Most of us today have never heard of the charge of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade at Moreuil Wood. Never mind that it was history’s last great cavalry charge. Never mind that it was among history’s decisive battles. Never mind the unfathomable courage of Canadians who charged on horseback into blistering machine gun fire. All they did was win the First World War.
It was still very much in the balance in the spring of 1918, when the Germans hurled everything they had into a final, desperate offensive. This was their last and best chance for victory. German forces on the Western Front were strengthened with 50 new divisions freed up by Russia’s collapse in the East.
This time they would use new tactics. Allied defenders first would be subjected to the most intense artillery barrage of the war. Then would come the storm troopers. These were the best German soldiers, assembled into special companies and trained to infiltrate into Allied positions. Stunned and surrounded defenders would then be overwhelmed by the usual waves of infantry.
Alfred Munnings Charge of Flowerdews Squadron
Facing the Germans were Allied armies all but exhausted by four years of brutal trench warfare, their ranks depleted by casualties in the hundreds of thousands. Reinforcements had not been forthcoming. The idea was simply to hang on until the Americans, who had just joined the Allied cause, could arrive in force. The Germans’ idea was to win before that could happen.
Their object was the town of Amiens, astride a vital crossroads between Allied armies. If Amiens fell to the Germans, the French would have to retreat south to defend Paris, and the British, north, toward the channel ports from whence came their supplies. With the Allies thus divided, the war was as good as lost.
The Germans almost pulled it off. On March 23, they burst through Allied lines. Within a week, they had advanced 60 kilometres to the very outskirts of Amiens, close enough to Paris to shell the French capital with long-range artillery. While Parisians fled in terror and scrambling Allies teetered on the brink of panic, the Kaiser toasted his famous victory with vintage Champagne. Prematurely, as it turned out, when the Canadians intervened.
It happened near the town of Moreuil on a wooded ridge on March 30th, 1918, overlooking the approaches to Amiens. Whoever held that ridge would hold Amiens, and whoever held Amiens would win the war. This was instantly apparent to Brig.-Gen. Jack Seely, British commander of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, when he saw the Germans occupying the critical high ground in divisional strength. Seely’s Canadians had spent most of the war waiting to exploit Allied breakthroughs that never came. Now they’d been sent forward and told to wait for further orders. Realizing the urgency of the situation, Seely waited no more. On his right, the French were in retreat. On his left, the British were in confusion. Before him were the advancing Germans. Acting on his own initiative, Seely gave the order to charge.
Front and centre, galloping uphill into the very teeth of German machine gun and artillery fire, was an Alberta regiment, Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Wielding sabers against German guns, outnumbered three to one, they suffered 70 per cent casualties before putting the enemy to flight. Foremost among the Strathconas was Lt. Gordon Muriel Flowerdew of Queen’s Bay, B.C., awarded the Victoria Cross for leading at the expense of his life the decisive, magnificent cavalry charge. According to Flowerdew’s commendation, his squadron charged at the gallop through two lines of German infantry, killing a great many with their swords, then wheeled and charged again, finally clearing away the enemy and then successfully defending the ridge against fierce counterattacks.
The enemy would advance no farther. So ended the great German spring offensive of 1918 and, soon thereafter, the war.
(c) Canwest MediaWorks Publications Inc.
M30 is a strategic forward thinking company with a fearless attitude towards getting the job done. Our name is derived from the date that this epic battle took place March 30th. The name serves to honour the memory of the battle, specifically its strategic importance, and fearless attitude the men showed in the face of adversity. These are our kind of people!