Nature was in the Allied favor that day. It dumped a freak snow storm on the area and blinded the Germans and allowed the Allies to capture it in short order. The map to the left gives an idea of where Vimy is and shows the progression during the several year advance and pushing of the Germans back into their own country.
It would be at Hill 70 that Konowal would show what he was made of.
Hill 70 was not the original primary target. It was the town beyond called Lens. But Hill 70 was also heavily fortified by the Germans. Any capture of Lens by the Allies would always be troubled by the Germans on Hill 70 from where they could launch a lot of grief on the town from the high ground. Not only that, but because of the excellent views in all directions whomever controlled it had advance notice on what the enemy was doing because they could watch them at their game.
So the plans were changed to make Hill 70 the primary target. And if truth be known, the allies did not really want to advance and gain any territory there. The whole plan was simply a ruse to attempt to pull German resources away from the troubling battles going on at the Third Battle of Ypres, (Passchendaele) also seen in the above map. Capturing Hill 70 would require the Germans to get more men in the area quickly to try and recapture it. Thus they would hopefully turn to the massive manpower they had at Ypres. And any move of Germans out of that area would have helped the Allied cause there. Further, if the Hill was taken by the Allies, they could reverse the tide on the Germans then coming to the Hill. The enemy attackers would be at a disadvantage cause they were the ones now doing uphill battle.
Plans were put in place and after a massive artillery barrage was dropped on the Hill on August 15th 1917, the Allies took it from the Germans. But the enemy regrouped and launched numerous attacks to try and regain it. On the 21st. during these attacks Konowal's company was assigned to do some mop up work in the area to the south east base of the mountain at a suburb of Cite de Moulen. As the company moved forth they took many casualties and soon the Cpl realized that all of his officers were now either dead or wounded and command of the men fell to him. He managed to pull what was left of his group together and advanced through heavy smoke and reached some of the enemy trenches and jumped in.
But no sooner had he gotten into the trenches, somehow they got instantly flooded with waist deep very cold water, pinned down and with no escape. All of a sudden Cpl Konowal got fed up with the situation and without approval jumped out of the trench and raced forward with only his rifle and a few hand grenades. It had to be a miracle that he got through enemy fire and managed to get to one of the homes that was little more than a shelled ruins. Diving into a window and ending up in a pitch black basement he then found himself in a gunfight only a few feet away from several Germans. He managed to kill three outright, several more fled for their lives but he managed to shoot them and chase down another three and kill them with his bayonet. He then returned to gather up the machine gun, threw it over his shoulders and made it back to the water filled trench and no doubt some harsh words from his wounded officer.
The following day, while advancing on another target, he tore off again at yet another Machine Gun nest. He was again alone and without orders. This time an enemy patrol caught him and made him a POW, but he managed to get one of their weapons and turn it on them and wiped out the whole patrol. He then found the MG nest and killed many with his rifle, and the rest again by bayonet and then he smashed the MG and then retuned to his unit. (He was obviously an expert with hand to hand combat and the use of the bayonet, and, as noted in the earlier blog, actually taught it's use back when in the Russian army before his move to Canada.)
Later that day a new officer was assigned to his troops and while he stood in a trench and was getting briefed he was shot in the face by enemy sniper fire. The damage caused by that wound ended his duties at the front line.
The ten day battle to capture a Hill that they did not want, in order to divert enemy strength away from another battle, cost the Allies about 20,000 casualties, over 9,000 of these being killed. Of those killed over 5,600 were AFTER they captured the Hill and were trying to hold it.
Cpl Filip Konwal received medical treatment at two different locations in Europe and was finally sent back to London in late August. On 15 October 1917 he was at Buckingham Palace where HRH King George V pinned the Victoria Cross to his chest. Here is his citation from the London Gazette...
The picture on the right was taken outside Buckingham Palace in October 1917 and has him speaking to another soldier who also just received his VC. (unidentified)
In November of 1917 the Cpl. was assigned new duties as an assistant to the Canadian Military Liaison Officer at the Russian Embassy at London.
Within a month he was promoted to Sergeant and about 10 months later he reverted back to Cpl (for unknown reasons) and had been moved over to new duties with the Canadian Forestry Corp. at London. By November of 1918 his skills as an interpreter were put to good use with his assignment to the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force. In July of 1919 he was back in Canada and on the 4th took his release from the Canadian Military just 8 days short of having served 4 full years.
But Filip Konawal's retirement from the service did not lead to inaction. He would still have plenty of ventures yet to come.. . More than he needed. But I'll save that till tomorrow!