In the fall of 1918 no German position was as strongly held as the Drocourt-Quéant Line. A dozen miles east of Arras, the D-Q Line was the heart of the enemy defences on the Western Front, the lynchpin of the vaunted Hindenburg Line of which it formed a central part. Deep dug-outs and tunnels, countless machine guns poking out of steel and concrete bunkers, preceded by successive lines of trenches and a veritable forest of barbed wire. Eight entire divisions manned it. German High Command, with some reason, believed it to be impregnable. On September 2nd, 1918 preceded by a massive artillery barrage, troops of the Canadian Corps stormed it and took it in a single day. As a battalion history would later write, it was “a red letter day” in the history of the British Army. With its loss went German hopes of holding there for winter; its defenders retreated to the watery barrier of the Canal du Nord. Outflanked, the German armies to the south began a broad withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line itself. In the days thereafter the British Third Army liberated village after village, virtually unopposed.
At 3 a.m. on August 26th 1918, in pouring rain, began one of the most decisive and little-known battles of the war. Today it is called the second Battle of Arras, or Battle of the Scarpe 1918. Confusingly, there are a proliferation of other names, explaining perhaps why it has been so unjustly neglected. Past the twin rises of Orange and Chapel Hills, past the hilltop village of Monchy-Le-Preux – the scene of hard fighting in 1917 – the Canadian Corps battled its way through a veritable maze of trench systems to ground not seen by Allied eyes since 1914. By the morning of August 30th the old British and German trench-lines had fallen, as had the Fresnes-Rouvroy Switch. Even the vaunted Hindenburg Line near Neuville-Vitasse was no longer in German hands. Receiving the first day’s news General Ludendorff was to order a withdrawal of 10 miles on a fifty-five mile front; the gains of the Spring Offensives evaporating. Of the battle itself, Field-Marshal Haig wrote: “it was the greatest victory a British army has ever achieved.” In 3 days of fighting, these 10 miles of wire, trenches and machine-gun nests along the Arras-Cambrai road had cost 5,800 casualties in the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions. And the reputedly impregnable Drocourt-Quéant Line was still to come…
On August 8th, 1918, the most important Allied offensive of the Great War began. A hundred years later, to the day, I am delighted to announce that my new WW1 novel My Hundred Days of War will be released on October 16th. It is a sequel to Malcolm MacPhail’s Great War.
Available in trade paperback and e-book formats as a pre-order at Amazon, Chapters-Indigo, Kobo and many other fine retailers.
Tinques, France, July 1st, 1918
July 1st, 1918 – With the threat of the German offensives beaten off, the Canadian Corps came together in massive numbers to celebrate Dominion Day and the Corps Championships at Tinques France. Dignitaries from far and wide visited. It was to be a last carefree day in the sun when war, for a day, seemed far off. Five weeks later the Corps would spearhead the surprise Allied attack at Amiens together with the Australian Corps.
Happy Canada Day 2018!
March 21st, 1918, 4.40 a.m. Night turns to day as thousands of German guns erupt in an unprecedented barrage. Along the old battlefield of the Somme, Ludendorff had launched Operation Michael, what was to be the first of his spring offensives. Following in the wake of the shells, and through the deep fog that cloaked the battlefield, came the shock troops. Well equipped, and trained, selected from among the best of the German army, they surged through General Gough’s Fifth Army. Within mere days, the hard-fought gains of 1916 were lost, and the front was crumbling.
60 miles to the north,the Canadian Corps, stationed near Lens, was guarding Vimy Ridge: the key to the last collieries still in French hands, and the vital north-south road and rail links. For them there was nothing to do, but dig in, and await the storm.
Shop window of British Grenadier Bookshop, Ieper, Belgium
I can’t imagine a more appropriate setting: only metres from the Menin Gate in Ypres, in the gloriously decorated shop window of the Grenadier Bookshop! Malcolm MacPhail’s Great War now available in-store in Ypres (Ieper).
www.4CMR.com – (click for link)
Ian, the driving force behind the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles site, has very graciously placed Malcolm MacPhail’s Great War as the featured book on the front page of the website. I’m very pleased about this as the 4th CMR are featured in a couple of chapters. 4CMR.com is a superb site dedicated to remembering those who served in this storied battalion of the CEF, and is packed with detailed information on individual soldiers, the battalion, war diaries and much more.
www.awriterofhistory.com – (click for link)
It was an honour to be asked to write a guest post on author M.K. Tod’s excellent historical fiction blog, A Writer of History. She is the author of three novels and, in one of those funny twists, also wrote about WW1. In my guest appearance I chose to write on what historical fiction can tell us about history, that history can’t.
www.montrealatwar.com – (click for link)
A fascinating new WW1 book, Montreal at War 1914-1918, by one of Canada’s premier historians, Dr. Terry Copp. Intriguingly, the book (not yet fully complete) is presented in the form of a website, allowing all sorts of additional functionality and features such as an extensive array of photographs, maps, links and so forth. Well worth having a look. And a read!
42nd Black Watch Battalion Christmas Card
An interesting look at how one of the battalions in Malcolm’s division spent Christmas a hundred years ago. It was a “quiet day” according to the divisional war diary. But the war went on: 5 patrols were out, and the Germans shelled their positions with a high velocity gun. Later, aeroplanes dropped some pineapples – of the explosive variety. Not what any of us, anno 2017, and sitting in front of our Christmas trees, would describe as quiet!
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!!