GAS ATTACKS AT YPRES

“I have never been in a battle — and I have been in many — where the men were suffering in such numbers that their crying and groaning could be heard all over the battlefield.”

Anonymous Soldier

  • Canada’s first major battle in the war, near ancient city of Ypres in Belgium 1915
  • Canadian troops were send to hold 3.5 km of front line in the face of heavy German attack
  • Troops were surprised by a deadly new weapon – GAS ATTACK!!!
  • It was the first poison gas attack (gas had been outlawed for military use by international agreement since 1899)
  • ..yellow green clouds of gas filled the trenches, burned the eyes and throat and destroyed the lungs
  • Canadians were the only troops to hold the line — a Canadian recognized the gas as Chlorine and came up with an antidote — the men soaked their handkerchiefs in urine and held them over their faces – EWWWWW!!! However, the ammonia in the urine neutralized the chlorine gas.
  • Canadians stalled the German advance and won high praise for their courage but, at a high cost!
  • Over 6000 men died, one in five was listed as killed in action, gassed, missing or wounded.
  • Later in the war even more deadly poison gases were used by both sides. MUSTARD GAS burned the respiratory tract and caused blindness

BATTLE OF THE SOMME

  • July 1st, 1916 — The battle of the Somme was the most disastrous the British Army had ever faced
  • After the first day, there were 57 470 British and Canadian casualties
  • Troops from Newfoundland and Labrador:
    • Faced a strong part of the German line
    • British bombardment was supposed to have taken out the German machine gun posts — UNTRUE
    • Soldiers were mowed down as they crossed no mans land
    • 90% of the regiment was dead or wounded
    • July 1st is till marked for remembrance in Newfoundland and Labrador
  • General Haig insisted that the battle continue — 141 days the Battle of the Somme dragged on
  • Canadians were particularly recognized here for their dedication and saying power — referred to as storm troopers
  • When it finally ended — 2 months after it began — 1.25 casualties on both sides, 24 000 were Canadian
  • The British had advanced no more than 11km

VIMY RIDGE

  • Feb. 1917 Gen. Arthur Currie was given orders to capture Vimy Ridge — the German position seemed invincible
  • Currie was certain that poor planning and scouting had caused heave casualties in the past.
  • Currie prepared by:
    • Troops built a full scale model of the battle area and practiced
    • Planes flew reconnaissance missions and plotted the positions of German guns
    • Light railway lines were built to move artillery
    • Underground tunnels were drug to move troops and supplies safe
    • The Plan:
      • Troops would follow a massive barrage of artillery fire on German position. Usually troops waited days for the artillery to take out enemy guns.
      • By following immediately, Canadians had the element of surprise
    • The Canadians won the only big victory for the Allies in 1917 and as a result Canadian nationalism began to grow — at the peace talks after the war, Canada was allowed to represent itself instead of being represented by Britain.

PASSCHENDALE (MUD, MUD AND MORE MUD!)

  • “Good God! Did we really send soldiers to fight in that?
    • After Vimy, Currie was knighted
    • Oct. 1917 General Haigh called on him to come up with a plan to take Passchendale
    • This Belgian area had once been under the North Sea, and when shelling destroyed the drainage ditches, the area became waterlogged.
    • The mud was horrible:
      • Men wept with sheer frustration
      • Duckboards were placed as pathways over the mire
      • Nevertheless, thousands of soldiers and horses sank and drowned
      • Tanks and locomotives also go bogged down
    • The troops took the ridge by 16 000 Canadians lost their lives for only 7 km of mud that the Germans soon won back.

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