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The Canadian Corps was a World War I corps formed from the Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1915 after the arrival of the 2nd Canadian Division in Francemarker. The corps was expanded by the addition of the 3rd Canadian Division in December 1915 and the 4th Canadian Division in August 1916. The organization of a 5th Canadian Division began in February 1917, but it was still not fully formed when it was broken up in February 1918 and its men used to reinforce the other four divisions.

The majority of soldiers of the Canadian Corps were British-born until near the end of the war, when the number of those of Canadian birth that had enlisted rose to 51 percent. They were mostly volunteers, as conscription was not implemented until the end of the war (see Conscription Crisis of 1917). Ultimately, only 24,132 conscripts made it to France before 11 November 1918. In the later stages of the war, the Canadian Corps was among the most effective and respected of the military formations on the Western Front.

History

Although the corps was within and under the command of the British Army, there was considerable pressure by Canadian leaders , especially following the Battle of the Somme, in 1916, to have the corps fight as a single unit rather than have the divisions spread out through the whole army. The corps was commanded by Lieutenant General Sir E.A.H. Alderson, until 1916. Political considerations caused command to be passed to Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, later enobled as Lord Byng of Vimy and Governor-General of Canada. When Byng was promoted to a higher command during the summer of 1917, he was succeeded by the commander of the 1st Division, General Sir Arthur W. Currie, giving the corps its first Canadian commander.

The Canadian Corps captured Vimy Ridge in April, 1917marker, in one of the most successful and daring attacks of the war. During the German Spring Offensive of the spring and summer of 1918, the Canadian Corps supported British and French soldiers while they held the Germans back. Between August 8 and 11, 1918, the corps spearheaded the offensive during the Battle of Amiens. Here a significant defeat was inflicted on the Germans, causing the German commander-in-chief, General Erich Ludendorff, to call August 8 "the black day of the German army." This battle marked the start of the period of the war referred to as "Canada's Hundred Days". After Amiens, the Canadian Corps continued to lead the vanguard of an Allied push that ultimately ended on 11 November 1918 at Mons where the British Empire had first met in conflict with Imperial German forces in 1914.
Painting:"Ghosts of Vimy Ridge"


At the end of war the Canadian 1st and 2nd Divisions took part in the occupation of Germany and the corps was eventually demobilized in 1919. Upon their return home the veterans were greeted by large and welcoming crowds all across the country.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force lost 60,661 dead during the war, 9.28% of the 619,636 who enlisted.

Canadian Divisions under the Canadian Corps

Canadian Divisions
Unit Unit color Active Commanders Duration Major battles
1st Canadian Division

Established: August 1914

Disbanded: November 1918
Edwin Alderson March 1915 - Sept 1915 Second Battle of Ypresmarker
Arthur Currie

Sept 1915 - June 1917 Battle of Mont Sorrel

Battle of the Somme

Battle of Vimy Ridgemarker
Archibald Cameron Macdonell

June 1917 - 1919 Battle of Hill 70marker

Battle of Passchendaelemarker
2nd Canadian Division

Established: May 1915

Disbanded : Nov 1918
Sam Steele

May 1915 - Aug 1915 None

R. E. W. Turner

Sept 1915 - Dec 1916 Battle of the Somme

Battle of Passchendaelemarker
Henry Edward Burstall

Dec 1916 - Nov 1918 Battle of Vimy Ridgemarker
3rd Canadian Division

Established: Jan 1916

Disbanded : Nov 1918
M. S. Mercer

Dec 1915 - Jun 1916
(died in combat)
Battle of Mont Sorrel
Louis Lipsett

Jun 1916 - Sep 1918 Battle of the Somme

Battle of Vimy Ridgemarker

Battle of Passchendaelemarker
Frederick Loomis

Sep 1918- Nov 1918 None
4th Canadian Division

Established: Apr 1916

Disbanded: Nov 1918
David Watson

Apr 1916 - Nov 1918 Battle of Vimy Ridgemarker

Battle of Passchendaelemarker

Battle of Amiens

Battle of Arrasmarker

Battle of Cambrai

5th Canadian Division

Established: Feb 1917

Disbanded: Feb 1918
Garnet Hughes

Feb 1917 - Feb 1918 None


Battles

Following its formation in late 1915, the Canadian Corps readied to fight major battles as a unified entity, beginning in 1916. Additional actions were fought by one or more units of the corps (see separate listings for the divisions, above). Major battles fought by the corps were the following:

1916



1917



1918



Assessment

The military effectiveness of the corps has been extensively analyzed. The corps evolved steadily following the 1915 summer campaign. As Godefroy (2006) notes, the Canadian Expeditionary Force "worked ceaselessly to convert all of its available political and physical resources into fighting power." One striking feature of the corp's evolution was its ability to exploit all opportunities for learning. This was a corps-wide activity, involving all levels from the commander to the private soldier. This ability to learn from allied successes and mistakes made the corps increasingly successful. Doctrine was tested in limited engagements and, if proven effectual, developed for larger scale battles. Following each engagement, lessons were recorded, analyzed and disseminated to all units. Doctrine and tactics that were ineffective or cost too many lives were discarded and new methods developed. This learning process, combined with technical innovation and competent senior leadership in theatre created one of the most effective allied fighting forces on the Western Front.

Notes

  1. English, J. (1991). The Canadian Army and the Normandy Campaign: A Study of Failure in High Command. Praeger Publishers, p 15. ISBN 978-0275930196
  2. Godefroy, A. (April 1, 2006). “Canadian Military Effectiveness in the First World War.” In The Canadian Way of War: Serving the National Interest Bernd Horn (ed.) Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-1550026122
  3. notably around the Ross Rifle controversy


References

  • Nicholson, Col. G.W.L. (1964). Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War, Queen’s Printer.

Further reading

  • Berton, P. (1986). Vimy. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-1339-6.
  • Christie, N. (1999). For King & Empire, The Canadians at Amiens, August 1918, CEF Books.
  • Christie, N. (1997). For King & Empire, The Canadians at Arras, August - September 1918, CEF Books.
  • Christie, N. (1997). For King & Empire, The Canadians at Cambrai, September - October 1918, CEF Books.
  • Dancocks, D. (1987). Spearhead to Victory – Canada and the Great War, Hurtig Publishers
  • Granatstein, J. (2004). Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802086969.
  • Morton, D. and Granatstein, J. (1989). Marching to Armageddon, Lester & Orpen Dennys Publishers.
  • Morton, D. (1993). When Your Number's Up, Random House of Canada.
  • Schreiber, S. (2004). Shock Army of the British Empire – The Canadian Corps in the Last 100 Days of the Great War, Vanwell Publishing Limited.


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