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The battle of Vimy ridge near Arras

During the First World War, Vimy Ridge, a 14-kilometre long escarpment, represented a strategic point for the German defence system. The ridge gave a good vantage point for fortified machine guns and artillery to fire on invaders.

Vimy_Memorial

The German soldiers had fortified it so well that during the first three years of the war, all attempts of the allied forces to take it failed. The ridge had already killed 130,000 French soldiers and 20,000 British soldiers till the beginning of 1916. When the 35,000 Canadian soldiers arrived at Vimy at the end of 1916, they knew it would be a tough fight. The Germans had built their own fortifications consisting of three layers of trenches, barbed wire, deep tunnels into the hill, and a light railroad to carry supplies. But once seized, Hill 145 which was the highest and the most important point on Vimy Ridge, would provide the Canadians a dominant position allowing them to see the German back defences in the Douai plain and those which were on the ridge itself.

Vimy_War_Memorial

Canadian Major-General Currie was sent to study the fighting methods of the French troops. The observations played a fundamental role in the progress of the battle. Lessons learned earlier in the war were used to develop an effective battle plan. Near Vimy, the Canadian soldiers underwent weeks of training on sites behind the front on terrain very similar to that on which they would be fighting. Miles of tunnels were dug through which troops could pass in readiness for the opening of the attack without coming under shellfire.

Vimy_ridgeClick on the picture to enlarge it.

To provide greater flexibility and firepower in the battle, the infantry were given specialist roles as machine-gunners, rifle-men and grenade-throwers.

Crête_de_Vimy

At dawn on the morning of Easter Monday 1917 – 9 April – at 5.30, the four Canadian divisions attacked together, for the first time in the Great War, under a freezing rain. The ground conditions were very bad, with slippery mud waiting to hamper the Canadians as they began their assault. There were countless acts of sacrifice as the Canadians charged machine-gun nests or forced the surrender of Germans in protective dugouts. After two hours of fighting, three of the four Canadian divisions achieved their mission but the 87th Battalion of the fourth Canadian division was seriously hit by the machine-gun nests and lost half of its men. In spite of all, the majority of the objectives was accomplished by the evening of the 9th April. The Canadian soldiers repulsed two counterattacks before seizing the last two places of resistance three days later. Defeated, the German army retreated by 6 kilometres.

The Canadian victory at Vimy, though minor on the military level, was the first victory of Canada as an independent nation.

For the first time in the Great War, all four Canadian divisions fought together on the same battlefield. Canadian valour and bravery brought about a fantastic victory, not only for Canadians but for the entire allied forces. Vimy Ridge proved to be a turning point in World War I. Canadians were an important part of this epic battle. One and half year later, the Great War was over.

Vimy’s facts in brief :

3,598 Canadian soldiers died during Vimy Ridge’s battle and more than 5,000 were wounded.

Each soldier carried 40 kgs of material, 2 grenades, 30 cartridges and earned 1.10 $ a day.

20,000 German soldiers were killed or wounded.

60,000 Canadian soldiers died during the Great War.

During the Second World War, Adolf Hitler visited the Vimy Memorial and its preserved trenches (June 1940). As the Allies had accused Hitler’s troops of destroying the Memorial, Hitler made the visit to demonstrate that the Memorial had not been damaged.


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