Battle of 2nd Ypres – 15th Battalion CEF (48th Highlanders of Canada) April 2021 Tribute

On April 22, 1915 the German 26th Reserve Corps launched the opening attack of the battle of 2nd Ypres  against the French 87th Territorial and 45th Algerian Divisions on the immediate left flank of the 1st Canadian Division. The assaulted was preceded by the first mass use of poison gas in modern warfare and the effect was devastating.  By midnight the Germans had penetrated deep into the French sector and were threatening the now exposed Canadian left flank.

The British/Canadian frontline had effectively become a pronounced salient. At the apex of that salient, the positions occupied by the 13th and 15th Battalions of the Canadian 3rd Infantry Brigade, were under threat of enfilade fire and encirclement from their rear. In an attempt to plug the open left flank, on the night of April 23rd hasty counterattacks were conducted against the advancing Germans at Kitchner’s Wood by the 10th and 16th Battalions. On the 23rd units were rushed to form a new hasty defence line all along the open flank from the Canadian frontline at the apex all the way back to the Yser Canal.

The area on the exposed left between St Julian and the front line positions of the 13th and 15th Battalions was under the most serious and immediate threat.  Therefore to plug that hole, the 13th Battalion line folded back on itself to form a right angle (a maneuver called ‘refusing the flank’) and elements of the 7th Battalion and the British 2/East Kent Battalion (The Buffs) were moved in on the 13th’s left.  The 15th Battalion was now literally at the very apex of the Canadian salient and being subjected  to artillery and small arms fire from the front, left flank and rear.

At approximately 4 AM on the morning of the 24th, the Germans launched a second gas attack which hit the apex of the line descending most heavily on No. 1 and part of No 3 Company on the right of the 15th’s line as well as part of the 8th Battalion’s line to their right. No. 1 Company was effectively annihilated by the combined effects of the gas, artillery and the follow-on assaulting German infantry which penetrated that portion of the 15th’s line. Of all the Canadian units engaged that day, the 15th Battalion was the only one without any artillery support as their supporting battery had mistakenly pulled back out of range.

In terms of what followed the collapse of No. 1 Company’s position, it is unfortunately reasonably simple to explain tactically. As the surviving elements of No. 3 Company in the centre and No. 4 Company on the right were effectively pinned in position by fire from the front and enfilade from the exposed left, the Germans rolled-up the line from right to left one platoon at time.  To be sure, there was desperate fighting and Major Marshall’s close support element at Death Mill delayed the enemy penetration into the rear of the front line positions somewhat but in the end as the apex was gradually lost, the survivors fell back as best they could to reserve positions hastily formed along Gravenstafel ridge by other Canadian units rushed into place.

No. 2 Company which had been left in Reserve at St Julian had become part of a combined force defending the town and the new left flank against the German advance that penetrated the French line on the 21st. With the front line at the apex collapsing and German pressure on the left continuing, the sub units of the St Julien `garrison` were overrun and surrendered on April 25th.

When the 15th Battalion moved into the forward line to relieve the 16th Battalion on April 20th, it had a field strength of approximately 900 all ranks. When the surviving elements of the battalion regrouped at Wieltje on April 25th, approximately 647 had become casualties – 233 dead ,of which 187 were MIA, 248 POWs and the remainder wounded with many of those eventually dying. There is a well-known period photograph referred to as ‘The Roll Call’ that shows survivors lined up in the battalion’s transport lines with an NCO calling the roll. Those who answered that roll call totalled 3 Officers and 150 Other Ranks. Battalion leadership, both Officers and Senior NCOs, was decimated – the battalion had in-effect been destroyed.  As The Official History of The Canadian Forces in The Great War 1914-1918 states: “No other Canadian battalion, and few British battalions, ever suffered so heavily in so short a time. “ The battalion would be quickly rebuilt with hundreds of reinforcements from CEF units in the UK. It would go on to take part in every major campaign and battle in which The Canadian Corps was involved for the duration of the war winning 20 Battle Honours in process. Ypres had been a successful defense but a costly ‘baptism of fire.’

The attached video ‘Roll Call’ of The Fallen from 2nd Ypres ‘speaks their names’ and in doing so insures that they have not disappeared from our memory and are not truly gone.

April 20-29 1915 2nd Ypres – The Fallen of the 15th Battalion – Dileas Gu Brath

15th Battalion C.E.F. – Remembrance Day Tribute November 11, 2020

The Heritage and Commemoration Series The Great War Battle Honours

The following is a series of videos being produced by the 15th Battalion CEF Memorial Project to commemorate the battalion’s role in a number of the key battles of The Great War in which, as part of the Canadian Corps, the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders) was engaged.

The programs also acknowledge the sacrifice of those men of the battalion who fell during those battles and to whose memory we remain Faithful Forever.

Battle of Hill 70

This is the 103rd anniversary of the battle of Hill 70 during which the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders) assaulted and captured Puits 14 and Bois Hugo as part of the Canadian Corps assault on Hill 70 near Lens, France. The battalion was in the first wave of the assault on the Corps’ exposed and vital left flank. Having secured all their objectives on the morning of 15 August 1917, the battalion defended its position for a day and half against numerous German counter attacks until it was relieved and withdrawn from the line.

Hill 70 was the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together completely under Canadian leadership and it is one of the twenty one Battle Honours awarded to the 15th Battalion for its service during The Great War and one of the ten emblazoned on the Colours of 48th Highlanders of Canada which perpetuates the 15th Battalion.

Battle for the Crows Nest

1 September 2020, is the 102nd anniversary of the battle for the Drocourt-Queant Line and more specifically for the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders), the assault on The Crow’s Nest at Hendecourt-les-Cagnicourt.

The D-Q Line was part of the heavily defended Hindenburg Line and the assault on it by The Canadian Corps in late August-September 1918 was part of The Hundred Days campaign. Known by the German Army as the Wotung Stellung, the D-Q Line was one of the most powerful and well organized enemy defence systems.

The approach to the D-Q Line and the need to secure good ‘jump-off’ positions to assault it was made difficult by several defended obstacles forward of the line itself – the most formidable of which was The Crow’s Nest, an strongpoint on a high bluff which overlooked a large section of the D-Q defences.

The 15th Battalion was assigned the task of securing The Crow’s Nest and on the morning of 1 September 1918, the unit assaulted and quickly captured it and the adjacent Chateau Wood. As at Hill 70, the battalion successfully defended the position against several German counterattacks thereby ‘opening the door’ for the main attack on the D-Q Line in which it also participated.

The Drocourt-Queant Line is one of the twenty one Battle Honours awarded to the 15th Battalion for its service during The Great War and one of the ten emblazoned on the Colours of 48th Highlanders of Canada which perpetuates the 15th Battalion.

This video is the second in a series of videos being produced by the 15th Battalion CEF Memorial Project to commemorate the battalion’s role in a number of the key battles of The Great War in which, as part of the Canadian Corps, the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders) was engaged. The programs also acknowledge the sacrifice of those men of the battalion who fell during those battles and to whose memory we remain Faithful Forever.