Clemenceau at Cambrai 2
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04 min 35 s
Topical Film Company
Cambrai after its liberation, including a visit by Field Marshal Haig and Prime Minister Clemenceau, Western Front, probably 9 October 1918. Soldiers, probably 57th (West Lancashire) Division, use hoses and ladders to suppress a fire raging in one house. In the main square the streets have been cleared of rubble but all the buildings still show damage. One main building is still marked as the German Kommandantur. Refugees, some in wagons carrying the French flag, others with handcarts, return to their homes. The railway station, both inside and out, shows considerable damage. The outside of the Kommandantur, including the entrance next to the Citadelle Buildings are still on fire. A slow pan down from a church tower, showing major shell damage.
Pieces of History
Artillery: The Great Killer
Historian, Canadian War Museum
In 1914 and 1915, artillery proved it was the great killer. For those caught in the open, shrapnel and high explosive shells wreacked havoc. Thousands were left rotting on the battlefields. However, artillery guns were vulnerable to small arms fire, and they could be driven away from the front. But the guns were soon firing indirectly from hidden positions several kilometeres to the rear, still causing terrible damage. Soldiers were forced to find safety in trenches, digging beneath the ground to escape the murderous fire.
As trenches were strengthened with barbed wire, deep dugouts, and machine -guns, an enormous weight of fire was needed to smash the enemy defences and support the infantry. But there were not always enough shells in the early years to feed the guns. And so the infantry were killed in the tens of thousands as they attacked undamaged enemy trenches in frontal assaults. As the war lengthened, artillerymen received nearly unlimited supplies of shells through the enormous production of munitions factories. New tactics were also developed to improve the accuracy of the guns.
Artillery shells contained high explosives, shrapnel, and, later in the war, poison gas and smoke. Both the high explosive and shrapnel shells were timed to detonate in the air above a target. High explosive shells blasted holes in the trenches and the concussion alone could kill, as lungs collapsed under the force of the explosion. Shrapnel shells were equally deadly, consisting of more than 300 rounded metal balls that exploded downward in a cone-shaped rain of whirling metal. As well, the casing of the shell was designed to explode outward, creating jagged, uneven shards of steel that tore through flesh.
By 1916, commanders believed that massive artillery shoots, involving hundreds of thousands of shells, would annihilate the enemy defenders. This would allow the infantry to punch a hole through enemy lines and restore mobility on the Western Front.
However, it was often hard to hit, and then destroy, the narrow and well-fortified trenches. The problem also lay in the shell fuses. Earlier types were not sensitive enough to explode on contact, especially with shells tasked to clear barbed wire. As a result, many of the shells exploded in the ground, killing very few of the enemy, leaving the infantry to fight their way through defences-in-depth. By the end of 1916, newer, sensitive fuses that exploded on the slightest contact harnessed the destructive power of the artillery and, equally important to the infantry, cleared barbed wire from in front of enemy trenches.
Tactics again changed during the later phases of the bloody battles of the Somme in the last half of 1916. The gunners would never be able to destroy all of the German defences, and even one machine -gunner could kill hundreds of attacking infantry. Instead, the artillery sought to suppress enemy fire through a “creeping barrage,” and give their own attacking infantry enough time to cross the killing zone of nNo Mman’s Lland.
Gunners fired their shells to create a “creeping” wall of fire that slowly moved forward over the enemy lines at fixed intervals: 50 yards (46 m) every couple of minutes, less for muddy ground, more for open warfare. In effect, it was a screen of fire and explosives. As this moving wall of shrapnel and high explosives chewed up the ground in its path, the infantry were told to “lean into the barrage” and stay as close as possible. Although friendly fire was expected and occurred, the casualties would still be lighter than if the creeping barrage moved off and allowed German machine -gunners, waiting in the safety of deep dugouts, to get to the top of their trenches before the infantry crossed nNo Mman’s lLand.
At the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, the gunners had perfected the creeping barrage. Yet enemy gunners still took a fearful toll as they laid down their own counter-barrages to catch the follow-on waves of infantry. The enemy guns had to be stopped, or slowed, but it was exceedingly difficult to identify, target, and destroy camouflaged guns several kilometeres away.
Accurate intelligence was essential, and new and refined forms of science aided the gunners. The Canadian Corps was lucky to have Brigadier-General Andrew McNaughton, commander of the counter-battery office for much of the war, who embraced new technology and tactics. A prewar professor at McGill University, he turned to science to save his soldiers lives.
The Canadian Counter Battery Office (CCBO), established in February 1917, gathered intelligence and processed information on the enemy to assist in knocking out his guns. Aerial reconnaissance from the Royal Flying Corps (later Royal Air Force) was of great assistance as airmen photographed the front from great heights. Later in the war, observation aircraft circled the battlefield, passing real-time information to the gunners through letter drops and primitive wireless radio.
As the CCBO developed after April 1917, this information-gathering and target-selection became more sophisticated, with new technology, like sound-ranging and flash-spotting, assisting gunners to find and destroy enemy targets.
Flash-spotting involved the coordination of observers. At least three posts were needed, usually spread out along several kilometeres. When an enemy gun position was spotted by the revealing flash as the shell left the barrel, the observers were telephoned by headquarters to turn their attention to that spot. After studying the flash of the gun, the observers would hit a key that was connected to a lamp at headquarters. From the observers’ bearings, and by triangulating their estimates, enemy guns could be located with high precision.
Sound-ranging worked on a similar principle. Listeners sat two kilometeres behind the line with their microphones. Additional posts were manned well ahead of these positions. As long as there was not more than one shell per second being fired, on hearing the crash of an enemy gun, the forward listening post pressed a key that started an oscillograph, an instrument that recorded on film the sound of the shell in flight as it reached each microphone in turn. The time-intervals between the microphones allowed the CCBO to analyse the information and, if conditions were optimal, pinpoint enemy guns to within twenty-five 25 yards (23 m). All available counter-battery guns would be aimed on that spot to deliver a destructive shoot of 50-100 shells. Chemical shells were also used to kill or force the enemy gunners to wear debilitating respirators that severely affected the rate of fire.
In the last year of the war, artillery had perfected the creeping barrage and was steadily improving its counter-battery work. Further tactical refinement allowed gunners to fire more complicated barrages, like a box barrage. The box barrages set up a wall of fire and explosives around an enemy position —-- usually a trench —-- which effectively isolated it from reinforcements. It allowed assaulting Canadian infantrymen to capture and consolidate a position without fear of immediate counterattack.
By war’s end, 43,914 gunners had served in the Canadian artillery, and 2,565 had lost their lives from disease, injury, and battlefield wounds. They had fired tens of millions of shells, reducing the landscape to a desolate wasteland, and an estimated 60% of all wounds were inflicted by shell fire. The First World War was indeed a gunner’s war.
Cook, Tim. No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1999.
McNaughton, A.G.L. “Counter-Battery Work.” Canadian Defence Quarterly 3, 4 (July, 1926).
McNaughton, A.G.L. “The Development of Artillery in the Great War.” Canadian Defence Quarterly 4, 2 (January, 1929).
Nicholson, G.W.L. The Gunners of Canada: The History of the Royal Regiment of the Canadian Artillery, Vol. 1: 1534-1919 Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1967.
Rawling, William. Surviving Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.
Swettenham, John. McNaughton, Volume I. Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1968.
After the Great War
Provost of Trinity College and Professor of History at the University of Toronto
For Canadians, the First World War is a defining moment. For Canada, as for Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, the war brought a deeper sense of nationhood. “We were content to be Colonials,” said one of the Canadians who fought at Vimy Ridge, but afterwards “National spirit was born...; we were Canadians.” Although Canada remained a part of the British Empire, Canadian leaders were learning how to represent Canadian interests and to stand up to the British.
During the war itself, the Canadian prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, increasingly dealt with his British counterpart as an equal. When David Lloyd George became British prime minister at the end of 1916, he summoned an Imperial War Cabinet, a sign of how much the British war effort was relying on the resources and the men from its empire. At the Paris Peace Conference, which followed the war, Canadians, along with Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Newfoundlanders, gained valuable experience in international diplomacy. As Loring Christie, one of Canada’s earliest distinguished diplomats, put it, Canada had become “an international person.”
To Canadians, as to Europeans, the First World War was simply the Great War. Few people imagined that Europe could ever put itself through that horror again. The years between 1914 and 1918 marked an end, for those at the time, and for historians ever since, between the long period of peace and prosperity that so much of Europe had enjoyed since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
The wreckage was appalling. Europe’s capacity for destruction had increased immensely over the century before 1914. Its science and technology, its industrial capacity and its political and social organization allowed its nations to put huge armies in the field and keep them there for years on end. Over 140,000 Canadians were wounded between 1914 and 1918, and 60,000 out of a total population of 7.2 million were dead. An equivalent proportion of deaths today would be close to 270,000 Canadians.
Altogether, nine million soldiers died in the war and perhaps another five million civilians. At the end of the war, economic and social collapse across large swaths of Europe brought starvation, premature death, and diseases such as typhoid and cholera, which had not been seen for generations. The ghastly influenza epidemic swept across the world in 1918 and 1919 killing, so it has been estimated, three times as many as the war itself. The world had not yet become used to death on such a scale. Or such destruction.
Although aircraft did not yet have the capacity to destroy whole cities, towns, villages, farms, factories and mines lay in ruins. Priceless parts of Europe’s culture had vanished: the magnificent Gothic cloth hall in Ypres; the great medieval library at Louvain, with its priceless manuscripts; great cathedrals and smaller churches built laboriously over the centuries. Europe had lost something more, a sense of confidence and pride in its own civilization. Its political landscape had changed out of recognition. Russia had had a revolution in 1917 followed by a civil war that raged on into 1920. At the end of the war the Germany monarchy was overthrown, and Austria-Hungary—that huge multi-national empire that had dominated the centre of Europe for centuries—fell to pieces. The hideous cost of the war was to be much on the minds of the Allied statesmen when it came to drawing up peace terms.
While the collapse of Russia gave the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire the opportunity to break the stalemate on the Western Front, they were unable to capitalize on it before the United States—which had entered the war in April 1917—started to pour its huge resources of men and materiel into Europe. Even so, the Great War ended surprisingly abruptly. Allied leaders had expected to fight on into the spring of 1919, but by the autumn of 1918, the Central Powers had reached the end of their tether. Bulgaria was the first to sue for an armistice, then the Ottoman Empire. Austria-Hungary, in one of its last acts as an empire, asked for its armistice in November.
With its allies falling away and its armies running out of men and resources, Germany asked Woodrow Wilson, the American president, to help arrange an armistice. On November 11, 1918, the Great War came to an end. Germany surrendered all its heavy land equipment and its navy. German troops withdrew from all occupied territory and Allied troops, Canadians among them, moved into the Rhineland, that part of Germany west of the Rhine, and occupied bridgeheads on the east side of the river.
The armistice has given rise to much controversy ever since. Wilson had promised a peace without vengeance or retribution and his Fourteen Points outlined a new world order based on principles of fairness and justice, where nations could decide their own fates. The Germans felt that they had made their armistice on this understanding. Many hoped, unreasonably, that Germany would pay no penalty for losing the war. As the weeks and then the years went by, many Germans, perhaps most, persuaded themselves that Germany had never been defeated on the battlefield. To the General Staff and its right wing supporters, defeat had come at the hands of disloyal Germans at home, left wingers, liberals and Jews.
After November 1918, the huge citizen armies started to melt away. Societies already damaged by the war struggled to provide jobs and housing. For the men themselves, returning to civilian society was often difficult. Their wives and sweethearts had managed without them, taking on jobs and roles previously done by men. Rapid demobilization also created problems for Allied leaders as they tried to deal with what was a rapidly changing and turbulent world. While the Allies were powerful on paper, in reality, their capacity to impose order was increasingly limited.
The range of problems was growing. The war had turned much of European society upside down. The Russian Revolution had destroyed an empire as well as an old political and social order. Russia’s possessions along the Baltic—Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—won their independence. Ukraine tried and failed. In the Caucasus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia enjoyed their brief moments as independent nations. Russia’s Polish territories vanished into a reborn Poland. The end of Austria-Hungary left chaos and fighting in the centre of Europe, as states—some old like Hungary and Poland, some quite new like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia—struggled to emerge and stake out their territories.
Farther afield, there was trouble brewing in the Middle East. It was only a matter of time until the Ottoman Empire, which controlled present-day Turkey and much of the Arab Middle East, went the same way as Austria-Hungary. Who would inherit its possessions? The British and the French, uneasy allies, manoeuvred to stake out choice bits for themselves while Arab nationalists saw a chance for independent Arab states.
Russia’s revolution was not the only one. For a time, it looked as though much of Europe would be engulfed by a triumphant Bolshevism. In Germany and Austria, there were communist-inspired insurrections. Hungary had a communist government for several months in 1919. In France and Italy, the left brought the workers out in violent strikes and demonstrations. Even Britain and Canada, both stable democracies, had general strikes. The peacemakers who met in Paris at the peace conference in 1919 feared that if they did not make peace quickly, the misery in much of Europe would increase and revolution would spread. They also had to decide how to deal with the new Bolshevik government of Russia. The answers ranged from intervention to accommodation.
European statesmen also had to confront the fact that they no longer dominated the world. New powers—Japan in the East and the United States to the West—were cutting into European markets and European influence. Within the British Empire, still the largest political organization in the world, the Dominions and India were challenging the United Kingdom. Sir Robert Borden, Canada’s prime minister, complained bitterly that the British treated Canadians as ‘toy automata’ and demanded that Canada share in decisions about the conduct of the war and the shape of the peace to come. Borden insisted that Canada be represented in its own right at the Paris Peace Conference.
The end of the war had come so quickly that Allied leaders did not have time to think about what happened next. As always happens with the coming of peace, the wartime alliance began to fall apart. Each statesman had the interests of his own nation to consider. For France, the key issue was how to safeguard against a revival of German power, but there were many views on how to do this, from breaking Germany up to imposing strict peace terms. For Britain, it was protecting the empire and its trade and eliminating the menace from Germany’s navy. Italy wanted territory, along its northern frontier and along the eastern side of the Adriatic. Japan came with two goals: to retain captured German colonies (including concessions in China) and to gain recognition as the racial equal of the white powers. China, also an ally, wanted the German possessions on its soil.
Smaller allies all had their own demands. Greece wanted huge swaths of Anatolia, and Belgium asked for reparations for the damage done by the war. The United States, by contrast, had no demands for territory or reparations. President Wilson talked of building a better world; on the other hand, he and his advisers insisted that the Europeans repay their considerable debts. Canada took a line similar to the United States although there were moments when Canadian delegates dreamed of winning back the Alaska panhandle, perhaps in exchange for Britain handing over territories in the Caribbean to the United States.
The peacemakers also confronted pressures from their own publics, often contradictory ones. On the one hand there was a strong sense that the defeated nations, Germany above all, were responsible for starting the war and for all its damage. It was probably impossible to get much in the way of reparations out of Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria, but Germany remained relatively unscathed and with much of its industrial plant and infrastructure. Why, as the French asked pointedly, should French taxpayers pay for repairing the destruction done on French soil by what had been a German invasion?
Allied publics also demanded that the guilty be punished and that meant Kaiser Wilhelm II and his generals. On the other hand, the same Allied publics also called for a better world, where nations would settle their disputes peacefully and work together to prevent aggression. The League of Nations had huge support across Europe.
The Paris Peace Conference lasted for a year, from January 1919 to January 1920, but the most intense period was during the first six months when the major Allied statesmen and their advisers gathered. It started out as a preliminary conference, where the Allies would agree on the terms to be offered the defeated. The intention was then to have the old-style conference, like the Congress of Vienna, where victors and losers sat down together and haggled until they came to terms. The negotiations over the League of Nations, which Wilson insisted must come first, and over the German terms, took so much time and involved so many difficult compromises that the Allies dared not open them up again. The Germans, and this caused much resentment then and later, were given two weeks to comment on the terms in writing and told that there would be no face to face negotiations. The other defeated nations received similar treatment.
The peace settlements have been criticized ever since. The Italians were deeply disappointed with what came to be called “The Mutilated Peace.” The Japanese gained the German colonies they wanted but not the racial equality clause in the League they hoped for. In the centre of Europe, it is said, the peacemakers created unstable, quarrelling states. In the Middle East, the British and the French created countries such as Iraq to suit their own needs, not those of the locals. By encouraging a Jewish homeland in Palestine while also promising Arab independence, the British helped to drive a wedge between Jews and Arabs. Some of these criticisms are fair; in the Middle East, for example, where the powers behaved like 19th century imperialists. Others are less so. The peacemakers did not bring Poland to life again or create Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia. Those nations established themselves on the basis of ethnic nationalism. The peacemakers helped in drawing the boundaries and tried very hard to create ethnically homogeneous states, something that could not be done given the population mix.
The most controversial part of the settlements remains the Treaty of Versailles with Germany. John Maynard Keynes attacked it at the time as vindictive and short sighted and many, Germans among them, have echoed him. If the Weimar republic of the 1920's had severe economic and political problems, so the argument goes, that was the fault of the harsh terms. If Weimar failed and Hitler came to power, that too can be traced back to the decisions of 1919. So, following a reasoning which is still popular today, the end of the First World War leads directly to the outbreak of the Second. In recent years, historians have challenged this simplistic view.
Weimar’s economic problems were not so much the fault of reparations payments (Germany only ever paid a fraction of its bill), but fiscal and economic mismanagement. If the German government had been willing to tax its citizens at the same rate the Allies were taxing in their countries, it could have paid off its bill. Hitler came to power partly because he capitalized on German resentments, partly because the Great Depression at the end of the 1920s made the Nazis seem like a real alternative to the misery Germany was suffering, and partly because of foolish decisions by key German leaders. Even in the 1930s, when Hitler was determined on expanding German power even if it meant war, he could have been stopped if Allied leaders, particularly those in Britain, had been willing to move. To say that 1919 lead directly to 1939 is to ignore the promise of the 1920s, when it looked as though the world was putting the Great War behind it, as well as the decisions, both for good and for evil, that were taken in those twenty years.
The March to the Rhine
On Sunday, November 17 1918, a day of thanksgiving, representatives of Canadian units attended special services in the Mons churches. In honour of the liberating troops the city's carillon played "O Canada". At nine o'clock on the following morning, leading units of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions crossed the outpost lines and commenced the march to the Rhine. Each division proceeded in three brigade columns, on separate routes. Those of the 1st Division on the left, had Cologne as the destination; the 2nd Division on the right headed towards Bonn. A cavalry screen advanced one day's march ahead of the leading infantry, and each column provided its own close protection, in which it was assisted by cavalry and cyclists attached from Corps Troops. The whole 250-mile march was conducted under operational conditions, and all military precautions were taken against surprise. To ensure a smooth take- over from the enemy the country had been divided into zones. The Germans had orders to deposit war material at selected places in each zone and to withdraw from the area the day before the Allies entered it. Before the 3rd and 4th Divisions could set out, however, supply difficulties necessitated a change in the general plan for the advance. The almost complete destruction of all railways and roads in the old battle areas made it impossible to maintain two armies on the move and at the same time provide for the Belgian civilian population. Accordingly the Second Army now went forward alone. The Canadian occupation force was reduced to the 1st and 2nd Divisions, together with Corps Headquarters and some Corps Troops already on the march.
Meanwhile, the marching divisions made frequent halts to permit the Germans to evacuate zones as planned. They encountered no enemy troops but saw much evidence of their passing. The wreckage of a great fighting machine was everywhere at hand. In accordance with the terms of the Armistice the Germans had assembled, usually in or near the villages and towns, huge parks of guns and dumps of munitions and other war equipment. Miles upon miles of laden barges had been left tied up on the canals, and the roadways were littered with helmets, discarded army clothing, and even weapons. The march through Belgium was in general a triumphal progress, particularly for the leading battalions. The in habitants of the various communities through which the Canadians passed where Germans had been in occupation were warm in their welcome and
expressed their gratitude in many ways. In other places the populace was more restrained, for no soldiers of any nationality were wanted. In marked contrast was the cool reception afforded the Canadians after they had crossed the German border. Here the only spectators in view were children with close cropped heads who stared curiously from the roadside. Their elders remained discreetly out of sight, peering through half closed doors or shuttered windows at the marching columns.
The day set for crossing the Rhine by the Allies was December 13. The occasion was considered to be of greater significance than the crossing of the German frontier, and for several preceding days the Canadians were concentrated on the left bank opposite Cologne and Bonn, as far forward as possible. In these positions all units busied themselves with traditional "spit and polish" to ensure that with brass gleaming and equipment and clothing in the best possible condition all ranks would present a faultless appearance on the important day. On the 12th the British 1st Cavalry Brigade, which had come under General Currie's command on December 1, crossed at Bonn to establish control posts within the bridgehead.
The morning of the 13th dawned dark and wet, and a steady rain poured down throughout the day. The 1st Division crossed the Rhine by South Bridge at Cologne, marching past the G.O.C. Second Army, General Sir Herbert Plumer, while crowds of Germans lining the streets of the city silently watched the steel-helmeted Canadians swing by in full battle order. At the bridge at Bonn, General Currie, "after a very comfortable night in His Majesty's bed", witnessed the crossing and took the salute of the 2nd Division, which marched past in an impressive column that extended for eighteen miles. Here the civilian spectators were fewer in numbers, and equally undemonstrative. What was a memorable day for the Canadians could only be one of humiliation for the people whose armies they had helped to vanquish.
Adapted and used with permission from Nicholson, G. W. L., Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1964, p.497-500.
Diary by Wilson, November 11th, 1918
11. Lundi. S. Martin
Fine all morning but rained heavily all afternoon and evening. Over forty new cases in [illegible] most of them for dressings. Up for 65 stretchers evac at 1:30 a.m.
Rather busy day.
Armistice with Germany takes effect from 11 a.m. All hostilities cease at that hour. Canadians enter Mons. French advancing rapidly and Kaiser, Crown Prince and Hindenburg flee to Holland. Revolts in Berlin (general strikes) and spreading all over Germany.
Spent very pleasant evening with Harry [illegible] and Fox -- just arrived from England. Walked with them [illegible] to Base. Wrote to mother.
Used with permission of the estate of , provided by The Canadian Letters and Images Project, Department of History, Malaspina University College