This Week in History
Canadian Soldiers United at Vimy
For the week of Monday, April 3, 2017
On April 9, 1917, Canadian troops began their assault on the German position at Vimy Ridge in northern France. A part of the Battle of Arras, Vimy was the first time the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Canadian divisions fought together.
Vimy Ridge was captured in 1914 by the German army and for three years Allied troops had been unable to retake the ridge. In 1917, Lieutenant-General Julian Byng, commander of the Canadian Corps, had his troops prepare by rehearsing their roles, patrolling “no man's land” to collect intelligence, and digging tunnels for reinforcements and wounded soldiers.
Canadian troops were outfitted with maps of the ridge and were told how each platoon fit in to the battle plan. The infantry trained intensively in specialized roles such as machine gunner, rifleman, and grenade thrower. The artillery gun teams were instructed to fire ahead of the advancing infantry, with the wall of shellfire leaping forward at 100-yard intervals. The shellfire killed many German defenders, and prevented others from reaching their machine gun posts. This advancing wall of artillery became known as a “creeping barrage.”
At 5:30 a.m. on April 9, nearly 1,000 artillery pieces began firing as more than 15,000 Canadian troops, supported by the 5th British Division, stormed Vimy Ridge. Hill 145, the highest point of the ridge, was captured by Canadians troops with a bayonet charge against fortified machine gun positions. After three more days of fighting, the remainder of the ridge and a position to the north, the Pimple, was in Canadian hands. It came at a heavy cost, with 3,598 Canadians killed and more than 7,000 wounded—along with thousands of Germans killed, wounded, or captured.
France officially ceded Vimy Ridge to Canada in 1922, and a monument was commissioned to commemorate the 11,285 Canadians who died in France and whose bodies were never found. Toronto sculptor Walter Allward won the monument’s design competition in 1921 and began work almost immediately. The monument was unveiled on July 26, 1936.
Vimy Ridge is a designated national historic site and April 9th was declared Vimy Ridge Day in 2003. Sir Arthur William Currie, the Canadian 1st Division commander during the battle, and Walter Seymour Allward are designated national historic persons. To learn more about the First World War read Canada joins the Great War, Baptism by Fire: the Canadians at Ypres, and Wings of War in the This Week in History archives.
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