Search This Blog

Saturday, October 5, 2013


LATE 1918

The hard pounding by the 2nd and 3rd divisions had left General Currie short of his ambitious goal by only the final objective, the Drocourt-Quent Line. Pressure mounted from Haig and GHQ to continue the advance, and Currie received orders on 28 August that set the date for the assault on the D-Q Line as 1 September. Originally, GHQ had wanted to launch the assault earlier, but Currie had refused, needing time to consolidate his gains, rest his troops, and prepare a set-piece infantry-artillery attack on the strongly fortified position. Currie commented in his diary, "believing the Quent-Drocourt line to be the backbone of [enemy] resistance, we have decided...not to attack it until ready, then we go all out."

Currie wanted to secure his line of departure by completing the taking of the Fresnes-Rouvroy Line, and by clearing the approaches of the D-Q Line by capturing some heavily fortified villages to the Canadian Corps' front. These attacks were carried out by the 1st Canadian and 4th British Divisions on 30-31 August. The attack in the1st Division's area, carried out by the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade under Brigadier General William Griesbach was described by Sir Archibald Macdonell as a "tactical masterpiece." Turning on an open flank to the south of the German positions to his advantage, Griesbach executed a converging "pincer" attack into the flank and rear of the German line. Instead of rolling west to east parallel to the German defenses, as most barrages did, the 1st CIB advanced behind an ingenious barrage that ran from south to north. The daring maneuver was highly successful, despite the short time allowed for its preparation."
Shock Army of the British Empire, The Canadian Corps in the Last 100 Days of the Great War, Shane B. Schreiber, Vanwell Publishing, 2004, page 78.

Unknown Sergeant of the 3rd Battalion, Sains les Marquion

The Battle of Arras -
On August 25th, the 3rd Battalion entrained for the north, and went into billets at Dainville, just west of Arras. Meanwhile the Battle of Arras had opened, the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions having made a splendid advance. The 1st Division had moved up in support and was soon engaged. The 1st Brigade was ordered to take the Vis-En-Artois Switch on August 30 and moved into assembly positions in the evening of the 29th, the 3rd Battalion under Major Mason, on the slope of the Sensee Valley, with a view to attacking in an easterly direction, while the 1st and 2nd Battalions were to attack from the south, and effect a junction with the 3rd in the enemy's position. (the pincer) The attack took place at  dawn and was completely successful. though, the objective being a short one, the enemy's artillery had full play and caused many casualties. "A" and "C" Companies attacked in line, "B" Company passing through them, while "D" Company were in reserve. The following day the advance was continued a few hundred yards by "D" Company and that night the battalion as relieved and moved back into bivouac near Wancourt.
Canal du Nord, near the location of the 3rd Battalion attack

The day was spent in resting and refitting, orders having been received for a grand attack on the Drocourt-Queant Line the following morning. For this attack the 1st Brigade was to be in support to the 2nd and 3rd Brigades and if all went well, was to push through and exploit success, At 5:00 am, the Battalion fell in on the Cherisy Road, and advancing to the southwest of Upton Wood, formed battle order there and at 8:00 am advanced to the attack. It soon bcame evident that the neighbouring troops had had difficulty in taking their objectives, and the Battalion moved forward practically alone to a strong position on the railway embankment overlooking the Canal Du Nord, where it received orders to halt. It was commanded during the day, successively by Major Mason, Major Kippen, and Major Crawford, the first two having been wounded. The following day the 4th Battalion passed through the 3rd, pushing to the Canal. The Division was then relieved by the 2nd Canadian Division, going to rest billets west of Arras. The Battalion had in the two attacks lost an astounding 18 officers and 334 men!

Milton,ON war trophy captured by 3rd Infantry Battalion

The Battle of Cambrai and the Canal du Nord - On September 15th, the division moved forward by train to Hendecourt, where final preparations were made for an attack on a two-army front: First Army on the left, Fourth Army on the right. The Canadian Corps was on the left of the First Army, the 11th British Division, which was attached to the Canadians was on the extreme left. The 1st Canadian Division attacked with the 3rd Brigade on the left, the 1st Brigade on the right, the 2nd Brigade passing through both to the final objectives. The 1st Brigade attacked in three jumps, the first carried out by the 4th Battalion which crossed the Canal Du Nord...the second by the 1st Battalion... and the third by the 3rd Battalion under Lt.Col. Rogers, on the right. All these operations were successfully carried out. By the end of the day the 3rd Battalion had 28 German field and heavy guns to its credit and Captain G.F. Kerr, in command of "B" company had done work which earned him the Victoria Cross. Some days later the attack was continued, the 1st and 4th Battalions of the 1st Brigade being employed. "B" and "D" Companies of the 3rd Battalion were used to reinforce these battalions, owing to their losses. The 3rd Battalion suffered casualties to 11 officers and 183 other ranks during these two operations.

LIEUTENANT S. SPROSTON - 10th Canadian Infantry Battalion
September, 1918

"I know we had very heavy fighting both in Villers les Cagicourt and in Cagicourt. Drocourt-Quent Line was the line and that was strongly fortified; and he fought right to the last. Tremendous! I never saw so many German dead as there was around that place. Thousands of them. They fought all that ridge, but the 10th took it between 7 and 8 o'clock at night. "B" Company attacked with "Dawn" Company in support. We were on the right and we flanked them-got right around-by-passed them. We got our objective. But "C" Company and "D" Company had some terrible heavy fighting and heavy casualties. Very heavy casualties, but the Germans had tremendous casualties too."

Captain George F.Kerr, Victoria Cross
September 27, 1918

"For most conspicuous bravery and leadership during the Bourlon Wood operations on 27th September,1918, when in command of the left support company in attack. He handled his company with great skill, and gave timely support by outflanking a machine-gun which was impeding advance. Later near the Arras-Cambrai Road, the advance was again held up by a strong point, far in advance of his company, rushed this strong point single handily and captured four machine guns and thirty-one prisoners. His valour throughout this engagement was an inspiring example to all."

Awarded the Victoria Cross
London Gazette, #31108, 6 January 1919

Photos by Richard Laughton and Bob Richardson

No comments: