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Shock Army of the British Empire....

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An interesting review...

You could learn a lot about Canada’s national psyche from the country’s enduring fascination with the battle of Vimy Ridge, fought 95 years ago this past week.

Canadians fought dozens of major battles during the First World War. Yes, Vimy was the most tactically spectacular: One of the best-planned, best-executed Allied operations of the whole war. Vimy fully deserves the honour it carries in the national memory.

But the exclusive attention to Vimy obscures other Canadian achievements even more deserving of honour.

Who remembers now the Battle of Amiens in August, 1918? Yet it was this battle that broke the spirit of the German Army in the West. German troops broke and ran before a Canadian and Australian-led assault: the first German rout of the war. Between August and November, Canadians spearheaded a sequence of attacks that destroyed the German army’s will to fight.

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Those battles — collectively known as the Hundred Days — have been brilliantly summarized in a short book that, if it were up to me, would be assigned to every high school student in Canada: Shane Schreiber’s Shock Army Of The British Empire.

By Schreiber’s tally, the 100,000 Canadians who fought in the Hundred Days met almost one-quarter of the entire remaining German army on the Western Front: Forty-seven German divisions against four Canadians. The Canadian forces fought alongside an Australian/New Zealand contingent. The three Dominions together engaged some 40% of the German army.


Being a Canadian, of course, Schreiber underscores his point with a final statistical comparison to the U.S. forces in the Meuse-Argonne region on the southern portion of the Western front.

Troops engaged

Americans: 650,000

Canadians: 105,000

Duration of Operations

Americans: 47 days

Canadians: 100 days

Maximum Distance Advanced

Americans: 34 miles

Canadians: 86 miles

German Divisions Defeated (out of a total of 200)

Americans: 46

Canadians: 47

Average Number of Casualties Suffered per German Division Defeated

Americans: 2,170

Canadians: 975

Total Casualties

Americans: 100,000

Canadians: 45,830

Full article...


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Comparing figures isn't always a case of comparing apples to apples, which the article/book implies. There are several important differences that are not mentioned, and comparisons across the board (the other Allies) that are overlooked by people who tend to see battles, the war, and other conflicts through nationalistic eyes.

The last hundred days of WWI are worth study, but what happened should be seen as part of an overall Allied (and Associate Powers) strategy implimented by Generalissimo of the Armies, Ferdinand Foch. This part gets overlooked, or worse, flatly ignored because it doesn't support the current thinking among BEF/CEF proponents of how they think the Anglo speaking armies developed their military capabiliies during the war. During the waning days of the German 1918 offensives, Foch was appointed "Generalissimo" of the Armies. Foch's plan was very simple and direct, but not one sucessefully used prior to that time. Starting with the Allied counter-offesnive at the Marne in 1918, Foch ordered ALL of the Allied and American armies in the field to begin preparing for simultaneous offensives all along the line, which would "pin" German divisions in place, and prevent the Germans from being able to shuffle divisions from one hot spot to another as had been done in the past. He knew that unrelenting pressure would drain German reserves, and the entire line would start cracking, and the front would move.

He was correct in his thinking, and was able to orchestrate the almost simultaneous pressure along the entire German front because unlike earlier Allied commanders in the war, there was an actual single commander at the top who had the authority to develop strategic plans among the various armies under his overall command.

Comparing divisions to divisions, doesn't work for a couple of reasons. During the war, the Allies and Germans changed the sizes of their divisions and this resulted in the numbers of men in units were not always the same or comparable. German divisions during the last part of 1918, could be on the order of 5000 men or less. American divisions on the other hand could be as large as 20 thousand or more men. There is also the matter of how good or effective units were in combat. They were not all the same. German divisions ran the gamut of units that were rated little better than trench lline holdlers, and others that were ranked as top notch assault units, and many were in between.

The comparisons of divisions to divisions, almost never state what the Germans units were, their fighting capabilities, etc. German units were routinely rotated in and out of line to avoid being completely ground down and requiring long periods of refitting and retraining. A unit might be pulled out of line for routine replacement and redeployment, and that should not be taken to mean the unit was "destroyed" or "defeated" as period or current accounts often state. "Beaten", "defeated" etc are strong words that are not always accurate.

During the last hundred days, the Germans knew the Americans were planning an offensive in the Meuse-Argonne, and intentionally sent many of their best units there to prevent a brakthrough there, and to protect the vital rail junctions not far to the rear and close to Metz. An Allied/American breakthrough in that area could result in the rail junctions that ran from there, almost all along the French-German border and was used to supply the rear areas of the German army in France, would threaten the entire German position in France, and by extension the entire war effort there. The American army during the Meuse-Argonne was relatively new, had much to learn, and was facing experienced German units in an area that had been occupied and fortified for four years to protect the vital rail and communications area less 30 to 50 miles in the rear. The Germans fought hard, and knew they couldn't give ground or trade for time as they were doing elsewhere along the front.

Figures of how many miles advanced as proof of anything? Perhaps not. The French army is almost never mentioned for it's participation in the last hundred days of the war, yet from the start of the Marne counter-offensive in July 1918 through November 1918, the French army also fought in continuous offensives against the Germans and advanced all the time, from the Marne, along the BEF/CEF, Americans, and other Allied contingents, to the German border. Pull out a map, and look at the distance and amount of territory re-taken. If BEF/CEF focused writers included that information in their "statistics" the French figures would put the other figures in a diferent light.

Get some of the points? If anyone wants me to continue, I'm more than willing. The full story of the "100 days" is too often seen from a very narrow, and almost always from a nationalistic perspective and to get a better understanding of what happened (and why), what -all- of the other armies were doing, the importance of Foch and his principle of unified command and a single strategy of unrelenting attacks all along the line meant and what it did, along with a discussion of what the Germans did (or had done) are important aspects Anglo-centric writers almost always fail to consider as part of the whole.

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While I think that the Canadian army in WWI was unsurpassed, I always consider any Canadian media through a lens that takes into account our rather large inferiority complex due to the proximity of our more noticable neighbour to the south. I don't think we really need to blow our own national trumpet or jump up and down to get noticed internationally ....but alas we do it anyway.


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Hello readers:

I have read this thread with great interest. For English reading followers of this thread it seems that the following, mentioned book may be worth reading:

"AMIENS Dawn of Victory' by James Mc Williams and R. James Steel.

Published 2001 by Dundurn Press in Canada, England and the USA.ISBN 1-55002-342-X

Includes some photos and the OoB.

For German language readers:

In the post WW I series Schlachten des Weltkrieges initiated and with collaboration of the Reichsarchiv, in 1930 appeared as volume 36 "Die Katastrophe des 8.August 1918". Includes maps and OoB for both the Allied Forces and the German defenders. The German OoB includes the classification of the several German divisions as to their combat worthiness , i.e. categorized as attack, strictly defense or intervention qualified (Les in # 3 mentioned this).

Of note is that while the United Kingdom army divisions were reduced by one battalion per brigade to three, the Australian and Canadian maintained their brigade structures at four.

The above mentioned German book makes no excuses but frankly describes this battle as the beginning of the end. The 8 August is also known as "The Black Day of the German Army". I know not of any restriction of the volumes of Schlachten des Weltkrieges after 1933 because some volumes contradict the slogans of the National Socialists that a stab in the back of the army ( Dolchstoss) lost the war.

Bernhard H. Holst

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Realistically the end of war figures of divisions crushed. captured and destroyed mean nothing at all.

I have not read up on all sectors but did a bit of research on some units in the Meuse Argonne sector in October-November due to a German Tunic I have named to an officer in an Infantry Regiment that "fought" there.

He belonged to one of the crushed divisions. When you read the regt histories of the division, they did not really bother to do much fighting at this stage, they were there... but not too active, unless noone bothered to enter things into the regt diary.

It serves no purpose (IM as always HO) to compare any late 1918 stats to any other period in the war. From September to November in some sectors the problem was not that you had to fight the Germans, but rather finding Germans worthy of fighting.

That may be why Canadians who served in WW1 made more of Vimy than the last 100 days. (Try and find a German Regt history that mentions any real fighting this late. They are few and far between).

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