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The Battle of Vimy Ridge - A Defining Moment In Canadian History

A SS 20-1 presentation of what Vimy Ridge meant to Canadians.
by

Chris Boiss

on 21 April 2011

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Transcript of The Battle of Vimy Ridge - A Defining Moment In Canadian History

The Battle of Vimy Ridge

A Defining Moment In Canadian History The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a military engagement that occurred during World War I. It was fought as a part of the Battle of Arras, within the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. The main combatants of the battle were the Canadian Corp, the entirety of Canada’s standing army, and the German Sixth Army, which would later fight in the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II. Vimy Ridge is an escarpment, a long sort of steep hill, or cliff. Escarpments are a common geographical feature of the Albertan Badlands, and are routinely found in and around landmarks such as rivers. During 1914 Vimy Ridge fell to the German army, as the combined British and French forces tried to outflank the German army, and vice-versa, pushing northeast towards the English Channel. The first offensive against German-occupied Vimy Ridge occurred in 1915 by the French Tenth Army, but failed to dislodge the German army. Similar attempts would occur over the next two years, each as ineffective as the last. In February of 1916, the British XVII Corps relieved the French Tenth Army, who subsequently left to reinforce Verdun. In May of 1916, a German offensive would force the British forces back. Though immediate counter attacks by British forces were launched, they were not able to reclaim their lost territory. It was in October of 1916 that the Canadian Corp, meeting all together for the first time since the war began, took control of Allied operations at Verdun under the leadership of Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng. The first offensive against German-occupied Vimy Ridge occurred in 1915 by the French Tenth Army, but failed to dislodge the German army. Similar attempts would occur over the next two years, each as ineffective as the last. In February of 1916, the British XVII Corps relieved the French Tenth Army, who subsequently left to reinforce Verdun. In May of 1916, a German offensive would force the British forces back. Though immediate counter attacks by British forces were launched, they were not able to reclaim their lost territory. It was in October of 1916 that the Canadian Corp, meeting all together for the first time since the war began, took control of Allied operations at Verdun under the leadership of Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng. The assault preparations for the Allied attack on Vimy Ridge were extensive, to say the least. Plans began being drafted in February of 1917, and the attack was not launched until April of the same year. Some aspects unique to the planning of the assault on Vimy Ridge included a full briefing of the battle plans to nearly every single soldier involved, so that if a commander happened to fall during the battle, a subordinate could immediately take is place and continue to lead the attack. As well, the Allied offensive left the static system of trench warfare, and waves of soldiers going “over the top”, reverting back to the commonly recognized style of platoons, which focused on a “Fire and movement” tactic instead. The battle plan for the assault on Vimy Ridge was unlike any strategy formerly executed in the World War I theatre. In the weeks leading up to the attack, Canadian and British artillery kept up a constant barrage of artillery, concentrating their attacks on German artillery positions (located via a system called sound ranging, essentially an early form of radar, created by Canadian soldier Lieutenant Colonel Andrew McNaughton. The sound ranging system was later appraised to have correctly located 90% of all German artillery emplacements) and on no-mans land, in an effort to destroy German placed razor wire. The actual attack called for a creeping barrage of artillery. Essentially, the Canadian artillery forces would launch a continuous barrage of artillery directly in front of advancing Canadian troops. The barrage line would slowly move forward, giving the Canadian troops time enough to eliminate any German opposition, and re-consolidate their forces. The assault on Vimy Ridge lasted a mere three days, beginning on April 9th, 1917, and ending April 12th. Easily the fastest and best executed Allied battle within the entirety of World War I, Vimy Ridge was quickly adopted into Canadian history as a defining moment of our national history, and sadly is only remembered as a small part of the larger Arras offensive throughout most of Europe. As a tribute to the Canadian troops that fought and died to take Vimy Ridge, the French government erected the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in 1922. As previously mentioned, Vimy Ridge was quickly adopted into Canadian history as a defining moment in our nation. When Canada entered the war, it was seen as yet another colony of the British Empire, much like Australia or New Zealand. Canadian troops made enemy shudder in their boots, and made no ally overjoyed at the thought of their joining the battle. We were merely a small part of the overall machine. However, despite the Canadian Crop being split apart and spread among all of Europe, Canadians quickly gained a reputation for unique tenacity in battle. It was this tenacity that became truly evident during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. More so, Vimy revealed a hitherto unknown military superiority of Canadian troops, accomplishing in three days what the combined forces of Britain and France could not accomplish over the course of two years. This victory by meek little Canada against the German Sixth Army was astounding, to say the least. Regardless of what the Germans may have done wrong, the fact remains that Canada took Vimy Ridge, and suffered only ten thousand casualties, 70% of whom lived. Considering other major military engagements during World War I resulted in casualties nearly ten times that number, the Canadian Corp succeeded their objective with unprecedented success. More then this though, the Battle of Vimy Ridge was a symbol of amazing Canadian nationalism, and camaraderie. For the first time in the short history of Canada, their entire army would fight in the same battle. More then that, the only support they received would be in the form of supportive artillery and engineers from the British. All front-line work was done by Canadian soldiers. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a battle fought by Canadians in a truly Canadian manner. The fortitude, courage and quick thinking of Canadian soldiers was representative of Canadians as a whole at that moment. We were a nation joined as one, under one banner, for one purpose. Nothing more, and nothing less. Despite what might be said about Canada, about our limited impact on the events of World War I, or World War II for that matter, Vimy Ridge is symbolic of the effort Canadian troops threw into the fray. Not once did they go to battle and fight with anything less then everything they had. Four Victoria Crosses, the highest British military honour that can be awarded, were presented to four Canadians for their acts of bravery during the battle, and only further exemplify what the Canadian troops sacrificed in the war, sacrificed at home, and sacrificed as a nation. Vimy Ridge is a truly defining moment of Canadian history. It is the first widely recognized event in which the nation came together as a whole. It created the foundation for what further Canadian identity would take root in. What Vimy Ridge did for our nation is not easily described, and is something I personally feel is beyond ability. Vimy means something different to everyone, but to everyone it is a profound event and moment in the birth of our nation. Canadian poet Alden Nowlan, a member of the Canadian Corp during World War I, wrote in a poem:

“ But I know they stood there at Ypres
The first time the Germans used the gas,
That they were almost the only troops
in that section of the front
who did not break and run … ”
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