Part 1 – “A” Squadron RNWMP

Photograph of a RNWMP cap badge and CEF forage cap worn by a member of "A" Squadron RNWMP (Source of photo - Sheldon Boles)

 

 

 

 

The RCMP Guidon  contains all the battle honours awarded to the Force in recognition of the contributions made by past members.

 

 

 

For this article, we are providing details on the battle honour entitled “France & Flanders 1918-19.”  The following article is the first comprehensive documentation of the activities of the Cavalry Draft RNWMP from which “A” Squadron RNWMP was created and attributed to this battle honour.  As is outlined in this article, this battle honour could be correctly amended to state “France, Flanders & Germany 1918-1919.”

Photograph of the RCMP Guidon with its battle honours with the France and Flanders 1918 highlighted.

Part 1 – World War I: From July 1914 to April 1918 (below)

Part 2 – RNWMP Authorized To Form Cavalry Draft

Part 3 – Departing Regina To England

Part 4 – Dispersement Of The Cavalry Draft 

Part 1 – World War I: From July 1914 to April 1918

The creation of “A” Squadron RNWMP originated with events evolving out of World War 1.  A summary of the causes and stages of World War 1 has been included below to provide a perspective of the times and the situations faced by the Canadian government. 

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This world war began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on June 28, 1914 – when he and his wife were visiting the  annexed territorial capital of Sarajevo Bosnia.  This assassination was carried out by a Serbian youth – who the Austro-Hungarian government insisted was the work of the secret Serbian funded group called the ‘Black Hand.’

To end the increasing interference of the Kingdom of Serbia in the Bosnia affairs, the Austro-Hungarian government delivered a series of 10 demands intentionally made unacceptable with the intent of provoking war with Serbia.  When Serbia only agreed to accept 8 of the 10 demands – the Austro-Hungarian government declared war on  Serbia – July 28, 1914.

As the largest Slavic nation, Russia came to the support of the Slavic Kingdom of Serbia and France expressed its support of Russia.  With Russian’s actions, the Austro-Hungarian government sought and received the support from Germany which commenced its military mobilization on July 30, 1914.

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With this mobilization, Germany was able to deploy 1.5 million trained soldiers with 1.8 million in reserve with an addition 4.2 million untrained men available. The Austro-Hungarian army had a standing army of 3 million men and after the mobilization this total increased to 11 million.

The German Military had been planning for such a conflict with Russia and France. Back in 1906, the German Count Alfred von Schlieffen developed his military ‘Schlieffen Plan.” German strategists agreed that Germany could not win a prolonged war on two fronts.  To address the dual fronts, the key tactics in the “Schlieffen Plan” called for the rapid action and deployment to achieve victory.  A summary of this plan is outlined below:

  • Initiate a rapid mobilization – faster than Russia or France could achieve;
  • Defeat France within 6 weeks.  This assumption was based on their past victories over the France during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71;
  • To achieve the rapid defeat of France, Germany would establish a two flank approach.  The left flank would wait on the German-France border for the expected advance of the French Armies.  It was assumed that the French would be anxious to recapture the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine which they had lost in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.  As such, the French would devote the majority of their forces for this initiative;
  • On the right flank, three German armies would rapidly advance through the neutral countries of Luxembourg and Belgium and sweep southwest through Belgium and Northern France then turning towards Paris. Paris was not to be taken but would be bypassed.  However, these armies would conquer all cities and industrial facilities to weaken resources for the French army;
  • Portions of the right flank would continue to advance on the French rear which was battling the Germans on the German-French border.  The resulting pincher action would result in France surrendering;
  • Once France had been defeated, the German armies would use six different railways to rapidly deploy their armies to the eastern front to embattle the Russian army with the support of the Austro-Hungarian armies; and
  • Under this plan, Britain was not expected to become involved and they were not deemed a threat because they only had a standing army of 225,000.  Britain’s strength was in her Navy.

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On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia and two days later declared war on France.  On the following day, the German 4th Army violated and occupied the neutrality of Luxembourg in order to secure railways necessary for the “Schlieffen Plan.”

On August 3, 1914, Germany delivered an ultimatum to Belgium for the Imperial German armies to pass freely through Belgium to invade France.  At the time, the German allegation was that France was in the process of attacking Germany.  Upon hearing of this ultimatum, France commenced the mobilization of 1.1 million men.

Then on August 4, 1914, the Germans proceeded with their “Schlieffen Plan’ by crossing the borders of Belgium with just under 1 million German troops.

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As expected in the ‘Schlieffen Plan,’ the French attacked the Germans with the primary intent of re-capturing their old provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.  The French made some initial gains but were repelled by the German 6th & 7th Armies.  From this action, the French sustained 225,000 casualties.

The Belgium government decided to resist the German invasion.  Despite the odds of having only 117,000 men in the Belgium army facing the German armies of 700,000 men, the Belgium army bravely confronted the advancing Germans and blew up bridges and railway for the purposes of slowing down the German advance. Germans retaliated by burning or using their large siege artillery to destroy cities when citizens or soldier impeded their advance.  In addition, Belgium men, women and children were summarily executed to discourage further sabotage activities.

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It was at this time that France deployed their 5th Army to Belgium for the purposes of supporting the Belgium army.

With the occupation of Belgium, Britain issued an ultimatum to Germany that Belgium must be kept neutral.  With an ‘unsatisfactory reply’ from Germany, Britain declared war against Germany on August 4, 1914.

On August 10, 1914, the British Expeditionary Force of 150,000 British soldiers arrived in Belgium to assist the Belgium and French armies.  With numerical superiority and supporting heavy artillery, the Belgium, French and British forces were pushed out of the majority of Belgium.  On August 20, 1914, the Germans captured Brussels.  The German 1st and 2nd Armies continued to push back the French and British in the direction of Paris.

With the German Armies running short of supplies and their soldiers being exhausted, the German armies bypassed Paris and shifted their 1st, 2nd and 3rd Armies eastward to attack the French rear at the France-German border.

Allied aircraft surveillance reported this shift in the German advance and discovered an exposed right flank between the German 1st and 2nd Armies.

With the Allies being pushed back continually for 10 days, the Allied Command decided to launch their first counterattack 20 miles from Paris (Battle of Marne ).  It was at this battle that the German advance was stopped.  From this battle, the British and French sustained 263,000 casualties and the Germans 220,000.  The ability of the French to rally after continual defeats was beyond the expectations of the “Schlieffen Plan.”

With the successes at the Battle of Marne, the French redeployed other French Armies to key positions to defend against further advances by the Germans.

On September 16, 1914, a deadlock had been established between the Allied and German armies.  To fortify their positions, each side established integrated trench systems of defense supported by connecting trenches, concrete gun placements and a wide range of artillery pieces.

Next both the Allies and the German forces commenced the “race to the English Channel” to seize the undefended flank.  The race ended with the 1st Battle of Ypres on November 14, 1914.  The western front trench stretched from the English Channel to Switzerland. Each side dug in to secure their positions.  This trench stalemate remained in place until the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.  However, there were many efforts on both sides to push back the opposing side resulting catastrophic casualties.

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On the eastern front, the Russians had mobilized sooner than expected and made two  incursions into eastern Prussia.  Germany was forced to redeploy available soldiers to confront the Russian invasion.  Despite the Russian’s advantage in a ratio of 4 to 1 over the Germans, the German armies were able to counterattack and killed 225,000 Russians.

By the end of 1914, the Germans faced a situation of their military resources were being extended to confront two battle areas: entrenched western front and the eastern front with the opposing massive size of the Russian army.

At the end of the same year, France has sustained 900,000 casualties on the battlefield.  For this same period, the British Expeditionary Force had been reduced to 70,000 with 30,000 killed and 50,000 wounded.  With the situation facing the Allied Forces in Europe, the call went out for volunteers both in Britain and in all the British Colonies around the world.

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With Britain’s declaration of War against Germany and Austria on August 4, 1914, Canada was also at war.  By September 4, 1914, 25,000 volunteer joined up and were sent to the Canadian Forces Base Valcartier and would form the 1st contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  This contingent would later be known as the Canadian 1st Division.

The 1st contingent embarked and cleared the Quebec harbor on October 3, 1914 and arrived in England on October 14, 1914.   Upon arriving in England, the Canadians were deployed to the Salisbury Plain at Kent England – where they received training in trench warfare from experienced British Army instructors.  In the spring 1915, they were deemed ready for the trenches of the western front.

The first Canadian troops to arrive on the western front were the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry  (PPCLI) Regiment.  They had been formed at the outbreak of the war consisting of ex-British Army regulars living in Canada.  The PPCLI landed on the western front in December 1914 and were attached to the British 27th Division and participated in the 1st Battle of Ypres.

On October 9, 1914, the Canadian government authorized the creation the Canadian 2nd Division which consisted of twelve more battalions and in November 1914 – thirteen new regiments of the Canadian Mounted Rifles were authorized.  The 2nd Division arrived in Europe in September 1915 and was followed by the 3rd Division in December 1915 with the 4th Division arriving in August 1916.  A 5th Division was being formed in early 1917 but failed to attract sufficient recruits.  As such, members of the 5th Division were redeployed to back fill the other four Divisions.  Each battalion consisted of a thousand men and each cavalry regiment consisted of 500 men.

Germans and Austrian aliens living in Canada were prohibited from joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  This prohibition was reinforced by an article which appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on February 21, 1917:

Edmonton Man Had Honour Of Killing Him: Something More About Renegade R.N.W.M.P. Sergeant, Abich.” Articles stated “M.A.M. Abich (Reg. #4327), former sergeant of the R.N.W.M.P. and formerly on the staff of the immigration department, whose death was reported, yesterday, was killed by a Canadian soldier.

Further details just received make the story of Abich’s death one the strangest possible.  Following Abich’s hurried departure from Winnipeg in May 1914, nothing further was heard of him, except that it was known that hew leading a body of German scoots on the western front.  Then, during one of the recent Canada raids (at LaBassel France) a party of Dominion troops including a member of an Alberta Battalion, a soldier from Edmonton, who had some trouble with Abich at the time the latter was with the R.N.W.M.P. at Edmonton, bombed a German dugout.

When before dawn, the Canadians attacked the enemy’s trench, immediately this solder recognized Abich, the officer commanding this part, and in the fight that followed Abich was killed (on October 24, 1916).”

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The Canadian casualties and death toll on the western front were staggering:

  • April 1915 – 2nd Battle of Ypres – 6,000 casualties with 2,000 killed;
  • July to November 1916 – Battle of the Somme – 24,029 Canadian casualties;
  • April 1917 – Battle of Vimy Ridge – 10,602 casualties; 3,598 killed and 7,004         wounded;
  • October 1917 – Battle of Passchendaele – 15,654 casualties with over 4,000 dead, in 16 days of fighting; and
  • August to November 1918 (last Hundred Day Battle) – the Canadian           Expeditionary Forces sustained 46,000 casualties. 

In 1916, the Canadian Expeditionary Forces realized to sustain their combat levels, they required 75,000 infantry soldiers annually to keep up with their casualties.  However with the local newspapers reported daily Canadian casualties from the western front, volunteer enthusiasm significantly diminished.  Between July 1916 and October 1917, there was not a single battalion raised to the full strength of 1,000 men.

With this drop-off of Canadians volunteering, Prime Minister Robert Borden introduced the Canadian Military Services Act of 1917 which introduced military conscription.  By late August 1917, the Act was passed.  Thereafter, it made all males citizens between the ages of 20 and 45 subject to military service for the duration of the war.  Married men were except from conscription.  As such, many Canadian sought early marriage to avoid military service overseas.  Of the 120,000 conscripts between 1917 and 1918, only 47,000 actually went overseas.

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By 1914, there was a stalemate on the western front between the Allied Forces and the German-Austrian forces. On the eastern front, the German and Austrian forces were sustaining continual victories over the Imperial Russian Army.

In February 1917 with food shortages and massive casualties of Russian soldiers on the eastern front, demonstrations in Russia forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate.  The monarchy was replaced with a Provisional Government which continued to support military conflict with German-Austrian forces.

In Switzerland, Vladimir Lenin was anxious to return to Russia and participate in the government changes.  Through negotiations with German representatives, it was agreed to permit Lenin and his supporters to return to Russia in a sealed train from Switzerland to Russia.  From Germany’s perspective, their aim was to disintegrate Russian’s participation in the war by encouraging revolutionary unrest.

Vladimir Lenin returned to Russia and eventually he led a successful coup d’etat of overthrowing the Russian Provisional government in Petrograd.  On December 2, 1917, Lenin directed hostilities with the German-Austrian to be suspended.

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On March 3, 1918, the Bolsheviks delegation signed the Treaty of Brest-Vitovsk  with the representatives from Germany and Austrian forces.  In so doing, the Russian delegation agreed to the German terms to surrender a quarter of the Russian European land which included:

  • 1,000,000 square miles of territory;
  • 60 million people who could potentially be used to fill the ranks of the German and Austrian armies;
  • granaries of the Ukraine; and
  • oil fields in the Caspian region.

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In addition, the Bolsheviks agreed to release a million German and Austrian prisoners-of-war held in Russian camps in Siberia.  Finally, the Bolsheviks and German/Austrian forces could easily gain access to the military supplies and munitions which the Allies had provided to Imperial Russia.  These supplies were stored along the sidelines and warehouses in close proximity to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway.

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With the cease of conflict on the eastern front, the German and Austrian were now able to shift 40 military divisions from the eastern to the western front.  With these additional divisions, the Germans planned and prepared for their massive offensive in the spring of 1918.

The British Navy’s blockade of German was causing food scarcity and deaths because of malnutrition.  With the approval of the Kaiser on January 31, 1917, the German Navy commenced a program of German U-Boats sinking all merchant ships on the high seas.  With the initial stages, the U-Boats sank 105 merchant ship in February and 147 in March.  By April, 25% of all Britain bound merchant ships were being sunk.

In March 1917, the U-Boats sank seven American merchant ships and it was discovered that Germany was negotiating with Mexico to join the German-Austrian alliance.  In so doing, Mexico would be financed by Germany and Mexico would receive the states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  Outraged by this news, the United States declared war on Germany on April 2, 1917 and initiated their military mobilization.

By March 1918, the British and French armies were exhausted and were unable to conscript large numbers of soldiers to replace their casualties. The American forces had not yet arrived on the western front. It was unknown what impact the untested Americans would have against the battle hardened German and Austrian Armies.

Allied Armies braced for the German and Austrian spring offensive of 1918.  At the time, it was generally felt that if Paris fell then war would be over.  With the deadlock on the western front, some Allied leaders predicted that the war would eventually end in 1919 or 1920.

On March 21, 1918 the German Spring Offence began and continued until the end of July 1918.  Their initial advances brought them to less than 80 miles from Paris.

Part 2 – RNWMP Authorized To Form Cavalry Draft 

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