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AT VIMY, CURRIE'S lessons were first applied, much to the surprise of the Germans. As a result of the new technology of sound-ranging and with the aid of aerial photography, the Canadian Corps located the main positions of the German artillery. When the assault went in, Canadian artillery suppressed, when it didn't destroy, German defensive fires. Canadian troops had been training for months, practicing the assault behind the lines. Every man knew the job of every other man. The task-organized platoons were winning in detail against the usual German defensive measures. The 1st Canadian Division, commanded by Currie and which had the farthest to go, reached its final objective noon the next day. The 4th Division conquered "The Pimple" on April 12th, closing the battle for Vimy Ridge and providing the only flash of light for the Allies in the spring of 1917. The Canadian amateurs out-did the German, British and French regulars.

Byng was promoted to command the 3rd British Army, and Currie was promoted to Lieutenant General and commander of the Canadian Corps. Now we see on a larger stage the tactical eye that Currie had developed.

Currie was ordered to take the town of Lens by assault. Currie proposed he attack a hill to the north of the town Instead; it was less well defended and possession of the hill would make the German possession of the town untenable. Thus the battle of Hill 70 was fought. Having taken the hill, Currie placed artillery and heavy machine guns on it in a manner that interdicted the routes of German counterattacks. Running the kill zone cost the Germans heavily; Currie was left in possession of Hill 70, and then of the town of Lens. The battle cost the Germans 20,000 casualties and the Canadians 9,000.

In preparation for his attack on Passchendaele, Currie ordered the construction of roads as well as a massing of artillery and heavy machine guns. In his mind's eye he could see the battle unfold. Currie objected to Passchendaele, saying it would cost him 16,000 casualties, and in the end it cost 15,500!

Currie demonstrated superior talent throughout the Hundred Day campaign. At Amiens, after making a head-fake north, the Corps moved rapidly south, detrained, and quickly attacked without artillery preparation. The result was the "black day for the German Army." In September, 1918, the Corps tore a 7,000 yard-wide hole in the German line at Drocourt-Queant, said to be the "greatest single achievement by the British Expeditionary Force in the whole war." Currie then squeezed the Corps through a 2,700 yard hole at Canal du Nord to break the Hindenburg Line, confusing the Germans with a sequence of zig-zag attacks reminiscent of manoeuvre warfare tactics.

After Valenciennes, pursuing to Mons, Currie employed an embryonic form of blitzkrieg, mixing infantry and tanks assaulting on the ground, supported by artillery and tactical air power. The capture of Mons culminated the campaign on the day of the Armistice.

In early 1919, Currie was promoted to General and appointed Inspector General of the Armed Forces. Deep cutbacks in military spending and the bureaucratic deep state in the Ottawa establishment thwarted Currie's plans to reform the military, and he retired from the army in 1920 at the age of 44 with 23 years' service.

Currie was not a man of military science. He took his courses and was an enthusiastic student. No doubt he liked the subject matter. He had a mind's eye for tactics, and the coolness and courage to be able to use it. He had time and opportunities to develop his war knowledge through experience--in this war on this front. Being only a high school graduate did not hinder him, given his talent and the opportunity to gain experience. Though not personally inspiring and cool towards his troops, he worked amiably and participatively with subordinates who had themselves proven their worth.

Because Currie had time to gain experience, he was able to develop his talent.

Vincent J. Curtis is a freelance writer who is interested in military and international affairs

Caption: CEF marches victoriously across the Rhine. Currie (at left, under flag) takes salute. (NATIONAL ARCHIVES)

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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Author:Curtis, Vincent J.
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jan 1, 2020

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