Battle of the Canal du Nord

Bounced from the formidable Drocourt-Quéant Line three weeks earlier, the army of General von Below withdrew behind the Canal du Nord, blowing bridges as it went. The Canal du Nord, 20-metres wide with marshes, trenches and machine-gun nests behind, ran from north to south. It posed what seemed an impossible challenge for Allied generals: to continue the advance on Cambrai was crucial, yet to do so risked a bloodbath. Canadian Corps commander Lt.-General Sir Arthur Currie suggested a plan – one so risky that virtually the entire British High Command hastened to his headquarters to hear him out. Currie’s idea was to secretly assemble, then funnel his hundred-thousand men through a narrow dry stretch of canal bed before fanning out to attack the defenders from the rear. With few options available, Currie’s daring plan was approved. On the morning of September 27th 1918, the troops packed together, waited anxiously – an enemy bombardment would be devastating. But it didn’t come. At 5.20 a.m. 800 Canadian guns roared in unison, one for every 9 yards of front, four shells a minute from each. Behind this rolling storm of smoke, steel and high explosive, stormed the infantry, scaling ladders and ropes in hand. Within an hour the first troops were across. By day’s end the canal defences and trench lines were rolled up, the high ground of Bourlon Wood was in hand, and the city of Cambrai beckoned. The victory had been stunning, but the toughest fighting of the war still lay ahead…

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