Not sure how much of a response a thread like this will get here, but anyways. Today is the 89th anniversary of Canada's "Greatest" battle, Vimy Ridge.
Vimy Ridge Newsreel (2:42, 20 mb)
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^ That's footage from Vimy... since it was so long ago, people have a hard time 'relating', or 'connecting' to WWI, so video may help.
April 9, 1917
On this day, 89 years ago, many brave Canadians stormed the "Impregnable" trenches at Vimy Ridge. 3,600 Canadians were killed in the battle, considered the "First allied success" of the long war.
The battle of Vimy Ridge is one of the greatest battles in Canada’s history. For the first time in the Great War, all four Canadian divisions fought together on the same battlefield. Canadian valour and bravery brought about a fantastic victory, not only for Canadians but for the entire Allied force.
Shock and Awe
We may marvel at the firepower of the hundreds of missiles and smart bombs used in U.S. attacks on Iraq, but an overwhelming battlefield fusillade creating shock and awe is not a new idea. In fact, Canadian soldiers fighting in the First World War were pioneers of the tactic.
It was at Vimy Ridge, a strategic 14-kilometre long escarpment that overlooks the Douai plain of France. German occupying troops controlled the ridge using a network of trenches that snaked along the crest and down into the valley, connecting with another network of natural caves. 150,000 French and British soldiers had died trying to take it back. Allied commanders believed the ridge to be impregnable...
Plan of attack
But the Canadians had a plan, the first battle strategy for this new nation's commanders to conceive and execute on their own. Even military "experts" of the time admitted dubiously that the Canadians' plan couldn't be any worse than the British tactics at the Somme, which cost 24,000 Canadian casualties. So the Canadian army – all four divisions, totalling 100,000 men – got the go-ahead.
The ground assault had been planned meticulously for months. Full-scale replicas of the Vimy terrain were built to rehearse unit commanders on what to expect both from the enemy and from Canadian units on either side. Canadian spotters had identified and mapped about 80 per cent of the German gun positions. Five kilometres of tunnels were dug in order to move Canadian troops and ammunition up to the front without their being seen by German observers. And for a couple of weeks leading up to the battle, Canadian and British artillery pounded the Germans with 2,500 tons of ammunition per day.
At 5:30 in the morning on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, the assault began. It was raining. It was freezing cold. And it began with a huge artillery barrage… shock and awe 1917-style.
Over 1,100 cannons of various descriptions, from British heavy naval guns mounted on railway cars miles behind the battlefield, to portable field artillery pieces dragged into place by horses, mules or soldiers just behind the Canadian lines, fired continuously – in some cases until they exhausted their ammunition.
The Canadian battle plan was simple: the withering barrage provided a screen for the Canadian troops to hide behind. Hundreds of shells would land at once, spraying plumes of muddy earth upward like a polluted version of some giant decorative water fountain. Every three minutes the 850 Canadian cannons would aim a little higher, advancing the row of shellfire forward by 90 metres.
The attacking Canadian foot soldiers were expected to keep up, advancing, taking and occupying German positions, moving forward, never stopping, never racing ahead. Falling behind would make them clearer targets for German guns mounted higher up the ridge. Getting ahead of the artillery would put them in danger of being blasted by their own guns.
The giant naval cannons focused on the reinforced concrete bunkers protecting German heavy gun emplacements. The immense but inaccurate shells sent plumes of dirt, concrete and shrapnel skyward with every impact. The craters left behind were as large as houses.
The fight to take Vimy Ridge cost Canada dearly, but it would become the cornerstone of the nation's image of its place in the world. In four days, 3,600 Canadian soldiers died, another 5,000 were wounded. But the ridge was taken, much of it in the first day. The valour of the troops, the originality of the plan, the success where larger, more established armies had failed, all contributed to a new nation's pride.
The battle was hailed as the first allied success of the long war, achieved mostly due to the innovation of using a creeping, continuous massive artillery barrage to protect squads of advancing troops. Both sides used the tactic in future battles.
But even today we're paying the cost. At Vimy and other former First World War battlefields, the ground is so full of unexploded ordnance that visitors are warned not to stray from marked pathways. The risk from shells that fell and never exploded is still so high that it's too dangerous, nearly a century later, to walk onto the actual battlefield to search for remains of soldiers listed as "missing."
Today, there's a large park at Vimy Ridge, dedicated to Canada. The striking memorial features a 30-tonne limestone figure carved from a single block, a hooded figure representing Canada herself, gazing down on a single tomb overlooking the Douai plain.
The twin stone pillars list the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who died in France and whose remains were never found.
October 1916: The Canadians start to arrive on the Vimy sector from the Somme battlefields in the south and load up on artillery and rations. For the coming battle a total of 42,609 tonnes of ammunition and 2,465 tonnes of daily rations are put together for the Canadian Corps. The Canadians also have access to 245 heavy guns, four 12-inch howitzers and the Royal Naval divisions' naval guns among other heavy artillery. For many it is their first glimpse of the devastated landscape.
December 1916: All four Canadian Divisions are now together for the first time, with a total numbering 100,000 men. For the rest of 1916 and into early 1917, the Canadians settle into the front line and continue the underground war by blowing up mines. While the Canadian military is meticulously planning the coming attack, the front lines continue to probe the German lines, raiding their trenches to gain intelligence.
March 1, 1917: The 4th Division launches the largest of all the Canadian raids against the German positions between the Pimple and Hill 145. This has devastating effects with 687 Canadians lost. Indeed many men and officers lose their lives during the many raids preceding April 9.
April 9, 1917
: The 1st Division's plan is to attack from its position west of the Arras-Lens road and capture the main German trenches in front of Thelus, carry through to capture positions south of Thelus and push east to capture Farbus. The plan goes well; the front line falls quickly but resistance stiffens as they reach the second line. By the end of the day, the 1st Division has achieved its objectives.
Positioned north of the 1st Division, the 2nd Division will also attack Thelus. Its objectives are similar to the 1st Division's, that is, to capture the main German trench position in front of Thelus. By the end of the day, the 2nd Division has also achieved all its objectives.
The 3rd Division is to attack on a front of 1.2 kilometres opposite La Folie Wood. Its objective is to reach the eastern slope of Vimy Ridge. The terrain here, unlike to the south, is rife with shell holes, mine craters, and old and new trenches. In the face of these obstacles, they manage to capture La Folie Farm, push through La Folie Wood and capture positions south of Hill 145. German resistance is stiff for the 3rd Division and, sniping a particular German strength, results in many deaths.
The 4th Division is to attack from Bradmarsh Crater to Givenchy. Its objective is Hill 145 and the eastern slopes of the ridge. This is the most heavily defended part of the ridge, their northern flank is open to fire from the strong German position of the Pimple. It is also the most steep and destroyed landscape in the area. While the north and south part of the Division do well, the centre is annihilated. By late in the day they manage to capture Hill 145, although German trenches east of the Hill are still active.
April 10, 1917: The 4th Division attacks the remaining German positions on the ridge just east of Hill 145 and quickly captures them. Vimy Ridge is now in Canadian hands.
April 12, 1917: The 4th Division attacks the Pimple. After a short fight they capture it, and push toward the village of Givenchy-en-Gohelle. While the Allies expect counterattack, none appeared, and a day later the Germans withdraw from Givenchy and pull back onto the Douai Plain. The meticulous planning and rehearsing of the Canadian Corps pay off and their reputation as the most effective fighting machine of the Western Front, and of Canada