On 21 March 1918, General Ludendorff launched Germany’s massive Spring Offensive, “Kaiserschlacht” (Kaiser’s Battle), along the Western Front. The first phase, Operation Michael, involved thousands of troops, artillery, and poison gas, and the Germans quickly advanced deep into the British lines, causing catastrophic losses in both men and ground to the Allies. While the Canadian Corps was not directly affected by Operation Michael, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade would soon be pulled into the chaotic fighting around Saint-Quentin.
Read on below and follow the links to discover Canada’s involvement in Operation Michael.
23 March 1918 – The Canadian Cavalry Brigade – On 23 March 1918, a mounted force of 500 Canadian and British cavalrymen was urgently improvised to counter-attack the advanced enemy positions and regain broken infantry lines on the third day of Operation Michael (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369). A force of 800 Canadian cavalrymen had already been dismounted to cover the retreat of British forces since the second day of the German offensive. With the British lines now slightly stabilized, a re-mounted force was needed to provide fast-moving, mobile reinforcements (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369).
27 March 1918 – Lord Strathcona’s Horse – On 27 March 1918, French troops made a series of small counter-attacks into the German offensive, re-establishing contact with British troops on their flank. While advancing on the village of Fontaine, they captured a handful of “prisoners dressed like Canadians” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369). In fact, these “prisoners” turned out to be men of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Led by Victoria Cross-recipient Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, the eleven cavalrymen had been conducting a mounted reconnaissance when they cleared Fontaine of “a greatly superior force of Germans” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369).