Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

Canal du Nord

The Battle of the Canal du Nord, 27 September – 1 October 1918

Horse team of the Royal Field Artillery pulling an 18 pounder field gun up the slope of a cutting through the bank of the Canal du Nord.In the last week of September 1918 four separate major Allied offensives were launched on the Western Front with the aim of finishing the war before the winter. In the second of these attacks the British First and Third Armies were to drive across the northern extension of the Hindenburg Line, towards Cambrai. The operation was a logical consequence Canadian success at Drocourt-Quéant and once again the Canadian Corps was given a principal role in the renewed offensive. The task of crossing the formidable obstacle of the Canal du Nord required the most careful planning and precisely organised artillery and engineer support underpinned the success of the attack.

At 5.20am, on Friday 27 September, following a night of heavy rain, assault troops of the Canadian 4th and 1st Divisions left their cramped assembly positions and attacked on a narrow front (centred on Sains-lez-Marquion) behind a devastating creeping barrage; Third Army’s infantry, immediately to the right (south) advanced simultaneously. With dense clouds of smoke blowing towards the enemy lines the leading Canadian assault troops, assisted by tanks, quickly crossed the canal; Royal Engineers immediately began bridging operations to speed troops, guns and supplies over the captured barrier for the next forward moves; the Marquion Line was passed later that morning and following much fierce fighting, the high ground of Bourlon Wood was in Canadian hands by nightfall; good progress was also made by Third Army. Attacks were renewed next day; though Canadian progress slowed, Third Army forces captured Noyelles, Marcoing, and Gouzeaucourt, and seriously threatened Cambrai.

In two days an advance of six miles was made on a twelve mile front; 10,000 enemy prisoners and 200 guns were taken. This spectacular success represented a vital preliminary to Fourth Army’s attack on the Hindenburg Line scheduled for 29 September.

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