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Other Canadian battles from the First World War

 
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BerichtGeplaatst: 12 Apr 2007 8:01    Onderwerp: Other Canadian battles from the First World War Reageer met quote

Remembering other Canadian battles from the First World War
Chris Wattie, National Post
Published: Saturday, April 07, 2007

The unveiling of the newly restored Vimy memorial this Monday in France is just part of a $30-million federal program to restore Canadian First World War memorials across northern France and Belgium. The four-day battle Vimy Ridge has long drawn the lion's share of the attention in Canadian histories of the war, and as the site of the main Canadian memorial to the soldiers
who fell in the five-year struggle, Veterans Affairs Canada is also restoring more than a dozen smaller war memorials. The department calls the other memorials to the soldiers who fell in these battles, many of them harder fought or more tactically significant than the victory at Vimy in 1917 "physical reminders that their sacrifices and victories must never be forgotten."

Here are some of the lesser-known battles from the war:


Hill 62 (Sanctuary Wood)
April - August 1916

Canadian soldiers fought over a period of five months around the town of Ypres to keep the Germans from gaining possession of the last few square kilometres of Belgian territory still in Allied hands.

At the battle of St. Eloi the Canadian Corps' 2nd Division received its "baptism of fire" in a battlefield of water-filled craters and shell holes. The Canadians suffered 1,375 casualties in 13 days of confused attacks and counter-attacks over six water-logged mine craters.

For the 3rd Division, the initiation to battle was even more devastating. On the morning of June 2, the Germans mounted an attack preceded by a fierce artillery bombardment. Whole sections of the Canadian trench line were obliterated and the defending garrisons annihilated. Human bodies and even the trees of Sanctuary Wood were hurled into the air by the explosions. As men were literally blown from their positions, the 3rd Division fought desperately until overwhelmed by enemy infantry. By evening, the enemy advance was checked, but a counter-attack by the Canadians the next morning failed.

One week later, the newly appointed commander of the Canadian Corps, Lt-Gen. Sir Julian Byng, ordered an attack to win back Mount Sorrel and Hill 62. The 1st Canadian Division under Major-General Sir Arthur Currie attacked on June 13 at 1:30 a.m. in the darkness, wind and rain and retook the high ground lost on June 2. The cost was high. At Mount Sorrel Canadian troops suffered 8,430 casualties.

The monument bears the inscription:

HERE AT MOUNT SORREL ON THE LINE FROM HOOGE TO ST. ELOI, THE CANADIAN CORPS FOUGHT IN THE DEFENCE OF YPRES APRIL - AUGUST 1916


St. Julien
April 22 - 24, 1915



The inexperienced Canadian troops were moved into the front lines around the Belgian town of Ypres for the first time in April 1915. On the Canadian right were two British divisions and on their left a French division, the 45th Algerian.

On April 22, the Germans tried to break the stalemate on the Western Front by introducing a new weapon, poison gas. Following an intensive artillery bombardment, they released 135 tonnes 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 unprotected troops, their lungs seared, died or broke and fled, leaving a gaping six-kilometre hole in the Allied line. The German troops pressed forward threatening to sweep behind the Canadian trenches and put 50,000 Canadian and British troops in deadly jeopardy. But the Canadians stood their ground and after advancing only three kilometres the Germans dug in, allowing the Canadian troops time to close the gap. The next day, the Canadians mounted three counter-attacks to drive the enemy back and while little ground was gained and casualties were
extremely heavy these attacks bought some precious time to close the flank. On April 24, the Germans attacked again in an attempt to obliterate the Canadian position. Through terrible fighting, withered with shrapnel and machine-gun fire, hampered by rifles that jammed, violently ill and gasping for air through mud-soaked handkerchiefs, the Candians held on until reinforcements arrived. In 48 hours, 6,035 Canadians - one man in every three - became casualties, 2,000 of them killed.

The inscription on the 11-metre-high monument reads:

"THIS COLUMN MARKS THE BATTLEFIELD WHERE 18,000 CANADIANS ON THE BRITISH LEFT WITHSTOOD THE FIRST GERMAN GAS ATTACKS THE 22ND-24TH OF APRIL 1915. 2,000 FELL AND HERE LIE BURIED"


Courcelette
September - November, 1916


The Canadian Corps began its participation in the ill-fated Battle of the Somme in the fall of 1916 with a victory: an assault on the village of Courcelette aided by the "new engine of war," the armoured tank. That attack went well but in the weeks that followed, the Canadian divisions again and again attacked a series of German entrenchments beyond the village, particularly a German line known as Regina Trench which one soldier called a "ditch of evil memory." It repeatedly defied capture, until the newly arrived 4th Canadian Division took its place in the line, in November and despite knee-deep mud and murderous enemy resistance captured Regina Trench only to find it reduced to a mere depression in the chalk.

The Somme had cost Canada 24,029 casualties, but British Prime Minister Lloyd George wrote: "The Canadians played a part of such distinction that thenceforward they were marked out as storm troops ... Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst."

The granite block of the Courcelette Memorial is recorded the simple inscription:
THE CANADIAN CORPS BORE A VALIANT PART IN FORCING BACK THE GERMANS ON THESE SLOPES DURING THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME SEPT. 3RD - NOV. 18TH 1916


Passchendaele
October - November, 1917


Following the victory at Vimy, the Canadians were shifted to Flanders in Belgium to join British commander Sir Douglas Haig's disastrous offensive to break through the front and capture the German submarine bases on the Belgian coast. A tremendous artillery barrage before the attack not only forewarned the Germans, but also ground the battlefield into potholes and dust which became an impassable swim after summer rains poured down on the battlefield. The Canadians were sent on the attack in October after four
months of negligible advances and heavy casualties among the British and Australian divisions. The Canadian Corps was ordered to prepare for the capture of the village of Passchendaele. General Sir Arthur Currie inspected the muddy battlefield and protested that the operation was impossible without heavy cost but was overruled. In a series of attacks beginning on October 26, 20,000 men under heavy fire inched their way from shell-crater to shell-crater. The Canadians 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 a hail of fire from German shelling. On
November 6, when reinforcements arrived, four-fifths of the attackers were dead. Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded during the bitter struggle for Passchendaele.

On the memorial of Canadian granite is the inscription:
THE CANADIAN CORPS IN OCT.- NOV. 1917 ADVANCED ACROSS THIS VALLEY - THEN A
TREACHEROUS MORASS - CAPTURED AND HELD THE PASSCHENDAELE RIDGE


http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/story.html?id=3b35b7ec-ba64-4adf-be2e-df145b712210
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