This is the last in our series of blogs marking the contribution of Commonwealth nations to the Somme offensive a century ago. Today – 18 November – was the last day of the last battle of that four-and-a-half month struggle; a battle named after another river and tributary of the Somme, the Ancre. This blog will explore the contribution made by the 4th Canadian Division to that fight.
Since the beginning of the Somme battles in July, Commonwealth and French armies had made limited gains north and south of the Somme river. After the initial, massive thrust of the first phase had been checked by German defences at some cost, the battles of early autumn were comparatively constrained. Nonetheless, their tempo was dictated by the promise of exhausting the reserves of German manpower and exploiting the weaknesses in their new, hastily constructed positions. As a series of battles running from July to November, however, the offensive naturally experienced most of the seasons and, with them, the full gamut of Northern European weather. This became particularly problematic as autumn rolled on, and the prospect of sustained operations into the winter gradually diminished; they were to continue, weather permitting.
By the middle of October rain and mist were obscuring the battlefields and making living conditions extremely trying for soldiers. These conditions also limited the scope of artillery and aircraft. Without the ability to survey the ground from above and with gun barrels worn from months of continuous action, counter-battery fire (engaging German artillery) and accurate bombardment of German defences were at times difficult. Nonetheless, as a prelude to the final action and after a number of delays, what became known as the Battle of the Ancre Heights was fought between 15 October and 12 November. This was an effort to secure Stuff Trench and Regina Trench, thereby occupying the continuation of the Thiepval Ridge defences and the high ground around the River Ancre. After a number of false starts thanks to waterlogged ground and frequent rain, the ridge was eventually captured by 21 October with small, consolidating actions taking place into the next month and finishing on 11 November. Continue reading »