Unending Seige

The Final Year

The Last Gasp

In 1918 the countries that had been fighting in Europe for four years were running short of combatants. Since the Russians had abandoned their siege against the Germans in the east, Germany was able to concentrate its efforts in the west. It had to move fast, for the Americans had been mobilizing since April 1917 and tens of thousands of them were now arriving in Europe. In theory the Germans could marshal 192 divisions to the 173 available to the Allies in the spring of 1918. Division strengths were uneven on both sides. Improvements in technical and tactical resources, combined with the manpower shortage, enabled the British to reduce the number of battalions making up brigades from four to three. With nine battalions instead of 12, the British, Australian and New Zealand divisions increased in number while the strength in each decreased by a quarter.

Taking the same route and bringing its 5th Division on standby in Britain to the front would have given Canada an army comprising two corps. Currie decided instead to keep the structure of his four divisions intact. This amounted to refusing a virtually automatic promotion. After Passchendaele, Currie dismantled the 5th Division, which enabled him to reform the officer ranks in the other four and add 100 men to each infantry battalion. He also reinforced the sappers, who would have three battalions of 1,000 men each with their own command and logistics. This last measure would enable the infantry and artillery to focus on combat. In the spring of 1918 each Canadian division boasted its heavy machine-gun battalion with 1,558 men and 96 Vickers, which were added to the increasingly numerous Lewis machine guns in the infantry platoons.

At the end of the war the Canadian Machine Gun Corps comprised 422 officers and 8,349 men, though some still wonder today whether this immense firepower was more effective than the additional infantry brigade these specialists could have formed. Nonetheless, a Canadian infantry division of 24,000 men had 6,000 more than the other imperial formations, though 4,000 fewer than the American ones.

Bristling with confidence, Currie and his men no longer hesitated to openly follow their own convictions. The Canadian Army Corps, like Currie himself, was a self-confident giant among the British formations. Even though Currie was in a defensive position during the spring of 1918, he resisted British pressure to add one or two divisions that would enable them to put an end to some German attacks.