Rehabbing the Vimy Gun

THE GERMAN GUN AT NIAGARA

CAPTURED BY THE 7TH BATTALION, CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE, 13 APRIL 1917

 Prepared by Lieutenant Colonel William A. Smy, OMM, CD, UE

December 2009

The German gun, on the Common at Niagara-on-the-Lake until recently, was captured by infantrymen of the 7th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge which raged 9 – 15 April 1917. At the end of the War it was brought to Canada as one of hundreds of war trophies to be distributed to communities and organizations across Canada.

The attack on Vimy Ridge began at 0530 on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917. Six days later the Canadian Corps had captured all of its objectives, advancing some two to three miles over difficult terrain. Facing the Canadians were the 1st Bavarian Reserve Division, holding Thelus and Bailleul, the 79th Reserve Division responsible for the Vimy sector, and the 16th Bavarian Division opposite Souchez.

The 7th Battalion was part of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, the final objective of which was the small farming Village of Farbus, a little more than a mile south of the Village of Vimy. On 12 April the Battalion was deployed in Brigade Reserve and that night it relieved the 1st Battalion in Farbus. The relief was completed by 0100 hrs on the 13th, and for the remainder of the night the Battalion positions were heavily shelled. The woods about Farbus are referred to as “Farbus Wood” or “Station Wood” in various narratives.

At 1530 hrs on the 13th orders were issued to the 2nd Brigade to send out patrols and at 1630 hrs a patrol of the 7th Battalion Scouts under Lieutenant Frederick A. Fraser, the Battalion Intelligence Officer, reached the railway line east of Farbus and reported it all clear of the enemy. He reported that a Naval Gun and four howitzers had been abandoned by the enemy, all of which were in good condition.

The guns may have been abandoned as early as 9 April when large numbers were lost due the inability of the gun crews to move the weapons after their horses succumbed to gas. There is a Sixth Army report to Army Group Crown Prince Rupprecht dated 10 April stating just that. In addition, a report by Bavarian Artillery Commander 13 to the 1st Bavarian Reserve Division dated 4 Jun 17 and produced in evidence at a Court of Enquiry called to determine the circumstances of the capture of Commander Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment (RIR 2) on 9 Apr 17 states that it was a known fact that when the order came at 1250 pm on 9 Apr 17 to launch a counter-attack (which never happened) to recapture Farbus, ‘the enemy in the meantime had occupied Farbus and had overrun the battery positions in Farbus’. Later that same day the order went out that artillery was to be pulled back behind the line already mentioned and efforts were being made to arrange for new defensive fire zones to be established so that the Second Position could be defended as far as possible. Oberst Neuhofen also stated that, ‘the majority of the guns in the abandoned positions to the west of the railway line Willerval-Bailleul were recovered during the night.’ However this means that some were not and there is plenty of photographic evidence of Allied soldiers posing near abandoned German guns after the battle. Unfortunately what with guns being abandoned, others moving to reinforce and a generally confused battle situation, it is impossible to determine the identity of the German artillery unit to which the guns belonged.

One of the guns Fraser had captured, serial number 201, is the gun which was on the Common at Niagara.

The gun has been identified as a 105mm lFH 16. The design traces its history to 1898 when the German Army received a new howitzer, the 105mm Leichter Feld Howitzer 98 (light field howitzer). It was produced by Rheinmetall. It did not have a barrel recoil, a shortfall in the design which was rectified in 1909 when a barrel recoil system and a new and thoroughly redesigned gun carriage was introduced. The new version was designated IFH 98.09. Another upgrade with a longer barrel and a new type of breech, which needed one less movement to open, was introduced in 1916 and designated lFH 16. The gun used the same type of ammunition with the addition of the capability of firing the C-Geshoss round (gas shell). The upgrading was done by Krupp.

The characteristics of the gun were:-

Calibre:                                   105mm

Weight:                                    1110 kg (2447.13 lbs)

Range:                                     2860 metres (3120 yards)

Weight of shell                        15.5 kg (34.17 lbs)

In his history of the Canadian Army during the First World War, Colonel Nicholson wrote:

“In his retreat (so much more precipitate than his earlier deliberate withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line) the enemy abandoned many guns and ammunition. During the winter Canadian gunners had been trained in the use of German guns, and now, unable to get their own artillery forward, they were prompt to put these enemy weapons to good effect. By the evening of 14 April nine captured pieces, ranging from 8-inch howitzers to 77 mm guns were in action against enemy trenches and batteries, and bombarding the Germans in Avion and Mericourt with their own gas shells.”

It would appear that this was happened with the Niagara gun, for in the War Trophy records there is a notation that the gun was “used by 23rd How Battery, CFA.” That Battery was part of the 5th Canadian Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Division, and was firing in support of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade. The Brigade’s war Diary for 14 April notes:

“14th April 1917. Saturday…Captured 77mm, 4.2 How, and 5.9 How, put in action by the 5th Brigade and enemy heavily shelled with them”

At the end of the War, the returning soldiers wanted to bring back to Canada items which would symbolize their great accomplishments and so the Canadian Government established a War Trophies Commission to allocate trophies to communities and organizations across the country. In the main, these trophies were guns, howitzers and trench mortars, although there was a scattering of rifles, helmets and other items. The trophies would remain the property of the Crown, and the receiving communities or organizations would become the custodians responsible for maintenance and safekeeping.

The gun captured by the 7th Battalion at Farbus was allocated to the Village of Queenston, Ontario. There is no record of when the gun was delivered to the Village, but from the method of entry of the allocations in the records of the War Trophy Commission, it must have been in 1920/1921. The gun was found between points 1 and 2 on the image.

The gun was first placed in front of the village school, and sometime after the village Cenotaph was unveiled in 1926 it was moved to that site.

Road improvements next to the Cenotaph site raised safety concerns, and in May 1992 the Village transferred custodianship of the gun to the 57th Field Artillery Association (now the Niagara Artillery Association) of St Catharines, Ontario. The Association was to undertake its restoration and find a new location for its display.

Unfortunately the Association did not have the resources beyond the sandblasting and painting of the gun. In 1997, it made arrangements with Parks Canada to place the gun next to the gun shed at Butler’s Barracks in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

In April, 2009, the Niagara Artillery Association, Parks Canada, and The Lincoln and Welland Regiment Foundation agreed that the Foundation would take custodianship of the gun and refurbish it with the intention of placing it in an inside display.

Volunteers from The Lincoln and Welland Regiment Museum moved the gun to indoor storage on 5 December 2009 in preparation for the work that is necessary. It is estimated that costs will run to about $20,000.

It is hoped that the restoration of the gun will be complete by August 2014, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

 National Library and Archives of Canada

RG 9, Militia and Defence, Series III-D-3

Vol 4871, War diary 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade

Vol 4917, 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion

Vol 4967, 5th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery

RG 25, A-3-a. War Trophies for Canadian Archives.

RG 37-E. War Trophies.

Secondary Sources

 Donnell, Allan. The Canadians at Vimy Ridge, in Canada in the Great World War (Toronto, 1920) Volume IV.

Graves, Donald E. Booty! The Story of Canada’s World War One Trophy Collection, in Arms Collector, Volume 23, No 1 (Feb 1985).

London Gazette. Issue 30204 published 24 July 1917. Supplement, 26 July 1917.

Nicholson, G. W. L. Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919: Official History of the Canadian Army in the First Worlds War (Ottawa, 1964).

Sheldon, Jack. The German Army on Vimy Ridge, 1914-1917 (2008).

Sheldon, Jack with Nigel Cave. The Battle for Vimy Ridge (2007).

 Correspondence

Clive Buist, Director of Parks & Recreation, Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake to Michael Kirby, 57th Field Artillery Association, 28 May 1992.

Stuart S. Knox, Chairman Town Cenotaph Committee, Queenston, to Michael Kirby, 57th Field Artillery Association, 5 June 1992.

Jack Sheldon to William Smy, 12 March 2009.

For further information

Contact: Doug Reece: (905) 374-8714

 




This entry was posted in Memorials in Canada. Bookmark the permalink.