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Battle of the Ancre Heights
Part of the Battle of the Somme of World War I
Date 1 October – 11 November 1916
Location Ancre, France
Result Indecisive
United Kingdom United Kingdom  German Empire
United Kingdom Hubert Gough

The Battle of the Ancre Heights was a prolonged battle of attrition in October 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. Lieutenant General Hubert Gough's Reserve Army had finally managed to break out of the positions it had occupied since the start of the Somme fighting (1 July) and Gough intended to maintain the pressure on the German forces on the high ground above the River Ancre. However, in three weeks of fighting the greatest advance achieved was little over 1,000 yards (910 m).

The Canadian Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Julian Byng, was heavily involved in the fighting on the Ancre heights. The Canadian 4th Division was also involved, attached to the British II Corps. The Canadians were far from impressed with Gough's conduct of the battle and expressed reluctance to serve under his command again. In 1917, when the corps was commanded by a Canadian, General Arthur Currie, and had endured the hell of Passchendaele, this dislike, which had been born on the Somme, turned to outright refusal.

At 3:15 p.m. (zero hour) on October 1, the Canadians once again tried to take Regina Trench, in a downpour along a front that stretched for more than a kilometre. Artillery had bombarded the Trench, but the 4th and 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles found that the barbed wire defences had not been cut and the German machine guns had survived equally unscathed and were able to lay down a fearsome blanket of fire. Casualties were high. The 22nd, 24th and 25th Infantry Battalions also faced intact barbed wire and intense machine-gun fire but managed limited successes including the capture of a portion of Kenora Trench. Beyond this initial attack incessant rain made it impossible to continue the offensive for another week. Throughout this lull, Canadian units prepared for the next phase of the battle.

This second phase began in a cold rain at 4:50 a.m. on October 8. Eight Canadian battalions renewed the attack on Regina Trench. Artillery had again failed to damage many German positions and the attacking Canadian units met heavy resistance. In one of the war's most poignant episodes, twenty-year-old James Richardson of the 16th Battalion won Victoria Cross, standing up in the line of fire and playing his bagpipes when his battalion's attack had stalled and the men had taken cover. His playing inspired the men to press the attack forward. Richardson survived the piping, but his VC was awarded posthumously as he was killed later in the day.[1] By the end of the day, few of the objectives had been achieved at a cost of 1,364 Canadian casualties. The Canadian Corps then withdrew, while the 4th Canadian Division was deployed on the Somme for the first time.

The final phase of the battle began on October 21, despite waterlogged terrain. The 87th and 102nd Battalions once again attacked Regina Trench. This time the artillery had destroyed the German barbed wire and the Canadians captured the position in about 15 minutes. At 7:00 a.m. on October 24, the 44th Battalion began attacking a further section of Regina Trench. They did so after a completely inadequate artillery bombardment that left the German defences intact. Artillery pounded the attacking forces as German soldiers stood in plain sight to shoot the advancing troops. The attack failed. British and Canadian forces then regrouped and resupplied themselves until just after midnight, during the night of November 10-11, when they began a final assault on the remaining portion of Regina Trench. The attackers achieved their objectives within a couple of hours and the Battle of Ancre Heights was over. The artillery had taken its toll on the position as the attackers reported in places that Regina Trench had been to a 'mere depression in the chalk'[2] They spent the rest of the day consolidating their gains and fighting off counterattacks. Two days later, Canadian artillery supported British troops as they pressed the attack on to Ancre itself.

The battle of the Ancre heights was the prelude to the final act on the Somme, the Battle of the Ancre, which began on 13 November.

See also




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