If Ye Break Faith

This blog is dedicated to the promotion of educating about the Canadian experience of World War One. To discover who we are as a nation in the 21st Century, we must understand our past.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Our Men Were Out to Kill

“A sharp fight ensued and a large number of
casualties were caused to the Bosche”-
Major R E Partridge, Bde. Major,
12th Canadian Infantry Brigade[1]  

Shortly after sunrise on the 19th of February, 1917, a small raiding party from the 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) Battalion stormed the enemy’s front line trench directly opposite the battalion’s position. 
Eighty men under four officers had been divided into four groups tasked to either block off and isolate the raid area or to seek out mine shafts and dugouts for destruction.  The enemy would be taken prisoner whenever possible.  Regardless of completion, the raid was not to spend more than ten minutes in the German line.  The war diary notes that many dugouts were bombed, one of which “apparently being a loaded mine shaft as resulting explosion was much greater than that would be caused by a mobile charge.”[2] This resulted in a crater eighty feet in diameter and twenty-five feet deep, the displaced earth burying Sergeant Lloyd beyond recovery.  Three prisoners were quickly hustled back to Canadian lines, the brief raid forming up to be a great success despite the loss of Sgt. Lloyd.

Upon the signal to withdraw, the party being led by Lieutenant Wilfred Derbyshire, exfiltrating via a sap leading to a feature known as “Kennedy Crater” “met stubborn resistance from a body of HUNS.”[3]  Lt. Derbyshire’s men had no choice but to fight their way through, most of the party becoming casualties in the scrap.  “In this engagement, the work of Lieut. Derbyshire, Pte. Fulton and Pte. H A Andrew was particularly meritorious.”[4]  All three returned to No man’s Land in an attempt to fetch back the wounded left on the field.  In this they succeeded- none who could be saved were left behind, although in the effort, Fulton himself was severely wounded and Andrew killed*.

This brief, but intense encounter at Kennedy Crater resulted in the majority of the casualties sustained by the entire raid, a total of nine killed and fifteen wounded.  It was sufficient to get the Grenadier’s blood up.  Such that, when the 38th (Ottawa) Battalion, in trenches to the right of the 78th, proposed a similar raid, the Winnipeg Grenadiers decided to have a go directly against Kennedy Crater.  The war diary conceals nothing of what this attempt was to be: “Arrangements being made to launch a second attack on KENNEDY CRATER and endeavor to avenge the losses of the previous raid and to obtain the bodies of the men who had fallen.”[5]

Orders called for the 38th “To enter (the enemy’s) trenches at dusk in five or six parties totalling about 90 officers and other ranks, clear his trenches and return after remaining for ten minutes.”[6]  In this, the Ottawa Battalion’s raid was decidedly similar to that of the 78th’s prior enterprise.  Smashing through the German front lines in such a way might prove distraction enough for the Winnipeg effort- a much smaller force, less than thirty men, whose sole purpose would be to cut off all access to the crater and the sap which led from it back to German trenches.  Ostensibly, the instructions indicated they were to “capture the sentry post,”[7] however, no such intention remained among men who had been so roughly handled by the same enemy troops in the days before:  “Our men were out to kill BOSCHE.”

Timing set for dusk with the advantage of a damp, misty day was expected to help conceal the approach to German lines.  Despite this, the men of the 38th “were quite visible to the enemy directly they emerged…all are of the opinion that the enemy was thoroughly prepared for the Raids.”[8]

No-man’s Land was heavily broken and churned; the difficult ground facing the 38th delaying their advance.  In the centre of the five parties, No.’s  2 and 3 “immediately encountered heavy fire from three Machine guns…and rifle fire from a party of between 25-30 Huns.”  Preliminary work by the artillery had not been effective here.  Lieutenant Ketcheson, O.C. No. 2 Party was slightly wounded but carried on forward.  Trying to move ahead, even at a crawl was proving difficult.  Lt. Ketcheson and his counterpart with No. 3 Party, Lt. Stott “decided to rush the objective.  Lieut. Ketcheson was again wounded, this time severely; several other casualties occurring.”  Parties 2 and 3 reached a point five yards from the enemy trench, where “an active bombing fight ensued, resulting in a considerable number of enemy casualties.”  During the exchange of grenades, Lt. Stott and some of his men gained lodgement in the enemy trench which “at point of entry was almost waist deep in mud and water.”[9]  Before much else could be done, time had lapsed and the men were required to withdraw.

The other parties of the 38th also met determined resistance, but all managed to breach the German line in hard fights punctuated by liberal use of grenades and mobile charges. Two men, Pte.’s Labelle and Lalonde of No.’s 4 and 5 Parties , respectively, would be decorated for picking up enemy bombs which had landed nearby and throwing them back- in both cases killing several Germans.

At the end of the ten minutes allotted, all involved returned to their rally points, having accounted for “thirty-three dead Huns…six dugouts were bombed, estimated that the enemy sustained at least forty other casualties,”[10] in exchange for four killed and 27 wounded.

Meanwhile, the retaliatory effort of the 78th Battalion against Kennedy Crater was in full swing.  The main body, Party ‘B’ of twenty men under Lt. Symonds, divided into three squads upon entering the front line trench.  “One squad, after considerable opposition, established a block,” at the point of entry, “another blocked FLT to the South,” the remaining squad, exactly as detailed beforehand, proceeded north along the trench towards the sap out to Kennedy Crater.  Here, again “a sharp fight ensued and a large number of casualties were caused to the Bosche.”[11]  Some enemy troops attempted to gain refuge in two dugouts.  Both were demolished with mobile charges.

Major Thornton and seven other men making up Party ‘A’ were holding the crater for Party ‘B’ to withdraw through.  They had also employed two mobile charges with great effect.  Everything had gone to tick, “the rear covering party were forced to bomb the F.L. Trench continuously to cover the withdrawal.”[12]  At the expense of eight men wounded “Not serious”[13] the Grenadiers had reaped a revenge of almost fifty enemy casualties.  Most importantly, “one of the bodies of the Battn’s casualties in the previous raid…was brought back.”[14]  It would remain, unfortunately that only three of the nine dead of the 19th February were recovered.  The remaining six are named on the Vimy Memorial to the Missing.[15]

The raid, for its violent purpose, “could not have gone better and a great number of the enemy were killed.”[16]

The rush of raids, the tension of late night patrols, a great Canadian battle and men on the razor's edge between life and death are all part of my acclaimed premier novel

Now available from Amazon sites worldwide.

Some praise received for "Killing is a Sin":

“Really enjoyed the book, well done.”

“Damn, I think I spilled chili on a rare first edition; I'm enjoying it, couldn't stop reading during dinner.”

“I was fortunate enough to see this in manuscript. Good stuff. If you're interested in WWI Fiction give it a look.”


[1] Partridge, RE, Maj. “Report on Raid Carried Out by 12 Canadian Infantry Brigade on 22 February” 4th Can. Div. War Diary Feb. 1917 App. “J”
[2] 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) Battalion War Diary, 19 February 1917
[3] 78th Battalion, ibid.
[4] ibid.
[5] 78th Battalion, War Diary, 21 February 1917
[6] 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade Operations Order No. 51
[7] 78th Battalion Operations Order No. 51
[8] Partridge, RE, Maj. “Report on Raid Carried Out by 12 Canadian Infantry Brigade on 22 February” 4th Can. Div. War Diary Feb. 1917 App. “J”
[9] All quotes from Partridge, RE, ibid.
[10] 38th (Ottawa) Battalion, War Diary, 22 February 1917
[11] All quotes from Partridge, RE, ibid.
[12]  ibid.
[13] 78th Battalion, War Diary, 22 February 1917
[14] Partridge, RE, ibid.
[15] CWGC.org
[16] Partridge, RE, ibid.

* Lt. Derbyshire would receive the Military Cross for his actions, Pte Fulton the Military Medal. Pte Andrew, not eligible for a posthumous decoration would be, instead, “Mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s Despatches of 9.4.17 for ‘Distinguished and Gallant Service and devotion to duty in the field.”(Supplement to the London Gazette No. 30107)

Monday, 13 February 2017

Hard Fighting Took Place

“No plan of operations extends with any certainty
 beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”
-Field Marshall H.K.B. Graf von Moltke (1800-1891)
Chief of the German General Staff (1871-1888)[1]

It all nearly went to Hell in the first five minutes.  “Beyond enemy front line, Lieut. Swinton was killed, and Lieut.’s Henderson and Rix were wounded, together with several of the NCO’s in charge of sections.  This caused temporary disorganisation.”[2] A delay, even a faltering step, could easily become the loose thread which would unravel the entire raid.  It was a precisely timed operation with very little margin for error.

This complex scheme, the brainchild of Lt Col. Rhys Davies, O.C. 44th (New Brunswick) Battalion required the intricate cooperation of infantry from four separate battalions of the 4th Canadian Division’s 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, engineers, the artillery and a handful of other supports.  Everything, from Colonel Davies’ proposal and orders to all the arrangement, organisation and execution had taken place within five days.  Therefore, the potential for error was a great deal larger than the thin margin allowed for.

Davies’ raid was more ambitious in scope an size than the Calonne Raid mounted by the 2nd Canadian Division the month before, while being carried out with much less time to prepare.  As a practical exercise, this raid had potential.  Involving companies of different battalions, integrating engineers and coordinating a complex artillery fire plan would provide valuable experience in developing and preparing large scale combined operations.   All of this would be contingent on the raid’s success.  A failure would only provide the example not to be followed.

“With reference to the Operation to be carried out by 10th Brigade,” wrote the brigade’s commander, Brigadier General Hilliam in a memorandum to brigade officers, “I ask you to acquaint all Officers, NCO’s and men of your Commands that this will be one of the biggest raids yet carried out….Do not allow the minutest detail to be neglected.”  Brigadier Hilliam encouraged his battalion commanders to think in more collective terms- appealing to them that any honour to be gained would be shared amongst all units of the brigade and that “all ranks must work for the success of the operation as a whole.”  The Brigadier was astutely laying the groundwork for inter-unit cooperation at a higher level which would be essential to the success of future operations. In closing, he enjoined his troops to “Kill, destroy and capture what you cannot kill.”[3]

This aggressive suggestion wasn’t proving too hard to fulfill, even as early on as the first ten minutes, right about the time that the company from the 50th Battalion lost half its officers in the blink of an eye.

Companies from the 50th and 44th Battalions were in the van of the raid, rushing through a gap blown in the wire by a special team of sappers and pioneers, bypassing the enemy front line trench while keeping pace with the artillery’s rolling barrage.  Follow-up companies, men of the 46th and 47th Battalions would secure the front line and provide flanking protection through successive trench line, allowing the leading companies to advance directly to the final objective- the Quarry nestled in the rear-most German trenches.  The raid’s intention overall was “for the purpose of destroying enemy works and emplacements in the trench system”[4] and it was believed the Quarry held a minenwerfer battery.  All four companies had attached sappers and pioneers with mobile charges to deal with any hard construction.  A generous amount of No. 27 Mk I white phosphorous grenades- “P” Bombs- had also been issued.
But here, on the raid’s left flank, with most of the 50th Battalion’s leadership gone at a stroke, the Quarry may not even be reached.  The artillery’s barrage was programmed to lift in stages during the advance; but it was also arranged to come back on itself to cover the withdrawal.  Timing was down to the minute and no adjustment was possible.  In the meantime, the party from the 46th Battalion providing cover for the 50th was “met with very heavy resistance…on extreme left of raid frontage, where a number of dugouts forming a small Strong Point were located.”[5]  Deep trenches-some as much as twelve feet- and crowded dugouts made for liberal use of the “P” Bombs; the blooming acrid smoke of phosphorous and resultant fires fueled by the trenches’ woodwork only added to the confusion.

“Great credit is due to Lieut. Murphy of 46th Battalion,” the after action report reveals, “who, seeing the situation pushed forward and rallied the 50th Battalion left parties in a most gallant manner, sending them forward.”[6] Lt. Murphy, a 23 year old former Royal Military College student from Nova Scotia would be given the Military Cross for his dash.  It no doubt saved the raid from potential collapse, though in the process of this courageous act, Murphy caught a piece of steel, badly fracturing his left arm, a wound which would end his short military career.  

Sufficiently checked, however, the 50th carried on, Lt. Morgan taking his party to the Quarry and with his attached sappers “several dugouts were located and mobile charges placed with good effect.”  In the meantime, the party from the 46th were holding a flank more heavily defended by the Germans than expected.  Their job was to keep the enemy pinned while the Quarry was being raided, and in so doing, keep the route of withdrawal open.  “Very few prisoners were taken here, all of the enemy offering stout resistance.”[7]

On the right flank, where the 44th and 47th Battalions mirrored the efforts of the 50th and 46th, the operation was going more smoothly. Lt. Tinkess, in charge of the 44th’s raiding party had been killed, but control was maintained by Lt. Baker, whose “great gallantry and initiative” took his men to “the extreme end of the task allotted.”[8]  As with Lt. Murphy, Lt. Baker was awarded the Military Cross.

No minenwefers were found during the raid, though Lt. Baker’s party of the 44th found six rounds for the weapon.  Of the 53 prisoners taken (all belonging to the 11th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment) some were found to be crewmen for minenwerfer.  It’s possible the weapons may have been destroyed by artillery; a large ammunition dump in the Quarry had been hit, or by the demolition of dugouts, some 41 in total throughout the raid area[9] where they may have been stored.

Notwithstanding, the raid which had been conceived and executed on such short notice, was considered a resounding success.  Canadian casualties amounted to 8 killed, 130 wounded and 15 missing.  These were understandable losses for what was gained.  “The German lines were penetrated to a depth of 700 yds., all parties returning in good order.”[10] An inflexible timetable had been kept, the artillery barrage considered “perfect.”[11]  Besides the dugouts wrecked and prisoners taken, sappers blew seven mine shafts and the raid accounted for nearly 200 German casualties.[12]

What’s more is that Lt Col. Davies’ quick-fire notion could be looked to as a positive example of a combined-unit task; but that it turned out so was entirely reliant on the will and courage of the men who carried on through potential disaster.

The rush of raids, the tension of late night patrols, a great Canadian battle and men on the razor's edge between life and death are all part of my acclaimed premier novel

Now available from Amazon sites worldwide.

Some praise received for "Killing is a Sin":

“Really enjoyed the book, well done.”

“Damn, I think I spilled chili on a rare first edition; I'm enjoying it, couldn't stop reading during dinner.”

“I was fortunate enough to see this in manuscript. Good stuff. If you're interested in WWI Fiction give it a look.”


[1] "On Strategy" (1871), as translated in Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings (1993) by Daniel J. Hughes and Harry Bell, p. 92
[2] 4th Canadian Division War Diary, February 1917 Appendix “E”
[3] Quotes from Hilliam, W., BGen “Message from G.O.C. 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade” 09 February 1917
[4] 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade “Operations Order No. 100” War Diary February 1917, Appendecies
[5] 4th Canadian Division War Diary, February 1917, Appendix “E”
[6] 4th Canadian Division War Diary, February 1917, Appendix “E1”
[7] 4th Canadian Division War Diary, February 1917, Appendix “E”
[8] Supplement to the London Gazette No. 30023 17 April 1917 pg. 3689
[9] 44th Battalion War Diary, 13 February 1917
[10] 44th Battalion War Diary, ibid.
[11] 47th Battalion War Diary, 13 February 1917
[12] 44th Battalion War Diary, 13 February 1917

Monday, 30 January 2017

No Resistance of Any Account

“After several nights spent in reconnaissance it was
finally established that a mine-head and work of an
important nature was being carried on by the enemy”
-Report on Raid Carried out by the 46th Battalion
29 January, 1917

The enemy was up to something.  From as early on as the fifth of January, nightly patrols were returning with reports of heavy work and daylight observation had spotted the Germans emptying sandbags over their parapet; notably several containing chalky soil.

10th Canadian Infantry Brigade HQ was rightly concerned about these goings-on.  If the Germans were pushing a mine, the results could be disastrous. The Brigade’s positions were the extreme left edge of the entire Canadian Corps.  A large enough mine vaporising front line trenches would allow a follow-up infantry assault to hook into and “roll up” an exposed flank from the top end of the Corps all the way down.  It would be, if nothing could be done, a catastrophe of the highest order. Whatever was happening needed to be found out and dealt with.

Weather interfered.  Several days mid-month of accumulating snow fall made patrolling at night substantially more risky.  The sound of boots crunching in fresh powder were to blame for at least one patrol getting “bumped.”  War Diaries and Intelligence Reports  throughout the middle days of January repeat the same lament- that owing to the snow, patrols were unable to advance very far into No-man’s Land.

All the while, what reports 10 Brigade was getting from its battalions in the line were of timber being thumped, heavy items being dragged on tramways and sharp beats of metal on metal; steel being hammered or otherwise manipulated.

At last, on 24 January, a patrol from the 50th (Calgary) Battalion pinpointed the location of the mine-head.  “Work has apparently been going on for some time as well-worn trail visible.”[1]  With a solid map reference to hand, a direct strike could be made.  Planning became the responsibility of the 46th (South Saskatchewan) Battalion, who took over front line positions from the 50th the same day.[2]

It just may have been fortuitous.  The Officer Commanding was the extensively experienced Lt Colonel HJ Dawson; who before the war had been an Associate Professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario.  To lead this operation, he had at his disposal Lieutenant Reginald Percy Cattell, arguably one of the most veteran junior officers of the 4th Canadian Division..  It was he who had led one of the Division’s first patrols in enemy territory when it had become active the previous summer.  Between that point and this, Lt. Cattell had continually made proof of his ability, particularly in the scraps at Regina Trench.

This raid would be a small affair, very much unlike the multiple-company Calonne Raid of two weeks prior.  A definite target-the suspected mine shaft- required only enough men to penetrate and hold the German line for a quarter hour in order to “blow up (the) Shaft and to obtain identification.”[3]  Lt. Cattell had just five days to work his 34 man raid into shape, and to incorporate the two Sappers from 10 Field Company, Canadian Engineers who would be coming along to assess the enemy mine and set the demolition charge.  Artillery was laid on to supress the German front line at Zero Hour, shifting after three minutes to a “box barrage”, heavily shelling the periphery of the raid’s area to cut it off from the rest of the local trench network.

Lt. Cattell took the lead, precisely at two minutes past eight on the evening of the 29th, advancing into No-man’s Land while the artillery was still blasting the German lines.  Hoping to close the distance as much as possible before the guns lifted, the raid would spring into the trench before the enemy could recover.  “Slight wire obstacles were encountered,” in front of the entry point, “but were surmounted with little trouble.  The German front line was reached at 8.06 p.m.”[4]

Organised beforehand into three sections, one the trench was reached, they split off.  No. II Party went left, to proceed forty yards and establish a block, No. III Party cut to the right with the same intention, with No. I following behind.  “At the junction where the German front line follows the edge of Craters, and another leads to the rear, the parties separated.”[5]

No. III Party advanced “a considerable distance…no enemy being encountered and further advance rendered impossible by the barrage.”[6]  They found the trench in poor condition, not being well built and in place just a screen of sandbags four feet high with no parados behind, often without the protective pattern of traverse. These “trenches” would not be easy ground for the enemy to hold, the sub-standard construction pointing towards an illusion of a front-line rather than a stalwart defensive position.

The other blocking party, No. II, found the same shocking lapse in German workmanship.  “The party felt they could have penetrated the line for a considerable distance without difficulty.”[7] They hadn’t gone too far, less than ten yards from where they had entered before they came across the first German dugout.  “Standing on the stairs with his rifle pointed in our direction a German was encountered.  Before he had time to fire, a Mills bomb was thrown at him, and he fell back into his dugout.  Several more bombs were thrown into the same and the party moved on.”[8]  Two more dugouts were similarly dealt with as No. II Party moved further down the trench.

With their flanks held by Parties No. II and III, Lt. Cattell’s main body could get to work.  “The party taking the mine shaft met opposition about 10 yards past (the) junction.”  Three Germans had come across the party.  Shocked at being overwhelmingly outnumbered they “threw bombs at our men, then ran for all they were worth” in the opposite direction.  “Proceeding on, the men ran across the suspected mine shaft.  This had about 40 steps leading directly down.”  A candle was alight about halfway down, and the raiders could see movement and hear voices from below. A Mills bomb was quickly tossed in, its explosion extinguishing the candle and eliciting cries and groans.[9]

Just as quickly, the two attached Sappers went to work, laying out twenty-five pounds of guncotton- a potent explosive made up of cotton fibres which had been exposed to sulphuric and nitric acid.  Also known as nitrocellulose, it was used as a blasting agent and a propellant for artillery and other munitions.  Twenty-five pounds of the stuff was more than sufficient to collapse this shaft.  

With the fuse set, Lt. Cattell gave two long blasts on his whistle, the signal to retire, and all three parties scarpered for friendly lines.

The sortie was a mixed success.  No identifications were obtained despite there being German bodies in the open; but the main goal of destroying the shaft had been accomplished with the addition of three enemy dugouts destroyed, causing a presumed large number of enemy casualties for the cost of five men wounded, all but one being slight.  

Scout Sergeant Samuel Deane had taken a slug through his abdomen, creating a wound described as the size of a shilling (nearly 1” in diameter).  Despite this, Sgt. Deane stayed upright and on mission.  “His example of bravery inspired his party to carry out their task,”[10] Col. Dawson would later write, citing the sergeant for a Military Medal.  Deane was awarded his medal while recovering in England.  Nine months would pass before he would be fit to return to the Battalion in France.

Lt Col. Dawson would also single out Lt. Cattell for his “Example of fearlessness and fine leadership” for which the Lieutenant would receive the Military Cross.

The rush of raids, the tension of late night patrols, a great Canadian battle and men on the razor's edge between life and death are all part of my acclaimed premier novel

Now available from Amazon sites worldwide.

Some praise received for "Killing is a Sin":

“Really enjoyed the book, well done.”

“Damn, I think I spilled chili on a rare first edition; I'm enjoying it, couldn't stop reading during dinner.”

“I was fortunate enough to see this in manuscript. Good stuff. If you're interested in WWI Fiction give it a look.”


[1] 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, Intelligence Report, 24 January 1917
[2] 46th Canadian Infantry Battalion War Diary, 24 January 1917
[3] Dawson, HJ, Lt Col. “Operations Order No. 43” 46 Bn. War Diary Appendix X, 29 January 1917
[4] Cattell, RP, Lt. “Intelligence re Raiding Party” 46 Bn. War Diary Appendix XII, 29 January 1917
[5] Cattell, RP, Lt. ibid.
[6] Reid, R. Capt. (Brigade Major) “Report on Raid Carried Out by the 46th Battalion” 10th CIB War Diary, Appendices, 29 January 1917
[7] Reid, R. Capt. Ibid.
[8] Cattell, RP, Lt. ibid.
[9] Quotes from: Cattell, RP, Lt. “Intelligence re Raiding Party” 46 Bn. War Diary Appendix XII, 29 January 1917
[10] Dawson, HJ, Lt Col. “Memorandum to O.C. 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade” 46 B. War Diary Appendix XIII, 30 January 1917