Trench Raids – What Were They?

In a series of posts, we will be discussing more of the diversionary raids undertaken by Canadians during May – June of 1917 south of the Souchez River. Therefore it is fitting to first provide a brief overview of the Canadians’ development of raiding techniques.

In this charcoal sketch, H.J. Mowat depicts six Canadians leaving the trenches to go on a trench raid. In reality, the men would have removed their packs and helmets, and taken extreme caution on a night with a full moon. Credit: Sketch by H.J. Mowat – Beaverbrook Collection of War Art – CWM 19710261-043

Trench raids initially began as an offshoot of aggressive patrolling.  In groups of two or three, patrols would crawl out into no man’s land during the dark of night, gathering intelligence on the enemy wire, finding gaps and identifying strong points. These patrols would then pass their intelligence on to an officer who was forming up a raiding party. Numbering anywhere from a handful to a couple dozen men, the first raids were quick, brutal and efficient smash and grab operations. Meant to provide a simple means to attack the enemy, gather intelligence and hopefully a prisoner, raids allowed Canadians to experiment with tactics and gain fighting experience.

Read our Raiding series with Part I – Dirty Tricks.

Canadians gather round a German prisoner, captured during a trench raid by the 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) Battalion.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-00262