After crashing the Drocourt-Quéant Line on 2 September, the Canadian Corps could take a well-deserved rest and begin preparations for their next obstacle: The Canal du Nord. While allied forces continued their operations throughout September, Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Currie needed to develop a strategy to cross the heavily fortified canal where enemy positions were strong and bristling with machine guns.
After the stalemate of the fall of 1914, the conflict in France began to slip into a state of almost total war. With millions of men entrenched on opposite sides of a roughly 400km front and the drive for victory unabated, it became a fight to win at any cost. An attritional war is by necessity one without rules and the victor determined by how far they are willing to go to kill off the manpower of the opposing side. While both the Allies and the Entente reached this point eventually, for much of 1915 it was a desperate race for Britain and France to catch up with their enemy. The most frequently seen example of this is the use of poison gas at Ypres in the spring of 1915, which the Allies were quick to adopt, but another terrifying result of the attritional war was the use of tunneling and mining to strike fear into the enemy. The first German mining effort came to light in December 1915, when a section of the line held by the Indian Army near Festubert was blown up at 10:25am, scattering the survivors and leaving a 1 000 yard swathe of trench in German hands. At this point, it was decided by the British High Command that in order to ensure the morale of the men and maintain some kind of control of No Mans Land, they too needed to establish counter mining companies. Continue reading “An underground war: Captain Oscar Harvey and 1st Canadian Tunnelling Company”