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Canadian Corps

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Canadian Corps
Canadian Corps Headquarters, Neuville-Vitasse, France, 1918
Active 1915–1919
Country  Canada
Branch Canadian Expeditionary Force
Size 4 divisions
Part of Various British field armies
Commanders
1915–1916 General Sir Edwin Alderson
1916–1917 General Sir Julian Byng
1917–1919 General Sir Arthur Currie

The Canadian Corps was a World War I corps formed from the Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1915 after the arrival of the 2nd Canadian Division in France. The corps was expanded by the addition of the 3rd Canadian Division in December 1915 and the 4th Canadian Division in August 1916. The organization of a 5th Canadian Division began in February 1917 but it was still not fully formed when it was broken up in February 1918 and its men used to reinforce the other four divisions.

The majority of soldiers of the Canadian Corps were British-born until near the end of the war, when the number of those of Canadian birth who had enlisted rose to 51 percent.[1] They were mostly volunteers, as conscription was not implemented until the end of the war (see Conscription Crisis of 1917). Ultimately, only 24,132 conscripts made it to France before 11 November 1918. In the later stages of the war the Canadian Corps was regarded by friend and foe alike as one of the most effective Allied military formations on the Western Front along with the First Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force.[2]

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  • The Canadian Corps Takes Vimy Ridge - The Battle of Arras I THE GREAT WAR Week 142
  • Canadian Army Newsreel - Arabian Princes Visit Canadian Corps
  • Canada in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Transcription

Troops from the colonies and dominions of the European empires had been looked down on or dismissed as unequal to their European counterparts, thought they had been slowly but steadily proving that wrong as the war progressed. And that happens big time this week, as Canada strikes. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the United States declared war on the German Empire, though it would take many months to get men trained and over to Europe. British and Russian forces had made contact on the Persian front, and in the west there was a gathering of French political and military leaders to discuss the coming British and French Offensives scheduled to begin April 9th and 16th. And at 5:30 AM Easter Monday, April 9th, 1917, the Battle of Arras began with British army assaults at Arras and Vimy Ridge. As I said last week, the British had nearly 3,000 big guns, and the preliminary artillery barrage, featuring the new 106 fuses, had begun April 4th. There was real hope that the massive German barbed wire emplacements would be totally destroyed. And there were new innovations. Livens projectors could launch barrels of poison gas well over a kilometer and completely saturate a region. The British also used batteries of Vickers machine guns firing long-range indirect lines of fire whose job was to rain down bullets on road intersections. They were also determined to dominate the air above the battlefield for recon and ar tillery spotting, but both sides risked everything in the skies, knowing that failure there would be disastrous for the men on the ground. In just the preparations for the battle, 75 Allied aircraft were lost and 19 pilots were killed. As the battle began, every German artillery battery that had been identified was deluged with high explosives and gas shells, two mines tore open the ground beneath the German lines, and the creeping barrage rolled forward, the infantry behind it. At Vimy Ridge came the Canadians, who had moved to within 150 meters of the enemy through a maze of sewers and tunnels and were now partially hidden by a smoke screen. Four divisions attacking as one, they were on top of the Germans before they knew what hit them and many Germans were trapped in their dugouts. “...making for the second line... we came under fire from machine guns in pillboxes on the hillside. Still we went forward, losing only a very few men at this stage, until... there came a withering burst of fire from hidden machine guns well ahead of us... Then a trench mortar group came along, sighted on the machine gun post and secured direct hits on it. We again went forward... When we finally reached the point at where we were to halt... we were surprised to find that we had been in action for three hours. It had been hard slogging, but we had reached our objective.” The first two German lines, it turned out, had been obliterated by the artillery barrage, though the third and points beyond would prove tougher. In fact, the Canadians and the British 51st Division on their right had already consolidated their positions before German counter attack divisions had any chance at all to get there, and the swarming Canadians had swept the Germans off of most of the ridge quite easily. Within three days, the whole of the ridge would be in Canadian hands. The first British assaults on the axis of advance of the Arras-Cambrai road were also successful. The German lines were pierced and 6.000 prisoners were captured. In fact, in under an hour pretty much the entire German first line was overrun, and the second line in two hours. By sundown, even part of the third line had fallen. That third line was another matter; it was better fortified and it held fast. The tanks to be used fell behind and many of them either broke down or were trapped in the mud - at this stage tanks still had major problems. There was also a new problem- horse drawn artillery had huge difficulties crossing the captured German trenches, with horses up to their bellies in mud. Some had to even be put down. And those artillerymen had never before had to take their guns past the front lines. And remember, just because I use the word success about this day, that doesn’t mean the attackers didn’t take heavy casualties themselves. Even that night as the attackers slept, an unexpected cold spell saw to it that some of them never awoke again. There were also problems near the hamlet of Bullecourt. It was small but it was a strategic point, and the Germans had turned it, and the nearby villages of Riencourt and Hendecourt into fortresses. Lieutenant-General William Birdwood’s I ANZACs faced it on the left wing of Hugh Gough’s 5th Army. The plan was to attack on the 9th, punch a hole, and execute a pincer movement to the north, towards the 3rd Army, but Gough discovered that his artillery had not broken the German barbed wire - over 30m thick in places - and figured it would take another week of shelling to do so. When he heard of the successes further north, he was anxious to join the battle and accepted a plan for a surprise attack by one division - the 4th Australian - on a front of just 2km, if it was supported by every tank available. This was 12 Mark I’s, and their job was to handle the barbed wire. The Australians would have British artillery and infantry support and by 1 AM on the 10th, they were in no man’s land, lying out on the snow. The tanks did not show up, though, and the attack was called off just in time, though the British support infantry was not informed of this, went forward, and some of them even broke into the Hindenburg Line only to be ravaged by German machine guns. Gough decided to try it all again the following day. That day, to the north, the main attack was resumed, and Commander of the Third Army General Edmund Allenby did so with urgency since he had received word that big German reinforcements were on their way, and by that evening he was so confident of a real breakthrough that he messaged his commanders, “All troops are to understand that the Third Army is now pursuing a defeated enemy and that risks must be freely taken.” The men at the front received this with what I will describe as stunned incredulity because it wasn’t true. They were still making gains, and the Canadians would soon secure all of Vimy, but it was slower going. And did the Aussie infantry down at Bullecourt get their tanks that day? Sort of, but they played no real part in the fighting. It’s confusing to figure out what exactly happened to them, but Robin Neillands sketches out in “The Great War Generals on the Western Front” that only one of the tanks managed to be effective at Bullecourt. But the plan for the no-longer-a-surprise assault relied ENTIRELY on the tanks. Still, the Australians went forward and took a portion of the Hindenburg Line, but they were cut off from aid, and had to withstand counter attacks alone. By the time they pulled back they had taken over 50% casualties in 12 hours. I don’t have time to really go into it, but the men had performed their duty admirably and had been let down by shockingly bad command. But at High Command, that sense of impending victory was still there on the 11th and British Commander-in-Chief Sir Douglas Haig insisted on sending forward the cavalry to penetrate the “gap” in the German lines. They rode forward in a blizzard singing the Eton Boating Song “Jolly Boating Weather”, but were soon stopped and repulsed by German barbed wire and machine guns. The British did, though, capture a first day objective, the village of Monchy-le-Preux, advancing in the Scarpe Valley after a brilliant display of “Zone call” artillery that could bring down a tremendous concentration of shells on specific targets, like German defensive batteries, but as the blizzards grew in intensity, the first German reinforcements finally arrived. And seriously, after three solid days of attacking in bad weather, the attackers were exhausted. Haig even began urging caution, and we haven’t heard him doing a lot of that before. So the week ended with the offensive stalled for the moment. For all of their new technical skill and tactical improvements, the British army still, it seems, did not have the means to break through the new German defense system, only into it. Thing is, the first day had been really carefully planned, right? But after the successes the following attacks were just ad hoc, and they failed. Nevertheless, the British had done what they were supposed to do - provide a diversion for French General Robert Nivelle’s impending offensive at the Chemin des Dames, scheduled for the 16th. And the preliminary artillery barrage for that offensive began the 9th. And here are a few notes to end the week: on the 7th, Cuba and Panama declare war on Germany, later in the week Brazil and Bolivia cut diplomatic ties with Germany, and Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria do the same with the US. And that was the week, a week of intense action as the Western Front comes alive after months of slumber. Erich Ludendorff, who had designed the new German defenses, had been surprised by the losses of April 9th - his 52nd birthday - especially to the Canadians at Vimy Ridge. At first he thought his new system didn’t work, but on closer examination it turned out that General Ludwig von Falkenhausen commanding the German 6th army, had not followed new instructions and continued to do the old style of defense, trying to block the Canadians with a heavily manned continuous front line and not falling back when pressed. He had kept his 2nd and 3rd lines near the front, vulnerable to artillery, and his reserves were 20km to the rear, too far away to do any good. Where the new system had been tried, it had worked and worked well. Falkenhausen was dismissed and every effort was made to ensure that the new system would be in full operation when the French attacked at the Chemin des Dames next week. If you want to know more about Ludendorf’s defense system, you can watch our special episode right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Koen Teunckens - please support us on Patreon to make this show better and better. And don’t forget to subscribe, see you next time.

Contents

History

Painting:"Ghosts of Vimy Ridge"
Painting:"Ghosts of Vimy Ridge"

Although the corps was within and under the command of the British Expeditionary Force, there was considerable political pressure in Canada, especially following the Battle of the Somme, in 1916, to have the corps fight as a single unit rather than have the divisions spread out through the whole army.[3] The corps was commanded by Lieutenant General Sir E.A.H. Alderson, until 1916. Political considerations[4] caused command to be passed to Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng. When Byng was promoted to a higher command during the summer of 1917, he was succeeded by General Sir Arthur Currie, the commander of the 1st Division, giving the corps its first Canadian commander. Currie was able to reconcile the desire for national independence with the need for Allied integration. He resisted pressure to replace all British officers in high-ranking positions, retaining those who were successful until they could be replaced by trained and experienced Canadians.[3] British staff officers made up a considerable part of the Corps – although by 1917, 7 of 12 infantry brigades were commanded by Canadians trained during the war, British regulars were the staff officers of the divisions and British officers held two-thirds of senior appointments across the infantry, artillery and Corps headquarters with only four of the most senior appointments being Canadian. Among the British officers were Alan Brooke (at the time a major of the Royal Artillery who planned the artillery barrages for Vimy Ridge and later) and William Ironside. Both became Field Marshals and held the position of Chief of the Imperial General Staff.[5]

The Canadian Corps captured Vimy Ridge in April, 1917, in a daring attack that was a turning point in the war, and as Currie called it, "the grandest day the Corps ever had".[6] During the German Spring Offensive of the spring and summer of 1918, the Canadian Corps supported British and French soldiers while they held the Germans back.[7] Between August 8 and 11, 1918, the corps spearheaded the offensive during the Battle of Amiens. Here a significant defeat was inflicted on the Germans, causing the German commander-in-chief, General Erich Ludendorff, to call August 8 "the black day of the German army." This battle marked the start of the period of the war referred to as "Canada's Hundred Days". After Amiens, the Canadian Corps continued to lead the vanguard of an Allied push that ultimately ended on 11 November 1918 at Mons where the British Empire had first met in conflict with Imperial German forces in 1914.[8]

At the end of war the Canadian 1st and 2nd Divisions took part in the occupation of Germany and the corps was eventually demobilized in 1919.[9] Upon their return home the veterans were greeted by large and welcoming crowds all across the country.[8] Total fatal battle casualties during the war was 56,638, 13.5% of the 418,052 sent overseas and 9.26% of the 611,711 who enlisted.[10]

Canadian Divisions under the Canadian Corps

Canadian Divisions[11]
Unit Formation patch Active Commanders Duration Major battles
1st Canadian Division
1 Canadian Infantry Division patch.png
Established: August 1914
Disbanded: 1919
Edwin Alderson March 1915 – Sept 1915 Second Battle of Ypres
Arthur Currie
Sept 1915 – June 1917 Battle of Mont Sorrel
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Vimy Ridge
Archibald Cameron Macdonell
June 1917 – 1919 Battle of Hill 70
Battle of Passchendaele
2nd Canadian Division
2 Canadian Infantry Division patch.png
Established: May 1915
Disbanded: 1919
Sam Steele
May 1915 – Aug 1915 None
R. E. W. Turner
Sept 1915 – Dec 1916 Battle of the Somme
Battle of Passchendaele
Henry Edward Burstall
Dec 1916 – 1919 Battle of Vimy Ridge
3rd Canadian Division
3rd Canadian Infantry Division patch.png
Established: Jan 1916
Disbanded: 1919
M. S. Mercer
Dec 1915 – Jun 1916
(died in combat)
Battle of Mont Sorrel
Louis Lipsett
Jun 1916 – Sep 1918 Battle of the Somme
Battle of Vimy Ridge
Battle of Passchendaele
Frederick Oscar Warren Loomis
Sep 1918 – 1919 None
4th Canadian Division
4 Canadian Armoured Division patch.png
Established: Apr 1916
Disbanded: 1919
David Watson
Apr 1916 – 1919 Battle of Vimy Ridge
Battle of Passchendaele
Battle of Amiens
Battle of Arras
Battle of Cambrai
5th Canadian Division
5 Canadian Armoured Division patch.png
Established: Feb 1917
Disbanded: Feb 1918
Garnet Hughes
Feb 1917 – Feb 1918 None

Battles

Following its formation in late 1915, the Canadian Corps readied to fight major battles as a unified entity, beginning in 1916. Additional actions were fought by one or more units of the corps (see separate listings for the divisions, above). Major battles fought by the corps were the following:

1916

1917

1918

Assessment

The military effectiveness of the corps has been extensively analyzed. The corps evolved steadily following the 1915 summer campaign. As Godefroy (2006) notes, the Canadian Expeditionary Force "worked ceaselessly to convert all of its available political and physical resources into fighting power."[2] One striking feature of the corps' evolution was its ability to exploit all opportunities for learning. This was a corps-wide activity, involving all levels from the commander to the private soldier. This ability to learn from allied successes and mistakes made the corps increasingly successful. Doctrine was tested in limited engagements and, if proven effectual, developed for larger scale battles. Following each engagement, lessons were recorded, analyzed and disseminated to all units. Doctrine and tactics that were ineffective or cost too many lives were discarded and new methods developed. This learning process, combined with technical innovation and competent senior leadership in theatre created one of the most effective allied fighting forces on the Western Front.[2]

References

  1. ^ English, J. (1991). The Canadian Army and the Normandy Campaign: A Study of Failure in High Command. Praeger Publishers, p 15. ISBN 978-0-275-93019-6
  2. ^ a b c Godefroy, A. (April 1, 2006). "Canadian Military Effectiveness in the First World War." In The Canadian Way of War: Serving the National Interest Bernd Horn (ed.) Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-1-55002-612-2
  3. ^ a b Weir, E. "Using the Legacy of World War I to Evaluate Canadian Military Leadership in World War II." Journal of Military and Strategic Studies. Fall 2004, 7(1) 7. Retrieved on 2010-05-24.
  4. ^ notably pertaining to the Ross Rifle controversy
  5. ^ Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment edited by Geoff Hayes, p97-99
  6. ^ Berton, P. (1986). Vimy. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. p. 292. ISBN 0-7710-1339-6.
  7. ^ "Spring Offensive". Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum. 2001. Archived from the original on 2009-02-08. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
  8. ^ a b "Canada's Hundred Days". Veterans Affairs Canada. 2004-07-29. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
  9. ^ Library and Archives Canada (2008-11-07). Armistice. Canada and the First World War. Retrieved on: 2010-05-24.
  10. ^ Statistics Canada (2009-08-07). Number of casualties in the First World War, 1914 to 1918, and the Second World War, 1939 to 1945. Source: Canada Yearbook, 1948. Retrieved on: 2010-05-24.
  11. ^ Nicholson, Gerald W. L. (1962). Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914–1919. Ottawa: Queen's Printer and Controller of Stationary.[permanent dead link]

Bibliography

Further reading

  • Christie, N. (1999). For King & Empire, The Canadians at Amiens, August 1918, CEF Books.
  • Christie, N. (1997). For King & Empire, The Canadians at Arras, August – September 1918, CEF Books.
  • Christie, N. (1997). For King & Empire, The Canadians at Cambrai, September – October 1918, CEF Books.
  • Dancocks, D. (1987). Spearhead to Victory – Canada and the Great War, Hurtig Publishers
  • Granatstein, J. (2004). Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-8696-9.
  • Morton, D. and Granatstein, J. (1989). Marching to Armageddon, Lester & Orpen Dennys Publishers.
  • Morton, D. (1993). When Your Number's Up, Random House of Canada.
  • Schreiber, S. (2004). Shock Army of the British Empire – The Canadian Corps in the Last 100 Days of the Great War, Vanwell Publishing Limited.

External links

This page was last edited on 9 September 2018, at 04:38
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