The Final 100 Days: The Capture of Cambrai - October 9, 1918

While the Third and Fourth British Armies clashed with German forces on the outskirts of Cambrai, Canadian forces steeled themselves for an assault on the city itself.

High Command was reticent to send forces into the city itself, especially without a preceding artillery barrage. Although the Canadian Corps were considered elite, they (like most other armies of the First World War) lacked experience in urban fighting. The only prior battle in an urban atmosphere had been in Lens back in 1917, and the Canadians had failed to capture the city. 

Fears were assuaged when elements of the 3rd Canadian Division entered the city and found it deserted. German defenders had at first set parts of the city ablaze, and fled amidst the smoke and confusion. With the priority for the Canadians being stopping the blaze and capturing the city, the former defenders slipped out and to more secure positions.

While the 3rd Division cleared Cambrai, elements of the 2nd Division were focused on claiming the crossings over the canals and moats outside of the city. German engineers had rigged the bridges with timed explosives, set to deny the Allies any crossings, and hopefully slow them down as they retreated.

In one such instance, Captain C.N Mitchell of the 4th Battalion was forced to hold off counter-attacking Germans while engineers disarmed the bombs. Outnumbered and outgunned, Mitchell killed 3 and wounded 12, allowing his fellows to finish their work and save the bridge. Mitchell was the only Canadian engineer awarded the Victoria Cross. 

With Cambrai captured, the 2nd Division continued to push forward, capturing the towns of Escadoeuvres, Eswars, and Ramilles, and securing crossings over the Canal D’Escaut. 

To the south, at Le Cateau, the Canadian Calvary Brigade was operating in conjunction with the British Fourth Army. The Calvary was much better suited for the open plains, and were used to their fullest extent. Exploiting an opening along a 4 kilometre front, the Calvary swooped forward. The towns of Bertry, Troisville, Montay, and Le Cateau fell to the Canadians in a stunning gain of 13 kilometres. This would be the last action experienced by the Calvary in the First World War.

Victories on October 9th only padded the resume of the Canadian Corps, and added to their legend as the premier force on the Western Front.

Between August 22nd and October 11th, the 100,000 strong corps suffered a staggering 30,806 killed, wounded and missing; when combined with casualties from Amiens, this figure is astonishing; over 42,600 casualties. Though major victories had been won, the war continued, and the Corps would have to slog through weeks of fighting until the armistice was signed.