«LONDON PRINTED BY AUTHORITY OF THE MINISTRY, OVERSEAS MILITARY FORCES OF CANADA. REPORT of the MINISTRY Overseas Military Forces of Canada LONDON ...»
I was notified that two British Divisions were held in Army Reserve, and could be made available in the event of certain situations developing.
The total Artillery at my disposal amounted to 17 Brigades of Field Artillery and nine Brigades of Heavy Artillery, plus four additional batteries of long-range guns.
The enemy troops were believed to consist of 24 battalions (less than three divisions) in the forward area and about six battalions in support, the latter belonging to Divisions on the French front, but known to be situated within the area we were to attack. It was believed that the enemy had four Divisions in reserve immediately available, and that two of these were west of the Hindenburg Line.
The Scheme of Attack.—The general scheme of attack was to overrun rapidly the enemy's forward area to a depth of about 3,600 yards under cover of a dense artillery barrage which would begin at zero hour ;
then without halting to seize the Red Line, relying on the help of Tanks to overcome the machine gun defences. At that moment the Cavalry was to pass through the Infantry and seize the area as far as the.Blue Dotted Line, supported on its right flank by the Canadian Corps Operations. 137 Independent Force. The Cavalry was to be followed as quickly as possible by the 4th Canadian Division, passing through the 3rd Canadian Division on the right, and by Reserve Brigades of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions in the centre and on the left. Every effort was to be made to exploit success wherever it occurred. Special arrangements had been made to support the attack beyond the Green Line as long as possible with Heavy Artillery, and sections of Field Artillery were detailed to advance in close support of the attacking Infantry.
The attack had been synchronised with the Australians, who were to jump off at the same hour as the Canadian Corps. The First French Army was to submit the Bois de Moreuil to a 45-minute bombardment before developing Infantry action, but the General Officer Commanding had agreed that the bombardment should only begin at zero hour.
The Canadian Corps being, as it were, the spearhead of the attack, the movements of other formations were to be synchronised with ours.
At 10.00 a.m. on the morning of August 5 I took over command of the battle front, then held by the 4th Australian Division. During the hours of darkness on the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th the attacking Canadian troops relieved the Australian troops, with the exception of those holding the outpost line, who remained in position until the night 7th/8th.
Dispositions.—The dispositions of the Canadian Corps on the
morning of the 8th at zero hour were as follows:
On the right—the 3rd Canadian Division, in liaison with the French.
In the center—the 1st Canadian Division.
On the left—the 2nd Canadian Division, in liaison with the Australians.
In Reserve—behind the 3rd Canadian Division the 4th Canadian Division.
Each of these Divisions had their allotment of Tanks. East of the Noye River, the 3rd Cavalry Division. Behind Gentelles Wood, the Canadian Independent Force.
The Battle.—At 4.20 a.m., August 8, the initial assault was delivered on the entire Army front of attack, and the First French Army opened their bombardment.
The attack made satisfactory progress from the outset on the whole front. (See Sketch No. 9.) 138 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
East of Hourges, opposite the 3rd Canadian Division, the high ground which dominated our front and a portion of the French front had been seized quickly by the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade (BrigadierGeneral D. M. Ormond), and the way was opened for the Canadian Independent Force and the 4th Canadian Division.
The very complete arrangements made by the 3rd Canadian Division to keep the bridge open, and to repair the road quickly, allowed the reserves to go forward without delay. The heavy task of the Engineers was remarkably well carried out.
By the afternoon the Canadian Corps had gained all its objectives, with the exception of a few hundred yards on the right in the vicinity of Le Quesnel, where stiff resistance was offered by unexpected reserves, but this was made good the following morning. The day's operations, in which the four Canadian Divisions took part, represented a maximum penetration of the enemy's defences of over eight miles, and included the capture of the following villages :-Hangard, Demuin,. Beaucourt, Aubercourt, Courcelles, Ignaucourt, Cayeux, Caix, Marcelcave, Wiencourt, l'Equipee, and Guillaucourt. In addition to these, the Canadian Independent Force assisted the French in the capture of Mezieres, which was holding up their advance.
The surprise had been complete and overwhelming. The prisoners stated that they had no idea that an attack was, impending, and captured documents did not indicate that any of our preparations had been detected. The noise of our Tanks going to the final position of assembly had been heard by some men and reported, but no deduction appears to have been made regarding this. An officer stated that the Canadians were believed to be on the Kemmel front.
On the following day, the 9th, the advance was continued with the 3rd, 1st, and 2nd Canadian Divisions in the line, the 4th Canadian Division being held in Corps Reserve. Substantial progress was made, and by evening the average depth. of our advance was about four miles, with a maximum of 6J miles at some points. The following additional villages were captured :-Le Quesnel, Folies, Bouchoir, Beaufort, Waivillers,. Rouvroy, Vrely, Meharicourt and Rosieres.
The Infantry and Tanks of the 3rd Canadian Division and the Canadian Independent Force co-operated with the French in the capture of Arvillers.
Corps Operations. 139 During the day the enemy's resistance stiffened considerably, and whatever gains were made resulted from heavy Infantry fighting against fresh troops, with only a few Tanks available for support.
This advance had brought our troops into the area of the trenches and defences occupied prior to the Somme operations in 1916. These trenches, while not in a good state of repair, were, nevertheless, protected by a considerable amount of wire, and lent themselves readily to a very stubborn machinegun defence.
The attack was continued on the morning of the 10th,. with the 3rd Canadian Division on the right and the 4th Canadian Division on the left, the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions being held in Corps Reserve. After the 3rd Canadian Division had taken the village of Le Quesnoy-enSanterre, the 32nd Division,, which had come under the Canadian Corps on the night 9th/10th, and had been ordered to relieve the 3rd Canadian Division, passed through it and advanced the line somewhat further through the old British trenches west of Parvillers and Damery. The 4th Canadian Division during the day succeeded, after very hard fighting, in occupying Fouquescourt,. Maucourt, Chilly and Hallu.
During the night 10th/11th a strong enemy counterattack developed against a part of the front of the 4th Canadian Division east of Hallu.
This counter-attack was beaten off, but owing to general conditions the line at that point was slightly withdrawn to the railway embankment immediately to the west of Hallu.. Subsequent upon this slight withdrawal, and with a view to, reducing the existing salient forward of Chilly, the line was. further withdrawn to the eastern outskirts of that village.
On the 11th, at 9.30 a.m., the 32nd Division launched an attack against Damery, but was not successful. The 4th. Canadian Division improved their line by advancing it locally to reduce the Chilly salient, which was still very pronounced.
During the night 11th/12th the 32nd Division and 4th. Canadian Division were relieved by the 3rd and 2nd Canadian Divisions respectively.
It now became increasingly apparent that strong enemy reserves had been sent forward to stem our advance Six fresh Divisions and a large number of light and heavy batteries. had been brought in, and were fighting hard in a strongly entrenched defensive position.
140 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
I considered that it was inadvisable to try to progress mainly by Infantry fighting, and recommended that the operations should be slackened to give time to organise a set piece attack on a broad front.
I further suggested that rather than expose the Canadian Corps to losses without adequate results it should be withdrawn from this front, rested for a few days, and used to make another surprise attack in the direction of Bapaume.
Plans to organise a set piece attack to take place on August 15 or 16, and having for its objective the Roye-LiencourtOmiecourt Road, were prepared. This operation was to be carried out in conjunction with the French and the Australian Corps.
The 12th, 13th and 14th were characterised chiefly by patrol encounters and local trench fighting. The 3rd Canadian Division cleared the network of trenches between Fouquescourt and Parvillers, and advanced the line as far as the northern and western edge of Parvillers and Damery. These two villages were captured in the evening of the 15th, and were held in spite of heavy counter-attacks. Bois de Damery was also taken, and this enabled the French to capture the important position known as Bois-en-Z.
On the nights 15th, 16th, and 16th/17th the 1st Canadian Division relieved the 3rd Canadian Division, the latter being withdrawn to Corps Reserve.
Progress was made during the 16th/17th, the enemy being driven out of Fransart by the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade (Brig.-General R.
Rennie) of the 2nd Canadian Division, and out of La Chavatte by the 1st Canadian Division, our line on the right being advanced in co-operation with the French.
The relief of the 2nd Canadian Division by the 4th Canadian Division was carried out on the nights 15th/16th and 16th/17th, the former being withdrawn to Corps Reserve on the 17th.
The operation, which had been projected for August 16, _had been postponed, and it had been decided to transfer the Canadian Corps back to the First Army, the move to begin by strategical trains on the 19th.
The 18th was quiet along the front, but on the 19th the 4th Canadian Division carried out a minor operation near Chilly, which greatly improved our line in that neighbourhood. Four hostile counter-attacks to recover the newly-won ground were..beaten off during the night.
Corps Operations. 141 On the 19th, the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions started their move to First Army, and on the night 19th/20th the relief of the 1st Canadian Division by the French commenced.
This relief was completed on the 22nd, and the 1st Canadian Division was placed in Corps Reserve.
On the 22nd I handed over command of the Canadian Corps front, and of the 1st and 4th Canadian Divisions, 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, the 8th Army Brigade, C.F.A., and the C.C.H.A., to the G.O.C., Australian Corps, and my Headquarters moved north to Hautecloque, opening there at 10.00 a.m. on the same day.
Between August 8 and 22 the Canadian Corps fought against 15 German Divisions : of these 10 were directly engaged and thoroughly defeated, prisoners being captured from almost every one of their battalions ; the five other Divisions, fighting astride our flanks, were only partially engaged by us.
In the same period the Canadian Corps captured 9,131 prisoners, 190 guns of all calibres, and more than 1,000 machine guns and trench mortars.
The greatest depth penetrated approximated to 14 miles, and an area of over 67 square miles containing 27 towns and villages had been liberated.
The casualties suffered by the Canadian Corps in the 14 days' heavy fighting amounted to— Officers. Other Ranks Killed
Considering the number of German Divisions engaged, and the results achieved, the casualties-were very light.
Following the deep advance effected on August 8 and 9, the French Third Army attacked at 4.20 a.m. on the 10th astride the Paris-Roye Road, and advanced rapidly in the general direction of Roye. The French First Army extended the front of attack, and capturing Montdidier pushed on also in the general direction of Roye.
On the 20th the front of attack was further extended west of Soissons in the direction of Noyon.
142 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
The battle was now in full swing on the centre and southern parts of the Somme salient. North of the Somme the British Third Army made some local attacks on the 21st, and on the 24th attacked heavily on a broad front in the direction of Bapaume.
On the whole Somme salient the Germans were retiring slowly, fighting a stubborn rearguard action, actively pressed everywhere by the Allied Armies. (See Sketch No. 9a.) Transfer to First Army Area.—The transfer of the Canadian Corps to the First Army area was effected without serious difficulty and in a very short time.
As already stated, the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions.entrained and embussed in the Boves area on the nights 19th/20th and 20th/21st August respectively. They detrained and debussed on the 20th and 21st in the Bouquemaison area, whence they proceeded by route march to the Etrun and Hermaville areas.
Passing under the XVII. Corps the 2nd Canadian Division relieved, on the nights 22nd/23rd and 23rd/24th part of the 15th Division in the line in the Neuville Vitasse-Telegraph Hill.sector, the G.O.C. 2nd Canadian Division assuming command of that front at 9.30 p.m., August 23.
Headquarters, Canadian Corps, moved from Hautecloque to Noyelle Vion on the 23rd, and at 12 noon that day I assumed -command of the XVII. Corps front, extending from Neuville Vitasse to Gavrelle, the 15th and 51st (British) Divisions coming under my orders.
On the night 23rd/24th the 3rd Canadian Division relieved the balance of the 15th Division in the line from the Arras-Cambrai Road to the Scarpe River, immediately on the left of the 2nd Canadian Division ;
the command of this centre sector passing to the G.O.C. 3rd Canadian Division on August 24 at 10.00 a.m.
On the 25th the 1st Canadian Division detrained at Tincques, Savy, and Aubigny, returning under the Canadian Corps, and the 4th Canadian Division rejoined the Corps on the 28th, having been relieved in the line on the Amiens front on the 25th by the 34th and 35th French Divisions.