10.00 a.m., leaving a liaison officer to keep in touch with the 1st and 4th Canadian Divisions, which were still in the line.
The Canadian Corps Headquarters moved the same day to Molliens Vidame, and the transfer of the Canadian Corps from First Army area to Fourth Army area began. (See Sketch No. 8.) When this move was well under way, and in order to continue to deceive our troops as to their eventual employment, a letter issued by First Army was repeated to all Canadian Divisions and communicated by them to their formations and Units, stating that the Canadian Corps was being transferred to the Fourth Army area, where it would be held in General Headquarters Reserve and be prepared in case of attack to :—
This move, beginning on July 30, was completed on August 7/8, and was carried out in three main phases as follows:—
1. Move from the line to embussing or entraining areas (west of Arras).
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2. Move from the embussing and entraining areas to the concentration area (south-west of Amiens, a distance of approximately 40 miles).
3. Approach march to battle assembly positions.
These moves were carried out by strategical train, buses and route marches with the utmost secrecy, the entraining and detraining taking place during the hours of darkness.
The entire move to the concentration area was carried out without serious hitch. The dismounted personnel had no marching of any great length, and all ranks arrived fresh and in excellent spirits. Owing to the short space of time available to transport troops and get them into the concentration area, it was necessary for Divisions to entrain the Infantry first so as to ensure their having a rest before starting on the march of approach. The area of concentration was well wooded, and it was possible to conceal the movements then in progress.
All moves forward of the Corps concentration area towards the battle assembly positions were carried out during the hours of darkness, and no movement of troops in formed bodies was permitted by day east of a north and south line through Molliens Vida me.
The approach march was especially difficult, the nights were very dark, the country new and most of the roads very narrow. In the case of the 1st Canadian Division especially, the moves were very hard on the transport sections. Owing to the speed necessary to enable the troops to get into position in time, the greater part of the approach march was accomplished in one jump by the use of buses. This necessitated a forced march of upwards of 30 kilometres for all horsed transport before rejoining their Units in the concentration area. This was particularly trying for the Train Companies, who throughout the march had to carry on with their normal supply duties. All these moves had to be carried out during the hours of darkness, a severe handicap, as the nights were very short at this time of the year.
Administrative Arrangements.—While the moves of the Canadian Divisions were in progress the Administrative Branches of the Corps were facing a most difficult problem. The battle area to be taken over had just passed from the French to the Australians, and none of the organisations necessary for British troops existed, part of the scheme to ensure secrecy being that nothing should be done in the area which might arouse the suspicion of the enemy.
The D.A. and Q.M.G. of the Canadian Corps (Brig.-General G. J.
Farmar) had received no information regarding the actual operation until July 29.
The difficulties attending the accumulation of all kinds of ammunition required for the operation in such a short space of time were very great. The nearest Army dump from which we could draw ammunition was so far away that lorries could not make more than one trip a day. The advanced refilling points had not been selected, and the dumping of ammunition at these points did not really begin until August
3. There was a great shortage of lorries, a considerable number of the heavy Artillery Brigades arriving only two or three days before the attack. When the lorries of these Brigades became available, there was not sufficient petrol to keep all of them in operation.
In addition, all forward traffic was restricted to two main channels, the Amiens-Roye Road and the Amiens-Villers Brettoneux Road. The congestion on the latter was increased by reason of its being used in common with the Australian Corps.
There were no dumps of trench ammunition in the area, and, notwithstanding all efforts made by our Administrative Branches in that direction, the supply of small arms ammunition and bombs was not quite adequate. As a matter of fact, some Units, failing to obtain British handgrenades in time, used French grenades gathered at the French dumps.
The lack of adequate preparations to receive the large number of horses resulting from the great concentration of Artillery caused endless columns of horses to block the roads in the vicinity of the watering points.
Fortunately, the weather was unfavourable for flying, being cloudy and misty till August 6, and the abnormal traffic on roads resulting from these conditions remained undetected by the Germans.
With a view to drowning the noise of the Tank Engines, large bombing 'planes flew over the area while the Tanks moved forward into position from their lying-up places.
General Situation.—The general situation had now undergone very material changes.
A sudden stroke at the appropriate time had definitely cripples. the plans for further offensive action which the Germans had formed.
The Allied counter-offensive of July 18, on the SoissonsChateau Thierry front, following the breakdown of the German attacks of July 15 east and west of Rheims, left a large portion of the German Army badly involved in a deep salient, and on July 26, having lost all hope of extricating their troops in any other way, the German Higher Command ordered a retirement on that part of the Front to the line of the Aisne River.
This had the immediate local effect of considerably shortening the Allied front and relieving the pressure on Paris., By this time the Germans had learned that they could not win, and so they began to follow a defensive policy. (This is revealed by their retirements on the Avre and the Ancre, where, in an endeavour to obtain better defensive positions, they abandoned positions favourable to the resumption of offensive operations.) The magnitude of the German forces engaged on the RheimsSoissons front, suffering as they were from the miscarriage of their offensive and from the effects of the Allied counterstroke, was such that it affected adversely the general situation of their reserves, and created a condition favourable to further attacks by our forces elsewhere.
The first step towards the exploitation of these favourable conditions was the enlargement by Marshal Foch of the operations against the salient of the Somme.
The operation east of Amiens which, as originally conceived, was of a purely local character, was now given a much larger scope, namely, the reduction of the entire salient created by the successful German offensive on March 21 and following days.
Just as the reduction of the salient of the Marne had been determined primarily by the successful Allied counter-attack of July 18, the reduction of the salient of the Somme was determined primarily by the deep and sudden penetration effected by our attack of August 8.
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General Scheme of Attack.—The outline of the operations of August 8 had now been definitely fixed and was substantially as follows:— The front of attack was to extend from Moreuil to Ville sur Ancre on a front of approximately 20,000 yards. The dispositions of the troops participating in the attack were as follows:— (a) On the right from Moreuil to Thennes (inclusive)—The First French Army under orders of Commanderin-Chief, British Army.
(b) In the centre from Thennes (exclusive) to the AmiensChaulnes Railway—The Canadian Corps.
(c) On the left from the Amiens—Chaulnes Railway to the Somme-The Australian Corps.
(d) The left flank of the Australian Corps was covered by the III.
(British) Corps attacking in the direction of Morlancourt.
The object of the attack was to push forward in the direction of the line Roye-Chaulnes with the least possible delay, thrusting the -enemy back in the general direction of Ham, and so facilitating the operations of the French on the front between Montdidier and Noyon.
The Battle Front of the Canadian Corps extended from a point about 800 yards south of Hourges to the Amiens-Chaulnes Railway. It crossed the River Luce about 800 yards northeast of Hourges, and remaining well west of Hangard passed through the western portion of Hangard Wood. The total length exceeded 8,500 yards in a straight line.
The right boundary was along the road Hourges-Villersaux-Erables for a distance of about 2,600 yards, then east of Bertin Wood (inclusive), thence along the Amiens-Roye Road, inclusive to the Canadian Corps, in liaison with the First French Army.
The left boundary was along the Amiens-Chaulnes Railway, inclusive to Canadian Corps, in liaison with the Australian Corps.
ii. The Red Line, just east of Mezieres--White House--Camp Vermont Farm-and the high ground east of Guillaucourt.
iii. The Blue Dotted Line, comprising the outer defences of Amiens, which ran east of the line Hangest-en Santerre--Le Quesnel--Caix--Harbonnieres.
This Blue Dotted Line was not meant to be a final objective, and the Cavalry was to exploit beyond it should the opportunity occur.
The average depth of penetration necessary to capture the Blue Dotted Line approximated to 14,000 yards.
The Ground.—The greater part of our forward area consisted of bare slopes exposed to enemy observation from the high ground south of the River Luce and east of Hourges ; the trenches were very rudimentary.
On the right the River Luce and the marshes, varying on. that portion of the front from 200 to 300 yards wide, created an obstacle impassable to troops. Here the only practicable access to the jumping-off line was by the bridge and the road from Domart to Hourges--a narrow defile about 200 yards long. This was commanded absolutely from the high ground.
immediately to the east, and more particularly from Dodo Wood and Moreuil Wood.
These conditions rendered the assembly of troops prior to the attack very difficult, while the siting of the forward field batteries was not an easy task.
Some distance west of the front line a small number of woods, villages and sunken roads afforded a certain amount of cover from view.
Gentelles Wood in particular was used very extensively for the assembly of Tanks as well as troops.
Opposite our front the ground consisted of a rolling plateau cut diagonally by the deep valley of the River Luce. This river flows almost due west through a strip of wooded marsh land some 300 yards wide, from which the sides of the valley rise steeply. Numerous ravines running generally north and south cut deep into the plateau, the ground between these ravines forming, as it were, tactical features difficult of access and more or less inter-supporting. Woods and copses are scattered over the area, and many compact and well-built villages surrounded by gardens and orchards formed conspicuous landmarks. The remainder was open, unfenced farm land, partly covered with fields of standing grain.
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The hostile defences consisted chiefly of unconnected -elements of trenches, and a vast number of machine gun posts scattered here and there, forming a fairly loose but very deep pattern.
The Troops.—In addition to the four Canadian Divisions, the following troops were placed under Canadian Corps for the operation:—
A mobile force was organised consisting of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigades, the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion, and a section of 6-in. Newton Mortars mounted on motor lorries. This force was named the Canadian Independent Force, placed under the command of BrigadierGeneral R. Brutinel, and given the task of co-operating with the Cavalry in the neighbourhood of the Amiens-Roye Road, covering the right flank of our right division and maintaining liaison with the French.