Newfoundland and the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme

Among the most infamous battles of the First World War and the most emblematic of its horrific slaughter, the Battle of the Somme began on July 1, 1916.

A black-and-white photograph of a pastoral landscape.

General view of the battlefield looking towards Contalmaison (Battle of the Somme). July, 1916 (MIKAN 3520937)

The attack was launched along a 30-kilometre front in northern France. Initially planned by the Allies as a French-British assault, it was intended to divert German forces from their ongoing siege at Verdun. The expectation was that an eight-day preliminary artillery bombardment would destroy the German wire and the forward German lines, allowing advancing forces to simply walk in and take possession of the territory. The artillery, however, failed to destroy either of these targets and at 7:30 a.m. on July 1, 1916, when the bombardment lifted, German infantry emerged from their bunkers to aim their machine guns at the gaps in the otherwise intact wire. An estimated 60,000 British and Allied troops, including close to 800 Newfoundlanders, were killed or wounded on that one day alone. The Battle of the Somme lasted until November 18, 1916. Only 12 kilometres of ground were gained, with 420,000 British, 200,000 French, and 500,000 German casualties.

A black-and-white photograph of a devastated forest, only a few tree trunks are left standing

Scene in Maple Copse (Battle of the Somme). July, 1916 (MIKAN 3520908)

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Anniversary of the participation of military tanks in combat

Tanks first appeared for military use in September 1916 at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in France. The First World War was at a pivotal point, since the Battle of the Somme had begun a few months earlier.

Developed in great secrecy over a number of years, the tanks did not, in general, inspire confidence from military authorities of the time. However, their trial in combat conditions in 1916 revealed their true potential. Well-known officers, such as American George S. Patton, were firm believers in the role of the tank; Patton was one of the first officers to command an armoured unit.

Tanks were heavy, slow, loud and could be easily located by the cloud of black smoke they spewed behind them. The first models were made of wood with metal frames; a full metal structure was quickly adopted, since it was fire resistant and shellproof.

The period between the two World Wars saw some major improvements to the tanks. When the Second World War began in 1939, the usefulness of tanks was no longer in doubt. Tanks became a common feature of any army. In 1941, Canada produced its first tank, the Cruiser, and its production continued during the entire conflict.

Canadian armoured units used numerous tank models during the Second World War, such as the Sherman, an American model.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Summary of comments received in French up to September 30th, 2013

  • A user asked when and where the Canadian tanks were used. LAC answered that the Canadian tank « Cruise » also called « Ram » was used for the training of Allied Forces in England from 1941 until mid-1944. This tank was not used for combat during the Second World War.