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The Somme, Regina Trench

Normandy, France
Canada in the Great War

On September 15, 1916 General Haig decided to unveil a new weapon called the tank on the Somme Front. Six of forty-nine of the innovative vehicles were allocated to the Canadian Second Division deployed between the villages of Courcelette and Flers as part of an effort to take not too distant Pozieres Ridge. The tanks got stuck in the mud and that part of the attack fizzled. Nevertheless, the Allied attacks ground on and Canadian Corps Commander Julian Byng ordered continued assaults against Courcelette. Units engaged in hand-to-hand bayonet fighting as unscathed Germans rushed out of cellars and tunnels. It took the Canadians two days to take the village. Nearby, battalions of the Third Division also struggled forward with some units winning a piece of trench line, and others struggling to find their way through the mangled countryside. At the end of the first day, the German Army still controlled much of the Ridge.

In the next two months, the Canadian Corps would find itself bound up in the grimmest attritional warfare imaginable. Their most-distant objective was an otherwise meaningless position called Regina Trench. The high command obstinacy demonstrated in the Somme Offensive is a case study in human sacrifice. The advance against Courcelette and Regina Trench would cost 24,000 casualties for the four Canadian Divisions.

Incremental gains were made in late September, but on 1 October as the weather worsened and the troops became soaked, Canadian units actually occupied parts of Regina Trench. But, they lacked the resources to hold on. On 8 October an attack was made with little gain. On 17 October the First, Second and Third Division were rotated out of the line and partly replaced by the Canadian Fourth. On 21 October, fresh troops of the 11th Brigade stormed into and took a section of the Regina Trench after a systematic bombardment. Sadly, on 25 October in an attempt to enlarge the Canadian position, men of an attacking Manitoba Battalion were decimated by friendly artillery fire. With incessant cold rain [at one point it rained on 16 of 21 days], and "indescribable" trenches, the attacks were postponed several times.

Finally, on 9 and 10 November, in bitterly cold weather, but clear for effective artillery fire, Canadian gunners delivered a powerful blow to the Germans still defending Regina Trench. At midnight of 10-11 November, under a full moon, the assault began. By 2:20 am, the trench was fully in Canadian hands. It would be exactly two more years, however, before the war was to end. Fortunately, the five months of the disaster known as the Battle of Somme had run their course and the offensive mercifully ended on November 18th.


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