The Battle of Vimy Ridge
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- The Second Battle Of Ypres
- The Battle of Somme
- The Battle of Beaumont-Hamel
- The Battle of Vimy Ridge
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Five major battles were fought around the town of Arras during the First World War. The town was the site of an important railroad junction, and whichever army controlled the railway could use it to supply their own men. Vimy Ridge, which is about 10 kilometres north of Arras, was considered an important strategic area.
Previous attempts by the French to capture Vimy Ridge in 1915 were only partially successful, but those attacks had succeeded in pushing back the Germans to a position where they had very little room to manoeuvre, with the Douai Plain now immediately behind them.
One hundred thousand Canadian troops were charged with the responsibility of seizing the well-fortified German lines of Vimy Ridge. Planning for the battle began in October 1916. Canadian engineers dug great tunnels and built underground tramways into the ridge. Trenches and dugouts were protected by barbed wire and machine gun batteries. In some places, the Canadian and German soldiers in the front-line trenches would be less than 25 metres from one another. Roads and light railways were improved. Observation balloons were used for the first time to produce aerial photographs. Behind the lines, the Canadian troops created a simulation of the area and practised their roles until every man was familiar with the ground and the tactics expected of him.
A three-week barrage of artillery bombardment, designed to conceal the exact time and extent of the attack, began on March 20, 1917. On the night of April 8, the infantry moved to the prepared forward positions. The attack began at dawn on Easter Monday, April 9. All four divisions of the Canadian Corps (with the British 5th Division under General Byng’s command), moving forward together for the first time, swept up the ridge in the midst of driving wind, snow, and sleet. Preceded by a perfectly timed artillery barrage, the Canadians advanced. By mid-afternoon, the Canadian divisions were in command of the whole crest of the ridge, with the exception of two features known as Hill 145 and the Pimple. Within three days, these too were taken. The fighting had been hard and costly. During the four-day battle, Canadian troops suffered 10,602 casualties – nearly 10 per cent of their fighting force in the area.
The victory at Vimy Ridge is celebrated as a national coming of age. For the first time, all four divisions of the Canadian Corps had attacked and triumphed together. Four Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery. Major-General Arthur Currie, the commander of the 1st Canadian Division, was knighted for his role in planning the battle and leading his troops.
A vast memorial now stands at Vimy Ridge to commemorate the 3,598 Canadians who died in this battle.