The Battle of Vimy Ridge
"I am a good enough Canadian to believe, if my experience justifies me in believing, that Canadians are best served by Canadians." - Sir Arthur Currie
Before the Canadians arrived and challenged them, the Germans had held the ground at Vimy Ridge for four years. Entrenched, defended by masses of heavy artillery, machine gun emplacements and of course, the forbidding terrain, Germany’s soldiers held fast.
Beginning in 1915, the French repeatedly tried to take this strategically important high ground. For two years they failed and lost 150,000 men during their attempts. When the exhausted French troops were relieved, the formidable task of taking Vimy Ridge fell to the British. Try as they might, they were unable to dislodge the enemy and the Germans remained perched atop the Ridge, confident and ready.
The four divisions of the Canadian Corps officially relieved the British contingent.
For months, Canadian Major-General Sir Arthur William Currie had researched and planned for his troops’ inevitable assault on Vimy Ridge. The four divisions of the Canadian Corps had drilled and practiced the techniques Currie had developed over and over again until each soldier knew precisely what was expected of him.
April 9, 1917
Finally, after months of waiting, the orders came down. It was time for Canada’s soldiers to take Vimy Ridge. For the first time, Canada’s troops from coast to coast would come together and fight under Canadian command, using tactics developed by Canadians.
From the end of March to a few minutes before the Canadian assault was to begin, the German positions had been continually bombarded by Canadian artillery. In fact, the German soldiers called this period, ‘the week of suffering’.
The Canadian divisions climbed out of their trenches and began to advance under the cover of light artillery fire. Each line advanced before being leapfrogged by the line to the rear. Heavy artillery continued to pound known German defensive positions.
The Canadian divisions achieved their assigned objectives one by one, as the Germans were forced to retreat. Through a strong counterattack the Germans retook some of the ground they had lost, including the town of Vimy. Night fell and the Germans remained on top of the Ridge and the Canadians were quiet; the Germans felt the immediate crisis was over and they could rest easy.
April 10, 1917
The Canadians, reinforced by elements of the British army, advanced throughout the day. The Germans sustained heavy casualties and were forced to continually retreat. On April 10, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps had achieved all of their objectives except one; finally, the Germans had been forced off Vimy Ridge.
April 12, 1917
After days of intense combat, Canada’s soldiers took the final defensive position held by Germany’s soldiers. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was won.
Aftermath of the Battle
A truly momentous event, the Battle of Vimy Ridge came to define Canada as an independent nation. Men from across the country fought together as one cohesive unit for the first time in our history. Today, historians call Vimy Ridge, ‘Canada’s coming of age’.
Facts about The Battle of Vimy Ridge:
- Canada’s soldiers achieved success where all others failed, but victory came at a high cost. The Canadian Corps sustained 10,602 casualties including 3,598 killed in action.
- Four Canadian soldiers received the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour available to a soldier of the British Commonwealth.
- The Canadian Corps took 4,000 German soldiers prisoner.
- Soon after the Battle, Arthur Currie was promoted to Lieutenant-General. He was eventually Knighted.
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