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Pictured above: The Canadians as they enter the city of Cambrai, 1918
Canada was launched into the battle set to end The Great War:
This is Canada’s Hundred Day's
Secrecy In the Corps
In the Spring of 1918, the German Kaiser launched the largest offensive in the campaign. The offensive took over more territory than either side had achieved in the entire war since 1914, setting the allies back in four separate offences.
The Germans knew they had act fast, as by this time, the United States were deploying troops and resources to the allies. As well, the Germans were running out of material and resources themselves. With the Russian surrender on the Eastern front, the German offensive on the western front gained nearly all 50 battalions of soldiers to help in the attack. The Kaiser knew it was a 'now or never' moment. If not now, the war would be lost indefinitely.
The allies had been forced back so far that they knew they needed to gamble on an offensive of their own. The allies looked to the force that they knew had come through time and time again during this war, the force that the Germans had been so careful not to take head on: The Canadian Corps.
Leader Sir Arthur Currie devises a plan for the retaliation and knows if he and his Canadians are to pull off this feat, he would have to do more then just take on the Germans head-on, but by surprise. To start off, Currie chooses the city where the Germans had initially been stopped on their march to the sea - that is the city of Amiens.
The Canadian Corps had been stationed in Vimy, so getting them to the lines of Amiens without alarming the German soldiers would be a difficult achievement of its own. The allies then put together a decoy Canadian army. This decoy force consisted of loud daytime movements with radio communication on a march North, from Vimy towards Belgium. The secrecy of the real Canadian movements was so crucial at this time that the phrase, “KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT” was added to their service and pay book.
While the decoy army would march during the day, Currie and his 100,000 Canadians would march under the cover of darkness in complete silence, on a march South, from Vimy, towards Amiens.
John Harold Becker, a 24-year old soldier with the Corps, recalls - “Not a man in our platoon had any idea where we were, we marched for a long time in a forest, pitch blackness. and finally halted, fell off the side of a narrow road under the trees, and laid down in the rain”.
Troops fallen off a road on the route from Amiens to Cambrai
Taking Back Amiens
The allies, now in position under the cover of night, in a wooded area before Amiens, were ready to start the offensive. The force included more than 600 tanks, super-heavy field guns, howitzers, and 2,000 aircraft.
A Royal Air Force squadron lay smoke screens over the battlefield to hide the attacking Canadians. A heavy mist also concealed no man’s land as the attack grew closer on a moonless night. At 4:20 am on the 8th of August, 1918, the beginning of Canada's Hundred Day Battle would begin. Sweeping forward with the Australians on the left and French on the right the Canadians move out into open country. Unlike earlier attacks in the war, the Amiens assault would not be preceded by bombardment. The war had transformed over 4 years into a new kind of fast-moving warfare - with tanks, aircraft, and field artillery moving quickly forward in an attempt to drive the Germans out of Amiens.
The Germans were not only outnumbered, but were caught completely by surprise. Today, for the Germans, August 8th, 1918, is otherwise known as the "Black Day". In the words of German military chief Erich Ludendorff, the German troops were “Depressed down to Hell”
The first wave of Canadian troops moves so fast it quickly reaches beyond the range of its big guns, and runs into a wall of bullets from German machine gunners. Young and new Canadians soldiers were so optimistic about the outcome of the battle, they were rushing to pass other soldiers to go over the top. "May I go through you sir” - a common phrase on the golf links - was now implanted into the Canadian culture on the battlefield.
For the Allies, August 8th, 1918 was a very successful day. The Canadians captured all their objectives except for 1 - Le Quesnel, France - where troops were gunned down by heavily armed German machine gunners. Many soldiers were stuck to cover in whatever shell holes they could find.
Nevertheless, the Canadians had advanced 8 miles in one day and were ready to make another push while keeping the Germans on their heels.
August 9th, 1918 - the Canadians regroup and push to advance through Le Quesnel village - they advance further another 4 miles, despite a very heavy cost in casualties.
The offensive lasted 11 days in which the Canadians marched forward 24km, recapturing the city of Amiens with a great success. Haig personally congratulates the Canadians but not without feeling a great loss. The Canadians would suffer 12,000 casualties in just 11 days of battle.
The Canadian Memorial located at Bourlon Wood