World War I was Won by this Canadian Man

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World War I was Won by this Canadian Man

WWI Britian and France were on the verge of capitulation, having worn themselves out at the loss of as many as a million men, when a Canadian soldier, Arthur Currie, entered the war.

The turnabout came at Ypres when the Germans used poison gas for the first time. Clouds of chlorine boiled over the Allied trenches. French troops on the Canadians’ left flank broke, leaving a 7-kilometre (4.3 mi) long hole in the Allied line. Now only two factors could save the allies from defeat.

First, a Canadian soldier, a student of chemistry at home, would recognize that clorine gas could be neutralized and that soldiers had just the agent available. Their own piss. Soaking cloth in urine the Canadians were able to stand against the gas.

If you think you’re tough, think about standing in a field of poison gas breathing your own urine while artillary shells explode, bullets whine and German troops, bayonettes fixed, advance.

Back at Brigade headquarters, itself to be destroyed by fire,  Currie threw away the rule book and put together a fluid defence and counterattack that bent but did not break.

After several days of fierce fighting, Allied counterattacks rebuilt a defensive line, denying the Germans the breakthrough that would have, in all probability, finished the war.

This first win for Canadian forces paints the picture of their further victories. First, “guts and gaiters,” as he was known to his men would institute a wide number of technical advances not written in the rule book. Second, well informed and well trained troops would make the battlefield decisions that would win battles. Many times an individual Canadian soldier, with names like Holmes or Robertson, knowing where to go and what needed to be done, would break out of the prescribed plan and improvise a way to victory.

The plan

Currie himself was a master of planning. He whipped the creeping barrage into a tactic that worked. He developed techniques of “set piece” and “bite and hold.” He found a brilliant gunner, 29 year old Andy McNaughton, not afraid to apply new scientific methods and the techniques of artillery flash spotting and sound ranging would bear great rewards starting at Vimy Ridge.

From The Somme to Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele Canadians would achieve victories where others failed. At Hill 70 Currie and the Canadians would inflict devastating German losses. The Canadians under Currie won every contest.

Finally, in 1918 the Germans would launch their last offensive. They would fail. The Canadians would counterattack with the Australians and throw the Germans out of Amiens. When the Germans fells back to the “invulnerable” Hindenburg line, the Corps smashed a hole in the line and forced the Germans to fall back to the flooded Canal du Nord.

In a daring plan, Currie took the entire Corps across a dry part of the canal using bridges built under fire. On 27 September, covered by the most massive artillery bombardment of the war, the entire Corps moved across the canal and then through the German lines in a series of planned zig zags designed to confuse the enemy. The Canadians broke through three German lines and as a bonus, also took Bourlon Woods. Forced out of the Hindenburg Line, the German army was now in full retreat.

Currie and the Canadians then took Cambrai, on 11 October. Further action at Valenciennes and Mont Houy denied the Germans any chance to dig in and reinforce their defences.

The end was in sight and the Canadian Corps had lit that light in the tunnel. On November 11 the Germans surrendered.

Awards

Currie received decoration from British, American, French and Belgian governments. He was the first Canadian General. He was awarded many honorary degrees and positions. Perhaps, most telling, after the war, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George wrote that had the war continued Currie would have been promoted to commander in chief of all British and Empire forces on the Western Front.

A Canadian man who started at the very lowest rank as a militia gunner rose to be the finest commander of the Western Front, and certainly the greatest commander in Canadian military history. Let it be remembered that it was he and the Canadian Corps that won WWI.

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