«LONDON PRINTED BY AUTHORITY OF THE MINISTRY, OVERSEAS MILITARY FORCES OF CANADA. REPORT of the MINISTRY Overseas Military Forces of Canada LONDON ...»
This required considerable time to arrange, and until September 27 no changes developed on the Corps front.
The obstacles which had stopped our advance also made our positions very strong defensively, and advantage was taken of this fact to rest and refit the Divisions. As much of the Corps Artillery as could be spared was withdrawn from the line to rest the men and horses.
The line was held very thinly, but active patrolling at nights and sniping were kept up. A complete programme of harassing fire by Artillery and Machine Guns was also put in force nightly. The Corps Heavy Artillery (Brigadier-General R. H. Massie) carried out wirecutting, counter-battery shoots and gas concentrations daily, in preparation for the eventual operations.
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Light railways, roads, bridges and water-points were constructed right up to the forward area, and the bridging material which would be required for the Canal du Nord was accumulated well forward.
Ammunition dumps were established at suitable places.
Detailed reconnaissances of the Canal and trenches were carried out by aeroplane, and also by daring patrols, and all available documents regarding the Canal construction were gathered with a view to preparing the plans for the future attack.
On September 13 Major-General (then Brigadier-General) F. O. W.
Loomis took over command of the 3rd Canadian Division from MajorGeneral L. J. Lipsett, who went to command the 4th (British) Division ;
the former was succeeded in command of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade by BrigadierGeneral (then Lieut.-Colonel) R. P. Clark.
The Task.—On September 15 I received the details of a large operation to be carried out later in the month by the Third and Fourth Armies, in which the Canadian Corps was to co-operate by crossing the Canal, and by, capturing Bourlon Wood and the high ground to the north-east of it, to protect the left flank of the attack.
The XXII. Corps on the left was to take over the front held by the Canadian Corps to a point 1,200 yards north of the Arras-Cambrai Road, and the Canadian Corps was to take' over part of the front held by the XVII. Corps (Third Army) as far as Moeuvres (exclusive), which was to be the Canadian Corps right boundary for the attack.
On September 22 the task of the Corps was enlarged so as to include, in addition to the objectives already mentioned, the capture of the bridges over the Canal-de-l'Escaut, north of Cambrai, and the high ground overlooking the Sensee Valley. The right boundary was not altered. To assist in carrying out the above additional task, the 11th Division and the 7th Tank Battalion were placed under my orders.
Corps Operations. 157 The date of this operation was definitely fixed for September 27, 1918, at dawn.
It was decided that the 4th and 1st Canadian Divisions would carry out the initial attack, capture the villages of Bourlon and Marquion respectively, and immediately thereafter seize Bourlon Wood and bring the line up to the high ground north of Bourlon Wood and east of Boisde-Cocret and Dartford Wood.
At this stage the 3rd Canadian Division would pass through the right of the 4th Canadian Division and advance from a line east of Bourlon Wood in an easterly direction towards Neuville-St. Remy, in liaison with the XVII. Corps.
The 11th Division was to come up on the left of the 1st Canadian Division and advance in a north-easterly direction towards Epinoy and Oisy le Verger. The 4th Canadian Division on the right centre was to advance towards Blecourt and the 1st Canadian Division on the left centre was to advance in the direction of Abancourt.
This attack was fraught with difficulties. On the Corps battle-front of 6,400 yards the Canal du Nord was impassable on the northern 3,800 yards. The Corps had, therefore, to cross the Canal du Nord on a front of 2,600 yards, and to expand later fanwise in a north-easterly direction to a front exceeding. 15,000 yards. This intricate manoeuvre called for most skilful leadership on the part of commanders, and the highest state of discipline on the part of the troops.
The assembly of the attacking troops in an extremely congested area known by the enemy to be the only one available was very dangerous, especially in view of the alertness of the enemy. A concentrated bombardment of this area prior to zero, particularly if gas was employed, was a dreaded possibility which could seriously affect the whole of the operation and possibly cause its total failure.
To meet such an eventuality careful arrangements were trade by the counter-battery staff officer to bring to bear a specially heavy neutralising fire on hostile batteries at any moment during the crucial period of preparation. These arrangements were to be put into effect, in any case, at zero hour, to neutralise the hostile defensive barrage on the front of attack.
With the exception of the 2nd Canadian Division which was now holding the entire front, and would be in Corps 158 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
Reserve at the time of the attack, every resource of the Canadian Corps was to be crowded in that narrow space.
The provision of an effective Artillery barrage presented considerable difficulty owing to the depth of the attack and its general direction. On the 4th Canadian Division front particularly, the depth to the initial objective was such that the batteries were compelled to move forward into captured ground and continue firing the barrage from these new positions. Provision was made for the advance of a number of batteries with their Echelons to the Canal line and beyond whilst the attack was in progress.
A large number of Machine Gun batteries were detailed to supply the initial barrage and, later, to advance in support of the Infantry.
Provisions were also made for Engineer Units to move forward immediately following the assaulting troops, to effect immediate repair to the roads and crossings of the Canal in order to enable the Artillery to move up in support of the Infantry.
The greatest precautions had been taken to ensure secrecy, and camouflage had been used extensively to prevent detection of the preparations of all kinds that were in progress.
Further to conceal our intentions, it was decided that no preliminary fighting to secure a jumping-off line would take place, and that the Germans would be left in possession of their positions west of the Canal until the hour of the attack. It was also hoped that, by letting the Germans retain this ground, their defensive barrage would remain well west of the Canal instead of being placed on the Canal itself, where the banks offered a serious obstacle and reduced very considerably the rate of advance of the assaulting troops.
On our right the XVII. Corps was to advance and capture FontaineNotre-Dame, in conjunction with the capture of Bourlon Wood by the 4th Canadian Division.
On the night September 25/26 the XXII. Corps on the left took over the front as far south as the Arras-Cambrai Road, and arranged to extend the Artillery and Machine Gun barrage to their front so as to deceive the enemy regarding actual flanks of the attack.
The 4th and 1st Canadian. Divisions went into the line on their respective battle fronts.
Corps Operations. 159 The 2nd Canadian Division, on completion of the relief, passed into Corps Reserve.
During the night September 26/27 all final adjustments and moves were made, and everything was ready before zero hour.
This was for everybody a night full of anxiety, but apart from the usual harassing fire and night bombing nothing untoward happened.
The Attack.—At 5.20 a.m., September 27, the attack was successfully launched, and in spite of all obstacles went well from the first.
The barrage was uniformly good, and the 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisional Artilleries, commanded respectively by Brigadier - General J.
S. Stewart and Brigadier - General W. B. M. King, were successful in advancing into captured ground, and continued the barrage as planned.
Early in the afternoon the First Phase of the attack was substantially over, and the readjustments of the fronts preparatory to the Second Phase were under way.
On the extreme right, however, the XVII. Corps had failed to keep pace with our advance, and our right flank, submitted to severe enfilade Machine Gun fire from the vicinity of Anneux, had to be refused for a considerable distance to retain touch with the left of the XVII. Corps ;
therefore, the encircling movement which was to have given us Bourlon Wood could not be developed.
Fully alive to the gravity of the situation which would be created on the flank of the Third Army by the failure to capture and hold Bourlon Wood, the 4th Canadian Division attacked from the north side of the Wood and captured all the high ground, pushing patrols as far as Fontaine-Notre-Dame.
"It is recalled here that Bourlon Wood, which is 110 metres high, dominates the ground as far south as Flequieres and Havrincourt ; and that its loss after very heavy fighting in November, 1917, during the first battle of Cambrai, caused eventually the withdrawal of the Third Army from a large portion of the ground they had won by their surprise attack."
A severe counter-attack launched from the direction of Raillencourt, against the left of the 4th Canadian Division, vas repulsed in the afternoon with heavy losses to the enemy.
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Owing to the situation on our right flank, already explained. the 3rd Canadian Division could not be engaged this day. The 1st Canadian Division and the 11th (British) Division, however, made substantial gains after the commencement of the Second Phase, the former capturing Haynecourt and crossing the Douai-Cambrai Road, and the latter pushing on and taking Epinoy and Oisy-le-Verger by evening.
The attack was continued on the 28th. The 3rd Canadian Division captured Fontaine-Notre-Dame (one of the XVII. Corps objectives), and, penetrating the Marcoing line, reached the western outskirts of St. Olle.
The 4th Canadian Division captured Raillencourt and Sailly, and the 11th (British) Division established posts in Aubencheul-au-Bac and occupied the Bois-de-Quesnoy. The 1st Canadian Division, in view of their advance of the previous day which had produced a considerable salient, did not push forward.
Heavy fighting characterised the 29th. The 3rd Canadian Division, the 4th Canadian Division, and the 1st Canadian Division all made progress in the face of severe opposition. The 3rd Canadian Division pushed the line forward to the junction of. the Arras and Bapaume Road, the western outskirts of Neuville St. Remy and the Douai-Cambrai Road.
They also cleared the Marquion line from the Bapaume-Cambrai Road southwards towards the Canal de l'Escaut. These trenches were in the XVII. Corps area, but it was difficult for our attack to progress leaving on its flank and rear this strongly held position. The 4th Canadian Division captured Sancourt, crossed the Douai-Cambrai Railway and entered Blecourt, but later withdrew to the line of the railway in the face of a heavy counter-attack. The necessity for this withdrawal was accentuated by the situation on the left. The 11th Division, in spite of two attempts, had been unable to occupy the high ground north-east of Epinoy. This had interfered materially with the progress of the 1st Canadian Division, and had prevented their holding positions gained early in the day in the neighbourhood of Abancourt Station, the relinquishment of which, in turn, endangered the flank of the 4th Canadian Division.
and Eswars. The second phase, to take place on the success of the first, provided for the seizing of the high ground overlooking the Sensee River by the 1st Canadian Division and 11th (British) Division. The attack commenced well, and the villages of Tilloy and Blecourt were captured by the 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisions respectively. A heavy counterattack, however, against the 4th Canadian Division and the left flank of the 3rd Canadian Division, assisted by exceptionally severe enfilade fire from the high ground to the north of the Blecourt-Bantigny Ravine, forced the line on the left back to the eastern outskirts of Sancourt. The second phase of the attack was not carried out, and the net gains for the day were the capture of Tilloy and some progress made on the right of the 3rd Canadian Division from Neuville St. Remy south. Prisoners taken during the day testified to the supreme importance, in the eyes of the enemy, of the positions held by him and the necessity that they be held at all costs.
The tremendous exertions and considerable casualties consequent upon the four days' almost continuous fighting had made heavy inroads on the freshness and efficiency of all arms, and it was questionable whether an immediate decision could be forced in the face of the heavy concentration of troops which our successful and, from the enemy's standpoint, dangerous advance, had drawn against us. On the other hand, it was known that the enemy had suffered severely, and it was quite possible that matters had reached a stage where he no longer considered the retention of this position worth the severe losses both in men and moral consequent upon a continuance of the defence. It was therefore decided that the assault would be continued on October 1, the four Divisions in line attacking simultaneously under a heavy barrage, coordinated by the G.O.C., R.A. During the night the XXII. Corps took over a portion of the front held by the 11th Division, the 56th Division becoming responsible for the defence of the relieved front at 6.00 a.m., October 1.
The attack made excellent progress in the early stages, and the troops reached the general line Canal de l'Escaut (east of Neuville St. Remy) Morenchies Wood - CuvillersBantigny (all inclusive).
The decision of the enemy to resist to the last quickly manifested itself. About 10.00 a.m. heavy counter-attacks developed up the Bantigny Ravine from the direction of Paillencourt. These, supplemented by enfilade fire from the high ground just south
of Abancourt, which still remained in the enemy's hands, due to a certain extent to the inability of the 11th Division on the left to make progress, were sufficient to press back our advanced troops. Pockets of the enemy in Blecourt and Bantigny continued to give trouble, and our line was ultimately forced by greatly superior numbers out of Cuvillers, Bantigny and Blecourt.