The Final 100 Days: The End of the Battle of the Canal du Nord, October 2, 1918

End of Battle at the Canal du Nord

With a few exceptions, the Canadians had captured all objectives assigned to them following their crossing of the Canal du Nord. Despite this, the ultimate prize of Cambrai still lay just beyond their grasp. The capture of the city was contingent on support from British forces just to the north and south of the city - and while the Canadians waited for them to catch up, battle weary troops took advantage of the welcome rest. 

The 1st and 4th Canadian Divisions had been devastated by the fast tempo fighting. Prior to September 27th, the fighting strength of the 1st was 12,270 - throughout the Canal du Nord campaign, the division suffered 3,963 casualties. 

When held in comparison to losses sustained by other nations’ forces throughout the war, these figures can seem quite low; however, Canada was still a small nation, and replacing these men was extremely difficult in the final days of the war. As the days passed, finding experienced and capable Canadian men on the front line was becoming more and more difficult. 

Recognizing this, Canadian Corps Commander Arthur Currie moved the 1st and 4th into reserve, while the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions took positions on the front line.

One element of the 3rd Division, the elite 9th Brigade, had spearheaded the assault on Cambrai’s outer defences. Shifting slightly to the north of the city, a direct assault on the German positions had revealed a defence which was stronger than anticipated. In fact, the German forces launched a number of attacks on the positions recently assumed by the Canadians - something relatively rare this late in the war. 

The strength of German defensive positions disguised the decaying strength of their front line troops - while the positions themselves were supported by heavy machine guns and artillery, the front line troops were generally weak, and often incurred heavy casualties when faced with combat. At 6:15 PM on October 2nd, a German counterattack at Tilloy saw an entire German battalion destroyed by the defending 2nd Division. 

Canadian High Command began preparations for a direct assault on Cambrai.