Name: ________________________ Class:__________
In the first week of April 1915 the Canadian troops were moved from their quiet sector (section) to a bulge in the Allied line in front of the City of Ypres.
On the Canadian right were two British divisions, and on their left a French division, the 45th Algerian. Here on April 22 the Germans sought to break the stalemate (no one winning) by introducing a new weapon, poison gas. Following an intensive artillery bombardment, they released 160 tons of chlorine gas into a light northeast wind. As thick clouds of yellow-green chlorine drifted over their trenches the French defences crumbled, and the troops, unprotected, their lungs burning, died or broke and fled (ran away), leaving a gaping four-mile hole in the Allied line.
German troops pressed forward threatening to sweep behind the Canadian trenches and put fifty thousand Canadian and British troops in peril. Fortunately the Germans had planned only a limited offensive and, without enough reserves, and were unable to exploit the gap the gas created. After advancing only two miles they stopped and dug in.
All through the night the Canadian troops fought to close the gap. In addition they mounted a counter attack to drive the enemy out of Kitcheners Wood, an oak plantation near St. Julien. In the morning two more disastrous attacks were made against enemy positions. Little ground was gained and casualties were extremely heavy, but these attacks bought some precious time to close the flank.
The grimmer battle of St. Julien lay ahead. On April 24 the Germans attacked in an attempt to destroy the section once and for all. Another violent bombardment was followed by another gas attack in the same pattern as before. This time the target was the Canadian line. Here through terrible fighting, withered with shrapnel and machine-gun fire, hampered by rifles which jammed, violently ill and gasping for air through mud-soaked handkerchiefs, they held on until reinforcements arrived.
Thus, in their first appearance on a European battlefield, the Canadians established a reputation as a formidable fighting force. Congratulatory messages were cabled to the Canadian Prime Minister. But the cost was high. In these forty-eight hours 6,035 Canadians, one man in
every three, was lost from Canada's little force of hastily trained civilians - a grim forerunner of what was still to come.
1. How much gas was releases in the first assault using chemical weapons?
2. Who fought to close the gap when the French troops fled?
3. Who was the target of the second attack?
4. What did the Canadians use to protect themselves from the gas?
5. Why was the Canadian Prime Minister congratulated?
Name: ____________________________ Class: ___________
The Somme 1916
Both sides could see only one way to break trenches - brutal frontal assaults to break the enemy defences. The Allied plan for 1916 was to launch simultaneous offensives on the Western, Eastern and Italian (Southern) Fronts. In the West the region of the Somme was chosen for a joint French and British assault about mid-year.
The Germans attacked first. They chose to attack Verdun, a position, they thought, so
important to the French that France would fight to the last man to hold it. The hope was to lure French forces into the narrow, dangerous section, slaughter them with artillery fire, and thus "bleed France to death".
On February 21, the German barrage began and for the next several months both sides threw soldiers and shells at each other in a nightmare of death. But the German army bled as well. As Verdun was a symbol of life for France, its fall became a matter of face for the German army. By Christmas when the battle finally ended 800,000 men had died.
During the fighting, the French sent frantic appeals to Sir Douglas Haig, the new British commander, to hasten the Somme offensive and take the pressure off Verdun. With French forces being so thoroughly decimated at Verdun, the British now had to assume full responsibility.
The campaign was planned well in advance with a massive build-up of men and weapons. The tactics were the same; nothing new was added - just more men and more guns. By the end of June all was ready for the "Big Push. The German army knew about the attack for a long time, waited, firmly entrenched along the ridge of heavily-armed chalk hills.
On July 1 in broad daylight one hundred thousand men climbed out of their trenches and advanced shoulder to shoulder in line, one behind the other, across No Man's Land. Weighed down with sixty-six pounds of equipment each, they advanced slowly towards the waiting German guns. The result was slaughter - 57,500 British soldiers killed, wounded or missing in one day - the heaviest day's loss ever suffered by a British army.
Canadians at the Somme
Later that year in August Of 1916, the Canadians moved from the muddy fields of Flanders to the Somme where they took over a section of the front line. They ran into heavy fighting in this supposedly quiet or "normal" sector and suffered some 2,600 casualties before the full-scale offensive even got underway.
In the offensive, which began September 15, the Canadian Corps assaulted on a 2,200 yard sector. Advancing behind a creeping barrage (a tactic only recently adopted by the artillery),
the infantry was aided by the "new engine of war" the armoured tank which frequently threw
the enemy into complete confusion. The attack went well the position was secured.
In the weeks that followed the three Canadian divisions again and again attacked further German entrenchments. The final Canadian objective was Regina Trench. It repeatedly defied capture.
When the newly arrived 4th Division took its place in the line it faced an unbelievable ordeal of knee-deep mud and murderous enemy resistance.
However, despite the extremely heavy enemy fire, on November 11 the Division captured Regina Trench - to find it reduced to a simple hole in the ground.
The line had been moved forward only six miles; the Allies had suffered 600, 000 casualties, and 236,000 Germans were killed. The Germans refer to the Battle of the Somme as “das Blutbad” - the blood bath.
The Somme had cost Canada 24,029 casualties, but it was here that the Canadians confirmed their reputation as hard-hitting shock troops. "The Canadians" wrote British Prime Minister
Lloyd George, "played a part of such distinction that thenceforward they were marked out as storm troops; for the remainder of the war they were brought along to head the assault in one great battle after another. Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.''
1. What did both sides believe would break the stalemate (no one winning or losing)?
2. Where did Germany hope to “bleed France to death”, and how many died there?
3. How many soldiers did Britain die in one day?
4. What newly invented weapon helped the Canadians succeed at the Somme?
5. What did the Germans refer to the Somme as?
6. Why were the Canadians marked out as Storm Troops?
7. How would you have felt as a soldier at the Somme to have fought so long and hard, and
lost so many, to have the line move only six miles?
Name:______________________________________ Class: __________________
Early in 1917 the Allies launched another massive offensive, ever determined to achieve a breakthrough.
The Canadian share of the British assault was the seizure of Vimy Ridge. The task was formidable. For the Germans it was a key in their defence system and they had fortified it well using barbed wire and machine guns, and defended it from a distance with artillery. All previous attempts to take the Ridge had failed.
Canadian commanders were in complete control of the operation for the first time, and preparation was detailed and the planning thorough. Engineers dug great tunnels into the Ridge; roads and light railways were built; signals and supplies were ready. The operation was to be supported by a large concentration of heavy guns and howitzers and full artillery. The men too were fully prepared. The area was simulated behind the lines and troops practiced their roles until every man was familiar with the ground and the tactics expected of him.
The attack began at dawn on Easter Monday, April 9. All four divisions of the Canadian Corps –
moving forward together for the first time – swept up the 12 Ridge in the midst of driving wind,
snow and sleet. Preceded by a perfectly timed artillery barrage the Canadians advanced. By mid-afternoon the Canadian Divisions were in command of the whole crest of the Ridge with the exception of two features known as Hill 145 and the Pimple. Three days later these too were taken.
The victory at Vimy Ridge is celebrated as a national coming of age. For the first time Canadians had attacked together, and triumphed together.
stFour Canadians won the Victoria Cross and Major General Arthur Currie, commander of the 1
Division, was knighted on the battlefield by King George V.
1. What did the Canadians do to prepare for the attack on Vimy ridge?
2. How long did it take to take control of the Ridge? Hill 145 and the Pimple?
3. What was different about Vimy than the other battles Canadian soldiers had been in?
Name: _________________________________________________ Class: _________________
To the south of Vimy the French offensive was a disaster. With losses in the neighbourhood of 200,000 men a wave of French mutinies threatened.
Early in October British forces were reaching the point of exhaustion, but English commanders were determined on one more drive. The Canadian Corps was ordered to relieve the decimated Anzac forces in the Ypres sector, and prepare for the capture of Passchendaele.
Canadian General Currie inspected the muddy battlefield and protested that the operation was impossible without heavy cost. He was overruled, and so began careful and painstaking preparations for the assault. In a series of attacks beginning on October 26, 20,000 men under heavy fire inched their way forward. Then on October 30, with two British divisions, the Canadians began the assault on Passchendaele itself. They gained the ruined outskirts of the village during a violent rainstorm and for five days they held on grimly, often waist-deep in mud and exposed to German heavy guns. On November 6, when reinforcements arrived, four-fifths of the attacking Canadians and British were dead.
That there was an alternative to the ghastly strategy of attrition was shown by the brilliant British and Canadian success at Cambrai in November 1917.
This was the first effective tank attack in history.
Before a gun could open fire 380 of these new monsters rolled across No Man's Land. The elimination of the usual bombardment took the Germans by surprise; the trenches of the Hindenburg Line were quickly crossed; and by nightfall the Allies had reached the open countryside beyond. The hoped-for breakthrough appeared to have come at last. In the march to victory in 1918 the tanks were to break the deadlock on land and assure the Allied triumph.
1. Why did general Currie argue against the attack?
2. How many of the attacking Allied forces were killed at Passchendaele?
3. What things made the attack at Cambrai different than those that had gone before?
Name: ____________________________________________ Class: _____________________
Canada’s 100 Days
August 4 to November 11, 1918 has come to be known as "Canada's Hundred Days", for in this
period the Canadian Corps was in the vanguard (front) of the successful march to Mons.
When the' Allied advance began the Canadian Corps was assigned the task of spearheading an attack. Utter secrecy was vital since the Germans had come to regard any movement of Canadian troops as a sign of imminent attack.
No preliminary bombardment was done so as not to warn the enemy of impending action. Surprise was complete. Flanked by Australians and French, and spearheaded by tanks, the Canadians advanced twelve miles in three days. The morale of the German High Command was badly shaken, and they called August 8 the "black day of the German army''. After the breakthrough at Amiens, the Canadians were shifted back to Arras and given the task of cracking the Hindenburg Line - Germany's main line of defence.
Between August 26 and September 2, in hard continuous fighting, the Canadian Corps fought through strong German positions to the heavily fortified line. Assisted by fifteen tanks from the British Tanks Corps, there was finally had a breakthrough of the German main defences. Victory was not far off. Early in October Cambrai was captured in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Then the Canadians fought their way through Valenciennes, Mont Houy and reached historic Mons on the day the armistice was signed.
The armistice of November 11, 1918 brought relief to the whole world. The horrible struggle with its death, destruction and misery was at last halted. It had truly been a world war. Sixty-five million men from thirty nations bore arms in it; at least ten million men were killed; twenty-nine million more were wounded, captured or missing; and the financial cost was measured in hundreds of billions of dollars. Never before had there been such a conflict.
The "Great War" was also a landmark in Canadian national development. In 1914 Canada entered the war as a colony, a mere extension of Britain overseas; in 1918 she was forging visibly ahead to nationhood. Canada began the war with one division
of citizen soldiers under the command of a British general, and ended with a superb fighting force under the command of one of her own sons.
For a nation of eight million people Canada's war effort was remarkable. A total of 619,636 men and women served in the Canadian forces in the First World War, and of these 66,655 gave their lives and another 172,950 were wounded. Nearly one of every ten Canadians who fought in the war did not return.
It was this Canadian war record that won for Canada a separate signature on the Peace Treaty signifying that national status had been achieved. Nationhood was purchased for Canada by the gallant men who stood fast at Ypres, stormed Regina Trench, climbed the heights of Vimy Ridge, captured Passchendaele, and entered Mons on November 11, 1918