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Vimy Ridge

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Heritage

Vimy Ridge Memorial Submission Won by Walter Seymour Allward

written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling

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Vimy Ridge

April 9 is Vimy Ridge Day in Canada.

Canadians have over time adopted this day as the time when Canada came of age as a nation.  It is symbolic of Canadians acting together in a noble cause.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge took place from April 9th to April 12th, 1917.  It is one of the most studied battles of WWI.

Battles are often fought for topography rather than territory.  Vimy Ridge is an escarpment and an example of the key to an entire area.

As seen from the map above Vimy is on the 'war passage' into the 'soul' of France.  For centuries it has anchored the way to envelope Frances' defending armies and sweep around in a great arc into the heart of France to capture Paris and spell total defeat.

WWI began with a plan for France's total defeat called the Schlieffen plan. It was devised as a one front offensive moving at overwhelming speed.  The Germans wanted to put all their power into a concentrated blow through Belgium and along the Pas-De-Calais.  This powerful right hook would roll up the defenders and envelope the entire French Army from the rear.

The plan did not work and as a result 4 years of stalemate and trench warfare ensued.  Many thought that weakening the initial blow doomed the plan.  Schlieffen warned against this.

When the concentrated sweep stalled, opposing armies dug in with the Germans maintaining the strategic high ground.  Repeated attempts by both sides proved futile.  In this first phase France suffered some 150,000 casualties in their efforts to prevent the sweep along the sea.

Verdun with the Interlocking Forts of the Complex shown in red.

A related, but earlier battle influenced the outcome at Vimy.  It was the terrible, grinding slaughter at Verdun.  This fortified area took a blood toll on France as the Germans attempted to grind France to death and drown her in the blood of the young.

Verdun was a battle for the belly and heart of France.  It took place from 21 February to 18 December 1916 before Vimy.  The tactics learned at Verdun strongly influenced Vimy.

The British XVII Corps relieved the French at Vimy.  For the first time all four Canadian divisions were to be launched as a unit into taking Vimy.  The force totaled 170,000 men of whom 97,184 were Canadian.

Verdun's intensity was till palpable and the forces removed from Vimy were poised to hold the centre that was still vulnerable to German attack.

Vimy was a true 3 dimensional planned battle using the lessons learned at Verdun.  Air power for observation was used on both sides.  Miners dug into the chalk terrain and produced miles of tunnels some of which were used for offensive action.

 

Click the orange arrow to read the second column

It was a race as Russia left the war in the spring of 1917 freeing German Troops on the eastern front to reinforce the west.  Further, there was the United States entering the war.

The German Generals thought they had a window of opportunity to break the deadlock on the western front.  The allies were trying to use the lessons of Verdun to capture Vimy and break the Germans.  A collision course was on view to both General Staffs.

The key to the allies attack was to be a coordinated massive artillery force guided by aerial  reconnaissance. Canadian control of the battlefront was well guided at the platoon level.  No more were strict orders issued by those distant from the battlefront the order of the day.  This was a lesson learned at Verdun

Also using the the war in Russia, the German defensive plan focused on an elastic defense moving away from the front to strong point after strongpoint thereby shredding the British and Canadian forces.

The heroes of the eastern front, Paul von Hindenburg (L) and Erich Ludendorff

The Canadians performed admirably and established themselves.. Being a nation was now what Canada was and remained

Canada's elite reputation followed troops into WWII.  They were best when employed together with their own leadership.

Documentary

 

Battle of Vimy Ridge (Shatner) 


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