Monday, April 9, 2007
Hill 145 & The Pimple
Originally published 11/11/06; Updated, 04/09/07, with new links!
General Arthur Currie
After 3 years of carnage, where the life-blood of entire generations from four continents was left in the soil of Europe, someone on the front lines was given real power to realize a plan that hopefully would see the Allies out of four years of senseless death. That person was Canadian General Arthur Currie and his plan was one the first sign of no front warfare.
(with help from: senior commander, Field marshal, Douglas Haig and Field Marshal Third Army, Julian Byng. It is important to note that after this battle Currie took over Byng's job, as Byng was shuffled up the ladder of success. Currie was the first Canadian Commander of the Canadian Corps.)
Curries plan was the logical progression of the ever increasing complexity of modern war but most importantly a recognition of how artillery and machine gun had forced tactics to change.
'The Pimple' is the name given to the high ground upon which the German artillery dominants the great plain around Passchendaele just beyond Ypres. Hill 145, just to south, and in range of the Pimple, must be taken at the same time.
The soldiers who would be going over the top were informed of the details of the attack and trained for weeks on actual sized layouts of enemy positions; layed out on the ground from maps drawn by special forces reconisance and aircraft photography. A new tactic soldiers really liked, was going over the top in small lines, in sections, rather than as a line to be cut down like wheat to a scythe of machine gun fire. They trained to walk slowly, at an even pace, under fire. As they walked out into no mans land the morning of the attack, behind them, the guns would be sounding and in front of them a curtain of death, artillery, 'softening up' the enemy and cutting wire. The Canadians were to walk calmly into this hell, pacing like the zombies in 'Night of the Living Dead'.
By the end of the day, special forces on both hills are successful - with horrendous loses compared with modern tactics. The pre-planned, fast advance through the centre begins. Now the giant machine, Nye a CITY, the size of present day Vancouver, lurches to life, a colossal Juggernaut. Forward, to exploit the opening, it moves 4.5 miles the first day, the largest single advance by either side since the first summer of the war, 1914.
Currie had created a mammoth communications and supply infrastructure that looked like a modern government bureaucracy. Generals integrated real-time statistical information into the battle plan as it unfolded. It was designed to exploit the openings victory in battle created; with lightning speed, powerful, rapid advances: 'Bite, Hold, Push, Bite, Hold, Push.' Like a coiled steel snake, designed to move powerfully and quickly, in a synchronised fashion. This was one of the first successful examples of what later became known as Combined Operations.
It was a template for war to come. But of coarce it came from the study of the past; Currie probably borrowed from Field Marshal Alfred Graf von Schlieffen; who's battle plan was the opening act of this war. More importantly I think, is Currie's first hand knowledge of the effects of artillery and machine guns on soldiers that was the key to his success.
One of the flanks in this battle, we remember as Flanders Fields. It's where the beautiful poem comes from, from where the Remembrance Day Poppies come from. It was the first battle in the First World War where the Lines moved Miles rather than Yards. It was the beginning of the next wars; Mechanization, speed, tanks, Blitzkrieg, Asymmetric warfare, Combined Operations.
No credit to the Canadian Military hierarchy, they buried Currie after the war. Thankfully we re-learned his lessons in time to contribute in the victory over Fascist Germany, in the second go around, WWII.
If you're in the Canadian Forces now, this should be required reading.--->
Inter Press Service News Agency/New Canadian Counter-insurgency field manual coming.
For King And Empire -a Great documentary, great web site, great maps!
Canadian Government Archives: War Diaries -original sources!
The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation - West Points leading edge theory
Cut and paste into your browser ( http://www.censol.ca/research/greatwar/links.htm ) then scroll down to a Great links page!
The Long, Long Trail: The British Army in the Great War/links page
Poppy GIF image from Google. thx.