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Vimy | Preparation | The Attack | Notes | Comments

Battle:

April 9 - 12, 1917

Campaign:  Western Front  
War: World War I 1914 - 1918
 
Where: Vimy - Pas-de-Calais
Western Front
France
 
 

Opponents

Belligerents: Canada Germany
Britain  
 
Commanders:
 Julian Byng
 Ludwig von Falkenhausen
Forces: 5 Divisions - 170,000 Men 3 Divisions 35,000 Men
 
Result:

Canadian, British Victory

 
Casualties: Canada & Allies Opponents
Killed - 3.598 Killed -  ?
Wounded - 7,004 Wounded - ?
  Captured - 4,000

Vimy Ridge was the battle that served as an event which brought the entire Canadian nation together in a new form of conscious nationalism. Where the French and English had failed, the Canadians succeeded. It also served as a highpoint in the dark days of 1917 for the Allies.

The Ridge and the Plan

Running across the western edge of the Douai plain and rising to a maximum height of some 350 feet above it, Vimy Ridge protected the important industrial area around Lille held by the Germans and dominated the LensBethune coal-producing area.  The highest summit, known as Hill 145, where the Canadian memorial stands today, was at the northern end.  A more southerly height was called Hill 135.  From the latter the ridge broadened and sloped gradually to the southwest and south, with only a few villages and copses to break the monotony of its surface, until it reached the upper reaches of the Scarpe River.  Its eastern slope, steep and wooded, dropped sharply to the Douai plain, in one place over 200 feet in 750 yards.  To the north Hill 120 (“the Pimple") overlooked the smaller Souchez River, beyond which the high ground continued to the northwest as the Lorette ridge.

Late in 1914 the French had tried and failed to drive the enemy from Vimy Ridge.  Attacks the following year gained some ground on the forward slope but this was lost in 1916.

When the Canadian Corps took over the sector during October the German forward defences were found to consist of three lines of trench, protected by deep belts of barbed wire and interspersed with elaborate redoubts and concrete machine-gun emplacements; the major part of the garrison was housed in deep dugouts, tunnels and caves burrowed into the chalk.  The second position on the reverse slope was a mile to the rear on the northwest and two miles on the southeast.  Running diagonally between these two, from the village of Vimy southwards, was an intermediate line of trenches.  Supporting artillery was disposed chiefly along the upper edge of the woods, which covered the escarpment or along the open ground at its foot, sheltered by the Arras-Lens railway embankment.  During the winter a third system of trenches, running through Oppy and Mericourt, was begun.  The German Sixth Army had been slow to alter its forward dispositions, however, and most of the defended localities about Vimy Ridge were still in the front rather than the rear of the battle zone as March came to an end; moreover, the reserve divisions were held too far back to counter-attack promptly.

The Canadian Corps was commanded by Lieut-General Sir Julian Byng (afterwards Field-Marshal Viscount Byng of Vimy).  His preparations were based on a First Army plan of operations dated 31 January; subsequent changes were in detail only.  Capture of the main crest, and particularly Hill 135 and the village of Thelus, was the objective of a first (Southern) operation; if this was successful, the Pimple and the Bois en Hache were to be assaulted 24 hours later as a separate (Northern) operation.

 

Attacking on a 7000-yard front stretching from Ecurie to west of Givenchy, the four Canadian divisions (in numerical order from right to left) were to carry out the first and main operation, with the British 5th Division as corps reserve.  The tasks of the Canadian divisions differed in scope due to the fact that, while their trenches ran north and south and their advance was to be eastward, the Ridge ran from south-cast to northwest.  The Canadian right would have to cover 4000 yards to its final objective, but an advance of 700 yards would place the 4th Canadian Division on the summit of Hill 145.  Divisions were to attack on two brigade frontages, and capture of the first objective would carry the whole across the three enemy forward trenches for an average gain of 700 yards.  This should give the 4th Canadian Division possession of Hill 145.  The extent of the advance and the capture of each objective were to be reported back by patrolling aircraft.  After a pause of 40 minutes for consolidation the attack was to be resumed.  The 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions were to carry out a further advance of 400 yards; the 3rd would press on slightly to reach the far edge of the Ridge and units of the 4th, advancing down the reverse slope of Hill 145, were to seize the German reserve trenches there.  By zero plus 95 minutes these latter divisions should have secured their final objective.

The 1st and 2nd Divisions would then employ their reserve brigades against the remaining objectives.  The latter's sector being wider, the British 13th Infantry Brigade would be introduced on the left.  This third phase would clear the enemy out of the last segment of his intermediate fine, secure the village of Thelus and breach the second-fine trenches in this sector.  Final attack would secure the remainder of these and give the Canadians possession of the eastern escarpment.  While patrols moved forward as far as the Arras-Lens railway embankment the final position all along the corps frontage would be consolidated against counter-attack by a line of posts among the woods on the eastern slope; machine-gunners were to be taken along for that specific purpose.  Subsequently a main line of resistance would be constructed 100 yards behind the crest (on what would then be the reverse slope) while additional machine-gun posts were built a further 100 yards to the rear.  The later Northern operation would be carried out by the left (4th) Canadian Division and the 24th (right) Division of the adjacent British 1st Corps.



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