Battle of Vimy Ridge
Overview
 
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a military engagement fought primarily as part of the Battle of Arras
Battle of Arras (1917)
The Battle of Arras was a British offensive during the First World War. From 9 April to 16 May 1917, British, Canadian, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and Australian troops attacked German trenches near the French city of Arras on the Western Front....

, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, during the First World War. The main combatants were the Canadian Corps
Canadian Corps
The Canadian Corps was a World War I corps formed from the Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1915 after the arrival of the 2nd Canadian Division in France. The corps was expanded by the addition of the 3rd Canadian Division in December 1915 and the 4th Canadian Division in August 1916...

, of four divisions, against three divisions of the German Sixth Army. The battle, which took place from 9 to 12 April 1917, was part of the opening phase of the British-led Battle of Arras, a diversionary attack for the French Nivelle Offensive
Nivelle offensive
The Nivelle Offensive was a 1917 French attack on the Western Front in the First World War. Promised as the assault that would end the war within 48 hours, with casualties expected of around 10,000 men, it failed on both counts. It was a three-stage plan:...

.

The objective of the Canadian Corps was to take control of the German-held high ground along an escarpment
Escarpment
An escarpment is a steep slope or long cliff that occurs from erosion or faulting and separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations.-Description and variants:...

 at the northernmost end of the Arras Offensive.
Encyclopedia
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a military engagement fought primarily as part of the Battle of Arras
Battle of Arras (1917)
The Battle of Arras was a British offensive during the First World War. From 9 April to 16 May 1917, British, Canadian, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and Australian troops attacked German trenches near the French city of Arras on the Western Front....

, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, during the First World War. The main combatants were the Canadian Corps
Canadian Corps
The Canadian Corps was a World War I corps formed from the Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1915 after the arrival of the 2nd Canadian Division in France. The corps was expanded by the addition of the 3rd Canadian Division in December 1915 and the 4th Canadian Division in August 1916...

, of four divisions, against three divisions of the German Sixth Army. The battle, which took place from 9 to 12 April 1917, was part of the opening phase of the British-led Battle of Arras, a diversionary attack for the French Nivelle Offensive
Nivelle offensive
The Nivelle Offensive was a 1917 French attack on the Western Front in the First World War. Promised as the assault that would end the war within 48 hours, with casualties expected of around 10,000 men, it failed on both counts. It was a three-stage plan:...

.

The objective of the Canadian Corps was to take control of the German-held high ground along an escarpment
Escarpment
An escarpment is a steep slope or long cliff that occurs from erosion or faulting and separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations.-Description and variants:...

 at the northernmost end of the Arras Offensive. This would ensure that the southern flank could advance without suffering German enfilade fire. Supported by a creeping barrage, the Canadian Corps captured most of the ridge during the first day of the attack. The town of Thélus
Thélus
Thélus is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Thélus lies north of Arras, at the junction of the N17 and D49 roads. Junction 7 of the A26 autoroute is less than a mile away...

 fell during the second day of the attack, as did the crest of the ridge once the Canadian Corps overcame a salient
Salients, re-entrants and pockets
A salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. The salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant...

 of considerable German resistance. The final objective, a fortified knoll located outside the town of Givenchy-en-Gohelle
Givenchy-en-Gohelle
Givenchy-en-Gohelle is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Givenchy-en-Gohelle is a large farming village situated north of Arras, at the junction of the D51 and the D55 roads...

, fell to the Canadian Corps on 12 April. The German forces then retreated to the Oppy
Oppy, Pas-de-Calais
Oppy is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Oppy is situated northeast of Arras, at the junction of the D33, D48 and D50 roads.-Population:-Places of interest:...

Méricourt
Méricourt, Pas-de-Calais
Méricourt is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Méricourt is a former coal mining town, nowadays a farming and light industrial town, southeast of Lens, at the junction of the D33, D40 and the D262 roads...

 line.

Historians attribute the success of the Canadian Corps in capturing the ridge to a mixture of technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support, and extensive training, as well as the failure of the German Sixth Army to properly apply the German defensive doctrine. The battle was the first occasion when all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force
Canadian Expeditionary Force
The Canadian Expeditionary Force was the designation of the field force created by Canada for service overseas in the First World War. Units of the C.E.F. were divided into field formation in France, where they were organized first into separate divisions and later joined together into a single...

 participated in a battle together, and thus became a Canadian nationalistic symbol of achievement and sacrifice. A 250 acres (101.2 ha) portion of the former battleground now serves as a preserved memorial park and site of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial
Canadian National Vimy Memorial
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is a memorial site in France dedicated to the memory of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War. It also serves as the place of commemoration for First World War Canadian soldiers killed or presumed dead in France who have no known...

.

Background

Vimy Ridge is an escarpment
Escarpment
An escarpment is a steep slope or long cliff that occurs from erosion or faulting and separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations.-Description and variants:...

 8 kilometres (5 mi) northeast of Arras on the western edge of the Douai Plains. The ridge gradually rises on its western side dropping more quickly on the eastern side. At approximately 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) in length and culminating at an elevation of 145 metres (475.7 ft) or 60 metres (196.9 ft) above the Douai Plains, the ridge provides a natural unobstructed view for tens of kilometres in all directions.

The ridge fell under German control in October 1914 during the Race to the Sea
Race to the Sea
The Race to the Sea is a name given to the period early in the First World War when the two sides were still engaged in mobile warfare on the Western Front. With the German advance stalled at the First Battle of the Marne, the opponents continually attempted to outflank each other through...

 as the Franco-British and German forces continually attempted to outflank each other through north-eastern France. The French Tenth Army
Tenth Army (France)
The Tenth Army was a Field army of the French Army during World War I. It took part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. After the armistice it was part of the occupation of the Rhineland...

 attempted to dislodge the Germans from the region during the Second Battle of Artois
Second Battle of Artois
The Second Battle of Artois, of which the British contribution was the Battle of Aubers Ridge, was a battle on the Western Front of the First World War, it was fought at the same time as the Second Battle of Ypres. Even though the French under General Philippe Pétain gained some initial victories,...

 in May 1915 by attacking their positions at Vimy Ridge and Notre Dame de Lorette
Notre Dame de Lorette
Notre Dame de Lorette is the name of a ridge, basilica, and French national cemetery northwest of Arras at the village of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire...

. The French 1st Moroccan Division managed to briefly capture the height of the ridge, but was unable to hold it owing to a lack of reinforcements. The French made another attempt during the Third Battle of Artois
Third Battle of Artois
The Third Battle of Artois was on the Western Front of World War I, is also known as the Loos-Artois Offensive, including the major British offensive, known as the Battle of Loos....

 in September 1915, but only captured the town of Souchez
Souchez
Souchez is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Souchez lies north of Arras, at the junction of the D937, D57 and D58 roads. The small river Souchez, a tributary of the Deûle, flows through the town.-Population:-Places of interest:* The...

 at the western base of the ridge. The Vimy sector calmed following the offensive with both sides taking a largely live and let live
Live and let live (World War I)
Live and let live is the spontaneous rise of non-aggressive co-operative behaviour that developed during the First World War particularly during prolonged periods of Trench Warfare on the Western Front. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of this is the Christmas Truce of 1914.It is a process...

 approach. The French suffered approximately 150,000 casualties in their attempts to gain control of Vimy Ridge and surrounding territory.

The British XVII Corps
XVII Corps (United Kingdom)
The British XVII Corps was a British infantry corps during World War I.- History :British XVII Corps was formed in France in January 1916 under Lieutenant General Julian Byng. In April 1917 the Corps attacked to the east of Arras near the River Scarpe but became bogged down in rain and snow...

, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, relieved the French Tenth Army in the sector in February 1916, permitting the French to expand their operations at Verdun
Verdun
Verdun is a city in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Verdun is the biggest city in Meuse, although the capital of the department is the slightly smaller city of Bar-le-Duc.- History :...

. The British soon discovered that German tunnelling companies had taken advantage of the relative calm on the surface to build an extensive network of tunnels
Tunnel warfare
Tunnel warfare is a type of warfare that occurs in tunnels.It can be sometimes linked with urban warfare, as tunnels are often found in urban area and cities, although urban warfare as a whole usually dominates any tunnel considerations...

 and deep mines from which they would attack French positions by setting off explosive charges underneath their trenches. The Royal Engineers
Royal Engineers
The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually just called the Royal Engineers , and commonly known as the Sappers, is one of the corps of the British Army....

 immediately deployed specialist tunnelling companies
Royal Engineer tunnelling companies
Royal Engineer tunnelling companies were specialist units of the Corps of Royal Engineers within the British Army, formed to dig attacking tunnels under enemy lines during the First World War....

 along the front to combat the German mining operations. In response to increased British mining aggression, German artillery and trench mortar fire intensified in early May 1916. On 21 May 1916, after shelling both forward trenches and divisional artillery positions from no less than 80 out-of-sight batteries on the reverse slope of the ridge, the German infantry attacked the British lines along a 2000 yards (1,828.8 m) front in an effort to eject them from positions along the ridge. The Germans successfully captured several British-controlled tunnels and mine craters before halting their advance and entrenching their positions.The Germans grew uneasy about the proximity of the British positions to the top of the ridge, particularly after the increase in British tunneling and counter-mining activities. Small counterattacks by units of the 140th and 141st British Brigades took place on 22 May, but did not manage to change the situation. The Canadian Corps relieved the British IV Corps stationed along the western slopes of Vimy Ridge in October 1916.

Strategic planning

Formal discussions for a spring offensive near Arras
Arras
Arras is the capital of the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France. The historic centre of the Artois region, its local speech is characterized as a Picard dialect...

 began following a conference of corps commanders held at British First Army Headquarters on 21 November 1916. On 5 January 1917, Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng
Julian Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy
Field Marshal Julian Hedworth George Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy was a British Army officer who served as Governor General of Canada, the 12th since Canadian Confederation....

 took command of the Canadian Corps from Lieutenant-General Sir E.A.H. Alderson.
In March 1917, British First Army headquarters formally presented Byng with orders outlining Vimy Ridge as the corps's objective for the Arras Offensive. The adoption of a formal assault plan took place in early March 1917 and drew heavily on the briefings of staff officers sent to learn from the experiences of the French Army during the Battle of Verdun.

For the first time all four Canadian divisions were assembled to participate in a battle together. The nature and size of the planned Canadian Corps assault necessitated support and resources beyond its normal operational capabilities. Consequently, the British 5th Infantry Division and supplementary artillery, engineer and labour units reinforced the four Canadian divisions already in place. This brought the nominal strength of the Canadian Corps to about 170,000 men, of whom 97,184 were Canadians.

Tactical plan

In January 1917, three Canadian Corps officers accompanied other British and Dominion officers attending a series of lectures hosted by the French Army regarding their experiences during the Battle of Verdun
Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun was one of the major battles during the First World War on the Western Front. It was fought between the German and French armies, from 21 February – 18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France...

. The French counter offensive devised by General Robert Nivelle
Robert Nivelle
Robert Georges Nivelle was a French artillery officer who served in the Boxer Rebellion, and the First World War. In May 1916, he was given command of the French Third Army in the Battle of Verdun, leading counter-offensives that rolled back the German forces in late 1916...

 was one of the limited Allied successes of 1916. Following extensive rehearsal, eight French divisions assaulted German positions in two waves along a 6 miles (9.7 km) front. Supported by exceedingly strong artillery, the French recovered lost ground and inflicted heavy casualties on five German divisions.

On their return, the Canadian Corps staff officers produced a tactical analysis of the Verdun battles and delivered a series of corps and divisional-level lectures to promote the primacy of artillery and stress the importance of harassing fire and company and platoon flexibility. The report of 1st Canadian Division
1st Canadian Division
Formed in August 1914, the 1st Canadian Division was a formation of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The division was initially made up from provisional battalions that were named after their province of origin but these titles were dropped before the division arrived in Britain on October 14,...

 commander Arthur Currie
Arthur Currie
Sir Arthur William Currie GCMG, KCB , was a Canadian general during World War I. He had the unique distinction of starting his military career on the very bottom rung as a pre-war militia gunner before rising through the ranks to become the first Canadian commander of the four divisions of the...

 in particular highlighted lessons he believed the Canadian Corps could learn from the experiences of the French. The assault plan ultimately drafted for the assault on Vimy Ridge drew heavily on the experiences and tactical analysis of the officers who attended the Verdun lectures. First Army commander General Henry Horne
Henry Horne, 1st Baron Horne
General Henry Sinclair Horne, 1st Baron Horne GCB, KCMG was a military officer in the British Army, most notable for his generalship during World War I. He was the only British artillery officer to command an army in the war. Until recently Horne was the unknown General of the Great War and did...

 approved the plan on 5 March 1917.

The plan divided the Canadian Corps advance into four coloured objective lines. The attack would be made on a front of 7000 yards (6,400.8 m), the centre being opposite the village of Vimy
Vimy
Vimy is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography and history:Vimy is a farming town, situated some north of Arras, at the junction of the D51 and the N17 roads....

, which lay to the east side of the ridge. The Black Line, the first objective, involved the seizure of the German forward defensive line. The final objective of the northern flank was the Red Line, which involved the taking of the highest point on the ridge, the fortified knoll known as "The Pimple" ( 50°23′43"N 2°45′25"E), the Folie Farm, the Zwischen-Stellung trench and the hamlet of Les Tilleuls. The southern two divisions had to achieve two additional objectives: the Blue Line encompassing the town of Thélus
Thélus
Thélus is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Thélus lies north of Arras, at the junction of the N17 and D49 roads. Junction 7 of the A26 autoroute is less than a mile away...

 and the woods outside the town of Vimy
Vimy
Vimy is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography and history:Vimy is a farming town, situated some north of Arras, at the junction of the D51 and the N17 roads....

, and the Brown Line, which involved capturing the Zwölfer-Graben trench and the German second line. The infantry would proceed close behind a creeping barrage
Barrage (artillery)
A barrage is a line or barrier of exploding artillery shells, created by the co-ordinated aiming of a large number of guns firing continuously. Its purpose is to deny or hamper enemy passage through the line of the barrage, to attack a linear position such as a line of trenches or to neutralize...

 placed down by light field guns, advancing in timed 100 yards (91.4 m) increments. The medium and heavy howitzers would establish a series of standing barrages further ahead of the infantry against known defensive systems.

The plan called for units to leapfrog over one another as the advance progressed in order to maintain momentum during the attack. The initial wave would capture and consolidate the Black Line and then push forward to the Red Line. The barrage would pause, to enable reserve units to move up, and then move forward with the units pushing beyond the Red Line to the Blue Line. Once the corps secured the Blue Line, advancing units would once again leapfrog established ones and capture of the Brown Line. Conducted properly, the plan would leave the Germans forces little time to exit the security of their deep dugouts and defend their positions against the infantry advance. If the corps maintained its schedule, the troops would advance as much as 4000 yards (3,657.6 m) and have the majority of the ridge under control by 1:00 pm of the first day.

German defences

The experience of the Battle of the Somme led the German command to conclude that the policy of rigidly defending a statically fixed line was no longer effective and could not be relied upon as a defensive strategy. As a result, the German command began espousing a new defensive doctrine in December 1916, one that emphasized fighting an elastic defensive battle in depth, rather than rigidly holding successive lines of trenches. Along Vimy Ridge, the German forces spent two years constructing fortifications designed in accordance with the old doctrine of rigid defence. Little reconstruction based upon the new defence-in-depth
Defence in depth
Defence in depth is a military strategy; it seeks to delay rather than prevent the advance of an attacker, buying time and causing additional casualties by yielding space...

 doctrine had been accomplished by April 1917.

The geography of the Vimy battlefield made the doctrine of defence-in-depth difficult to execute. The ridge was as little as 700 metres (2,296.6 ft) wide at its narrowest point and dropped off quickly on its eastern side, all but eliminating the possibility of counterattacks in the event an Allied assault captured the ridge. The Germans recognized these issues and were extremely concerned about the inherent weaknesses of the geographic setting and the overall dependability of their position. The German defensive strategy was to operate a front line defence of sufficient strength to defend against an initial assault and move operational reserves forward before the enemy could consolidate their gains or overrun remaining German positions. As a result, the German defence at Vimy Ridge relied largely on machine guns, which acted as force multipliers
Force multiplication
Force multiplication, in military usage, refers to an attribute or a combination of attributes which make a given force more effective than that same force would be without it. The expected size increase required to have the same effectiveness without that advantage is the multiplication factor...

 for the defending infantry.

Three line divisions, with seven infantry regiments between them, were responsible for the immediate defence of the ridge. The established strength of each division was approximately 15,000 men. However, the actual strength of the German forces was significantly less. In 1917, a full-strength German rifle company consisted of 264 men; at Vimy Ridge, each rifle company contained approximately 150 men. Each German regiment was by design responsible for staffing approximately 1000 metres (1,093.6 yd) of front including its depth of defence back to the rear area. As a result, when the Canadian Corps attacked, each German company initially faced two or more battalions of approximately one thousand men each. Reserve divisions were kept approximately 15 miles (24.1 km) behind the front lines instead of assembling close behind the second line as espoused by the defence-in-depth doctrine.

Artillery

The Canadian Corps’ divisional artillery formations, totalling eight field brigades and two heavy artillery groups, was insufficient for the task at hand and were consequently reinforced with outside formations. Four heavy artillery groups, nine artillery field brigades, three divisional artillery groups and the artillery complement of the British 5th Division was attached to the Canadian Corps. In addition, ten heavy artillery groups of the flanking I and XVII Corps were assigned tasks in support of the Canadian Corps. The artillery batteries of I Corps were particularly important because they enfiladed German gun positions behind Vimy Ridge. In total, the British made available to the Canadian Corps twenty-four brigade artillery groups consisting of four hundred and eighty 18 pounder field guns
Ordnance QF 18 pounder
The Ordnance QF 18 pounder, or simply 18-pounder Gun, was the standard British Army field gun of the World War I era. It formed the backbone of the Royal Field Artillery during the war, and was produced in large numbers. It was also used by British and Commonwealth Forces in all the main theatres,...

, one hundred thirty-eight 4.5 inch howitzers
QF 4.5 inch Howitzer
The Ordnance QF 4.5 inch Howitzer was the standard British Empire field howitzer of the First World War era. It replaced the BL 5 inch Howitzer and equipped some 25% of the field artillery. It entered service in 1910 and remained in service through the interwar period and was last used in...

, ninety-six 2 inch trench mortars
2 inch Medium Mortar
The 2 inch Medium Trench Mortar, also known as the 2-inch Howitzer, and nicknamed the "Toffee Apple" or "Plum Pudding" mortar, was a British SBML medium trench mortar in use in World War I from mid 1915 to mid 1917...

, twenty-four 9.45 inch mortars
9.45 inch Heavy Mortar
The ML 9.45 inch Heavy Trench Mortar, nicknamed the Flying Pig, was a large calibre mortar of World War I and the standard British heavy mortar from Autumn 1916 onwards. It was a modification of an original French design, the Mortier de 240 mm developed by Batignolles Company of Paris and...

, supported by 245 corps-level siege guns and heavy mortars. This firepower gave a density of one heavy gun for every 20 yards (18.3 m) and one field gun for every 10 yards (9.1 m) of Canadian Corps frontage, representing a considerable average increase, including three times the heavy guns, over the distribution of artillery at the Battle of the Somme a year earlier.

Brigadier-General Edward Morrison
Edward Whipple Bancroft Morrison
Sir Edward Whipple Bancroft Morrison, was a Canadian journalist and Major General in the Canadian Army during World War I....

 developed and subsequently issued a 35 page multi-phased fire support plan called Canadian Corps Artillery Instruction No. 1 for the Capture of Vimy Ridge to support the efforts of the infantry. For its operations, the Canadian Corps received three times the artillery normally assigned to a corps for regular operations. To manage the logistics associated with the increased artillery, Royal Artillery staff officer Major Alan Brooke developed coordinated communication and transport plans to work in conjunction with the complex barrage plans.

A 1.6 million shell allotment allowed the artillery along the Canadian Corps front to maintain a high sustained rate of fire. Improvements in the quality of the shells compared to those used earlier in the war ensured fewer dud
Dud
A dud is an ammunition round or explosive that fails to fire or detonate, respectively, on time or on command.Duds are still dangerous and have to be deactivated and disposed of carefully. Poorly designed devices A dud is an ammunition round or explosive that fails to fire or detonate,...

s. The introduction of the instantaneous No. 106 fuze
No. 106 Fuze
Number 106 Fuze was the first British instantaneous percussion artillery fuze, first tested in action in late 1916 and deployed in volume in early 1917.-Background:...

 greatly improved the effectiveness of the artillery since this fuse burst reliably with the slightest of contact, unlike older timed fuses, making it especially effective at cutting barbed wire before the advance. To maintain communications during the battle, particularly with the artillery, field units laid over 1400 kilometres (869.9 mi) of telegraph and field telephone cabling, normally at a depth of 7 feet (2.1 m). In addition, the corps conducted coordinated counter-battery
Counter-battery fire
Counter-battery fire is a type of mission assigned to military artillery forces, which are given the task of locating and firing upon enemy artillery.-Background:...

 initiatives before the battle. The First Army Field Survey Company printed barrage maps for all batteries, produced artillery boards and provided counter-battery support with their flash spotting groups and sound ranging
Sound ranging
In land warfare, sound ranging is a method of determining the coordinates of a hostile artillery battery using data derived from the sound of its guns firing...

 sections.. Utilizing flash spotting, sound ranging
Sound ranging
In land warfare, sound ranging is a method of determining the coordinates of a hostile artillery battery using data derived from the sound of its guns firing...

 and aerial reconnaissance from No. 16 Squadron
No. 16 Squadron RAF
No. 16 Squadron is a flying squadron of the Royal Air Force. It formed in 1915 at Saint-Omer to carry out a mixture of offensive patrolling and reconnaissance and was disbanded in 1919 with the end of the First World War...

, and Balloon Company of the Royal Flying Corps
Royal Flying Corps
The Royal Flying Corps was the over-land air arm of the British military during most of the First World War. During the early part of the war, the RFC's responsibilities were centred on support of the British Army, via artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance...

 in the week before the battle, the counter battery artillery under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew McNaughton
Andrew McNaughton
General Andrew George Latta McNaughton, CH, CB, CMG, DSO, CD, PC was a Canadian army officer, politician and diplomat.- Early life :...

 fired 125,900 shells, harassing an estimated 83% of the German gun positions.

Training

In February 1917, the British General Staff released a training pamphlet titled SS 143 Instructions for the Training of Platoons for Offensive Action, espousing the return to the pre-war emphasis on fire and movement
Fire and Movement
Fire and movement or fire and manoeuvre is a military tactic that uses suppressive fire, or threat thereof, to decrease the enemy's ability to return fire, organization and unit cohesion, and morale. The tactic is used by small unit commanders on the modern battlefield...

 tactics and the use of the platoon
Platoon
A platoon is a military unit typically composed of two to four sections or squads and containing 16 to 50 soldiers. Platoons are organized into a company, which typically consists of three, four or five platoons. A platoon is typically the smallest military unit led by a commissioned officer—the...

 as a self-contained tactical unit. The short pamphlet noted the importance of dedicated hand grenade, rifle grenade and machine gun sections in suppressing enemy strong points with an appropriate level of fire to permit other military units to advance. Coupled with the observations and suggestions made by Currie in the report he submitted in January 1917 following the Verdun lectures, the Canadian Corps instilled the tactical change with vigour. The corps instilled the tactical doctrine for small units by assigning objectives down to the platoon level. Assaulting infantry battalions used hills behind the lines as full-scale model representations of the battlefield. Taped lines demarcated German trench lines while officers on horseback carried flags to represent the advancing front of the artillery barrage.

Recognizing that the men in leadership positions were likely to be wounded or killed, soldiers learned the jobs of those beside and above them. At the British First Army headquarters, a large-scale plasticine
Plasticine
Plasticine, a brand of modelling clay, is a putty-like modelling material made from calcium salts, petroleum jelly and aliphatic acids. The name is a registered trademark of Flair Leisure Products plc...

 model of the Vimy sector was constructed and used to show commissioned and senior non-commissioned officers the topographical features of the battlefield and details of the German trench system. In addition, upwards of 40,000 topographical trench map
Trench map
A Trench map shows the trenches of the Great War, 1914-1918. Whilst all of the belligerents made or used maps of the trenches, this article refers mainly to those produced by the British Army....

s were printed and distributed to ensure that even platoon sergeants and section commanders possessed a wider awareness of the battlefield. These measures gave each platoon a clearer picture of how it fitted into the greater battle plan, and in so doing, reduced the command and control
Command and Control (military)
Command and control, or C2, in a military organization can be defined as the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commanding officer over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission...

 problems that plagued First World War combat.

Underground operations

The Arras-Vimy sector was conducive to tunnel excavation owing to the soft, porous yet extremely stable nature of the chalk
Chalk
Chalk is a soft, white, porous sedimentary rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. Calcite is calcium carbonate or CaCO3. It forms under reasonably deep marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite plates shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores....

 underground. As a result, pronounced underground warfare
Tunnel warfare
Tunnel warfare is a type of warfare that occurs in tunnels.It can be sometimes linked with urban warfare, as tunnels are often found in urban area and cities, although urban warfare as a whole usually dominates any tunnel considerations...

 had been an active feature of the Vimy sector since 1915. The Bavarian engineers, for example, had blown 20 mines in the sector by March 1915. By early 1916 the Germans miners had gained a clear advantage over their French counterparts. On their arrival, the British Royal Engineer tunnelling companies became actively engaged in offensive mining against German miners. First stopping the German underground advance and then developing a defensive strategy that prevented the Germans from gaining a tactical advance through their mining activities. By 1917, no fewer than 19 distinct crater groups existed along the section of the front. Each group often containing several large craters all of which were the result of explosions caused by underground mine warfare.

In preparation for the assault, British tunnelling companies created extensive underground networks and fortifications. Twelve subways, up to 1.2 kilometres (1,312.3 yd) in length, were excavated at a depth of 10 metres (32.8 ft) and used to connect reserve lines to front lines, permitting soldiers to advance to the front quickly, securely and unseen. Often incorporated into subways were concealed light rail lines, hospitals, command posts, water reservoirs, ammunition stores, mortar and machine gun posts, and communication centres. The Germans dug a number of similar tunnels on the Vimy front to provide covered routes to front lines and large-scale protection for headquarters, resting personnel, equipment and ammunition.These included the Prinz Arnulf, Volker and Schwaben tunnels

To protect some advancing troops from German machine gun fire as they crossed no man's land during the attack, eight specialized mine charges were laid at the end of the subways. These specialized mine charges were designed to allow troops to move more quickly, and safely enter the German trench system by creating an elongated trench-depth crater that spanned the entire length of no man's land. In an effort to destroy some German surface fortifications before the assault, the British tunnelling companies secretly laid 13 large explosive charges directly under German positions. However, this work did not go unimpeded; the Germans actively counter-mined British tunnelling and were successful in destroying a number of British attempts at placing offensive mines under or near their lines.German counter-mining explosion; 35 tonnes exploded near the Broadmarsh Crater (creating the Longfellow crater group) on 23 March 1917, 45 tonnes exploded 26 March 1917 near the Pimple Of the explosive charges laid by the British, three mines were fired before the assault; another three mines and two specialized charges were fired at the start of the attack.

Trench raiding

For more details on this topic, see Trench raiding
Trench raiding
Trench raiding was a feature of trench warfare which developed during World War I. It was the practice of making small scale surprise attacks on enemy position. Raids were made by both sides in the conflict and always took place at night for reasons of stealth...



Trench raiding involved making small-scale surprise attacks on enemy positions, often in the middle of the night for reasons of stealth. All belligerents employed trench raiding as a tactic to harass their enemy and gain intelligence
Military intelligence
Military intelligence is a military discipline that exploits a number of information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions....

. In the Canadian Corps trench raiding developed into a training and leadership-building mechanism. The size of a raid would normally be anything from a few men to an entire company, or more, depending on the size of the mission. The four months before the April attack saw the Canadian Corps execute no fewer than 55 separate trench raids. Competition between units even developed with units competing for the honour of greatest number of prisoners captured or most destruction wrought. The policy of aggressive trench raiding was not without its cost. A large-scale trench raid on 13 February 1917, involving 900 men from the 4th Canadian Division, resulted in 150 casualties. An even more ambitious trench raid on 1 March 1917, once again by the 4th Canadian Division
4th Canadian Division
The Canadian Corps - 4th Canadian Division – World War I:The 4th Canadian Division was formed in the Britain in April 1916 from several existing units and others scheduled to arrive shortly thereafter. Under the command of Major-General David Watson, the Division embarked for France in August of...

, failed and resulted in 637 casualties including two battalion commanders and a number of company commanders killed. This experience did not lessen the extent to which the Canadian Corps employed trench raiding with raids being conducted nightly between 20 March and the opening of the offensive on 9 April, resulting in approximately 1,400 additional Canadian casualties. The Germans operated an active patrolling policy and although not as large and ambitious as those of the Canadian Corps, they also engaged in trench raiding. As an example, a German trench raid launched by 79 men against the 3rd Canadian Division on 15 March 1917 was successful in capturing prisoners and causing damage.

Battle in the air

The Royal Flying Corps
Royal Flying Corps
The Royal Flying Corps was the over-land air arm of the British military during most of the First World War. During the early part of the war, the RFC's responsibilities were centred on support of the British Army, via artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance...

 launched a determined effort to gain air superiority over the battlefield in support of the spring offensive. The Canadians considered activities such as artillery spotting, and photography of opposing trench systems, troop movements and gun emplacements essential to continue their offensive. The Royal Flying Corps deployed 25 squadrons totalling 365 aircraft along the Arras sector, outnumbering the Imperial German Army Air Service
Luftstreitkräfte
The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte , known before October 1916 as Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches , or simply Die Fliegertruppen, was the air arm of the Imperial German Army during World War I...

 by 2-to-1. Byng was given use of No. 2 Squadron
No. 2 Squadron RAF
No. 2 Squadron of the Royal Air Force is currently one of two RAF squadrons operating in the reconnaissance role with the Tornado GR4A and GR4 and is based at RAF Marham, Norfolk.No. II Squadron holds claim to being "the oldest heavier-than-air flying machine squadron in the world", along with No...

, No. 8 (Naval) Squadron
No. 208 Squadron RAF
No 208 Squadron is at present a reserve unit of the Royal Air Force based at RAF Valley, Anglesey, Wales. It operates the BAe Hawk aircraft.-World War I:...

 (part of the Royal Naval Air Service
Royal Naval Air Service
The Royal Naval Air Service or RNAS was the air arm of the Royal Navy until near the end of the First World War, when it merged with the British Army's Royal Flying Corps to form a new service , the Royal Air Force...

), No. 25 Squadron, No. 40 Squadron
No. 40 Squadron RAF
No. 40 Squadron of the Royal Air Force was formed in 1916 at Gosport as No 40 Squadron RFC and was disbanded for the last time in 1957.Edward Mannock gained 16 of his 73 victories while with 40 Squadron, 15 of which he shot down while flying a Nieuport Scout...

 and No. 43 Squadron
No. 43 Squadron RAF
No. 43 Squadron was a Royal Air Force aircraft squadron originally formed in 1916 as part of the Royal Flying Corps. It last operated the Panavia Tornado F3 from RAF Leuchars, Scotland in the air defence role until disbanded in July 2009.-In World War I:...

, with No. 16 Squadron
No. 16 Squadron RAF
No. 16 Squadron is a flying squadron of the Royal Air Force. It formed in 1915 at Saint-Omer to carry out a mixture of offensive patrolling and reconnaissance and was disbanded in 1919 with the end of the First World War...

 permanently attached to the Canadian Corps and employed exclusively for observation and artillery support.

Aerial reconnaissance was often a hazardous task because of a requirement to fly at slow speeds and at low altitudes. The task was made all the more dangerous with the arrival of additional German flying squadrons, including Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen , also widely known as the Red Baron, was a German fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army Air Service during World War I...

's highly experienced and well equipped Jasta 11
Jasta 11
Royal Prussian Jagdstaffel 11 was founded on 28 September 1916 from elements of 4 armee's Keks 1, 2 and 3 and mobilized on 11 October as part of the German Air Service's expansion program, forming permanent specialised fighter squadrons, or "Jastas"...

, which led to sharp increase in Royal Flying Corps casualties. Although significantly outnumbering the Germans, the Royal Flying Corps lost 131 aircraft during the first week of April alone. Despite the losses suffered by the Royal Flying Corps, the Imperial German Army Air Service failed to prevent the Royal Flying Corps from carrying out its prime objective, namely the continued support of the army throughout the Arras Offensive with up-to-date aerial photographs and reconnaissance information.

Belligerents

German Sixth Army commander General Ludwig von Falkenhausen
Ludwig von Falkenhausen
Ludwig Freiherr von Falkenhausen was a German general most notable for his activities during World War I.- Biography :Falkenhausen was born in Guben. His parents were the Prussian Lieutenant-General D...

 was responsible for the Cambrai–Lille sector and commanded 20 divisions (plus reserves). Vimy Ridge itself was principally defended by the ad hoc formation based under I Bavarian Reserve Corps commander Karl Ritter von Fasbender. However, a division of , under VIII Reserve Corps General Georg Karl Wichura, was involved in the frontline defence along the northernmost portion of the ridge.
Three divisions were ultimately responsible for manning the frontline defences opposite the Canadian Corps. The 16th Bavarian Infantry Division was located opposite the town of Souchez
Souchez
Souchez is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Souchez lies north of Arras, at the junction of the D937, D57 and D58 roads. The small river Souchez, a tributary of the Deûle, flows through the town.-Population:-Places of interest:* The...

 and responsible for the defence of the northernmost section of the ridge. The division was created in January 1917 through the amalgamation of existing Bavarian formations and had so far only opposed the Canadian Corps. The 79th Reserve Division
79th Reserve Division (German Empire)
The 79th Reserve Division was a unit of the Imperial German Army in World War I. The division was formed at the end of December 1914 and organized over the next month, arriving in the line in early February 1915. It was part of the second large wave of new divisions formed at the outset of World...

 was responsible for the defence of the vast central section including the highest point of the ridge, Hill 145. The 79th Reserve Division fought for two years on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War I)
The Eastern Front was a theatre of war during World War I in Central and, primarily, Eastern Europe. The term is in contrast to the Western Front. Despite the geographical separation, the events in the two theatres strongly influenced each other...

 before being transferred to the Vimy sector at the end of February 1917. The 1st Bavarian Reserve Division
1st Bavarian Reserve Division (German Empire)
The 1st Bavarian Reserve Division was a unit of the Royal Bavarian Army, part of the German Army, in World War I. The division was formed on mobilization of the German Army in August 1914. The division was disbanded in 1919 during the demobilization of the German Army after World War I. The...

 had been in the Arras area since October 1914 and was holding the towns of Thélus
Thélus
Thélus is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Thélus lies north of Arras, at the junction of the N17 and D49 roads. Junction 7 of the A26 autoroute is less than a mile away...

, Bailleul and the southern slope of the ridge.

Canadian Corps commander Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng
Julian Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy
Field Marshal Julian Hedworth George Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy was a British Army officer who served as Governor General of Canada, the 12th since Canadian Confederation....

 commanded four attacking divisions, one division of reserves and numerous support units. He was supported to the north by the 24th British Division of I Corps, which advanced north of the Souchez
Souchez
Souchez is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Souchez lies north of Arras, at the junction of the D937, D57 and D58 roads. The small river Souchez, a tributary of the Deûle, flows through the town.-Population:-Places of interest:* The...

 river and by the advancing XVII Corps to the south. The 4th Canadian Division
4th Canadian Division
The Canadian Corps - 4th Canadian Division – World War I:The 4th Canadian Division was formed in the Britain in April 1916 from several existing units and others scheduled to arrive shortly thereafter. Under the command of Major-General David Watson, the Division embarked for France in August of...

 was responsible for the northern portion of the advance that included the capture of the highest point of the ridge followed by the heavily defended "Pimple" just west of the town of Givenchy-en-Gohelle
Givenchy-en-Gohelle
Givenchy-en-Gohelle is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Givenchy-en-Gohelle is a large farming village situated north of Arras, at the junction of the D51 and the D55 roads...

. The 3rd Canadian Division
3rd Canadian Division
The 3rd Canadian Division was a formation of the Canadian Corps during the First World War.The 3rd Canadian Division was formed in France in December 1915 under the command of Major-General M.S. Mercer. Its members served in both France and Flanders until Armistice Day...

 was responsible for the narrow central section of the ridge, including the capture of La Folie Farm. The 2nd Canadian Division
2nd Canadian Division
The 2nd Canadian Division was an infantry formation that saw service in the First World War. A 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was raised for the Second World War.-History:...

, which later included an additional brigade from the 5th British Division, was directly south of 3rd Canadian Division and entrusted with the capture of the town of Thélus
Thélus
Thélus is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Thélus lies north of Arras, at the junction of the N17 and D49 roads. Junction 7 of the A26 autoroute is less than a mile away...

. The 1st Canadian Division
1st Canadian Division
Formed in August 1914, the 1st Canadian Division was a formation of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The division was initially made up from provisional battalions that were named after their province of origin but these titles were dropped before the division arrived in Britain on October 14,...

 was responsible for the broad southern sector of the corps advance and expected to make the greatest advance in terms of distance. Byng planned for a healthy reserve for contingencies that included the relief of forward troops, help in consolidating positions and aiding the 4th Canadian Division with the capture of the "Pimple". As a result, the 9th Canadian Brigade, 15th British Brigade and 95th British Brigade were kept in corps-level reserve.

Preliminary attack

German foreign intelligence gathering, large-scale Allied trench raids and observed troop concentrations west of Arras made it clear to the Germans that a spring offensive near Arras was being planned. In February 1917, a German-born Canadian soldier deserted to the German side and helped confirm many of the suspicions held by the Germans, providing them with a great deal of useful information. By March 1917, the German forces were aware that a major attack was imminent and would include operations aimed at capturing Vimy Ridge. Ernst August Marx von Bachmeister, commanding the German 79th Reserve Division
79th Reserve Division (German Empire)
The 79th Reserve Division was a unit of the Imperial German Army in World War I. The division was formed at the end of December 1914 and organized over the next month, arriving in the line in early February 1915. It was part of the second large wave of new divisions formed at the outset of World...

, reported in late-March that he believed the Canadian Corps was moving into an echelon formation
Echelon formation
An echelon formation is a military formation in which members are arranged diagonally. Each member is stationed behind and to the right , or behind and to the left , of the member ahead...

 and were preparing for a major attack. The Germans quickly developed plans to launch a pre-emptive operation, following the adage that the best defence is a good offense, intent on capturing the northern section of the Zouave Valley along the northernmost portion of the Canadian front.The attack was code named Operation Munich Heavy Canadian Corps artillery fire ultimately prevented the Germans from executing their pre-emptive attack.

The preliminary phase of the Canadian Corps artillery bombardment began on 20 March 1917, with a systematic two-week bombardment of German batteries, trenches and strong points. The Canadian Corps paid particular attention to eliminating German barbed wire, a task made easier with the introduction of the No. 106 instantaneous fuse. In addition, only half of the available artillery was committed at any one point in time with the intensity of the barrage
Barrage (artillery)
A barrage is a line or barrier of exploding artillery shells, created by the co-ordinated aiming of a large number of guns firing continuously. Its purpose is to deny or hamper enemy passage through the line of the barrage, to attack a linear position such as a line of trenches or to neutralize...

 expressly varied as to confuse the Germans and preserve some level of secrecy. Phase two lasted the entire week beginning 2 April 1917 and employed the entire artillery arsenal at the disposal of the Canadian Corps, massing the equivalent of one heavy gun for every 20 yards (18.3 m) and one field gun for every 10 yards (9.1 m). The German soldiers came to refer to the week before the attack as 'the week of suffering'. By the Germans' own account, their trenches and defensive works were almost completely demolished. Furthermore, German health and morale suffered from the stress of remaining at the ready for eleven straight days under extremely heavy artillery bombardment. Compounding German difficulties was the inability of ration parties to bring food supplies to the front lines. On 3 April, General von Falkenhausen ordered his reserve divisions to prepare to relieve frontline divisions over the course of a long drawn-out defensive battle, in a manner similar to the Battle of the Somme. However, the divisions were kept 15 miles (24.1 km) from the battlefield to avoid being shelled.

9 April

The attack was to begin at 5:30 am on Easter Monday
Easter Monday
Easter Monday is the day after Easter Sunday and is celebrated as a holiday in some largely Christian cultures, especially Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox cultures...

, 9 April 1917. The attack was originally planned for the morning of 8 April (Easter Sunday), but it was postponed for 24 hours at the request of the French. During the late hours of 8 April and early morning of 9 April the men of the leading and supporting wave of the attack were moved into their forward assembly positions. The weather was cold and later changed to sleet and snow. Although physically discomforting for everyone, the north-westerly storm provided some advantage to the assaulting troops by blowing snow in the faces of the defending troops. Light Canadian and British artillery bombardments continued throughout the prior night but stopped in the few minutes before the attack, as the artillery recalibrated their guns in preparation for the synchronized barrage. At exactly 5:30 am, every artillery piece at the disposal of the Canadian Corps began firing. Thirty seconds later, engineers detonated the mine charges laid under no man's land
No man's land
No man's land is a term for land that is unoccupied or is under dispute between parties that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. The term was originally used to define a contested territory or a dumping ground for refuse between fiefdoms...

 and the German trench line, destroying a number of German strong points and creating secure communication trenches directly across no man's land. Light field guns laid down a barrage that advanced in predetermined increments, often 100 yards (91.4 m) every three minutes, while medium and heavy howitzers established a series of standing barrages further ahead, against known defensive systems. During the early fighting the German divisional artilleries, despite heavy losses, were able to maintain their defensive firing. As the Canadian assault advanced, it overran many of the German guns because there was no means of moving them to the rear on account of many of the horses being killed in the initial gas attack
Chemical warfare
Chemical warfare involves using the toxic properties of chemical substances as weapons. This type of warfare is distinct from Nuclear warfare and Biological warfare, which together make up NBC, the military acronym for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical...

.

The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions reported reaching and capturing their first objective, the Black Line, by 6:25 am. The 4th Canadian Division encountered a great deal of trouble during its advance and was unable to complete its first objective until some hours later. After a planned pause, when the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions consolidated their positions, the advance resumed. Shortly after 7:00 am, the 1st Canadian Division captured the left half of its second objective, the Red Line, and moved the 1st Canadian Brigade forward to mount an attack on the remainder. The 2nd Canadian Division reported reaching the Red Line and capturing the town of Les Tilleuls at approximately the same time. A mine explosion that killed many German troops of the Reserve Infantry Regiment 262 manning the front line preceded the advance of the 3rd Canadian Division. The remaining German troops could do no more than man temporary lines of resistance until later manning a full defence at the German third line. As a result, the southern section of the 3rd Canadian Division's was able to reach the Red Line at the western edge of the Bois de la Folie at around 7:30 am. At 9:00 am the division learned of its exposed left flank, as the 4th Canadian Division had not yet captured Hill 145. The 3rd Canadian Division was thus called upon to establish a divisional defensive flank to its north. Although the German commanders were able to maintain open lines of communication and issue operating orders, even with swift staff work the tempo of the assault was such that German decision cycle was unable to react decisively.

The only portion of the Canadian assault that did not go as planned was the advance of the 4th Canadian Division, collapsing almost immediately after exiting their trenches. The commanding officer of one of the assaulting battalions requested that the artillery leave a portion of German trench undamaged. Machine-gun nests in the undamaged sections of the German line pinned down, wounded or killed much of the 4th Canadian Division's right flank. The progress on the left flank was eventually impeded by harassing fire from the "Pimple" that was made worse when the creeping barrage got too far ahead of the advancing troops. In view of the German defence, the 4th Canadian Division did not attempt a further frontal assault throughout the afternoon. Reserve units from the 4th Canadian Division came forward and once again attacked the German positions on the top of the ridge. Persistent attacks eventually forced the German troops holding the south-western portion of Hill 145Hill 145 is the site of the present-day Vimy Memorial. to withdraw, but only after they had run out of ammunition, mortar rounds and grenades.

Towards midday, the 79th Reserve Division was ordered to recapture the portions of its third line lost during the progression of the Canadian attack. However, it was not until 6:00 pm that the force was able to organize and counterattack, clearing the Canadian Corps troops out of the ruined village of Vimy, but not recapturing the third line south of the village. By night time, the German forces holding the top of the ridge believed they had overcome the immediate crisis for the mean time. Additional German reinforcements began arriving and by late evening portions of the 111th Infantry Division
111th Infantry Division (German Empire)
The 111th Infantry Division was a unit of the Imperial German Army in World War I. The division was formed on March 25, 1915 near Brussels, Belgium and organized over the next several weeks. It was part of a wave of new infantry divisions formed in the spring of 1915...

 occupied the third line near Acheville
Acheville
-External links:* * -References:*...

 and Arleux
Arleux
Arleux is a commune in the Nord department in northern France.-Heraldry:-References:*...

, with the remainder of the division arriving the following day.

10 April

The British moved three fresh brigade
Brigade
A brigade is a major tactical military formation that is typically composed of two to five battalions, plus supporting elements depending on the era and nationality of a given army and could be perceived as an enlarged/reinforced regiment...

s up to the Red Line by 9:30 am on 10 April to support the advance of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Division, whereupon they were to leapfrog existing units occupying the Red line and advance to the Blue Line. Fresh units including two sections of tanks and the 13th British Brigade were called up from reserve to support the advance on the 2nd Canadian Division. By approximately 11:00 am, the Blue Line, including Hill 135 and the town of Thélus
Thélus
Thélus is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Thélus lies north of Arras, at the junction of the N17 and D49 roads. Junction 7 of the A26 autoroute is less than a mile away...

, had been captured. To permit the troops time to consolidate the Blue Line, the advance halted and the barrage remained stationary for 90 minutes while machine guns were brought forward. Shortly before 1:00 pm, the advance recommenced with both the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions reporting their final objective. The tank supported advance via Farbus
Farbus
Farbus is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:A farming village situated northeast of Arras, at the junction of the D50 and D51 roads.-Population:-References:* -External links:*...

, and directed at the rear of the 79th Reserve Division, was eventually halted by concentrated German fire short of the village. The Canadian 1st and 2nd Divisions were nonetheless able to secure the Brown Line by approximately 2:00 pm.

The 4th Canadian Division made an attempt to capture the northern half of Hill 145 at around 3:15 pm, briefly capturing the peak before a German counterattack retook the position. The Germans occupying the small salient on ridge soon found themselves being attacked along their flanks by continuously reinforced Canadian Corps troops. When it became obvious that the position was completely outflanked and there was no prospect of reinforcement, the German troops pulled back. The German forces were evacuated off the ridge with German artillery batteries moved west of the Vimy–Bailleul railway embankment or to the Oppy–Méricourt line. By nightfall of 10 April, the only Canadian objective not yet achieved was the capture of the "Pimple".

12 April

The 4th Canadian Division faced difficulties at the start of the battle that forced it to delay its assault on the "Pimple" until 12 April. The “Pimple” was initially defended by the 16th Bavarian Infantry Division, but the Canadian Corps' preliminary artillery bombardment leading up to the assault on 9 April caused heavy casualties amongst its ranks. On 11 April, the 4th Guards Infantry Division first reinforced and then relieved affected 16th Bavarian Infantry Division units. The night before the attack, artillery harassed German positions while a gas section of Royal Engineers, employing Livens Projector
Livens Projector
The Livens Projector was a simple mortar-like weapon that could throw large drums filled with flammable or toxic chemicals. In the First World War, the Livens Projector became the standard means of delivering gas attacks and it remained in the arsenal of the British Army until the early years of...

s, fired more than 40 drums of gas directly into the town of Givenchy-en-Gohelle to cause confusion. The defending German troops managed to drive back the initial Canadian assaults at around 4:00 am using small arms fire. The 10th Canadian Brigade attacked once again at 5:00 am, this time supported by a significant amount of artillery and the 24th British Division of I Corps to the north. The German defensive artillery fire was late and too light to cause the assaulting troops great difficulty, allowing the Canadian Corps to exploit wide gaps and break into the German positions. The 10th Canadian Brigade, assisted by snow and a Westerly wind, fought hastily entrained German troops to capture the entire "Pimple" by 6:00 pm.

Aftermath

By nightfall on 12 April 1917, the Canadian Corps was in firm control of the ridge. The corps suffered 10,602 casualties: 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded. The German Sixth Army suffered an unknown number of casualties with an approximate 4,000 men becoming prisoners of war. Four members of the Canadian Corps received Victoria Crosses, the highest military decoration awarded to British and Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 forces for valour, for their actions during the battle;
  • Private
    Private (rank)
    A Private is a soldier of the lowest military rank .In modern military parlance, 'Private' is shortened to 'Pte' in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries and to 'Pvt.' in the United States.Notably both Sir Fitzroy MacLean and Enoch Powell are examples of, rare, rapid career...

     William Johnstone Milne
    William Johnstone Milne
    William Johnstone Milne VC , was a Canadian soldier in World War I who posthumously received the Victoria Cross for the highest gallantry against the enemy during action in France on 9 April 1917.-Details:...

     of the 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion.
  • Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton
    Ellis Wellwood Sifton
    Ellis Wellwood Sifton VC was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces....

     of the 18th (Western Ontario) Battalion.
  • Private John George Pattison
    John George Pattison
    John George Pattison VC , was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.-Details:...

     of the 50th (Calgary) Battalion.
  • Captain Thain Wendell MacDowell
    Thain Wendell MacDowell
    Thain Wendell MacDowell, VC , DSO , was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces....

     of the 38th (Ottawa) Battalion
    38th Battalion, CEF
    The 38th Battalion, CEF was a unit of the First World War Canadian Expeditionary Force. It was mobilized in Ottawa and recruited in Ottawa, Brockville, Perth, Prescott and Alexandria. An initial draft of five officers and 251 other ranks was sent to England on June 24, 1915...

    .


At least two Orders Pour le Mérite
Pour le Mérite
The Pour le Mérite, known informally as the Blue Max , was the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military order for German soldiers until the end of World War I....

, the Kingdom of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom from 1701 to 1918. Until the defeat of Germany in World War I, it comprised almost two-thirds of the area of the German Empire...

's highest military order, were awarded to German commanders for their actions during the battle;
  • Oberstleutnant
    Oberstleutnant
    Oberstleutnant is a German Army and Air Force rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel, above Major, and below Oberst.There are two paygrade associated to the rank of Oberstleutnant...

     Wilhelm Von Goerne commander of the 261st Prussian Reserve Infantry Regiment, of the German 79th Reserve Division
    79th Reserve Division (German Empire)
    The 79th Reserve Division was a unit of the Imperial German Army in World War I. The division was formed at the end of December 1914 and organized over the next month, arriving in the line in early February 1915. It was part of the second large wave of new divisions formed at the outset of World...

    .
  • General der Infanterie
    General of the Infantry (Germany)
    General of the Infantry is a rank of general in the Imperial Army, Reichswehr or Wehrmacht - the second-highest regular rank. The same rank spread to the Imperial Russian Army and the Defence forces of Finland between the world wars...

     Georg Karl Wichura commander of the VIII Reserve Corps and .


Following the defeat, the Chief of the German General Staff
German General Staff
The German General Staff was an institution whose rise and development gave the German armed forces a decided advantage over its adversaries. The Staff amounted to its best "weapon" for nearly a century and a half....

, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

, ordered the Supreme Army Command
Oberste Heeresleitung
The Oberste Heeresleitung or OHL was Germany's highest echelon of command of the German Army in World War I, while the Navy was led by the Seekriegsleitung or SKL ....

 to conduct a court of enquiry into the defensive collapse of the Arras sector. The court concluded that the Sixth Army headquarters had disregarded frontline commander reports, noting a possible imminent attack, and as a result, reserve units were kept too far back to execute a timely and effective counterattack. The court concluded that Sixth Army commander General Ludwig von Falkenhausen failed to apply an elastic defence properly as espoused by German defensive doctrine of the time. Instead, the defensive system was a series of unmoving strong points and static lines of resistance, which the Canadian artillery ultimately isolated and destroyed. As a result of the inquiry, Hindenburg removed Von Falkenhausen from his command and transferred him to Belgium where he served the remainder of the war as that country's Governor General.

The Germans did not see the Canadian Corps's capture of Vimy Ridge as a loss. Contemporary German sources viewed the action, at worst, as a draw, given that no full-scale breakthrough occurred following the attack. The Germans did not attempt to recapture the ridge, even during the Spring Offensive
Spring Offensive
The 1918 Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht , also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, was a series of German attacks along the Western Front during World War I, beginning on 21 March 1918, which marked the deepest advances by either side since 1914...

, and it remained under British control until the end of the war.

The loss of Vimy Ridge forced the Germans to reassess their defensive strategy in the area. Instead of mounting a counterattack, they pursued a scorched earth
Scorched earth
A scorched earth policy is a military strategy or operational method which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area...

 policy, and retreated to the Oppy–Méricourt line. The complete failure of the French Nivelle Offensive
Nivelle offensive
The Nivelle Offensive was a 1917 French attack on the Western Front in the First World War. Promised as the assault that would end the war within 48 hours, with casualties expected of around 10,000 men, it failed on both counts. It was a three-stage plan:...

 in the week after the Arras Offensive placed pressure on Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

 Douglas Haig
Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig
Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC, was a British senior officer during World War I. He commanded the British Expeditionary Force from 1915 to the end of the War...

 to keep the Germans occupied in the Arras sector to minimize French losses. The Canadian Corps participated in several of these actions including the Battle of Arleux and the Third Battle of the Scarpe in late April and early May 1917.

Influence on Canada

The Battle of Vimy Ridge has considerable significance for Canada. Although the battle is not generally considered the greatest achievement of the Canadian Corps in terms of strategic importance or results obtained, it was the first instance in which all four Canadian divisions, made up of troops drawn from all parts of the country, fought as a cohesive formation. The image of national unity and achievement is what initially gave the battle importance for Canada. According to Pierce, "The historical reality of the battle has been reworked and reinterpreted in a conscious attempt to give purpose and meaning to an event that came to symbolize Canada's coming of age as a nation." The idea that Canada's national identity and nationhood were born out of the battle is an opinion that is widely held in military and general histories of Canada. Outside of Canada the battle has much less significance and is simply noted as being one part of the larger offensive of the Battle of Arras.

Vimy Memorial

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial
Canadian National Vimy Memorial
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is a memorial site in France dedicated to the memory of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War. It also serves as the place of commemoration for First World War Canadian soldiers killed or presumed dead in France who have no known...

 is Canada's largest and principal overseas war memorial. Located on the highest point of the Vimy Ridge, the memorial is dedicated to the commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War. It serves as the place of commemoration for Canadian soldiers killed in France during the First World War with no known grave. France granted Canada perpetual use of a section of land at Vimy Ridge in 1922 for the purpose of a battlefield park and memorial. A 250 acres (101.2 ha) portion of the former battlefield is preserved as part of the memorial park that surrounds the monument. The grounds of the site are still honeycombed with wartime tunnels, trenches, craters and unexploded munitions, and is largely closed off for public safety. However, a section of preserved trenches and a portion of a tunnel have been made accessible to site visitors.

The memorial took eleven years and $1.5 million to build and was unveiled on 26 July 1936 by King Edward VIII, in the presence of President Albert Lebrun
Albert Lebrun
Albert François Lebrun was a French politician, President of France from 1932 to 1940. He was the last president of the Third Republic. He was a member of the center-right Democratic Republican Alliance .-Biography:...

 of France and 50,000 or more Canadian and French veterans and their families.The Canadian War Museum
Canadian War Museum
The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. Located in Ottawa, Ontario, the museum covers all facets of Canada’s military past, from the first recorded instances of death by armed violence in Canadian history several thousand years ago to the country’s most recent...

 cites a crowd of 100,000
Starting in 2004, the monument underwent a major multi-year restoration project, which included general cleaning and the recarving of many inscribed names. Queen Elizabeth II rededicated the restored monument on 9 April 2007 during a ceremony commemorating the 90th anniversary of the battle. Veterans Affairs Canada
Veterans Affairs Canada
The Department of Veterans Affairs , also referred to as Veterans Affairs Canada , is the department within the government of Canada with responsibility for pensions/benefits and services for war veterans, retired personnel of the Canadian Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, their families,...

maintains the memorial site.

External links

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