The Final 100 Days - September 27, 1918 - The Battle of the Canal du Nord

Capitalizing on the success of the previous day’s launch of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Allied Forces began another critical campaign in the Arras region.

The Canadian Corps under General Arthur Currie kicked off their long-planned assault on the Canal du Nord. 

5:20 saw a creeping barrage begin the attack. Infantrymen of the 1st and 4th Canadian Divisions huddled in their jumping off positions, a drizzling rain forcing them to pull their greatcoats tight around their necks, waiting for the whistle calling them over the top. 

At AM, the first four Canadian Battalions began to cross the Canal. Operating on a 2km wide front did not allow for a mass movement of Canadian forces - instead, infantry would follow each other through the canal at a measured pace, and continue to flow over each other once they reached the opposite side. 

By 6:05 AM, the first German prisoner had arrived at the rear, signalling the initial success of the assault. 

After crossing the Canal, elements of the 1st Canadian Division moved north to capture supplementary defences around Cambrai. The 4th Canadian Division, under the recently promoted Frederick Loomis, had the unenviable task of capturing the Bourlon Wood. 

The 44th and 46th Battalions acted as the vanguard for the 4th Division, whilst the 4th and 14th Battalions were chosen to lead the way for the 1st Division. All were battle-hardened, but depleted; for instance, the 44th Battalion went into battle with 533 men out of the standard 1000.

In spite of stiff defence and depleted units, the first day of the assault was an incredible success. General Currie’s greatest fear lay in the Canal - if a bottleneck were to have formed, it would have provided an easy target for German artillery, and could have easily destroyed the Corps. These fears were assuaged once the first objectives were captured by 10 AM. 

The Corps ran into trouble capturing the Bourlon Wood. To say the operation hinged on capturing the Wood was no stretch; in order for the British Third Army to advance from the south, the defences contained in the wood had to be neutralized. 

The 54th, 87th, and 102nd Battalions were tasked with capturing the Wood. These men came from across the country - British Columbians made up the 54th and 102nd, while Montrealers formed the core of the 87th. In a combined effort, the Canadians cleared the wood, strongpoint by strongpoint, while incurring huge casualties. By day’s end, the 102nd would have to combine with the 75th Battalion due to the losses incurred. 

The day had been a success. But like all battles, victory was measured in blood. Casualties were mounting, and would continue to do so for the next few weeks. But by day’s end, the Canadians could see Cambrai from their captured positions. With their target in site, the Corps prepared for the next day’s action.