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         Below is a paper I wrote for my World Wars class (taught by Dr. David Thompson).  The paper is not very well written so I am writing a new one for my English 111 class.  When its finished I will post it here in place of the old one.  Remember:  when learning about Vimy Ridge (and anything else for that matter) find "credible sources" by known experts.  Do a lot of looking around for information and do not just rely on one source!!!  

The Battle of Vimy Ridge, 1917

   The First World War is known for its destruction, massive slaughters, and countless offensive failures.  Few battles were clear successes while most became large-scale chaos and butchery, killing thousands upon thousands of men.  This destructive power called the Great War could be seen plainly in cold statistics.  At the Battle of the Somme, for example, 20, 000 British soldiers were killed on the first day alone with 60, 000 being wounded.  The Somme ended on November 18th with the British losing 418, 000 and the Germans losing an astounding 650, 000.  Grand offensives, such as these, were taking their toll, and the number of casualties was skyrocketing.  People at home and on the front waited desperately for a breakthrough.  Though the Battle of Vimy Ridge, itself, was a success, it was unable to become a major breakthrough and the larger British offensive it was a part of failed.  The Battle of Vimy Ridge, comprised of all four Divisions of the Canadian Corps and one British Division, used extensive planning and thorough training to take the ridge; many Canadians today see this battle as the birth of their nation.

 

By 1917, most people were tired of the war and waited desperately for a break through offensive.  People everywhere hoped for the one major battle that would finally put an end to the conflict.  War weariness was apparent everywhere.  Under this prevailing attitude Britain decided to try once again at taking Vimy Ridge from German control.  The fact that British and French troops had been trying to take Vimy Ridge unsuccessfully for three years did not help raise enthusiasm for the battle.  In fact, over 200,000 British, German, and French troops were already killed battling for Vimy.  The surrounding area had been reduced to a swamp of corpses and mud from all the excessive shelling (Lewis, 89).  So, when the British military decided to stage another battle there, it seemed unlikely to fair any different from previous efforts and many were probably skeptical. 

 

French General Robert Georges Nivelle came up with a plan to finally break through the German lines.  It involved the British Third Army, under General Sir Edmund H. Allenby taking Arras and drawing the Germans away from Aisne, a town French troops were to attack one week later.  Nivelle’s plan also involved the British First Army, containing the Canadian Corps, attacking Vimy Ridge.  British General Julian Byng was the leader of the British First Army with Major General Arthur Currie as Chief Canadian Lieutenant.  Both of these men stressed the importance of careful planning and thorough training. 

 

Planning for this battle was so extensive and tedious, that a Canadian soldier recalls one British general saying, “You Canadians take all the fun out of war.”  Ariel photography and reconnaissance patrols were used to keep records of German defenses up to date and accurate.  Andy McNaughton, a McGill University professor and expert gunner, was brought in to help out the Canadian Corps and British 5th Division. He developed new ways of measuring wear and tear on the big shelling guns.  Keeping these guns clean meant they would be more accurate and able to do more damage to the enemy.  Many methods were used to pinpoint German guns, including the use of oscilloscopes and microphones.  Sometimes these actually worked and German guns were destroyed, while most of these experiments were futile.  Canadian and British engineers were kept very busy before the battle.  Roads and railways were built to accommodate the troops and supply trucks.  A vast amount of tunnels were built also.  These tunnels would provide the troops with a close and fairly safe “jumping off” point.  As the battle progressed the tunnels would also be used for treating wounded.

 

Training for battle was detailed and rigorous.  Behind the Canadian defensive lines a full-scale replica of the terrain was built.  Troops practiced the “leap frog system,” as many soldiers called it, and emphasized that each platoon had a distinct goal.  The “leap frog system” meant one Division, made up of several small platoons armed with grenades and light machine guns, would travel to a certain point and then wait and let the next Division pass, keeping fresh troops in the lead.  The soldiers also learned to time themselves; an exercise that was to prove very important.  Gunners planned on using a “creeping barrage,” a unique cover fire method in which troops advanced very slowly while guns shelled just ahead of them.  Timing of the soldiers advance meant life or death since; if the troops were too fast they would be caught in the shelling (Unfortunately there were reports of this happening in some places of the initial advance).  Troops continued to train and practice, waiting for the battle to begin. 

 

Nearly three weeks prior to the battle an intense artillery barrage began, involving 983 guns.  On April 9th, Easter Monday, the four Canadian Divisions with the British 5th in support gathered and waited to begin the Battle of Vimy Ridge.  Snow, sleet, and strong winds comprised the weather as the Divisions ate a hot meal for breakfast, which included one shot of rum for each man.  At 5:30 the first groups of men started to cross No-Man’s Land.  One after the other, the Divisions began their journey, overtaking the previous groups.  The first attacking Division was aided by a small number of tanks.  These tanks, however, proved useless in the weather and mud, leaving the men to go it alone.  Private Donald Fraser was part of the 27th battalion inside the fourth Division and traveled the full distance of the battlefield, passing many walking wounded, prisoners, and dead along the way.  One of the worst casualties he recalled was a man hit directly in the head with a giant shell, his brains laid across the ground (National Archives of Canada: Donald Fraser’s Diary, 264).   The Germans did not expect soldiers to go over the top until the actual shelling ceased.   But since the Canadians were using the “creeping barrage” method, they caught many of the Germans by surprise.  Some were still shaving when the Canadians took them prisoners.  Enough German soldiers eluded the attackers and were able to warn others of the intruders.  Three Divisions of the Canadian Corps quickly took most of Vimy Ridge by early evening that same day, but isolated outposts of Germans persisted.  It took until April 12th to finally defeat these outposts and make the success final.  Unfortunately, the ground was too muddy and shell-torn to move the Canadian artillery across the battlefield and create a breakthrough.  Germans took advantage of this and quickly retreated to the well-fortified defense line near the Scarpe River.  Three attempts were made by the British to dislodge the Germans but without success.  These attempts, part of the British offensive, brought the battles of Arras to an inconclusive close and left Vimy Ridge poorly exploited (Lewis, 96). 

 

Even thought the British offensive on a whole failed, the Battle of Vimy Ridge was heralded as a brilliant victory.  Of the 100, 000 Canadians who took part, 3,598 were killed and 7, 004 wounded.  Compared to statistics of other battles of the war, the Canadians fared very well considering they actually achieved something.  The Allies had something to cheer about as they began to study why this battle was so successful.  This battle proved what intelligent and carefully planned warfare could achieve.  Only six months after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, one of the most horrific and wasteful battles occurred:  the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele as it is better known.   

 

Canadians who survived the Battle of Vimy Ridge returned home feeling very proud and self determined.  For such a small, volunteer army they had contributed very much.  Canada became recognized separately from Britain in the League of Nations, although it did not become independent until later.  Many consider the Battle of Vimy Ridge to be a turning-point in its quest for distinct nationhood (Canada’s Military Heritage, Vimy Ridge).  Brigadier-General Alexander Ross, DSO, who commanded the 28th (North West) Canadian Battalion at Vimy, explained the feeling when he said "It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation."   The Battle of Vimy Ridge proved what careful planning and thorough training could achieve on the battlefield during World War One.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

“Donald Fraser: The Battle Of Vimy Ridge.” National Archives of Canada. 2001.             < http://www.archives.ca/05/0518/05180105_e.html>.

Lewis, Brenda Ralph. “Vimy Ridge.” The Mammoth Book Of Battles. Ed. Jon E.             Lewis.  New York: Carrol & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1995. 87-97.

“Vimy Ridge.” Canada’s Military Heritage. 2001.             http://www.waramps.ca/military/wwi/vimy.html>.