By Richard Lawrence
Today marked the 99th Anniversary of the Battle for Hill 70, an important World War 1 battle that claimed over 9100 Canadian casualties and over 20,000 Germans from the 15th to the 25th of August 1917. It was a battle every bit as important to Canada’s nationhood as Vimy Ridge. So why has no one heard of it?
Hill 70 refers to a hill on the outskirts of Lens, France, where the Canadian Corps took on five divisions of the German 6th Army. The original objective was to cause German casualties by attacking the city of Lens but LGen. Sir Arthur Currie, commanding the Canadian Corp., saw this as a poor choice of target because of the city’s fortifications so recommended Hill 70, as it was tactically more important than the control of the city. This was approved and the objective of the assault on Hill 70 became to inflict German casualties and to freeze the German troops to this area, and possibly draw in more German troops from the Third Battle of Ypres (also known as Passchendaele). The objective was never to capture territory but rather to start a battle of attrition with the Germans.
The fighting was fierce with the Canadian Corp taking Hill 70 and repelling 21 German counter-attacks over the four days. There was extensive use of poison gas on both sides and this was the first time that artillery had used "predicted fire" (using datum points and calculations rather than ranging shots, which alerted the enemy.) A later attack on the city of Lens failed. Overall, the battle can be deemed a success because it succeeded in its' objective of causing German casualties, freezing German troops in position, and it did take territory. Where it was less successful was in the taking of the city of Lens (not a main objective) and it did not cause the transfer of German troops from the Passchendaele area to Lens.
The Hill 70 Memorial Project is striving to bring this battle back to the spotlight of Canadian military history and todays walk in downtown Ottawa was a starting point. The two re-enactors are meant to recreate, in tableau, a picture taken on Hill 70 in 1917 as depicted in the banner behind them with a soldier and a stretcher-bearer. It is also meant to inform people of the construction of a monument, which should break ground within the next 60 days in Loos-en-Gohelle, France, to honour the Canadian Corps. This is the final WWI monument to be approved by the French government.
Vimy Ridge was the first time that the Canadian Corps acted as a single, unified contingent and accomplished great deeds and showed Canada as a nation equal to anyone else. But Vimy Ridge was a British battle, albeit using overwhelming numbers of Canadian soldiers, under British commanders.
Hill 70 was solely a Canadian battle, under the command of a Canadian, Sir Arthur Currie, who picked the targets and which garnered 6 Victoria Crosses to attest to the fierceness of the fighting. Because Canada was a part of the British Empire, it was not reported as thoroughly as other British battles with British regiments and British commanders and as such has become the forgotten victory. See more at http://www.hill70.ca
For more photos by Richard Lawrence click here: http://www.richardlawrencephotography.ca/rlpgalleries/2016/99hill70/index.html