from ‘'the War Illustrated', 29th June, 1918
'What Canadian M.M. Gunners Did'
by Hamilton Fyfe
The Famous War Correspondent now on the Western Front

My Impressions of the Great Offensive

machine guns in action and training - in illustration and in photo


THE Canadians were not in "the big show." I heard many of-them say this regretfully. They wanted to be in it. They chafed against inaction while not far from them the great battle was being fought. They were doing good service, but it was the service of those who "stand and wait," and that is not the kind of service to which the Canadians are accustomed. "If only the Boche would start in on us !" they said. They meant it, too.

But while the Dominion troops were holding a sector in which, during those crowded March and April days, there was "nothing doing," the Canadians were not altogether unrepresented in the successful effort of the British armies to bring up short of its aims the first stage of the German offensive. Indeed, the contribution which some Canadian motor machine-gunners put in was of the greatest value. It saved many British lives. It accounted for many Germans. It tided over a number of difficult moments during the battle.

This unit, consisting of armoured cars with machine-guns, which could either be worked from the cars, or taken out and used independently, was formed in Canada by several rich men at the instigation of a French Canadian of distinguished ability and enterprise. The unit had not yet been in action when it was suddenly called upon to take part in fighting some of the rearguard actions required for the protection of our armies as they fell back. Its machine-guns were actually in the trench system when the call came.

Ready Wherever Wanted

At nine o'clock in the evening on March 21st a telegram was received. "Can you send your machine-gunners?" it asked, and "How soon can they be ready to start ?" The reply was made that two batteries would pull out before midnight, and the remainder by five o'clock in the morning. Orders were sent to the men in the trenches to come with their guns as quickly as possible. By five a.m. all the batteries were on the road.

They had a long way to go before they came to the battlefield, but they drove like men who knew they were wanted, and that same day, March 22nd, they were in action in two places.

Their task was to stiffen resistance to the German advance wherever our line was weak. The officer in command of the cars wrote in one of his reports that his cars were "in constant demand." To every demand for their help the men responded. After five days' fighting, during which they had only about twenty hours' sleep, they were reported to be in the best of trim. "Every man is cheerful and full of fight." That was their commanding officer's testimony.

They had heavy losses. That was not to be avoided. They were doing dangerous work. One battery was in action with its guns on the ground. They checked the enemy time after time, but he came on after every check, and at last their ammunition began to run out. The battery commander saw that he must think about getting his guns away. He left a few to keep up a brisk fire while the rest were got into the cars. Unluckily, before the packing up was finished, the gunners, who had been left firing, found they had no ammunition left.

They saw that the cars were not ready to start. They knew that unless the Germans were held up somehow the cars would be captured. They had a small supply of bombs, and with these they kept the enemy back for a few minutes. Then they pulled out their revolvers and used up all their cartridges. Still the cars did not start. The Germans were getting nearer every moment. Something must be done to check them just a little longer. The one possibility was to charge.

Charge With Bare Fists

They had no bayonets. They had no rifles even. The only weapons available were spare machine-gun barrels. They picked up these, and with a shout ran into the open. It meant certain death, and they must have known this. But not one of them hesitated. Those who had not been able to get a gun-barrel used their fists. They were all killed, but they saved the cars. Their comrades got away, and told with affectionate gratitude the story of their gallant sacrifice.

At Maricourt, near Peronne, a battery fought till it had only three men left. All the rest were either killed or wounded. Their orders here were to cover the extrication of the heavy guns and of a number of Tanks. These move slowly. The Canadians' job turned out to be a long one. At first they were firing from positions protected by wire. But they found that the wire hindered their view, so they boldly carried their guns out in front of it.

They went on working (hem in the open until the enemy got round one of their flanks. Then they started to get back through the wire again. No more than three — a sergeant and two privates — remained unwounded. One of the privates, a motor-cyclist, with his machine handy, was sent to fetch up the cars, while the other two kept a couple of guns going. The cars came, the wounded were picked up, and the remains of the battery got safely away under its commander, who had had his arm blown off.

Often daring action was needed to get the full value out of these armoured "landships." At one point the Germans were discovered to be massing in large force upon ground which our infantry fire could not reach. It was sheltered from them in such a manner as to be what is called "dead ground." The only way to get at them and break up their concentration, which threatened to be dangerous, was to work round the sheltering slope and pour in a hot fire from the flank.

Two cars were detailed for this enterprise. They drove at full speed and took up their positions. Their guns, worked from the cars, caught the Germans unexpectedly and mowed them down. "They lay in heaps," one of the Canadians said afterwards. But very quickly the German artillery got on to the cars. One was hit and disabled. The crew of the other tried to tow it away, but this could not be managed with shells bursting all around. It had to be abandoned. But the desperate effort had succeeded. The German concentration was broken up.

Eight Crowded Days

There were several very brave exploits by individual men. One gunner worked a car all alone when all his comrades had been knocked out. Another man found himself the only survivor of a car crew except for the driver. They were in a village which was just being taken by the Boche. He planted his machine-gun at a corner and played a stream of bullets in the direction of the enemy, while the driver turned the car round. Then he picked his gun up, heaved it into the car, jumped after it, and got away unhit.

One very interesting encounter which the cars had was with a body of German cavalry. Many hold it to be more than doubtful whether cavalry can be of any use against machine-guns. The Canadian commander's report upon the encounter supported this view. "Cavalry," he wrote, "against organised machine-guns, with Canadians firing them, is useless."

For eight days these cars were in a number of the hottest forefronts of the battle. They did all that was asked of them, and they did it well. When they got back to Canadian Headquarters they were sadly reduced in personnel, and their cars were a good deal marked. But they knew they had done good service, and they were thanked by the Canadian commander. Canada and the Empire owe them hearty thanks as well.


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