① Canadian Victory At Vimy Ridge

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Canadian Victory At Vimy Ridge

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Vimy Ridge Heaven to Hell - Full Documentary

Troops were given detailed information on the terrain and the location of enemy strong points and were shown models and maps of the battlefield based on aerial photographs of the ridge. The slaughter on the Somme the year before had prompted new thinking and new tactics in the British Army, aimed at solving the riddle of well-defended trenches. Nowhere was this innovation more evident than in the Canadian Corps.

The first great change is that command on the battlefield was decentralized to the platoon level and lower. Soldiers, especially non-commissioned officers, were encouraged to think for themselves, show leadership, and use initiative. Keep moving, the troops were told. Follow your lieutenant — and if he goes down, follow your corporal; prepare to outflank enemy machine gunners who might survive the initial artillery barrage, use grenades and follow-up with bayonets. Another change is that infantry soldiers would no longer all be riflemen. Many were now assigned specialist tasks — such as machine gunners or grenade-throwers. Engineering troops, or sappers, would also accompany some infantry units onto the battlefield in the opening waves, providing help with overcoming obstacles, or quickly erecting defenses on captured positions.

New artillery tactics would also be used at Vimy in advance of the main assault, including a nearly unlimited supply of shells, and a new shell fuse that allowed the bombs to explode on contact, rather than become buried, useless, in the ground. More than heavy artillery pieces and field guns were concentrated together for the operation. The week before the assault, more than a million shells were fired at German forces manning the ridge itself and waiting in reserve in the villages behind it. The intense bombardment destroyed enemy trenches, gun emplacements, communications lines, transportation crossroads, even whole villages. The bombardment continued until 8 April. Then, in the pre-dawn darkness of 9 April, Easter Monday, 15, Canadians, the first wave of the assault, gathered at their assembly points in the underground subways, or in selected shell holes, or trenches above ground.

Wind-driven snow and sleet swept across the ridge, making conditions miserable, but helping to obscure the Canadians from the enemy. At am, the Allied artillery guns opened up once again, and the Canadians began their assault, keeping as close as safely possible behind the roaring artillery barrage sweeping over the German front trenches. Steady fire from supporting machine guns, raking the battlefield ahead of the Canadians, gave further protection to the attacking infantry. The 3rd Division encountered the least resistance due to the wreckage caused by the Allied bombardment. However, for the 1st and 2nd, enemy machine gun crews who survived the shelling scrambled to their guns in well-protected bunkers.

They poured deadly fire into the Canadians advancing on the German lines. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued as the Canadians leapt into the German trenches. There were numerous examples of personal initiative and heroism. Lance-Sergeant Ellis Sifton, 25, of Wallacetown, ON , silenced one troublesome machine gun by leaping into a trench alone, bayoneting each of its crew, and fighting off a wave of German soldiers until he himself was killed. Private William Milne, 24 — a Scottish immigrant and a farmhand from Saskatchewan — also captured a machine gun nest singlehandedly after crawling up to it on his knees and killing its crew with a grenade. Milne would die later the same day. Jeremiah Jones , a Black Canadian soldier, volunteered to attack a German machine gun nest that had pinned down his unit.

After reaching the nest, he lobbed a grenade and killed about seven German soldiers. The remaining soldiers surrendered. Jones made the surrendered Germans carry their machine gun to his commanding officer. Jones was recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal by his commanding officer for his heroic actions during the Battle of Vimy Ridge; however, he did not receive the medal during his lifetime. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions fought on through the day, advancing steadily through German defences, in some cases having to overcome determined enemy resistance, in others watching Germans flee to the east in the face of the assault. Thousands of wounded men, and also German prisoners, were taken back to Canadian lines. Many of the dead on both sides were lost to the mud, or buried where they lay, with makeshift markers.

By late afternoon on 9 April, the three divisions had captured all their objectives on schedule, and most of Vimy Ridge was in Canadian hands. At the deepest point of the advance, the Canadians had pushed the German army back almost 5 km — the greatest single Allied advance on the Western Front, to that point in the war. Things did not go as well for the soldiers of the 4th Division, commanded by Major-General David Watson. The 4th was assigned the far left flank of the assault on the ridge, which included the toughest objectives — Hill the highest point on the ridge, and the location today of the Vimy Memorial , and another high point called the Pimple.

Each was heavily defended, ringed by well-fortified trenches, and with a clear view of the slopes up which Canadians would attack. Vimy Ridge could not be held by the Canadians, unless these two high points were captured. Unfortunately, the pre-assault bombardment had not done enough damage to German positions on Hill and the Pimple. Making matters worse, during the opening attack many 4th Division units lost contact with the creeping artillery barrage that was meant to bring them safely onto the German lines.

As a result, only minutes into the assault on 9 April, the leading waves of the 4th Division came under withering fire and were cut to pieces. Many of the survivors were pinned down and unable to move. Among the early casualties were numerous junior officers — company and platoon leaders — whose loss added to the confusion, and hampered the flow of information to commanders at the rear. By nightfall, neither Hill nor the Pimple had been taken.

The following afternoon, renewed artillery and infantry attacks, with help from 4th Division reserve battalions, finally put Hill in Canadian hands. Two days later, on 12 April, the Pimple was also captured after an hour of fierce combat in driving snow. The four-day battle was over, and Vimy Ridge was finally in Allied hands — a stunning, but costly victory. The fighting left 3, Canadians dead and another 7, wounded. There were an estimated 20, casualties on the German side. Another 4, Germans were taken prisoner. The victory at Vimy Ridge was greeted with enthusiasm in Canada, and after the war the battle became a symbol of an awakening Canadian nationalism.

One of the prime reasons is that soldiers from every region of Canada — fighting together for the first time as a single assaulting force in the Canadian Corps — had taken the ridge together. A massive limestone memorial was built atop Hill , inscribed with the names of the 11, Canadians who died in France during the war with no known grave. The soaring white monument — a memorial to loss and sacrifice, rather than to military victory — has drawn visitors for nearly a century, fueling the Vimy legend and perhaps exaggerating its symbolism as the place where Canada came of age on the battlefield.

Vimy was a proud moment for Canada, and an extraordinary military accomplishment. Yet the battle was strategically insignificant to the outcome of the war. The French offensive of of which Vimy was intended as a tactical diversion was a failure. In addition, no sustained Allied breakthrough followed either the assault on the ridge or the wider, British-led Battle of Arras of which Vimy was a part. The war would rage on for another 19 months after Vimy, taking the lives of many of the Canadians who had survived and triumphed there.

Other Canadian engagements, such as at Hill 70 in August , were equally impressive feats of arms. General Julian Byng was a British officer, as were dozens of other officers in the Corps, including Major Alan Brooke later Field Marshall, chief of the Imperial general staff in the Second World War who was instrumental in planning the artillery barrages at Vimy. And while most of the infantry that attacked the ridge were Canadian, they would not have been able to do so without the British artillery, engineers and supply units that supported them.

Britain and Canada fought together at Vimy Ridge — yet somehow Vimy acquired a reputation as the place where Canadians began standing apart from the British Empire see Hill 70 and Canadian Independence. It has also been argued that Vimy was mythologized in Canada because it occurred on Easter Monday, giving the battle religious significance see Easter in Canada. With the provinces represented by battalions from across the country working together in a painstakingly planned and carefully executed operation, the Canadian Corps became a metaphor for the nation itself. Eloi Passchendaele Volume Two The French 1st Moroccan Division managed to briefly capture the height of the ridge but was unable to hold it owing to a lack of reinforcements.

The French suffered approximately , casualties in their attempts to gain control of Vimy Ridge and surrounding territory. Formal discussions for a spring offensive near Arras began, following a conference of corps commanders held at the First Army Headquarters on 21 November The nature and size of the attack needed more resources than the Canadian Corps possessed; the British 5th Division , artillery, engineer and labour units were attached to the corps, bringing the nominal strength of the Canadian Corps to about , men, of whom 97, were Canadian.

In January , three Canadian Corps officers accompanied other British and Dominion officers attending a series of lectures hosted by the French Army regarding their experiences during the Battle of Verdun. Following extensive rehearsal, eight French divisions had assaulted German positions in two waves along a 6 mi 9. Supported by extremely strong artillery, the French had recovered lost ground and inflicted heavy casualties on five German divisions. On their return from the lectures, the Canadian Corps staff officers produced a tactical analysis of the Verdun battles and delivered a series of corps and divisional-level lectures to promote the primacy of artillery and stress the importance of harassing fire and company and platoon flexibility.

The plan divided the Canadian Corps advance into four coloured objective lines. The attack would be made on a front of 7, yd 6, m , with its centre opposite the village of Vimy , to the east of the ridge. The plan called for units to leapfrog over one another, as the advance progressed, to maintain momentum during the attack. The initial wave would capture and consolidate the Black Line and then push forward to the Red Line. The barrage would pause, to enable reserve units to move up and then move forward with the units pushing beyond the Red Line to the Blue Line.

Once the corps secured the Blue Line, advancing units would once again leapfrog established ones and capture the Brown Line. Conducted properly, the plan would leave the German forces little time to exit the security of their deep dugouts and defend their positions against the infantry advance. The experience of the Battle of the Somme led the German command to conclude that the policy of rigidly defending a trench position line was no longer effective against the firepower that the Entente armies had accumulated.

Little reconstruction based upon the new defence-in-depth doctrine had been accomplished by April because the terrain made it impractical. The topography of the Vimy battlefield made defence-in-depth difficult to realize. The German defensive scheme was to maintain a front line defence of sufficient strength to defend against an initial assault and move operational reserves forward, before the enemy could consolidate their gains or overrun remaining German positions.

As a result, the German defence at Vimy Ridge relied largely on machine guns, which acted as force multipliers for the defending infantry. Three line divisions, comprising seven infantry regiments were responsible for the immediate defence of the ridge. In , a full-strength German rifle company consisted of men; at Vimy Ridge, each rifle company contained approximately men. When the Canadian Corps attacked, each German company faced two or more battalions of approximately 1, men each.

The Canadian Corps' divisional artillery formations, totalling eight field artillery brigades and two heavy artillery groups, were insufficient for the task at hand and were consequently reinforced with outside formations. Brigadier-General Edward Morrison developed and subsequently issued a page multi-phased fire support plan called Canadian Corps Artillery Instruction No. The First Army Field Survey Company printed barrage maps for all batteries, produced artillery boards and provided counter-battery support with their flash spotting groups and sound ranging sections. In February , the British General Staff released a training pamphlet titled SS Instructions for the Training of Platoons for Offensive Action , espousing the return to the pre-war emphasis on fire and movement tactics and the use of the platoon as the basic tactical unit.

Recognizing that the men in leadership positions were likely to be wounded or killed, soldiers learned the jobs of those beside and above them. At the British First Army headquarters, a large plasticine model of the Vimy sector was constructed and used to show commissioned and senior non-commissioned officers the topographical features of the battlefield and details of the German trench system. Operations along the Vimy Ridge were accompanied by extensive underground excavations.

The Arras—Vimy sector was conducive to tunnelling owing to the soft, porous yet extremely stable nature of the chalk underground. Underground warfare had been conducted on the Vimy sector since On their arrival, the British began offensive mining against German miners, first stopping the German underground advance and then developing a defensive strategy that prevented the Germans from gaining a tactical advantage by mining. In the second half of , the British constructed strong defensive underground positions and from August , the Royal Engineers developed a mining scheme for a big infantry attack on the Vimy Ridge proposed for autumn , although this was postponed.

The British gallery network beneath Vimy Ridge eventually grew to a length of 7. The Canadian Corps was posted to the northern part of Vimy Ridge in October and preparations for an attack were revived in February Twelve subways , up to 1. Often incorporated into subways were light rail lines, hospitals, command posts, water reservoirs, ammunition stores, mortar and machine gun posts and communication centres. Prior to the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the British tunnelling companies also secretly laid 13 mines under German positions to destroy surface fortifications before the assault. Their reports and the experience of the Canadians at The Actions of St Eloi Craters in April , where mines had so altered and damaged the landscape as to render occupation of the mine craters by the infantry all but impossible, led to the decision to remove offensive mining from the central sector allocated to the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge.

Further British mines in the area were vetoed following the blowing by the Germans on 23 March of nine craters along no man's land as it was probable that the Germans were aiming to restrict an Allied attack to predictable points. The three mines already laid by nd Tunnelling Company were also dropped from the British plans. The mines were left in place after the assault and were only removed in the s. The gallery had been pushed silently through the clay, avoiding the sandy and chalky layers of the Vimy Ridge but by 9 April was still 21 metres 70 ft short of its target.

Trench raiding involved making small-scale surprise attacks on enemy positions, often in the middle of the night for reasons of stealth. All belligerents employed trench raiding as a tactic to harass their enemy and gain intelligence. A large-scale trench raid on 13 February , involving men from the 4th Canadian Division , resulted in casualties. As an example, a German trench raid launched by 79 men against the 3rd Canadian Division on 15 March was successful in capturing prisoners and causing damage. The RFC launched a determined effort to gain air superiority over the battlefield in support of the spring offensive.

The Canadians considered activities such as artillery-observation and photography of opposing trench systems, troop movements and gun emplacements essential to continue their offensive. Aerial reconnaissance was often a hazardous task because of the necessity of flying at slow speeds and at low altitude. The task was made more dangerous with the arrival of German air reinforcements, including the highly experienced and well equipped Jasta 11 Manfred von Richthofen which led to a sharp increase in RFC losses. German 6th Army commander General Ludwig von Falkenhausen was responsible for the Cambrai—Lille sector and commanded 20 divisions, plus reserves. Three divisions were ultimately responsible for manning the frontline defences opposite the Canadian Corps.

The 16th Bavarian Division was located opposite the village of Souchez and responsible for the defence of the northernmost section of the ridge. The division had been created in January by amalgamating existing Bavarian formations and had so far only opposed the Canadian Corps. Byng commanded four attacking divisions, one division in reserve and numerous support units. The 4th Canadian Division was responsible for the northern portion of the advance that included the capture of the highest point of the ridge, followed by the elaborately fortified Pimple just west of the village of Givenchy-en-Gohelle.

The 3rd Canadian Division was responsible for the narrow central section of the ridge, including the capture of La Folie Farm. The 1st Canadian Division was responsible for the broad southern sector of the corps advance and expected to cover the longest distance. Byng planned for a healthy reserve for contingencies that included the relief of forward troops, help in consolidating positions and aiding the 4th Canadian Division with the capture of the Pimple. As a result, the 9th Canadian Brigade and the British 15th and 95th Brigades were kept in corps reserve.

Foreign intelligence gathering by the Germans, big Allied trench raids and troop concentrations seen west of Arras, made it clear to the Germans that a spring offensive in the area was being prepared. Munich was not undertaken because the extent of Canadian Corps artillery fire made it impracticable. The preliminary phase of the Canadian Corps artillery bombardment began on 20 March , with a systematic two-week bombardment of German batteries, trenches and strong points. In the German account, their trenches and defensive works were almost completely demolished. The attack was to begin at am on Easter Monday , 9 April The attack was originally planned for the morning of 8 April Easter Sunday but it was postponed for 24 hours at the request of the French.

The weather was cold and later changed to sleet and snow. Thirty seconds later, engineers detonated the mine charges laid under no man's land and the German trench line, destroying a number of German strong points and creating secure communication trenches directly across no man's land. Field guns laid down a barrage that mostly advanced at a rate of yards 91 m in three minutes while medium and heavy howitzers established a series of standing barrages further ahead against known defensive systems.

Shortly after am, the 1st Canadian Division captured the left half of its second objective, the Red Line and moved the 1st Canadian Brigade forward to mount an attack on the remainder. A mine explosion that killed many German troops of Reserve Infantry Regiment manning the front line, preceded the advance of the 3rd Canadian Division. The remaining German troops could do no more than man temporary lines of resistance until later manning a full defence at the German third line.

The only portion of the Canadian assault that did not go as planned was the advance of the 4th Canadian Division, collapsing almost immediately after exiting their trenches. The progress on the left flank was eventually impeded by harassing fire from the Pimple that was made worse when the creeping barrage got too far ahead of the advancing troops. Reserve units from the 4th Canadian Division came forward and once again attacked the German positions on the top of the ridge.

Persistent attacks eventually forced the German troops holding the southwestern portion of Hill to withdraw, but only after they had run out of ammunition, mortar rounds, and grenades. The British moved three fresh brigades up to the Red Line by am on 10 April to support the advance of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Division, whereupon they were to leapfrog existing units occupying the Red line and advance to the Blue Line. The 4th Canadian Division had made an attempt to capture the northern half of Hill at around pm, briefly capturing the peak before a German counterattack retook the position. The 4th Canadian Division faced difficulties at the start of the battle that forced it to delay its assault on the Pimple until 12 April.

By nightfall on 12 April , the Canadian Corps was in firm control of the ridge. The corps suffered 10, casualties: 3, killed and 7, wounded.

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