History

Wars & Campaigns

Boer War
First World War

►►Western Front

►►►Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

►►Allied Offensive: 1916

►►►Allied Offensives: 1917

►►►German Offensive: 1918

►►►Advance to Victory: 1918

►►Siberia
Second World War
►►War Against Japan

►►Italian Campaign

►►►Sicily

►►►Southern Italy

►►►The Sangro and Moro

►►►Battles of the FSSF

►►►Cassino

►►►Liri Valley

►►►Advance to Florence

►►►Gothic Line

►►►Winter Lines
►►North-West Europe

►►►Normandy
►►►Southern France
►►►Channel Ports

►►►Scheldt
►►►Nijmegen Salient

►►►Rhineland

►►►Final Phase
Korean War
Cold War
Gulf War

Operations 

GAUNTLET Aug 1941

(Spitsbergen)

HUSKY Jul 1943

 (Sicily)

COTTAGE Aug 1943

 (Kiska)

TIMBERWOLF Oct 1943

(Italy)

OVERLORD Jun 1944

(Normandy)

MARKET-GARDEN Sep 44

(Arnhem)

BERLIN Nov 1944

(Nijmegen)

VERITABLE Feb 1945

(Rhineland)

Battle Honours

Boer War

►Paardeberg

18 Feb 00

First World War
Western Front
Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

Ypres, 1915

22 Apr-25 May 15

Gravenstafel

22-23 Apr 15

St. Julien

24 Apr-4 May 15

Frezenberg

8-13 May 15

Bellewaarde

24-25 May 15

Festubert, 1915

15-25 May 15

Mount Sorrel

2-13 Jun 16

Allied Offensive: 1916

►Somme, 1916

1 Jul-18 Nov 16

►Albert

.1-13 Jul 16

►Bazentin

.14-17 Jul 16

►Pozieres

.23 Jul-3 Sep 16

►Guillemont

.3-6 Sep 16

►Ginchy

.9 Sep 16

Flers-Courcelette

15-22 Sep 16

Thiepval

26-29 Sep 16

►Le Transloy

. 1-18 Oct 16

Ancre Heights

1 Oct-11 Nov 16

Ancre, 1916

13-18 Nov 16

Allied Offensives: 1917

►Arras 1917

8 Apr-4 May 17

Vimy, 1917

.9-14 Apr 17

Arleux

28-29 Apr 17

►Scarpe, 1917

.3-4 May17

►Hill 70

.15-25 Aug 17

►Messines, 1917

.7-14 Jun 17

►Ypres, 1917

..31 Jul-10 Nov 17

►Pilckem

31 Jul-2 Aug 17

►Langemarck, 1917

.16-18 Aug 17

►Menin Road

.20-25 Sep 17

►Polygon Wood

26 Sep-3 Oct 17

►Broodseinde

.4 Oct 17

►Poelcapelle

.9 Oct 17

►Passchendaele

.12 Oct 17

►Cambrai, 1917

20 Nov-3 Dec 17

German Offensive: 1918

►Somme, 1918

.21 Mar-5 Apr 18

►St. Quentin

.21-23 Mar 18

►Bapaume, 1918

.24-25 Mar 18

►Rosieres

.26-27 Mar 18

►Avre

.4 Apr 18

►Lys

.9-29 Apr 18

►Estaires

.9-11 Apr 18

►Messines, 1918

.10-11 Apr 18

►Bailleul

.13-15 Apr 18

►Kemmel

.17-19 Apr 18

Advance to Victory: 1918

Amiens

8-11 Aug 18

►Arras, 1918

.26 Aug-3 Sep 18

►Scarpe, 1918

26-30 Aug 18.

►Drocourt-Queant

.2-3 Sep 18

►Hindenburg Line

.12 Sep-9 Oct 18

►Canal du Nord

.27 Sep-2 Oct 18

►St. Quentin Canal .29 Sep-2 Oct 18
►Epehy

3-5 Oct 18

►Cambrai, 1918

.8-9 Oct 18

►Valenciennes

.1-2 Nov 18

►Sambre

.4 Nov 18

►Pursuit to Mons .28 Sep-11Nov

Second World War

War Against Japan

South-East Asia

Hong Kong

 8-25 Dec 41

Italian Campaign

Battle of Sicily

Landing in Sicily 

   9-12 Jul 43

Grammichele 

15 Jul 43

Piazza Armerina

16-17 Jul 43

Valguarnera

17-19 Jul 43

Assoro 

  20-22 Jul 43

Leonforte

 21-22 Jul 43

Agira

24-28 Jul 43

Adrano 

29 Jul-7 Aug 43

Catenanuova

29-30 Jul 43

Regalbuto

29 Jul-3 Aug 43

Centuripe

  31 Jul-3 Aug 43

Troina Valley

 2-6 Aug 43

Pursuit to Messina

 2-17 Aug 43

 Southern Italy

Landing at Reggio

 3 Sep 43

Potenza 19-20 Sep 43
Motta Montecorvino 1-3 Oct 43
Termoli 3-6 Oct 43
Monte San Marco 6-7 Oct 43
Gambatesa 7-8 Oct 43
Campobasso 11-14 Oct 43
Baranello 17-18 Oct 43
Colle d'Anchise 22-24 Oct 43
Torella 24-27 Oct 43

The Sangro and Moro

The Sangro

19 Nov-3 Dec 43

Castel di Sangro

.23-24 Nov 43

The Moro

5-7 Dec 43

San Leonardo

8-9 Dec 43

The Gully

..10-19 Dec 43

Casa Berardi

 ..14-15 Dec 43

Ortona

20-28 Dec 43

San Nicola-San

.31 Dec 43

Tommaso

.
Point 59/ 29 Dec 43-

Torre Mucchia

4 Jan 44

Battles of the FSSF
Monte Camino

.5 Nov-9 Dec 43

Monte la Difensa-

2-8 Dec 43

 Monte la Remetanea

.
Hill 720

25 Dec 43

Monte Majo

3-8 Jan 44.

Radicosa

4 Jan 44

Monte Vischiataro

8 Jan 44

Anzio

22 Jan-22 May 44

Rome

.22 May-4 Jun 44

Advance

.22 May-22 Jun 44

to the Tiber

.
►Monte Arrestino

25 May 44

►Rocca Massima

27 May 44

►Colle Ferro

2 Jun 44

Cassino
►Cassino II

11-18 May 44

►Gustav Line

11-18 May 44

►Sant' Angelo in

13 May 44

Teodice

.
►Pignataro

14-15 May 44

Liri Valley
Liri Valley

18-30 May 44

►Hitler Line

18-24 May 44

►Aquino

18-24 May 44

►Melfa Crossing

24-25 May 44

►Ceprano

26-27 May 44

►Torrice Crossroads

30 May 44

Advance to Florence
Advance

17 Jul-10 Aug 44

to Florence

.
Trasimene Line

20-30 Jun 44

Sanfatucchio

20-21 Jun 44

Arezzo

4-17 Jul 44

Cerrone

25 - 31 Aug 44

Gothic Line
►Gothic Line

25 Aug-22 Sep 44

►Monteciccardo

27-28 Aug 44

►Montecchio

30-31 Aug 44

►Point 204 (Pozzo Alto)

31 Aug 44

►Monte Luro

1 Sep 44

►Borgo Santa Maria

1 Sep 44

►Tomba di Pesaro

1-2 Sep 44

►Coriano

3-15 Sep 44

►Lamone Crossing

2-13 Sep 44

Winter Lines
►Rimini Line

14-21 Sep 44

►San Martino-

14-18 Sep 44

San Lorenzo

.
►San Fortunato

18-20 Sep 44

►Casale

23-25 Sep 44

►Sant' Angelo

11-15 Sep 44

 in Salute

.
►Bulgaria Village

13-14 Sep 44

►Cesena

15-20 Sep 44

►Pisciatello

16-19 Sep 44

►Savio Bridgehead

20-23 Sep 44

►Monte La Pieve

13-19 Oct 44

►Monte Spaduro

19-24 Oct 44

►Monte San Bartolo

11-14 Nov 44

►Capture of Ravenna

3-4 Dec 44

►Naviglio Canal

12-15 Dec 44

►Fosso Vecchio

16-18 Dec 44

►Fosso Munio

19-21 Dec 44

►Conventello-

2-6 Jan 45

Comacchio

.
►Granarolo

3-5 Jan 44

Northwest Europe
Dieppe

19 Aug 42

Battle of Normandy
Normandy Landing

6 Jun 44

Authie

7 Jun 44

Putot-en-Bessin

8 Jun 44

Bretteville

8-9 Jun 44

       -l'Orgueilleuse .
Le Mesnil-Patry

11 Jun 44

Carpiquet

4-5 Jul 44

Caen

4-18 Jul 44

The Orne (Buron)

8-9 Jul 44

Bourguébus Ridge

18-23 Jul 44

Faubourg-de-

18-19 Jul 44

       Vaucelles .
St. André-sur-Orne

19-23 Jul 44

Maltôt

22-23 Jul 44

Verrières Ridge-Tilly--

25 Jul 44

         la-Campagne .
Falaise

7-22 Aug 44

►Falaise Road

7-9 Aug 44

►Quesnay Road

10-11 Aug 44

Clair Tizon

11-13 Aug 44

►The Laison

14-17 Aug 44

►Chambois

18-22 Aug 44

►St. Lambert-sur-

19-22 Aug 44

       Dives

.

Dives Crossing

17-20 Aug 44

Forêt de la Londe

27-29 Aug 44

The Seine, 1944

25-28 Aug 44

Southern France
Southern France

15-28 Aug 44

Channel Ports
Dunkirk, 1944

8-15 Sep 44

Le Havre

1-12 Sep 44

Moerbrugge

8-10 Sep 44

Moerkerke

13-14 Sep 44

Boulogne, 1944

17-22 Sep 44

Calais, 1944

25 Sep-1 Oct 44

Wyneghem

21-22 Sep 44

Antwerp-Turnhout

   24-29 Sep 44

Canal

.

The Scheldt

The Scheldt

1 Oct-8 Nov 44

Leopold Canal

6-16 Oct-44

►Woensdrecht

1-27 Oct 44

Savojaards Platt

9-10 Oct 44

Breskens Pocket

11 Oct -3 Nov 44

►The Lower Maas

20 Oct -7 Nov 44

►South Beveland

 24-31 Oct 44

Walcheren

31 Oct -4 Nov 44

Causeway

.

Nijmegen Salient
Ardennes

Dec 44-Jan 45

Kapelsche Veer

31 Dec 44-

.

21Jan 45

The Roer

16-31 Jan 45

Rhineland
The Rhineland

8 Feb-10 Mar 45

►The Reichswald

8-13 Feb 45

►Waal Flats

8-15 Feb 45

►Moyland Wood

14-21 Feb 45

►Goch-Calcar Road

19-21 Feb 45

►The Hochwald

26 Feb-

.

4 Mar 45

►Veen

6-10 Mar 45

►Xanten

8-9 Mar 45

Final Phase
The Rhine

23 Mar-1 Apr 45

►Emmerich-Hoch

28 Mar-1 Apr 45

Elten

.
►Twente Canal

2-4 Apr 45

Zutphen

6-8 Apr 45

Deventer

8-11 Apr 45

Arnhem, 1945

12-14 Apr 45

Apeldoorn

11-17 Apr 45

Groningen

13-16 Apr 45

Friesoythe

14 Apr 45

►Ijselmeer

15-18 Apr 45

Küsten Canal

17-24 Apr 45

Wagenborgen

21-23 Apr 45

Delfzijl Pocket

23 Apr-2 May 45

Leer

28-29 Apr 45

Bad Zwischenahn

23 Apr-4 May 45

Oldenburg

27 Apr-5 May 45

Korean War
Kapyong

21-25 Apr 51

Domestic Missions

FLQ Crisis

International Missions

ICCS            Vietnam 1973

MFO                 Sinai 1986-

Peacekeeping

UNMOGIP

India 1948-1979

UNTSO

 Israel 1948-    ....

UNEF

Egypt 1956-1967

UNOGIL

Lebanon 1958    ....

ONUC

 Congo 1960-1964

UNYOM

Yemen 1963-1964

UNTEA

W. N. Guinea 1963-1964

UNIFCYP

 Cyprus 1964-    ....

DOMREP

D. Republic 1965-1966

UNIPOM

Kashmir 1965-1966

UNEFME

Egypt 1973-1979

UNDOF

Golan 1974-    ....

UNIFIL

 Lebanon 1978    ....

UNGOMAP

Afghanistan 1988-90

UNIIMOG

Iran-Iraq 1988-1991

UNTAG

Namibia 1989-1990

ONUCA

C. America 1989-1992

UNIKOM

Kuwait 1991    ....

MINURSO

W. Sahara 1991    ....

ONUSAL

El Salvador 1991    ....

UNAMIC

Cambodia 1991-1992

UNAVEM II

Angola 1991-1997

UNPROFOR

Yugosla. 1992-1995

UNTAC

Cambodia 1992-1993

UNOSOM

Somalia 1992-1993

ONUMOZ

Mozambiq. 1993-1994

UNOMUR

 Rwanda 1993    ....

UNAMIR

Rwanda 1993-1996

UNMIH

Haiti 1993-1996

UNMIBH

Bosnia/Herz.1993-1996

UNMOP

Prevlaka 1996-2001

UNSMIH

Haiti 1996-1997

MINUGUA

Guatemala 1994-1997

UNTMIH

Haiti 1997    ....

MIPONUH

 Haiti 1997    ....

MINURCA

C.Afr.Rep. 1998-1999

INTERFET

E. Timor 1999-2000

UNAMSIL

Sie. Leone 1999-2005

UNTAET

E. Timor 1999-2000

Exercises

 

The First World War

The First World War was a massive conflict lasting from August 1914 to the final Armistice on 11 November 1918. The Allied Powers (including the British Empire, France, and Russia from 1914 and the United States after 1917), defeated the Central Powers (led by the German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire). The war caused the disintegration of four empires (Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian) as well as radical political reorganizations in eastern and central Europe and the Middle East. The Allied powers before 1917 were sometimes referred to as the Triple Entente, and the Central Powers were sometimes referred to as the Triple Alliance.

Canada played an important role in the war, fielding for the first time in history a national corps, and contributing soldiers to the Western Front as well as Siberia after the war. The actions of the Canadian Corps are especially noteworthy and brought Canada to a position of international status it did not enjoy before the war.

Other Designations

Although properly referred to as the First World War by Canadians, the conflict is also known as "World War I." Both designations obviously only became necessary after the start of the Second World War in 1939. Previous to this, the war was popularly known as "The Great War" and less commonly by other names such as "The War in Europe" or "the war to end all wars."

Causes

The causes of the First World War are varied and complex.

Postwar analysis by some historians has suggested that the war was somehow unnecessary. Gordon Corrigan, in his book Mud, Blood and Poppycock, establishes the viewpoint that the war was firmly in Britain's national interests and lays the blame for the war squarely on Germany and Austria. The blame for the war was determined by Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles (the document that officially ended the war) in 1919, the so-called War Guilt Clause. The Austrian attack on Serbia on 29 July ultimately set into motion the mobilization schemes of the European states. Germany also invaded neutral Belgium on 3 August 1914. These two acts were considered by the framers of the Treaty to be the significant events that caused the war. Historians have debated the true causes ever since.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the popular view of war guilt shifted to the belief that no one was at fault and the war had been a colossal accident. Fearful of a repetition of such an accident, international diplomacy was encouraged, and the League of Nations was established. The failure of international institutions and agreements to prevent war became apparent in the 1930s as Italy, Germany and Japan all pursued aggressive expansionist policies.

Whatever reasons compelled the European states to react to the assassination in the Balkans, from the British (and subsequently, Canadian) perspective, several facts reveal that the war was in fact a national imperative. While the war itself was not a national interest (Britain's rivalry with Germany was a threat to economic livelihood, but it is not reasonable to suggest that anyone at the time believed that rivalry should be decided by war), once war was thrust upon Britain and the Empire, it was firmly in their interests to participate.

Prewar Germany

Germany as it existed in 1914 was a loose confederation of states, and a relatively new entry into world politics. Prussia formed a North German Federation after war with Austria in 1866; in 1870 control over the South German Federation followed along with spoils from the war with France. In 1871, Germany proclaimed itself an empire. Unlike the British Empire, or that of France, the German empire was not based on democracy. The German state was a federal one, with four monarchies, six duchies, sic principalities and three free cities tied together by a mostly ineffective federal council. In 1890 the emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, dismissed the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck and steered the German Empire on a course towards expansion and isolation.

While Germany had little interest in overseas possessions, Wilhelm wanted Germany to achieve the status of a world power. Germany did not depend on overseas trade and had practically no access to the ocean, yet Wilhelm desired a strong navy. By 1914, he had the second most powerful navy in the world (though admittedly the expansion of Germany's merchant marine did provide some practical impetus for developing this branch of the armed forces.)

All the evidence - and there is much - points to Imperial Germany preparing for a European war of aggression against France and Russia; and, while there were hopes that Britain might remain neutral, against her too if need be. The Kaiser held mixed views about the British. On the one hand he liked the country...On the other hand he thought that the British were forever putting him down, and saw slights where none were intended. For all his bombast, and his reveling in the idea of war and military glory, when faced with the reality of war the Kaiser recoiled, lost his nerve and tried very hard and at the last moment to avoid it. It was far too late. The Kaiser himself may not have wanted a European war, but he surrounded himself with, or allowed himself to be surrounded by, people who did....

(The task of examining the causes of the war) has been well undertaken by Fritz Fischer, A.J.P. Taylor and James Joll, among others. Fischer, the German, is adamant that Germany's foreign policy aims were annexationist and that she went to war to achieve them. What is undeniable, however, is that Germany, by offering unconditional support to Austria-Hungary in her dispute with Serbia, precipitated the series of events that led to war. Long before that, at least as early as 1906, Germany had in place a plan for an aggressive war based on the premise that Germany would have to fight Russia and France simultaneously, with Britain as a possible ally of France. It need not have been so, but the young Kaiser had abandoned Bismarck's policy of always having a treaty of non-intervention with Russia, and had alienated Britain and France. There was a view in Germany...that the future of the world lay with the younger, vigorous, emerging powers: Germany and the United States.1

Germany, like all first world nations, prepared war contingency plans in the opening years of the 20th Century, however, unlike other nations, German military leaders felt that war would be inevitable and necessary.

The First World War saw the creation of the first truly modern, world class Canadian Army. That same combat capable Army melted away rapidly after 1918. Above, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Left, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.


General state of political alignment during the First World War.

Sequence of Events

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, was assassinated on a trip to Bosnia, in Sarajevo, by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian anarchist who belonged to a group seeking independence from Austria. While not a direct cause of the outbreak of war, the incident set in motion many actions related to ongoing relationships between the major powers of Europe.

On 23 July 1914, Austria demanded that Serbia admit responsibility for the assassination and apologize, in addition to formally ending anti-Austrian rhetoric in the Serbian press. Other measures were also demanded, including Austro-Hungarian presence at any trials conducted of assassination conspirators. The demands were sent in the words of an extremely strongly worded note. Germany secretly gave Austria its support unconditionally. Attempts to mediate and localize the conflict during the 48-hour ultimatum came to nothing. At 1500hrs on 25 July 1914, Serbia mobilized its military, while three hours later formally replying to the ultimatum, meeting all demands save two. The demanded apology would be printed in the national press, but the demand to also publish it as a general order to the army was refused out of fear of sparking an uprising. The involvement of Austro-Hungarian officials in Serbian trials was also not acceptable (though Serbia did agree to try conspirators).

Austria, knowing they had German support, closed their embassy in Belgrade and on 28 July 1914 declared war on Serbia.


Europe in 1915.

The complex web of prewar treaties and alliances now influenced events as the various countries mobilized for war.

  • 29 July 1914

    • Germany asks Britain to guarantee its neutrality in a European war; Britain refuses to declare neutrality, ironically fearing that to do so would encourage other nations to war.

    • Russia partially mobilizes its military in support of fellow Slavs. Germany replies that unless mobilization is stopped, she too will mobilize.

  • 30 July 1914

    • Britain delivers negative replay to Germany regarding neutrality.

  • 31 July 1914

    • Russia and Austria-Hungary both order full mobilization. Turkey follows suit, having suffered losses in the recent Balkan Wars.

    • Britain asks France (a Russian ally) and Germany both for a guarantee of Belgian neutrality. France agrees, Germany does not respond.

  • 1 August 1914

    • France, Germany and Belgium all follow the example of eastern Europe and order full mobilization.

  • 2 August 1914

    • France enquires nervously and is reassured by Britain that Germany will not be permitted to move on France via the North Sea.

  • 3 August 1914

    • Germany demands passage through Belgium, Belgium appeals for help to Britain. Germany invades France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Russian Poland, declaring war on France and Belgium.

    • Britain orders mobilization and issues ultimatum to Germany to withdraw from Belgium.

Britain's desire to remain outside of the conflict was tempered by the spectre of a single powerful nation in Europe dominating Belgium and controlling Britain's routes to and from the Continent. A predominant Germany - with access to the resources of a defeated France and Russia - was too terrible for Britain to contemplate.

Germany had fomented this war; Germany had struck the first blow; Germany had violated neutral countries that were no threat to her. It was necessary, and in the British interest, for Britain to declare war, and at midnight German time (2300hrs British time) on 4 August 1914 she did so.2

As a colony of the British Empire, Canada was also automatically at war. Canada went cheerfully and enthusiastically to war, pledging a full division of 25,000 men to the cause on 5 August 1914, and in the third week of August 1914 32,665 men were assembled at Valcartier.3

While the UK did not realize the extent of German planning with regards to conquered territories in Belgium and France (which, as it turned out, included clearing border territories in Belgium and resettling with Germans), it was apparent that a "victorious Germany, in occupation of the Channel ports and the coastal strip, would pose a threat to Britain that could not be contemplated. Its prevention was not just worth fighting for: it was essential."4

Africa and the Pacific

The extent of European overseas colonization was what turned the war in Europe into a true global war, though many of the battles abroad were relatively minor skirmishes.

In August 1914, French and British forces invaded the German protectorate of Togoland in West Africa. Shortly thereafter, on 10 August, German forces based in the southwest quadrant of the continent attacked attacked South Africa. New Zealand occupied German Samoa (later Western Samoa) on 30 August. On 11 September, Australia landed forces on Neu Pommern (later New Britain), which formed part of German New Guinea. Japan seized Germany’s Micronesian colonies and the German coaling port of Qingdao, in the Chinese Shandong peninsula. In essence, in the span of a few months, Allied forces gained control of all German territory in the Pacific. Sporadic and fierce fighting, however, continued in East Africa for the remainder of the war, as German forces recruited native soldiers and evaded capture.

Europe

In Europe, the Central Powers suffered from communication problems; Germany's promise to support an Austrian invasion of Serbia was not effectively co-ordinated. Austrian assaults on Serbia were turned back at great coast to the attackers. Large numbers of soldiers from both empires were tied down in Eastern Europe facing the Russian threat, and the war was fought in several theatres, though Canadians were active only on the Western Front before the Armistice.

Western Front 1914-1915

The Western Front was the main theatre of war for Canadians between 1914-1918. Warfare on that front consisted of fluid, open warfare in the opening weeks and closing weeks of the war, but is most commonly associated with trench warfare and battles of attrition.

Combatants

The First World War began with a speedy mobilization. Germany had a standing army of 700,000 men with three million more soldiers able to be activated immediately. France, the immediate target, had a standing army of 820,000 (including some 45,000 colonial troops from Africa and largely stationed in France itself). Some 2,750,000 more troops were able to be activated also. France and Germany both had conscription in which able bodied males served for a number of years as regular soldiers, then were released to civilian life with reserve army commitments and subject to recall for full time service during a mobilization.

The British regular army was small by comparison, 247,432 with a third of that number in India, Ireland, Africa, the Middle East, and small garrisons around the world (including Bermuda and Canada). The Boer War had seen forces sent abroad in greater numbers than ever before; Canada had assisted then and would be necessary in the new conflict, as Britain lacked both the large standing army and large pool of trained reserves that the continental armies relied on. There were some reservists liable to recall, and small numbers of Special Reserve and the Territorial Force - part time, volunteer services.

The Canadian Militia was also tiny, and the mobilization scheme adopted actually excluded the regular infantry of the Permanent Force, Canada's standing army in 1914. Canada had only one regular infantry battalion in 1914, and it was sent to Bermuda to relieve a British garrison there. Two regiments of cavalry and the single regiment of artillery that Canada had serving full time in 1914 were sent with the First Contingent, along with signals and medical personnel from the PF.

Initial Battles

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF, the name of the British field force) moved to France very quickly, and by 9 August 1914 was across the Channel and concentrating on the left of the French armies in northern France; on 23 August 1914 the BEF moved forward into the corner of Belgium known as Flanders.

Relative Size of Opposing Armies

Nation 1914 Infantry Divisions 1914 Cavalry Divisions 1918 Infantry Divisions 1918 Cavalry Divisions
British 4-1/3 1 51 British, 10 Empire
French 62 10 200
Belgian 6 1
 

 
German 100 22 240

As Canada mobilized its forces, the BEF went into action at Mons (known to the Flemish as Bergen); French withdrawals to the right forced the BEF to do likewise, and crossed the Marne River on 3 September. The German plan called for a sweeping movement far to the west of the French capital, Paris, but French counter-attacks caused the Germans to reorganize and their grand maneuver stopped short of Paris. The Germans were pushed back to the River Aisne, some 40 miles away. What happened next is characterized as the "race to the sea" - successive attempts by both armies to find their enemies' flank, and so the two armies shifted north until the Allies reached the Channel coast at Nieuwpoort in the first week of October. Both armies began to entrench, and a state of siege ensued, both armies burrowing into the ground and eventually occupying long systems of trenches and deadlocked behind barbed wire barricades and concentrations of machine guns and artillery.

That state of siege was still in effect when the 1st Canadian Division went into the trenches on 17 February 1915, having been assembled at Valcartier and shipped to the UK to train on Salisbury Plain. The BEF, growing all the time (in August 1914 the BEF held 25 miles of front to the French 300; by 1918 those totals would be 64 and 260 respectively), held positions of importance in the Ypres Salient. It was here that the Canadian Division first saw action, during the Second Battle of Ypres amid the first German use of poison gas on the Western Front. The Canadian Division performed well under extreme pressure, but by the time the battle was over in the last week of April 1915 had lost 50% of its manpower.

However, a second contingent had already been drafted in October 1914, and as the battles at St. Julien raged was on the way to Europe. The 2nd Canadian Division went into the trenches in September 1915. The year remained a trial for both sides, as they experimented with methods of trench warfare. Like the BEF, the Canadian Expeditionary Force was destined to keep growing also; the Canadian government set a ceiling of 150,000 in June 1915, raised it to 250,000 in October 1915 and again on 1 January 1916 to half a million.5

Canada's first offensive operations, at Festubert in May 1915, were not successful. Running into strong German defensive positions wired in strongly and supported by massed machine guns, other problems presented themselves as well. Despite over 100,000 shells being fired, the high explosive shells couldn't cut the German wire. Maps were inaccurate. German weapons were more effective, including grenades and mortars, than the British weapons. The Canadians withdrew and went back into action at Givenchy in June 1915, and suffered heavy losses again.

The arrival of a second division heralded also the creation of a Canadian Corps. The Canadians in France rested; the attention of the Allies turned elsewhere, notably the Dardanelles where fighting at Gallipoli had raged since the initial landings in April 1915.

Western Front 1916

Allied war strategy for 1916 was largely formulated at Chantilly where a conference held between 6-8 December 1915 decided that simultaneous offensives were to be mounted by the Russians in the East, the Italians (now fighting with the Allies) in the Alps and the Anglo-French on the Western Front. The new British Commander in Chief, General Sir Douglas Haig, favoured his offensive in Flanders — close to BEF supply routes and positioned to drive the Germans from the North Sea coast of Belgium, from whence their U-boats were operating. However, as junior partner in the alliance, the British had to follow French direction and in February 1916 the decision was made to mount a combined offensive where the French and British armies met - at the Somme River in Picardy. The year 1916 would be a costly one for all the combatants on the Western Front.

Concerted action began for the Canadians at Mount Sorrel in June 1916, where the Corps performed well. Their actions were overshadowed by the worst single day in centuries-long history of the British Army. The Battle of the Somme is best known for those appalling casualties on the first day, 1 July 1916, in which 20,000 men were killed and 40,000 more were wounded. In fact, the battle would last into November 1916, and Canadians - though not involved on the first day - would come to play an increasingly significant role as the battle progressed. Plans for the planned British-French joint offensive were still being formed when the Germans initiated the battle at Verdun on 21 February 1916. French capacity to carry out an offensive on the Somme dissipated as the battle raged on, and the Somme offensive now became a British attempt to relieve pressure on the overburdened French.

For the majority of divisions, the first day of the Somme was a terrible bloodletting. The Newfoundland Regiment, serving with the British 29th Division, was engaged at Beaumont-Hamel. According to Middlebrook, 752 Newfoundlanders left their second line trenches, deciding not to take the congested communications trenches to the front line, and were mostly mowed down before making it past their own barbed wire. In the end, 255 men were killed, 386 wounded, and 91 went missing, in only 40 minutes. The Canadian Corps itself did not see action at the Somme until September 1916, and using tanks and artillery managed to make impressive gains at Courcelette. The Corps was rewarded for its success by additional missions. The battle raged on until 18 November 1916. Officially known as the Battle of Albert, 419,654 British soldiers had become casualties, along with nearly 200,000 French. The Canadians - now numbering four divisions - lost over 24,000 men. The Germans lost 670,000 soldiers.
 

Western Front 1917

Manpower in the Allied armies was becoming problematic; the United Kingdom introduced conscription in 1916, and as a result of the Somme, Canada too was falling short of enlistments. The problem would be exacerbated after the costly victory at Vimy in April 1917. Under a new commander - Sir Arthur Currie, the Canadian Corps returned to Ypres in the autumn. The battle at Hill 70 followed, while The Newfoundland Regiment, rebuilt after the Somme, was nearly wiped out in such a counter-attack at Monchy-le-Preux.

By October 1917, the war situation was still bleak; the Germans and Austro-Hungarians were preparing war-winning offensives in both Italy and on the Eastern Front, and in the west, the Americans were still not mobilized despite their declaration of war. The French had recovered from their mutinies of the summer but little was expected from them. And objectives set in July for the British armies still fighting in the Ypres area were still in German hands. This was Passchendaele, officially, the Third Battle of Ypres. And once again, the Canadians were called in to do what the British could not.

Western Front 1918

The final year of the war saw the Allies stretched to the limit; the Russian Revolution and capitulation on the Eastern Front freed up large amounts of German troops for the west. The collapse of Italian forces at Caporetto meant that French and British divisions had to be bled from the Western Front in order to hold the line in Italy. The United States declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, but as was the case with Canada, mobilization took time and large numbers of combat troops didn't arrive until mid-1918. The Germans sought to press their advantage in the meantime by massive offensives in March 1918.

German General Erich Ludendorff's plans (Operation MICHAEL) for a 1918 general offensive along the Western Front were executed in March, aimed at dividing the British and French armies in a series of feints and advances and striking a decisive blow before the United States had a chance to deploy significant forces on the Western Front.

The offensive began on 21 March 1918 with an attack against British forces near the rail junction at Amiens. German forces achieved an unprecedented advance of 40 miles and were able to effectively maneuver en masse for the first time since 1914.

Like the Canadians at Vimy the year before, the Germans organized their infantry into small groups and used small scale infiltrations (called Hutier tactics after General Oskar von Hutier). Artillery was used sparingly in comparison to the large offensives of the early war years. These small infiltrations by "stormtroops" were followed up by attacks by more heavily armed German troops.

With the front line extended to within 75 miles of Paris, super-heavy Krupp railway guns were able to shell the French capital, causing a panic among the civil population. Kaiser Wilhelm II declared 24 March 24 a national holiday, taken by the success of the offensive.

The celebration was premature; the Germans lacked tanks and motorized artillery and the British and French had learned to give ground on the defence, forcing the Germans to attack over extended areas vulnerable to counter-attack. By the end of March, American forces began to deploy to French and British formations. A supreme commander for all allied forces was created, with the BEF (and, consequently, the CEF) subordinated to French Marshal Ferdinand Foch.

Following Operation MICHAEL was Operation GEORGETTE, an attack against the Channel ports. The offensive was more easily stopped with less material loss to the Allies. Other offensives, Operation BLüCHER and YORCK were aimed at Paris and Operation MARNE was launced on 15 July in an attempt to encircle Rheims. Allied counter-attacks drove the Germans back to their starting positions by 20 July. The spring offensives in the end had gained little, with 270,000 German casualties in March and April 1918 alone.

Internal dissent in Germany - which would later be incorrectly blamed for their defeat, especially by the Nazis in the 1930s - became rife in Germany, with anti-war protests becoming common, industrial production sagging, food rationing dropping to subsistence levels, and morale in the Army faltering.

The Last 100 Days

The Hundred Days Offensive was the final act of the Allies on the Western Front, covering the period 8 August 1918 to 11 November 1918.

The German offensives on the Western Front had petered out by July 1918; while the Germans had advanced to the Marne River, they failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough. French Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Allied supreme commander, ordered a counter-offensive which became the Second Battle of the Marne forcing a German withdrawal to the north. The Allies then embarked on new offensives, and Field Marshal Haig agreed to attack east of Amiens and southwest of the 1916 battlefields of the Somme. The region was chosen for a number of reasons. As in 1916, the Somme area marked the boundary between the BEF and the French armies, in this case defined by the Amiens-Roye road. Picardy provided good terrain for tanks, which was not the case in Flanders. Finally, the German defences of the Second Army were relatively weak, having been subjected to continual raids by the Australians in a process termed Peaceful Penetration.

The Battle of Amiens opened on 8 August 1918 with an attack by 10 divisions and more than 500 tanks, breaking the German lines and opening a 15 mile wide gap. German losses were 17,000 men and 330 guns captured, with total losses estimated to be 30,000 on 8 August alone. The Allies suffered roughly 6,500 killed, wounded and missing. By 10 August 1918, the advance had slowed as Allied units outran the range of friendly artillery and the Germans withdrew to the Hindenburg Line. The offensive was called off on 15 August 1918.

The Second Battle of the Somme opened on 21 August 1918, aimed at Albert and eventually achieving a deep breakthrough, as German forces were driven back 35 miles. Albert fell on 22 August, Bapaume on the 29th, and Péronne on the 31st.

The battle for the Hindenburg Line followed, as the Germans withdrew to this series of fortifications by 2 September 1918, entrenching from Cerny on the Aisne River to Arras. German salients west of the line were reduced in separate battles; at Havrincourt and St Mihiel on 12 September 1918, Epehy and Canal du Nord on 18 September 1918.

On 26 September 1918 a general offensive across much of the Western Front began. The Hindenburg line was broken by Allied troops within hours of the start of the assault.

The final period, known to the Canadian Corps as the Pursuit to Mons, was part of a general pursuit all along the front throughout October 1918. The Germans surrendered in November, with the Armistice declared to take effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1100hrs, 11 November 1918.

Military Technology and Tactics

The opening months of the First World War were a dichotomy of 20th Century technology and 19th Century tactics. Infantry units were still organized with the company as the main unit of maneuver. Cavalry, while not completely ineffective given the right conditions for their employment, were retained for breakthroughs that never seemed to come. Artillery in some cases in 1914 was still deploying forward with the infantry firing directly over open sights as a matter of course.

Technology progressed by 1918 to the point that a Canadian force on the battlefield resembled very closely what the Germans would utilize so effectively in 1939; combined arms forces using such technologies as tanks, armoured cars, aircraft in a tactical role, the scientific application of indirect artillery fire, and at the most basic level, small sections of men under the independent control of junior NCOs. It would be a long process of change, however, as the armies of all nations groped their way forward to breaking the deadlock imposed by mud, machine guns and barbed wire, with the summer of 1916 and the bloodbath of the Somme providing the turning point.

Aftermath

The failure of the Great War to produce its expected results - lasting peace, an ongoing prosperity, and the ever-widening acceptance of democracy - has caused that struggle to be viewed negatively...The war has certainly shown that, with the application of industrialization to the business of battle, armed conflict had become - even more than in the past - a cruelly destructive transaction...But this is not all that should be said. Offsetting, if only in a measure, warranted revulsion against this war...are three elements.

 

First, particularly in Britain (and Canada), war helped to generate, if haltingly, notions of a more equal and a more benign society. Women received the vote, the working week was reduced...and people thrown out of work acquired some entitlement to unemployment benefits.

 

Second, the war advanced the notion that identifiable nationalities were entitled to self-government and self-determination...

 

But it is the third aspect that most requires emphasis. Manifestly, in August 1914 the status quo of western Europe was about to vanish. Either the liberal democracies would engage in a terrible episode of bloodletting in order to preserve their independence, or they would avoid bloodshed by permitting the autocracy and militarism of the Kaiser's Germany to overwhelm them.

 

The menace presented to these values by militant, expansionist kaiserism may not have equaled the horrors presented twenty-five years later by aggressive Nazism. But it constituted horror enough: the reversal of so much that had been achieved towards human betterment in the centuries just past, and the desolation of hopes for yet further advancement. Correspondingly, the Great War's vindication of liberal ideals and democratic forms, and its severe rebuff to rampant authoritarianism, was a mighty accomplishment. 6

Notes

  1. Corrigan, Gordon. Mud, Blood and Poppycock: Britain and the First World War (Cassell, London, UK, 2003) ISBN 0304366595 pp.29-30
  2. Ibid, p.38
  3. Granatstein, Jack. Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace. (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, ON, 2002). pp. 55-56
  4. Corrigan, Ibid, p.39
  5. Granatstein, Ibid, pp.72-73
  6. Prior, Robin and Trevor Wilson. The First World War (Cassell & Co., London, UK, 2000) pp.211-213

Further Reading

General Accounts - Political and Social (may also include military subjects)

  • Keegan, John. The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme (Jonathon Cape, Ltd 1976) 352pp Not about Canadians, but perhaps the best history ever written dealing with how men (and horses) behave in battle. An example of serious British historical research at its finest.

  • Morton, Desmond. When Your Number's Up: The Canadian Soldier in the First World War (Random House of Canada, Toronto, ON 1993) Most complete description yet of Canadian soldiers, their morale, training, tactics and equipment, in the First World War.

General Accounts - Military

  • Dancocks, D.G. Welcome to Flanders Fields: The First Canadian Battle of the Great War: Ypres 1915 (McClelland & Stewart, Toronto ON 1988) 292pp ISBN 0771025459: Account of the raising of the First Contingent and their first action at Second Ypres.

  • Nicholson, Gerald Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919 (Duhamel, Queen's Printer and Controller of Stationery, Ottawa, 1964)

Vimy Ridge

  • Berton, Pierre. Vimy (McClelland & Stewart, Toronto ON 1986) 336pp ISBN 0771013396

  • Greenhous, B. Canada and the Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April 1917 (Department of National Defence, Directorate of History, Ottawa, ON 1992) 149pp. ISBN 0660144018

  • Sheldon, Jack The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914-1917 (Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, UK, 2008) ISBN 978-1-84415-680-1


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