Vimy Week Stories - The Battle of Vimy Ridge

Date published:

April 9, 2024

Canadian soldiers returning from VimyRidge. Canadian War Museum / GeorgeMetcalf Archival Collection 19920085-295.

On the dawn of Easter morning in 1917, amidst the unforgiving elements of sleet, mud, and relentless shellfire, the Canadian Corps embarked upon a mission of utmost significance: the ascent of Vimy Ridge. This formidable stronghold, under German occupation since the early days of the Great War, cast a shadow of despair upon Allied aspirations, its strategic vantage point overlooking the Douai plain was deemed invaluable.

Years of protracted conflict and futile endeavors had preceded this pivotal moment. Over 150,000 Soldiers from France and Britain had fallen in a number of unsuccessful attempts to dislodge the entrenched Germans. Yet, through detailed planning and unwavering determination, the Canadian forces stood ready to confront the formidable defenses that awaited them.

The groundwork for success had been laid meticulously. A relentless thirteen-day bombardment, commencing on March 20th, sought to soften the enemy's resolve and pave the way for the impending assault. Under the strategic guidance of Andrew McNaughton, German artillery positions were meticulously targeted and neutralized. The invaluable reconnaissance provided by the Royal Flying Corps furnished crucial intelligence, aiding in the identification of enemy strongholds.

At the appointed hour of 5:30 AM on April 9th, 1917, the battle commenced. With over 15,000 men advancing under the protective cover of a meticulously orchestrated barrage, the Canadian Corps embarked upon their mission with steadfast resolve. Despite encountering fierce resistance from the entrenched defenders, the objectives set forth—distinguished by the Red, Black, Blue, and Brown Lines—were secured in due course.

Barrage map [cartographic material] : [Vimy Ridge region, France] . Library and Archives Canada/ e000000540

By the evening of April 12th, the Canadians had firmly established their foothold upon Vimy Ridge, seizing both territory and captives. However, victory came at a heavy price, with 3,598 Canadian lives lost and a further 7,000 wounded—a somber testament to the ferocity of the engagement.

Central to the triumph at Vimy was the incorporation of innovative technologies and tactics. The introduction of the 106 fuse heralded a new era in artillery warfare, rendering the enemy's barbed wire defenses ineffectual. Additionally, the implementation of the rolling barrage proved crucial.

Early in the war, when soldiers attacked a position, the artillery would bombard that position and then stop so that the soldiers could run over and take it. However, this caused problems, as often the time between the bombardment and when the soldiers actually arrived on the position allowed the defenders time to get prepared for the attack, and inflict devastating casualties on the attackers. The rolling barrage meant that the soldiers advanced at the same time as the bombardment. At Vimy, the artillery moved forward 90 metres every three minutes. This meant that soldiers had three minutes to catch up with the barrage and silence any defenders left

The leadership exhibited by figures such as Sir Julian Byng, Major Alan Brooke, and Sir Arthur Currie proved instrumental in navigating the complexities of battle. Their strategic acumen and unwavering resolve inspired confidence amongst their ranks and facilitated the realization of victory.

(W.W.I-1914-1918) Gen. Currie Telling now Vimy Ridge was taken. Visit of Canadian Journalists to the Front.July, 1918. Library and Archives Canada/ PA-002913 (modified from the original).

Strategically, the capture of Vimy Ridge held profound implications. Its commanding position over the Douai plain, a critical industrial and transportation hub, bestowed significant advantages upon the Allied forces. Symbolically, the unified efforts of all four Canadian divisions underscored the nation's strength in adversity—a testament to unity and resolve in the face of formidable odds.

Click here to learn more about the days that follow the battle, and its lasting significance.


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