‘Canada’s 100 Days’

Toronto Sun - - COMMENT - LORNE GUNTER

In the sum­mer of 1918, it wasn’t clear the First World War was com­ing to an end.

Through­out that spring, the Ger­mans had launched a se­ries of at­tacks along the front in France and Bel­gium.

By early Au­gust, Ger­man mil­i­tary lead­ers were mass­ing troops and ships for fur­ther land and sea bat­tles de­signed to break the re­solve of war­weary democ­ra­cies, such as Bri­tain and France.

Many peo­ple to­day, 100 years later, know the im­pact the Amer­i­cans had in re­sist­ing these Ger­man ad­vances.

But few, in­clud­ing few Cana­di­ans, know the im­pact our na­tion had in bring­ing the Great War to a con­clu­sion.

The Amer­i­cans had come late to the war.

How­ever, for more than a year they had been pour­ing men and weapons into bat­tle in large num­bers.

It’s prob­a­bly true that the First World War — which had largely been a meat-grind­ing stale­mate in north­east­ern France for more than three years — would have con­tin­ued as a deadly saw-off (or even turned into Ger­man vic­tory) with­out the en­try of “the Yanks.”

But it’s equally true that one of the blood­i­est wars in his­tory might well have dragged on more years with­out Cana­dian in­ge­nu­ity and tac­tics, too.

We were a tiny, fron­tier na­tion in 1914. There were fewer than 8 mil­lion of us stretched from sea to sea to sea. Yet over the four years of the war, nearly 10% of Cana­di­ans (619,000) pulled on a uni­form, took up a ri­fle and served over­seas.

More than a third of those who served were killed, wounded or cap­tured, too, a rate of loss that far ex­ceeded that of the Sec­ond World War.

But since Easter of 1917, when we be­gan to fight to­gether as Cana­di­ans un­der Cana­dian com­mand, Canada had done as much as any coun­try (and ar­guably more) to break the mur­der­ous stand­off of the trenches.

At Vimy in April 2017, Cana­di­ans per­fected the rolling ar­tillery bar­rage. Huge guns many kilo­me­tres be­hind the lines would lob shells into en­emy po­si­tions. Then they’d fire 100 me­tres or 150 me­tres fur­ther on, then an­other hun­dred and an­other as our troops ad­vanced. This was far more suc­cess­ful than the stan­dard prac­tice of send­ing men “over the top” of the trenches into with­er­ing can­non and ma­chine­gun fire.

And we had also en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­braced the use of air sup­port to at­tack en­emy lines while our troops ad­vanced.

At Amiens in early Au­gust 1918, the Ger­man high com­mand was sure Ger­many could de­feat the Al­lies with su­pe­rior fire­power and prove to politi­cians on both sides it was time to end the war on terms favourable to Ger­many.

But the Cana­dian com­man­der, Gen. Sir Arthur Cur­rie, changed tac­tics.

He sent many of his troops into Bel­gium. Since the Ger­mans had be­come used to Canada lead­ing Al­lied at­tacks, they shifted re­sources there.

Then, Cur­rie se­cretly re­called all his troops to Amiens and — with­out an ad­vanced ar­tillery bar­rage (the Cana­dian trade­mark) — launched a full-strength sur­prise at­tack on the French city and lib­er­ated it from the Ger­mans in just three days.

The loss greatly dam­aged the morale of Ger­man com­man­ders.

There­after, for the fi­nal 100 days of the war, Cana­di­ans served as the Al­lies “shock troops” in de­ci­sive bat­tles at Sec­ond Somme, Canal du Nord, Cam­brai, Mons and else­where. The four Cana­dian di­vi­sions de­feated all or part of 47 Ger­man di­vi­sions — one quar­ter of all the Ger­man troops on the Western Front.

These vic­to­ries came at a hor­rific cost. Forty-five thou­sand Cana­di­ans — around 20% of our to­tal ca­su­al­ties for the en­tire war — were killed, wounded or cap­tured in the Hun­dred Days cam­paign.

But many his­to­ri­ans (and not just Cana­dian ones), re­fer to this fi­nal, de­ci­sive stage of the First World War as “Canada’s Hun­dred Days.”

Lest we for­get.

GE­ORGE MET­CALF ARCHIVAL COL­LEC­TION © CANA­DIAN WAR MU­SEUM

A Cana­dian tank passes Ger­man pris­on­ers act­ing as stretcher-bear­ers fol­low­ing the Bat­tle of Amiens in Au­gust 1918.

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