They were often muddy and cold and had to live in the midst of pests like rats, lice and fleas. In this form of warfare, soldiers faced the enemy across a narrow strip of land between the opposing trenches.
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By the spring of , Europe had been at war for more than two-and-a-half years, with neither side being able to make a significant breakthrough. As part of an Allied offensive, a major attack was planned for April in the area of Arras, France. In this attack, the Canadians would be tasked with capturing Vimy Ridge. Vimy Ridge is located in northern France, about kilometres north of Paris.
It is a long, high hill that dominates the surrounding landscape. Germany captured Vimy Ridge early in the war and transformed it into a strong defensive position, with a complex system of tunnels and trenches manned by highly trained soldiers with many machine guns and artillery pieces.
Battle of Vimy Ridge
Previous Allied assaults on Vimy Ridge in and had resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties but had been largely unsuccessful. The Canadians moved to the front lines across from Vimy Ridge in the late autumn of The Battle of Vimy Ridge would be the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together as one formation. The planning and preparations for the battle were extensive.
The Canadians spent the entire winter strengthening the lines, preparing for the assault on Vimy and training rigorously. Models of the trench systems were built and the soldiers drilled on what they were to do. They also raided German positions to gather intelligence on enemy defences.
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Elaborate tunnel systems with train tracks, piped water, lights, and huge underground bunkers to stockpile supplies and arms were also established to aid the Canadians in the battle. To soften enemy defences in preparation for the attack, the Allies made a massive and prolonged artillery barrage. The heaviest shelling was spread over a week to avoid tipping off the Germans on exactly when the assault would begin.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge began at a. The first wave of 15,, Canadian soldiers, many heavily laden with equipment, attacked through the wind-driven snow and sleet into the face of deadly machine gun fire. The Canadian infantrymen followed the line of explosions closely. This allowed them to capture German positions in the critical moments after the barrage moved on to the next targets but before the enemy soldiers could emerge from the safety of their underground bunkers. Canadian machine gunners digging in during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Canadian battalions in the first waves of the assault suffered great numbers of casualties, but the assault proceeded on schedule.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April 1917
Most of the heavily defended ridge was captured by noon. Hill , the main height on the ridge, was taken on the morning of April The Germans were forced to withdraw three kilometres east and the Battle of Vimy Ridge was over.
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The corps launched their offensive at Vimy on Easter Sunday, and within three days had eradicated the German defenses. This swift victory was achieved through excellent artillery preparation and effective infantry tactics, and was boosted by the Canadian advantage in personnel that allowed them to endure a higher casualty count. Part of the larger Battle of Arras, the capture of Vimy Ridge helped establish the Canadian Corps as a premier fighting force.
Some historians have seen this as a pivotal moment in the development of a Canadian identity. Vimy Ridge had defied previous attacks by the Allies, but in early its capture formed part of a larger battle, supporting a British attack at Arras, which itself assisted a major French offensive.
Centre d’accueil et d’éducation de Vimy – Vimy Foundation
On Easter Sunday, April 9, at a. Over the next three days, the last German defenses on the left were captured. The Canadian Corps also outnumbered the defenders by 35, to 10,, and, with flank support, deployed 1, guns. This latter concentration was more than double the density used at the Battle of the Somme. Canadian casualties amounted to around 10,, whereas the German defenders lost almost all their strength, including 4, prisoners.
The capture of Vimy Ridge pointed to the future, where similar careful set-piece attacks in and established the Canadian Corps as a premier fighting force.
Pilgrimage to Vimy
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