«LONDON PRINTED BY AUTHORITY OF THE MINISTRY, OVERSEAS MILITARY FORCES OF CANADA. REPORT of the MINISTRY Overseas Military Forces of Canada LONDON ...»
In that period the Canadian Corps engaged and defeated decisively 31 German Divisions, reinforced by numerous Marksmen Machine Gun Companies. These Divisions were met in strongly fortified positions and under conditions most favourable to the defence.
In this battle 18,585 prisoners were captured by us, together with 371 guns, 1,923 Machine Guns and many Trench Mortars. Over 116 square miles of French soil, containing 54 towns and villages, and including the city of Cambrai, were liberated. The severity of the fighting and the heroism of our troops may be gathered from the casualties suffered between August 22 and October 11, and which are as follows :— Officers. Other Ranks.
Considering the great number of German Divisions engaged and the tremendous artillery and machine gun fire power at their disposal, the comparative lightness of our casualties testified to the excellence of the precautions taken by Divisional, Brigade, and Regimental Officers to minimise the loss of life, having ever in mind the performance of their duty and the accomplishment of their heavy task.
Corps Operations. 169 General Situation.—While the Canadian Corps was tenaciously fighting to break through the hinge of the Hindenburg system of defence, the Third and Fourth British Armies were pushing forward through the devastated areas in the Somme, meeting everywhere strong and determined rearguards. The outer defences of the Hindenburg line were captured by them on September 18 and 19, and a good position secured for the assault of the main defences.
The storming of the Canal du Nord line, which brought the Canadian Corps definitely behind the areas organised for defence, was immediately followed by the capture of the main Hindenburg line on the fronts of the Third and Fourth Armies, and on October 8 and 10 the Canal de l'Escaut was crossed north,of Cambrai. Cambrai was seized and the German rearguards pushed back in open country to the Selle River.
The Germans were falling back everywhere ; they had now evacuated completely the Lys salient and a portion of the ground east and south of Lens, but they were still holding a line west of Lille-Douai and along the Canal de la Sensee.
The Canadian Corps, although tired and depleted in numbers, began to push forward as soon as it had taken over the new front on the Canal de la Sensee south of Douai. On October 14 the Second Army, in conjunction with the Belgian Armies and French Detachments, attacked the northern part of the salient and precipitated the German retreat.
The Battle Front.—The new Front of the Canadian Corps (at 5.00 p.m., October 11) extended from Iwuy-Denain Railway, north of Iwuy, to the Canal de l'Escaut at Estrun, thence following the southern bank of the Canal de la Sensee to Palluel, thence crossing the Sensee River at Hamel to the Scarpe River east of Vitry. The front was held by the 2nd Canadian Division from the right to the Canal de I'Escaut--the 11th Division from Estrun (inclusive) to Aubencheul-au-Bac (exclusive)-the 56th Division from Aubencheul-au-Bac (inclusive) to Palluel (inclusive), and the 1st Canadian Division from Palluel (exclusive) to the western boundary. (See Sketch No. 12.)
crossings had been forced over the Sensee and Trinquis Rivers that morning, and the enemy was retiring, closely followed by battle patrols of the 1st Canadian Division.
"The 1st Canadian Division had relieved the 4th British Division in the line along the south side of the valleys of the Sensee and Trinquis Rivers, from Palluel exclusive to the Scarpe, during the nights October 5/6 and 6/7, coming under orders of the XXII. Corps.
The front had been a quiet one, the river valleys having been flooded by the enemy to an average width of from 300 to 400 yards, and the bridges destroyed.
On the morning of October 8 the Division carried out a 'Chinese attack' with a view to ascertaining the enemy's probable action if attacked. Under cover of the barrage, patrols succeeded in enlarging the small bridge-head across the river at Sailly-enOstrevent, capturing 24 prisoners and two machine guns.
The enemy was expected to withdraw shortly, and this barrage was repeated daily at dawn with the object of harassing the enemy and testing his strength. At 3.00 a.m., October 10, battle patrols were pushed out by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade (BrigadierGeneral G S. Tuxford) from the bridge-head at Sailly, and after capturing the village they entered the Drocourt-Queant line to the north-east. Thirty prisoners and six machine guns were sent back from Sailly at daylight ; a strong enemy counter-attack (estimated at two battalions) overran the force in the Drocourt-Queant line and recaptured Sailly, driving our line back to the line previously held.
On October 11, in conjunction with an attack on the left by the 8th Division, our troops forced their way over the narrow crossings of the Sensee and Trinquis Rivers in the face of considerable machine gun fire and pushed northwards and eastwards,. meeting only resistance from isolated machine gun nests. The performance of the first patrols in forcing their way across the narrow causeways, all stoutly defended by machine guns, was a splendid achievement."
Corps Operations. 171 By the night of October 11 the 1st Canadian Division, on the left, had reached the line Hamel-Estrees-Noyelles (all inclusive), and at dawn, October 12, pushed forward, clearing Arleux and reaching the west bank of the Canal from Palluel to the Scarpe.
On October 12 the line remained stationary between the Canal du Nord and the Canal de l'Escaut. East of the Canal de l'Escaut the 2nd Canadian Division attacked at noon in conjunction with the XXII. Corps on the right and captured. Hordain. Attempts to push forward to Basseville were, however, stopped by machine gun fire. The restricted area and the inundated condition of the ground prevented further progress on this front until the troops on the right could get forward.
It was apparent from many indications that the enemy was preparing to carry out a withdrawal on a large scale. Prisoners reported the evacuation of civilians and the removal or destruction of all stores, also that roads and railways had been prepared for demolition. These statements were confirmed by our observers, who reported numerous and frequent explosions and fires behind the enemy's lines.
On the Canadian Corps' front, the Divisions in the line were confronted by the Canal de la Sensee, and this in its flooded condition was. a serious obstacle, the few crossings possible being narrow and easily defended. Orders were issued, however, that a policy of aggressive patrolling should be adopted to detect at the earliest moment any retirement, an a that all preparations should be made for an immediate and rapid pursuit.
Our patrols were most daring during the next few days, but no weak spot was to be found along the enemy front, our attempts at crossing the Canal being stopped by heavy machine gun and rifle fire.
During the night October 12/13 the 2nd Canadian Division extended its left to Aubencheul-au-Bac exclusive, relieving the 11th Division in the line, with the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier-General G. E.
McCuaig) on the right, and the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier-General A. Ross) on the left. At this stage the G.O.C. 56th Division represented. that his troops were too weak and tired to carry out the vigorous pursuit required in case of an enemy withdrawal. The 4th Canadian Division was, therefore, ordered to relieve the 56th Division by the morning of October 16, and in the meantime 172 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
to place one Brigade at the disposal of the G.O.C. 56th Division to be used in following up the enemy. On October 13 the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, which had been resting in Arras, was accordingly moved up to Marquion, and came into reserve under the 56th Division.
During the early morning of October 13 the 56th Division crossed the Canal and succeeded in establishing a bridge-head.at Aubigny-auBac, capturing the village with 201 prisoners. At 10.00 p.m. the following night, however, an enemy counterattack in strength caused our withdrawal from the village, but the bridge-head was retained.
The relief of the 56th Division by the 4th Canadian Division was carried out on the nights October 14/15 and 15/16 without incident, and the former moved back to rest in the ArrasHaute Avesnes-Maroeuil area, coming into Army Reserve.
Patrols of the 1st Canadian Division succeeded in crossing the Canal near Ferin, on its left Brigade front, during the early morning of October 14, but meeting strong resistance, the -parties withdrew, taking with them some prisoners and machine guns.
The Advance.—Test barrages were carried out on the Corps'.front each morning to ascertain the enemy's strength and attitude, and on October 17 the enemy was found extremely quiet and did not retaliate to our Artillery fire on the front of the 1st Canadian Division. Patrols were, therefore, sent,out on that front and succeeded in crossing the Canal in several places, meeting only slight opposition. Stronger patrols followed and made good progress.
On the front of the 4th Canadian Division, however, all attempts to cross the Canal were still met by machine gun fire. After the 1st Canadian Division had secured crossings, a Battalion of the 4th Canadian Division was sent up to take advantage of these crossings and, working down the east side of the Canal, cleared the enemy on the 4th Canadian Division front, and enabled the advance to commence there.
Further to the right, at Hem Lenglet, the 2nd Canadian Division succeeded in crossing the Canal later in the day, and patrols were pushed on in the direction of Wasnes-au-Bac.
By 6.00 a.m., October 18, practically all the Infantry of the 1st and 4th Canadian Divisions and several Battalions of the 2nd Canadian Division were across the Canal, and the following towns had been liberated :-Ferin, Courchelettes,. Goeulzin, Le Racquet, Villers-auTertre, Cantin, Roucourt, Brunemont, Aubigny-au-Bac, Fechain, Fressain, Bugnicourt, and Hem Lenglet.
During that day two armoured cars, one squadron of the Canadian Light Horse, and one Company of Canadian Corps Cyclists from Brutinel's Brigade, were attached to each of the 1st and 4th Canadian Divisions to assist in the pursuit of the enemy. These troops rendered.
valuable service to the Divisions to which they were attached, although the enemy's very complete road destruction prevented the armoured cars from operating to their full extent.
Throughout the advance now begun a great amount of work was thrown upon the Engineers, and their resources in men and material were taxed to the utmost. The enemy's demolition had been very well planned and thoroughly carried out, all bridges over the canals and streams being destroyed, every cross road and road junction rendered impassable by the blowing of large mines, and the railways, light and standard, blown up at frequent intervals. The enemy also considerably impeded our progress by his clever manipulation of the water levels in the canals which he controlled.
Foot-bridges were first thrown across the Canal, and these were quickly followed by heavier types of bridges to carry Battalion transport and Artillery, and in addition eight heavy traffic bridges, ranging in length from 90 to 160 feet, were at once put under way. On the Front of the 1st Canadian Division on the left the enemy drained the Canal, and it was found impossible to complete and use the pontoon bridges first commenced.
The Engineers in the forward area concentrated their efforts on road repair, craters being quickly filled in, for the most part with material gathered on the spot and found in enemy dumps. In addition, the whole areas were searched immediately after their occupation, many "booby traps" and delayed action mines being discovered and rendered harmless, and all water supply sources being tested.
It was clear from the wholesale destruction of roads and railways that the reconstruction of communications would be very slow and that it would be difficult to keep our troops.
174 Overseas Military Forces of Canada.
supplied. Canadian Railway Troops were brought up, and, as soon as the enemy had been cleared away from the Canal, work was commenced on the repairing of the standard gauge railway forward from Sauchy Lestree.
The construction of a railway bridge over the Canal at Aubencheul-auBac was immediately commenced.
The enemy retirement now extended considerably north of our front, and the VIII. Corps on our left began to move forward. During October 18 rapid and fairly easy progress was made, and the following towns and villages were liberated from the enemy:—Dechy, Sin-le-Noble, Guesnain, Montigny, Pecquencourt, Loffre, Lewarde, Erchin, Masny, Ecaillon, Marquette, Wasnes-au-Bac and the western portions of Auberchicourt and Monchecourt.
During the day the advance had carried us into a large industrial area, and well-built towns became more frequent. It also liberated the first of a host of civilians, 2,000 being found in Pecquencourt and a few in Auberchicourt. These people had been left by the retiring enemy without food, and faced as we were by an ever lengthening line of communication, and with only one bridge yet available for anything but horse transport, the work of the supply services was greatly increased.
This additional burden was, however, cheerfully accepted, and the liberated civilians, whose numbers exceeded 70,000 before Valenciennes was reached, as well as our rapidly advancing troops, were at no time without a regular supply of food.
On October 19 the advance was continued on the whole Corps' front, nearly 40 towns and villages being wrested from the enemy, including the large town of Denain.
The XXII. Corps, advancing on our right from the south, gained touch with the 4th Canadian Division just east of Denain on the evening of October 19, pinching out the 2nd Canadian Division, which was then concentrated in the Auberchicourt area, where good billets were available.
In spite of bad weather and increased resistance more.ground was gained on the 20th, and the villages of Hasnon, Les Faux, Wallers and Haveluy, with a large population, were freed.