Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, June 13, 2016

100 Years Ago: The Canadians Recapture Mont Sorrel, Ypres Salient

Canadian Troops in a Reserve Trench  Before the Action

The Battlefield

About three miles east of Ypres there is a series of nubs (generously refered to as Mont Sorrel) running south from Hooge on the Menin Road and just east of famous Sanctuary Wood for a little over a mile. The three nubs are known as Tor Top or Hill 62, Hill 61, and the highest, Mont Sorrel.   Despite my quibbles about their designation, as the photo below – taken from the monument on Hill 62 looking toward Ypres – shows, the position commands the countryside around it.

One hundred years ago the Canadian Corps was in control of the this property, with its 3rd Division defending the area between Hooge and Mont Sorrel proper. The neighboring German army decided it wanted to assume ownership of the land with its excellent views of the Ypres Salient.

View Toward Ypres from Hill 62 (Forget About the Trees)

German Bombardment and Mining

The 3rd Canadian Division, which had been formed in December 1915, was the target of a crushing German bombardment on the morning of 2 June. The barrage devastated the forward Canadian positions and killed hundreds, including the division commander, Major-General Malcolm Mercer. German infantry then swept forward, capturing Canadian positions at Mount Sorrel and on two surrounding hills. A hastily organized counterattack on 3 June failed. Three days later, the Germans exploded four mines under the Canadian positions and captured the village of Hooge.

Canadian Troops Advancing on 13 June 1916

Success After Initial Losses

The Canadian Corps commander, Sir Julian Byng, was determined to retake the lost ground and attacked, after a heavy artillery bombardment, during the early hours of 13 June. In this major set-piece battle, the Canadians drove back the Germans and recaptured much of the lost ground.

Final Line Shown in Blue

The Battle of Mont Sorrel lasted for almost two weeks and cost the Canadians over 8,000 casualties. Having lost the first two phases of the battle, the Canadians achieved victory in the final operation. Careful planning and concentrated artillery bombardments had begun to tip the balance on the First World War battlefields in favor of attackers over entrenched defenders.

Sources: Canadian War Museum Website, Regina Rifles Regimental History

1 comment:

  1. What always fascinated me about the Ypres battlefield was how hills assumed such importance. Without the trees one can easily see the town.