30/3/1918 Moreuil Wood: Canadian cavalry stops the German advance #1918Live

Ludendorff has belatedly fixated on Amiens as a target for his spring offensive. If this railway hub falls then the Allies will not be able to sustain themselves in the Somme sector, which could lead to a general collapse. However German stormtrooper numbers have been depleted by the heavy fighting since the start of the battle, while the survivors are increasingly exhausted. Desperate resistance by the British and their French and Commonwealth allies is slowing the German advance to a crawl.

The village of Villers-Bretonneux commands the approaches to Amiens. If the Germans take here they will be able to shell Amiens. But for now they are unable to dislodge the Allies. Meanwhile at the Moreuil Woods a bizarre episode takes place. German troops have occupied the woods, overlooking the Amiens-Paris railway, but now Canadian cavalry units are ordered forward against them. Machine guns and barbed wire have rendered cavalry obsolete on the Western Front, but somehow in confused fighting the Canadians push back the the Germans, breaking the momentum of their attack in this sector. At the end of the charge the scene in woods is horrific, a landscape of dead and broken men and horses.

Ludendorff licks his wounds. His offensive on the Somme appears to have failed to break the Allies, though he will renew his efforts to take Amiens after a short pause. But for Ludendorff the Somme battle is only a phase of his spring offensive. His attentions now turn to Flanders, where he hopes that another round of assaults will drive the British into the sea.

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Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron, by Alfred Munnings (Wikipedia)

6/11/1917 Passchendaele finally falls to the Canadians #1917Live

The British and their Commonwealth allies have been plugging away at Ypres for months now. Now at last after several failed attempts a Canadian assault captures the village of Passchendaele. This heap of ruins is of no strategic importance but its capture allows Haig to claim that victory of a sort has been achieved. The Third Battle of Ypres now winds down, with the British generals finally accepting that conditions are too poor for further offensive action.

Both sides have suffered greatly in this battle. Exact numbers are unclear but both sides appear to have taken more than 200,000 casualties since the first British attacks at the end of July. It appears to be the case that in the latter stages of the fighting as many as one in four of the British dead died not from enemy gunfire but by drowning in mud.

images source (Wikipedia: Battle of Passchendaele)

26/10/1917 Canadians take their turn being killed at Passchendaele #1917Live

At Ypres, a recent British and ANZAC attempt to advance on Passchendaele has failed. Now the Allies attack again. The British and the antipodeans have been so battered by previous efforts that now it falls to the Canadians to take the leading role. But the Canadians are no more able to advance on Passchendaele than their predecessors. Even without the guns of the Germans, it has become extremely difficult to move across the water-sodden battlefield and the attacks make minimal progress.

An attack by Belgian and French forces to the north of the Ypres salient is somewhat more successful. The Germans are pushed back and several of their pillbox defensive positions captured. The Belgians and French prepare to push on tomorrow. The Canadians and British meanwhile lick their wounds and plan to renew their advance on Passchendaele in the near future.

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Mud (Copwick: images of Poelcapelle and the Passchendaele battle site)

29/8/1917 Canada moves towards conscription

At the start of the war, Canada was like Britain and the other dominions in having a small professional army. Since then it has relied on voluntary enlistment to make up the numbers of its expeditionary force in Europe. But as the war has assumed an increasingly bloody character the number of volunteers has reduced. Within Canada enlistment is somewhat uneven. French Canadians appear to be particularly disinclined to enlist. This may be because they are unenthusiastic about the war, but the Canadian government’s failure to create francophone units for them may also be a factor.

In an effort to continue the flow of recruits to the Canadian army, Prime Minister Robert Borden proposes to introduce conscription. This should also ensure that each part of Canada plays its part in feeding the guns. So today Canada’s parliament passes the Military Service Act, which gives the government the power to conscript. The measure is bitterly opposed by many, not all of them French Canadians.

Borden does not yet invoke the powers given to him by the Act. There is an election due later this year, which will most likely be fought on the conscription issue. Rather than inflame the opponents of conscription now he decides to wait until after the election to begin enforced recruitment. In the meantime he looks at ways to manipulate the electoral rolls in order to maximise the likely votes of those who support conscription.

images source (A City Goes to War: 1917 Election – Conscription)

16/8/1917 Third Ypres: more failed attacks

Despite the bad weather, the British are continuing with their offensive in Flanders. Canadian troops have been making diversionary attacks at Lens but today the main British attacks resume on the Gheluvelt Plateau north of Ypres (with secondary attacks elsewhere).

The British fare little better than when they attacked on the 10th. They manage to storm the village of Langemarck but are unable to make further progress. The mud and the German defences make Haig‘s dreams of a breakthrough impossible to realise.

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Crossing the Yser Canal (Radcliffe on Trent WW1: 3rd Battle of Ypres 1917)

17/5/1917 As the Battle of Arras ends, Haig’s thoughts turn to Ypres

The Battle of Arras is now over. The battle began as a diversion, an attempt to draw German attention away from the French offensive in the Chemin des Dames sector. Great initial successes were achieved but as the battle went on it became more like the typical Western Front meat-grinder battle.

The offensive should have been wound down once the French offensive began, but when it became apparent that the French were suffering a disaster in the Chemin des Dames Haig kept the attacks going. Now though the battle is at an end. The British and their Commonwealth allies have suffered just under 160,000 casualties. German losses are around 130,000.

With Arras over, Haig is now free to plan for his summer offensive, a planned major assault on the German lines at Ypres in Flanders. Haig hopes to break through the German lines and clear them from the Belgian coast, eliminating the German naval bases that have been threatening Allied shipping in the Channel.

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Canadian machine gunners, Vimy Ridge (Wikipedia)

30/4/1917 Bloody April: the red skies above Arras

The failure of Nivelle’s offensive in the Chemin des Dames and the unrest emerging in the French army has put the spotlight back on the British. Haig‘s men are continuing their offensive at Arras, now the main Allied effort on the Western Front, for all that it was originally meant to be just a diversion for the French. British troops (and their allies from Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries) continue to struggle with the enemy, but there is no repeat of the spectacular successes of the first day.

The British have deployed a large number of aircraft to the Arras battle. Aerial observation is vital for ensuring accurate artillery targeting of German positions. To disrupt the British observers, the Germans have deployed a large number of their own fighters to the battle, including star pilots like Richthofen, the Red Baron. German aircraft still outclass the aeroplanes of their enemies, so the result is a one-sided battle.

Over the last month the British have lost 275 aircraft in the battle. 50% of their air crews have been casualties. Richthofen’s squadron shoots down some 89 of the Allied aircraft, with the Red Baron alone bringing down some 21 aircraft. The life expectancy of a newly deployed British airman drops to just 11 days.

German losses are not inconsiderable, with some 66 of their aircraft brought down. And despite German successes, the sheer number of British aeroplanes deployed to Arras means that they continue to be able to supply the artillery with accurate information on German ground deployments.

image source (rOEN911 on DeviantArt)