Honourable senators, on this day, June 14, 1916, 95 years ago, the Battle of Mont Sorrel near Ypres, Belgium, ended in a decisive Allied victory. While this conflict is conceivably not as acknowledged as some of the Western Front battles such as Vimy Ridge, the Somme or Verdun, the men who fought and gave their lives for our nation were no less brave and their contribution to the cause no less valiant.
The battle began in the early morning of June 2. The German 13th Corps, trained specifically in high-ground seizures, embarked on an aggressive campaign to capture the crucially strategic area above the city of Ypres and to pull resources from the ongoing build up in the Somme.
The day began with a massive heavy-calibre artillery bombardment that pounded the Canadian front line defensive position. Mournfully, upwards of 90 per cent of the forward reconnaissance battalion, including many senior officers, would fall as casualties.
Not unexpectedly, as the German troops advanced, the resistance was leaderless and minimal. Mont Sorrel and the surrounding hills were quickly captured. However, without orders to continue to capitalize on their advancement, the German soldiers dug in their positions.
The subsequent day, a hurried counterattack was launched by the Canadian corps, yet nothing went as planned. Again, many young men would perish as they advanced in broad daylight over exposed ground.
Following this tragedy, it was determined that enhanced preparation was necessary. Major-General Arthur Currie was tasked with regaining the lost ground with success as the only option.
The Canadian assault of Mont Sorrel would begin on June 9, as powerful artillery bombardments pounded the German position for four days. The Germans lay waiting for an immediate advance to follow the artillery, yet it did not come.
However, following a 45-minute barrage on the morning of June 13, the Canadian troops sprang forward to attack behind a heavy smokescreen, catching the enemy by surprise. Minimal resistance was encountered. The Germans were caught off guard. In little more than an hour, the Canadians had swept onto Mont Sorrel, regaining their original positions and taking 200 prisoners.
Predictably, on June 14, the Germans would launch two frantic counterattacks, yet the Canadian line held firm.
As British Official History notes, "The first Canadian deliberately-planned attack in any force resulted in an unqualified success." Mont Sorrel and the surrounding area was now securely in Allied hands.
Honourable senators, most Canadians will go through today with little awareness of what happened on this date many years ago. I urge all of you to take a moment to remember these brave young men who fought so courageously, including the many who would never return to Canada, as the heroes they are.