Saturday, April 11, 2015

Vimy Ridge

Repost from last year...Lest we forget:

Last year, I wrote of Canada's role at Vimy Ridge, a battle that stands as a proud part of Canada's history. Go here for Vimy Ridge Day: 'Please remember Me.'

Today marks 95 years since over 3,500 Canadians gave their lives..

on Apr 7, 2007
Footage from Vimy Ridge. Visit for more information on Canada at War.

3,500+ Canadians died taking the Ridge and 7,000 more were wounded. Previous French attacks came at a cost of 200,000 dead with little or no ground gained. The Canadians accomplished what was said to be "impossible" as the ridge was thought to be impregnable.
From Canada At War:

No Allied operation on the Western Front was more thoroughly planned than this deliberate frontal attack on what seemed to be virtually invincible positions. Vimy Ridge was so well fortified that all previous attempts to capture it had failed. However, Canadian commanders had learned bitter lessons from the cost of past frontal assaults made by vulnerable infantry. This time their preparations were elaborate. As the Canadian Commander of the 1st Division, Major-General Arthur Currie, said,"Take time to train them." This is exactly what the Canadian Corps did, down to the smallest unit and the individual soldier.

In the late autumn of 1916, the Canadians moved north, capping their ordeal on the Somme, to relieve British troops opposite the western slopes of Vimy Ridge. They spent the coldest winter of the war strengthening defences, carrying out increasingly frequent raids on enemy trenches and gathering intelligence, in preparation for the spring offensive. Continual raiding from mid-March on cost the Canadians 1,400 casualties. However, the knowledge gained would later help the Canadians take their Vimy objectives with lighter losses.

A full-scale replica of the battle area was laid out with reams of coloured tape and flags behind the Canadian lines. Here Canadian units carried out repeated exercises, rehearsing exactly what they would do throughout the day of the attack. Maps were given out to guide the smallest units. The troops were fully informed about their objectives and their routes.

Military mining had long been a feature of war on Vimy Ridge. German, French and British engineers had dug many long tunnels under No Man's Land. They filled them with explosive charges, which blew up enemy trenches, leaving huge craters as new features of the landscape. Working at night, tunnelling companies used the existing tunnels to build a new underground network for the Vimy assault. As well, they dug 12 deep subways, totalling more than five kilometres in length, through which assault troops could move to their jumping-off points. The subways protected them from shelling and permitted the wounded to be brought back from the battlefield. Some subways were quite short, while one, the Goodman Subway, opposite La Folie Farm, was 1.2 kilometres long. All had piped water and most were lit by electricity provided by generators. They also housed telephone lines...

Much more here.

Veterans Affairs has this:

The Battle of Vimy Ridge

  • The assault on Vimy Ridge, the northern part of the wider battle of Arras, began at 5:30 am on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917.
  • It was the first occasion on which all four divisions of the Canadian Corps attacked as a composite formation.
  • The Canadian achievement in capturing Vimy Ridge owed its success to a range of technical and tactical innovations, very powerful artillery preparation, sound and meticulous planning and thorough preparation.
  • At Vimy, the Canadian Corps and the British XVII Corps on their immediate southern flank had captured more ground, more prisoners and more guns than any previous British Expeditionary Force offensive.
  • Vimy Ridge was a particularly important tactical feature. Its capture by the Canadians was essential to the advances by the British Third Army to the south and of exceptional importance to checking the German attacks in the area in 1918.
  • The Canadians had demonstrated they were one of the outstanding formations on the Western Front and masters of offensive warfare.
  • Four Victoria Crosses (VC) were awarded for bravery. Of these, three were earned on the opening day of the battle:
    • Private William Milne of the 16th Battalion.
    • Lance-Sergeant Ellis Sifton of the 18th Battalion.
    • Private John Pattison of the 50th Battalion (April 10).
    • Captain Thain MacDowell of the 38th Battalion. MacDowell had also earned the Distinguished Service Order on the Somme.Of the four Vimy VCs, only Captain MacDowell survived the War.
  • The Canadian success at Vimy demonstrated that no position was invulnerable to a meticulously planned and conducted assault. This success had a profound effect on Allied planning.
  • Though the victory at Vimy came swiftly, it did not come without cost. There were 3,598 dead out of 10,602 Canadian casualties.
  • After Vimy, the Canadian Corps went from one success to another, to be crowned by their achievements in the 1918 "advance to victory". This record won for Canada a separate signature on the Versailles Peace Treaty ending the War.

More details here.

Edmonton Fiddler Lizzy Hoyt has been invited to Vimy Ridge in France to perform her song about the World War One battle that took place there. She is one of many Canadians who will be there to take part in commemorative events.

Listen to an interview on CBC with her, and hear the song...

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