The Battle of the Drocourt-Quéant Line, 2 September 1918
Known by the German Army as the Wotung Stellung, the Drocourt-Quéant defensive system posed a significant obstacle to the Allies as they attempted to push their offensive further eastward. The rush of the Arras battles had pushed the Corps to the D-Q Line, but they had little time to prepare and Haig was not able to provide extra artillery or tanks. In fact, there was doubt amongst the Corps commanders that the attempt would succeed at all; the survivors of August were worn out, and the new reserve troops, many of whom were conscripted, had little combat experience. Nonetheless, for the French Army to move forward in the south, the D-Q Line had to be broken.
The original plan called for the Canadians to break through the D-Q Line, then a swift advance to the Canal du Nord using Raymond Brutinel’s group of armoured cars, all within a single battle. As Currie and the 1st and 4th Division found out, this was not possible. The two divisions did take the D-Q Line, after a day of tough fighting; however, the armoured cars were unable to advance as quickly as needed and artillery support was very thin. The Corps dug in for the night, expecting a counter attack, which in the end never came. As at Amiens, the troops advanced behind a concentrated artillery barrage and was faced with lines of machine gun nests, fortified bunks and barbed wire, much of which had to be taken out in hand to hand fighting.
The victory at the D-Q Line, though unexpected, was another mark for the Corps very successful Hundred Days. Currie believed the fighting during the Arras battles to be the most difficult that the Corps had ever faced; however, the pace would not be slowed. Canadian losses for the D-Q Line fighting were 5 622 killed or wounded on 2 September alone, German losses are not known.
Currie’s original battle plan called for the use of the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, organised and commanded by Raymond Brutinel. The CMMGB had been raised in 1914 but had rarely been used in a battlefield setting until the Hundred Days, since the conditions of the fighting area in the early years had not been suited to vehicles. The cars of the CMMGB went into battle at 8AM on the morning of 2 September, through a 900m gap in the creeping barrage and failed to break through. Their cars were not able to negotiate the rough terrain, and many fell under the hail of machine gun and artillery fire from the enemy lines.
Seven Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadian soldiers for their bravery on 2 September 1918: Bellenden Hutcheson, Arthur George Knight, William Henry Metcalf, Claude Nunney, Cyrus Wesley Peck, Walter Leigh Rayfield and John Frances Young. Read more about them from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Brig. General Raymond Brutinel was a French business man and journalist who settled in Western Canada before the war. Brutinel believed that armed motorised vehicles were the future of modern warfare and when the war broke out raised one of the foundation motor machine gun groups that eventually formed the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade. Brutinel commanded the brigade and was involved in their actions during the German push in March 1918, as well as the Hundred Days.
Photo of the motor cars: