Use this organizer to keep track of the important information from the following 5 battles from the First World War.
By the time the Canadians arrived in the Ypres Salient in the spring of 1915, the devastation brought on by the war was on full display. The ancient city of Ypres, France had been flattened by German shell fire the previous October.
In the late afternoon of April 22nd, 1915 the German army took advantage of a favourable wind to release a cloud of chlorine gas. Soldiers of the Canadian 1st Division watched as the yellow-green cloud descended into the French trenches. Chaos ensued as panicked soldiers inhaled the lethal chemical.
The Germans then advanced with their infantry. The Canadians rushed to create a new defensive line to stop the German assault. Throughout the night they clashed with German troops who had moved with ease through the lines vacated by the French troops.
Nowhere was this more dramatic than at Kitchener's Wood, where the 16th and 10th battalions made a full bayonet charge across more than 200 metres of open territory.
The German fire killed or wounded nearly two-thirds of the 1,800 attacking troops. But the Canadians succeeded in reaching the wood and blunting the German advance for a brief period.
On the morning of April 24th, the Germans released a second wave of gas, this time directly against the Canadian lines. The Canadians improvised by breathing through urine soaked cloth for limited protection against the gas. Eventually the Canadians were forced back. They suffered more than 6,000 casualties. It was a horrible introduction to war on the front, but the Canadians had proven they could hold their own in the face of a devastating attack.
The week after the gas attack Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae quietly wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields.”
Canadian troops had been lucky to avoid the bloodbath at the Somme that started on July 1st, 1916. The first day of the campaign saw more than 60,000 British casualties, including the near annihilation of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel, France.
It was the single worst day in the history of the British Army.
Despite the high casualties, the Battle of the Somme continued through the summer and into the fall of 1916. By September, the Canadians were called to take their turn in a series of new attacks.
On September 15th, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division launched successful attacks toward the small French hamlet of Courcelette. The French Canadian 22nd (“Van Doos” Battalion) and the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) captured the objective and then held off 17 German counter-attacks through four days of extreme and bloody close-quarters fighting.
By September 26th the Canadians had launched a succession of new attacks against German trench systems running just beyond Courcelette. Despite repeated efforts, they gained possession of only the first of three main trenches.
The main objective — a system of defences known simply as Regina Trench — remained in German hands. Massive barbed-wire entanglements made the German trench nearly impossible to take, and when the Canadians did reach it they were thrown back by extensive German counter-attacks. The fighting left the first three Canadian divisions exhausted.
They were withdrawn and British troops, along with the newly recruited 4th Canadian Division, arrived to again renew the attack. Blistering artillery barrages eventually pounded Regina Trench into a smudge on the landscape before it was finally captured. With both sides exhausted and winter setting in, the Battle of the Somme came to an end.
The fighting at the Somme shifted the front lines only eight kilometres at a horrendous cost of more than 1 million casualties, including 24,000 dead and wounded Canadians. The human toll of the battle remains as controversial today as it was at the time.
After the battle, Canadian General Arthur Currie undertook a thorough review of the Somme campaign and the massive French battle at Verdun. The innovations and tactics suggested in his report would lay the groundwork for the victories to come.