August 8, 1918
Canada’s Hundred Days
The Hundred Days Offensive, the Allied advance from Amiens to Mons that ended the First World War, began with a move familiar to Canadians: deking out the opponent.
By the summer of 1918, Canadians had the reputation as the best attack troops on the Western Front, and were chosen to spearhead the offensive. But they were carefully observed by the Germans, who believed their movement heralded major offensives.
So, some Canadian troops were shifted to Ypres, Belgium, while the bulk of the force was secretly amassed 180 kilometres south, near Amiens. On Aug. 8, the Canadians joined the British, Australians and French in a successful surprise attack that not only broke German lines, but spirits as well. German General Erich Ludendorff called it “the black day of the German Army.”
In three days, the Canadians advanced 20 kilometres, liberating two dozen villages and towns and capturing about 9,000 prisoners, at a cost of nearly 12,000 casualties.
On Sept. 2, the Canadians breached the Drocourt-Quéant Line, near Arras, France, part of the 80 kilometres of fortified trenches making up the Hindenburg Line. Lieutenant-General Arthur Currie called it “one of the finest feats in our history.”
The main Hindenburg Line, protected by the Canal du Nord, was the next target, breached in a combined offensive on Sept. 27. Canadians shortly captured Bourlon Wood, which protected Cambrai, an important railway and supply hub.
After fierce fighting, Cambrai was liberated on Oct. 11. Though Canadian units fought through to the bitter end, the four divisions last attacked together that day at nearby Canal de la Sensée.
The Canadian success is credited to solid, sometimes audacious, planning, mobile infantry aided by rolling artillery barrages, support from the air force, and superb logistics, particularly from the engineers. Their surreptitious, night-built bridges permitted surprise troop movement, and tramways ensured fast delivery of battlefield supplies.
A series of running battles in the final month of the war saw the Germans retreat about 70 kilometres across France to Mons, Belgium, which Canadian troops liberated in the early hours of Nov. 11.
Canadians played a significant role in the ending of the First World War, but at a cost. In Canada’s Hundred Days, the 100,000 men of the Canadian Corps put the boots to about 50 German divisions, but suffered 45,835 casualties. The last, Private George Lawrence Price, was killed just minutes before the Armistice came into effect.