The British offensive on the Somme River between Arras and Albert began on 1 July 1916. The intense artillery barrage that preceded the offensive was concentrated on the German trenches. It had little effect, as the German troops were sheltered in the safety of deep bunkers. When the barrage ended and the British infantry assault began, the German defenders emerged from the bunkers and met the British troops with devastating machine gun and artillery fire. Some 60,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded in the attack. Despite heavy casualties, General Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commander-in-Chief, continued the offensive.

The Canadian Corps was spared the horror of the initial attacks. The British command did not commit it to the Somme offensive until September, and, during the intervening weeks, the commander of the Canadian Corps, Lieutenant-General Julius Byng, and Major-General Arthur Currie, commander of the 1st Canadian Division, had time to analyze the operations earlier in the year. Their examination made clear that successful attacks had been the result of artillery closely supporting infantry advances. They applied what they had learned on 15 September, as the Canadian Corps attacked German positions at Courcelette.

At Courcelette, the Canadians introduced the "creeping barrage" to the Western Front. The creeping barrage commenced when the artillery laid a hail of fire in front of the attacking Canadian troops. The infantry advanced behind the barrage in short rushes, rather than attempting to cross the entire breadth of no man's land in one continuous advance. Every three minutes, the artillery "lifted" its fire and advanced approximately 100 yards closer to the enemy trenches. As a result, the Germans had yet to man their trenches when the first wave of Canadians attacked.

Using this tactic, the Canadians Corps penetrated deep into the German lines. It then beat back several determined counterattacks, due in part to effective artillery support from the Canadian batteries. The British prime minister, David Lloyd George, lavishly praised the Canadians for their performance at Courcelette. The creeping barrage would become a standard feature in future Allied offensive operations.

 

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