What Was The Battle Of Vimy Ridge?

The Canadian National Vimy Ridge Monument.
The Canadian National Vimy Ridge Monument.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a historic military engagement fought from April 9 to 12, 1917. The bloody battle took place in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France at the height of the First World War. With the sole purpose of seizing the Vimy Ridge from the control of Germans, the more than 15,000 Canadian combatants had a thorough preparation for the battle. However, the Germans had an advantage of being on a higher ground and could have a clear view of approaching enemies. Vimy Ridge, an almost 7 kilometer long escarpment on the edge of Douai plain has an elevation of 145 meters. It provided an unobstructed view of tens of miles in all directions. Occupied by Germans since October 1914, the Ridge was severally attacked by the British and French soldiers but remained in the hands of the Germans until the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The Makeup Of The Forces

The combatants were the Canadian Troops against the German Corps. Canadian troops composed of the four divisions in the First Army fought in unison for the first time with the reinforcement of the 10th Canadian Brigade and the British 5th Division. The German soldiers were mainly drawn from the 6th Army.

Description Of The Engagement

Byng took over the command of the Canadian Corps in May 1916. On November 21, 1916, a conference held at the Headquarters of the First Army discussed how to attack Arras. By March 1917, Byng was given orders to attack Vimy Ridge. The four divisions were to fight together with an additional resources form the British 5th Division. Attack techniques had been learned from a previous lecture attended by 3 Canadian Corps officers and other British soldiers. The lecture as conducted by the French Army was on experiences from the Battle of Verdun. The French had successfully fought the Germans using counteroffensive techniques. The same tactics were to be applied in the Vimy ridge attack.

To capture the ridge, the Canadian soldiers had to thoroughly plan and rehearse the attack. The troops sharpened skills on the use of machine guns, grenades, and tunnel digging. Tunneling companies from Britain dug extensive underground tunnels in preparation for the battle as other Canadian soldiers were posted to the north of the ridge. Just before the battle, the British and Canadian artillery pounded the Germans on the Vimy ridge, tormenting the defenders by small-scale attack tactic. On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 4 Canadian Divisions attacked the ridge. The Engineers detonated the ridge destroying numerous German strongholds. Those with light guns moved forward fast as medium and heavy howitzers made shots against the defensive target. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Divisions advanced swiftly and successfully. The 4th division encountered some resistance but eventually overcame the Germans. The 10th Canadian Brigade with the support of significant artillery made the final blow at 6:00 PM on April 12 by capturing the entire Pimple.

The Outcome Of The War

By nightfall of April 12, 1917, the Canadian Army had successfully taken control of the ridge though 3,598 soldiers were left dead, and 7,004 wounded. The Germans had an unknown number of deaths and over 4,000 soldiers captured as prisoners of war. Due to the success, 4 Canadian Corps was awarded the Victoria Cross. The award is given to British and Commonwealth forces with exemplary performance in war. Two German commanders were awarded the King of Prussia's highest military order known as Pour de merite. The Defeat on the Germans led to the country conducting a court inquiry which found out that the 6th Army headquarters did not heed to frontline commanders intelligence concerning the impending Canadian attack and how to safeguard the ridge.

Historical Significance And Legacy

The Battle of Vimy Ridge is of great significance to Canada in that it was the first time all the four Canadian divisions worked together. The troops drawn from all parts of the country fought together boosting national unity and cohesion. The tactic was a learning experience to be employed in other warfare. Consequently, the French ceded to Canada the ridge and all the land adjacent to the ridge in 1922.


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