|Haig could not allow the Germans to stay on the high ground of Hill 62 and Observatory Ridge. He was preparing for major action at the Somme and the new German position gave them an excellent view of the Ypres Salient.|
He wanted the high ground retaken but when he ordered Plumer who ordered Lt. Gen. Julian Byng, the commander of the Canadian Corps, to retake the high ground, it was with the understanding that there would be no extra units diverted to assist in the attack.
The first counter attack by the Canadians didn't go smoothly. Byng had already ordered this attack to reclaim the ground because that was British doctrine during that period.
But this attack was pretty hastily prepared and suffered for it.
The attack was scheduled for 2 AM but by the time the brigades assigned to retake Hill 62 (Tor Top) and Mount Sorrel got to the start lines it was 7 AM.
The brigades assigned had been quite far back and it took time to get them there.
The start was a bit of a cock-up. The signal to go was 7 green rockets, fired simultaneously. The rockets misfired so in total, 14 were fired and in the end, only 6 exploded.
Some Canadian companies didn't even see the rockets.
So the battalions moved forward at different times. Seeing this, the Germans concentrated on MG fire aimed at the units that were actually moving.
This increased the number of casualties unfortunately.
By 1 PM the Canadians at great cost had reclaimed about 1000 yds of the territory lost but they hadn't claimed all of it so they dug in and extended the line toward Hooge, if you want to compare it to the map.
More counter attacks
Haig wanted the Germans off the high ground but he wouldn't send any more troops.
What he decided was to give the Germans a bit of their own tactics by beefing up the artillery. Subsequent counter attacks would now feature fewer infantry and more big guns.
It was quite an array. Gen. Burstall of the RCA was given many extra heavy guns and this shoot was considered the largest to be ever concentrated in such a small area.
The 218 pieces included 116 eighteen-pounders, and ranged in calibre up to two 12-inch howitzers. They represented the Canadian Corps Heavy Artillery, the 1st and 2nd Divisional Artilleries and the Lahore Divisional Artillery; the British 5th, 10th, 11th Heavy Artillery Groups, 3rd Divisional Artillery, 51st Howitzer Battery and 89th Siege Battery; and the South African 71st and 72nd Howitzer Batteries. The "heavies" of the British 5th and 14th Corps, on either flank, were to cooperate.
But the Germans actually struck again at the Hooge Spur which had changed hands so many times. They blew up mines and killed a lot of Canadians. This spur was the best position from which to view the salient.
Byng ordered the Canadians to leave the Germans in the trenches at Hooge Spur and to take back Hill 62 and Mount Sorrel.
The Germans were shelled with an incredibly heavy barrage or rather, multiple barrages.
Gen. Burstall commented the he felt that the Canadian infantry would be able to retake the objectives with "slung rifles". And he wasn't far off apparently.
It was units of General Currie's 1st Div. that completed the task. I should note that British cavalry had been assigned but I confess that I cannot remember how they were employed.
Resistance was minimal, though fierce when isolated pockets were found by the Canadians, and the Germans returned to their original positions occupied before the Battle of Mount Sorrel started.
So many casualties just to return to status quo.
The battle took about 1 hour and the artillery had played a major role.
The Germans did try subsequently to counter attack but the artillery smashed them again.
Massed artillery used strategically would become a feature of Canadian Corps attacks. Once Currie assumed command he had become a believer that it was better to expend shells rather than allow more men to be killed. Of course, British and Canadian artillery methods were becoming much more sophisticated as the war went on.
Official British history noted that the Battle of Mount Sorrel was:
"The first Canadian deliberately planned attack in any force had resulted in an unqualified success."
I don't know whether the negative reviews associated with events at Festubert and St. Éloi had been completely forgotten but the Canadian Corps had done something to improve their morale at Mount Sorrel. They were feeling pretty good about themselves and Arthur Currie's reputation was enhanced.