«LONDON PRINTED BY AUTHORITY OF THE MINISTRY, OVERSEAS MILITARY FORCES OF CANADA. REPORT of the MINISTRY Overseas Military Forces of Canada LONDON ...»
To continue to throw. tired troops against such opposition, without giving them an opportunity to refit and recuperate, was obviously inviting a serious failure, and I accordingly decided to break off the engagement. The five days' fighting had yielded practical gains of a very valuable nature, as well as 7,059 prisoners and 205 guns.
We had gone through the last organised system of defences on our front, and our advance constituted a direct threat on the rear of the troops immediately to the north of our left flank, and their withdrawal had now begun.
Although the ground gained on the 1st was not extensive, the effects of the battle and of the previous four days' fighting were far-reaching, and made possible the subsequent advances of October and November, in so far as the Divisions engaged against the Canadian Corps drew heavily on the enemy's reserves, which had now been greatly reduced.
It is worthy of note that the enemy employed six Divisions to reinforce the four Divisions already in the line, making a total of ten Divisions engaged since September 27 by the Canadian Corps. In addition to their 10 Divisional Artilleries and large number of heavy guns, these German Divisions had been reinforced by 13 Marksmen Machine Gun Companies.
In the same period only three additional Divisions and one Regiment were employed by the Germans to reinforce the front from Honnecourt to Cambrai, a front of approximately 18,000 yards in length.
This comparison of employment of reserves showed clearly that the enemy was greatly perturbed by the success of our advance, and the serious threat it offered especially to his northern defences.
Throughout this phase very heavy calls had been made on the Corps Artillery (Major-General E. W. B. Morrison) and the Canadian Engineers.
With the exception of the advances of the 1st Canadian and 11th (British) Divisions in the second stage of the attack Corps Operations. 163 of September 27, all operations carried out during the five days took place under cover of Artillery barrages. The amount of ammunition fired was exceptionally large, and it was only by the most strenuous efforts on the part of all ranks of the Artillery that the supply could be made to keep pace with the expenditure.
The success in this respect was to a large extent due to the exertion and skill displayed by the Canadian Engineers (MajorGeneral W. B.
Lindsay) in every branch of their activities, notably in bridge-building and repair of roads. The enemy had set a large number of Tank mines and "booby traps," and in one sector alone the Engineers removed over 200 Tank mines, thus greatly facilitating the operation in progress.
4th Phase.—The 2nd Canadian Division had been in close support throughout the day, and during the night October.1/2 relieved the 4th Canadian Division and parts of the 3rd and 1st Canadian Divisions in the line from the railway south of Tilloy to Blecourt inclusive. On relief, the 4th Canadian Division came into Corps Reserve in bivouacs in the Inchy-Queant Queant area.
The relief considerably thinned out the Infantry, and in anticipation of possible counter-attacks a large number of Machine Gun Batteries were placed in the line.
October 2 passed without any substantial change in the situation. The enemy's Artillery was very active throughout the day, and at 6.15 p.m. he delivered a determined counterattack, with a force estimated at about a Battalion strong, against the ridge N.E. of Tilloy, on the 2nd Canadian Division front. This counter-attack was repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy.
During the night October 2/3 the 11th Division extended its frontage to the right as far as Blecourt (inclusive), relieving the remainder of the 1st Canadian Division, who came into Corps Reserve west of the Canal on completion of the relief.
The dispositions of the Canadian Corps at noon, October 3, " were as follows:— In the line—the 3rd Canadian Division on the right on a done-Brigade front, from the Arras-Cambrai railway to the Cambrai-Douai railway south of Tilloy; the 2nd Canadian Division in the centre, on a two-Brigade front, extending to the northern outskirts of Blecourt, and the 11th Division (642) M2 164 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
on the left continuing the line to a point 1,000 yards south of Aubencheul-au-Bac.
In Corps Reserve-the 1st and 4th Canadian Divisions. The latter was moved to billets in the Haute Avesnes-Arras area on the night of October 7/8, to give more opportunity to rest and refit.
The period from October 3 to 8 passed without any material changes on the Corps front. An enemy counter-attack was beaten off by the 2nd Canadian Division opposite Bantigny on the morning of October 4, and the 11th Division considerably improved the line on the northern flank by successful minor operations on October 5 and 6.
Many patrol encounters took place, in which some prisoners were captured, and our Artillery and Machine Guns kept the enemy under continual harassing fire day and night. In addition, our Heavy Artillery carried out a daily programme of gas concentrations and counter-battery shoots.
Orders were received on October 3 for the relief of the Corps by the XXII. Corps. Concurrently with this relief, and as it progressed, the Canadian Corps was to take over the front of the XXII. Corps.
Plans for further operations having been formulated to take place on the Third Army front, the Canadian Corps was ordered on October 5 to co-operate by forcing the crossings of the Canal de l'Escaut, north of Cambrai, and the relief contemplated was, therefore, postponed.
The Third Army had been successful in crossing the Canal de l'Escaut south of Cambrai between Crevecoeur and Proville. The operation now contemplated had for object the capture of Cambrai by envelopment. This was to be carried out in two phases.
In the first phase the XVII. Corps was to capture Awoignt by attacking from the south, the Canadian Corps was to co-operate by an Artillery demonstration. In the second phase the Canadian Corps was to cross the Canal de l'Escaut and, advancing rapidly, capture Escaudoeuvres, joining hands with the XVII. Corps north-east of Cambrai.
The positions occupied by the 3rd and 2nd Canadian Divisions were not favourable for an attack by day; the 3rd Canadian Division was in front of Cambrai, and house-to-house fighting was out of the question; the 2nd Canadian Division was separated from the Canal by glacis-like slopes, devoid of Corps Operations. 165 cover, and on which the enemy had good observation from the numerous houses on the east side of the Canal as well as from the high ground east of Escaudoeuvres. In addition, Morenchies, Pont d'Aire, Ramillies, and the villages to the north were strongly held by the enemy.
In spite of the difficulties of a night operation it was decided that the 2nd Canadian Division would attack by night, and attempt to seize the bridges before they were blown up by the enemy.
The 3rd Canadian Division was to cover the right of the 2nd Canadian Division by capturing the railway embankment, and entering Cambrai as soon as possible to prevent any action of the enemy against the right flank of the 2nd Canadian Division, which, under the best circumstances, was bound to be in the air for some time after the crossing of the Canal.
Brutinel's Brigade was to cross the Canal as soon as possible, and extend the gains of the 2nd Canadian Division by seizing the high ground east of Thun St. Martin. Ten Brigades of Field Artillery were available for the operation.
The Attack.—At 4.30 a.m., October 8, the Third Army attacked, and at the same hour an artillery demonstration was carried out on the Canadian Corps front.
The XVII. Corps on the right did not reach Awoignt, but in the evening they were ordered to continue their advance on the morning of October 9 to capture this town ; concurrently with this advance the Canadian Corps was to secure the crossings of the Canal de l'Escaut.
In spite of the darkness of a rainy night the assembly was completed, and the attack was launched successfully at 1.30 a.m., October 9. Rapid progress was made, and at 2.25 a.m. the 2nd Canadian Division had captured Ramillies and established posts on the Canal there, and patrols were pushing out to the north-east. On the right the Infantry, assisted by a party of Engineers, rushed the crossings at Pont d'Aire, and, after sharp fighting, captured the bridge intact, with the exception of the western spillway, which had been partially destroyed. Two cork bridges were thrown across, and by 3.35 a.m. our Infantry were well established on the eastern side of the Canal. The 3rd Canadian Division had cleared the railway, and their -patrols were pushing into Cambrai, while the Engineers were commencing work on the bridges.
166 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
By 8.00 a.m. the 2nd Canadian Division had captured Escaudoeuvres, and had established a line on the high ground immediately to the north and east. Detachments of the 3rd Canadian Division had by this time completely cleared Cambrai of the enemy, and troops of the Third Army could be seen coming up towards it from the south.
Cambrai was to be deliberately set on fire by the enemy. Huge fires were burning in the Square when our patrols went through, and many others broke out in all parts of the city. Piles of inflammable material were found ready for the torch, but the enemy was unable to carry out his intention owing to our unexpected attack and rapid progress. A party of one officer and a few men, which had been left with instructions to set fire to Cambrai, was discovered and dealt with before it could do any further damage. The fires were successfully checked by a large detachment of Canadian Engineers who entered the city with the patrols.
A considerable number of road mines, " booby traps," etc., were also located and removed.
An air reconnaissance at dawn indicated that the enemy had withdrawn from the area between the Canal de l'Escaut and the Canal de la Sensee, and that all bridges over the latter had been destroyed.
Brutinel's Brigade, passing through the Infantry of the 2nd Canadian Division, seized the high ground at Croix St. Hubert and pushed Cavalry patrols into Thun Levecque.
The 2nd Canadian Division east of the Canal progressed towards the north and occupied Thun Levecque, Thun St. Martin, Blecourt, Cuvillers, and Bantigny, and the 11th Division occupied Abancourt and reached the outskirts of Paillencourt.
The 3rd Canadian Division was withdrawn at 7.10 p.m: when the 24th Division (XVII. Corps) passed through and joined up with the 2nd Canadian Division, and Cambrai and our positions to the east were taken over or occupied by the XVII. Corps.
The 3rd Canadian Division was moved on the following day to bivouacs in the Inchy-Queant area to rest and refit after 12 days of battle.
The attack was continued at 6.00 a.m., October 10, by the 2nd Canadian and 11th (British) Divisions, and good progress was made. The 2nd Canadian Division captured Naves, and by nightfall reached a point one and a-half miles north-east Corps Operations. 167 on the Cambrai-Salzoir Road. From there our line ran westwards to the Canal de l'Escaut, exclusive of Iwuy, where we were held up by machine gun fire.
In this attack Brutinel's Brigade operated along the Cambrai-Salzoir Road, but finding the Bridge over the Erclin River destroyed could not get their cars further forward.
"This Bridge, although on the outpost line under heavy fire, was immediately replaced by the Engineers, a covering party being supplied by Brutinel's Brigade."
Machine gun crews from the cars went forward on foot, however.
and materially assisted the Infantry advancing at this point, and the Corps Cavalry, by a brilliant charge, helped in the capture of the ground east of the Rieux-Iwuy Road.
On the left, the 11th Division cleared the enemy from the area between the Canal de l'Escaut and the Sensee Canal, captured Paillencourt and Estrun, and reached the outskirts of Hem-Lenglet, which they occupied during the night.
The 49th and 51st Divisions were released from Army Reserve and transferred to the Canadian Corps on October 10. During the night 10th/11th the former relieved that part of the 2nd Canadian Division east of Iwuy, and the 51st (Highland) Division moved to the Escaudoeuvres area.
At 9.00 a.m., October 11, the Canadian Corps resumed the attack with the 49th Division on the right and the 2nd Canadian Division on the left. The enemy laid down a heavy Artillery barrage and both Divisions encountered stiff opposition. After fierce fighting, however, our attack made good progress, the 49th Division gaining the high ground east of Iwuy, and the 2nd Canadian Division capturing Iwuy and the high ground to the north.
About 10.30 a.
m. the enemy delivered a heavy counterattack under an artillery barrage and supported by seven Tanks, from the direction of Avesnes-le-Sec, against the 49th and 2nd Canadian Divisions. Our line was forced back slightly at first, but six of the Tanks were knocked out by our Artillery, the assaulting Infantry dispersed by our machine gun and rifle fire, and the attack repulsed.
Meanwhile, on October 7/8, the 1st Canadian Division had relieved the 4th (British) Division (XXII. Corps) on the frontage between Palluel and the Scarpe River, and passed under the command of the G.O.C., XXII. Corps.
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At 5.00 p.m., October 11, I handed over command of the Corps front (less the 11th Divisional sector) to the G.O.C., XXII. Corps, and the 2nd Canadian and the 49th and 51st Divisions were transferred to the XXII.
At the same hour I assumed command of the former XXII. Corps front, and the 56th and the 1st Canadian Divisions were transferred in the line to the Canadian Corps.
During the night of October 11/12 the 2nd Canadian Division was relieved in the line east of the Iwuy-Denain railway by the 51st (Highland) Division, and on completion of the relief I assumed command of the remainder of the 2nd Canadian Divisional front, extending from the Iwuy-Denain railway exclusive, to the Canal de l'Escaut.
The battle of Arras-Cambrai, so fruitful in results, was now closed.
Since August 26 the Canadian Corps had advanced 23 miles, fighting for every foot of ground and overcoming the most bitter resistance.