When the British assault on Passchendaele was bogged down by heavy rainfall during the latter half of the summer of 1917, the High Command knew that they had to somehow prevent additional German reinforcements from being sent to the battle. Consequently, the recently appointed Canadian Corps Commander, General Arthur Currie, was ordered to launch a full-scale attack on nearby Lens, a coal-mining city located in northern France. Currie knew that his troops would not be able to take the heavily fortified city without extreme losses, so he refused to attack Lens and instead proposed to attack the adjacent Hill 70.
Hill 70 was a piece of high ground that overlooked the city, making Lens vulnerable to artillery attacks by whoever held that topographically superior position. While Sir Douglas Haig approved the change of plans he warned Currie that the attack would fail because the Hill was well defended by deep trenches, concrete pillboxes, entrenched machine guns, and five feet high barbed wire. In addition, the German defenders were armed with flamethrowers and mustard gas. Nevertheless, Currie stuck to his guns, drew up a plan, and put it into action. On August 15, 1917, the Canadian infantry attacked Hill 70 and by the end of the day on the 16th, they had managed to overcome the German defences and completely capture the strategically significant position.
For the next three days the Canadians repulsed a series of twenty-one vicious counterattacks. They inflicted an estimated 25,000 German casualties and a gave a severe blow to German morale. Currie and the Canadian Corps eventually captured Lens, suffering severe casualties while attempting to do so, and marked the Battle of Hill 70 as a significant milestone in Canadian military history. The battle was also the first time that all four Canadian divisions fought under Canadian command.
Photo: Canadians in captured trenches on Hill 70. August, 1917. (Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/)