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Battle of Vimy Ridge
Battle of Vimy Ridge
Comprising a famed attack upon the heights which crucially overlooked the plains of Artois, the Battle of Vimy Ridge saw the Canadian Corps sweep away firmly entrenched German defenders on 9 April 1917.
Some 12km northeast of Arras, Vimy Ridge gained early importance during the War on account of the heights which overlooked the Allied-held town. German forces seized control of the ridge in September 1914 and prompty constructed deep defensive positions comprising bunkers, caves, passages and artillery-proof trenches, heavily protected by concrete machine gun emplacements.
With such formidable defensive precautions in place, the German army repidly set about the steady destruction of Arras, pounding the town with heavy artillery - apparently with impunity. French attempts to grab control of the ridge throughout 1915 were bloodily repulsed with the loss of some 150,000 French casualties. Although the British relieved French operations in March 1916, they were pushed back along a 2km front before they could commence aggressive planning.
These matters lay pending the wide scale Arras offensive scheduled for the spring of 1917. As part of this offensive, the Canadian Corps were tasked with the decisive recapture of Vimy Ridge. In preparation for this, the Canadians constructed miles of tunnels through which troops could pass in readiness for the opening of the attack without coming under shellfire. Aerial reconnaissance using observation balloons ensured accurate news of German movements.
At dawn on the morning of Easter Monday, 9 April 1917, the Canadian attack comprising four divisions began following a heavy three-week British artillery barrage and was supported by a well-devised creeping barrage. Within thirty minutes, the Canadian 1st Division had succeeded in capturing German front line positions in spite of a snowstorm; within a further half hour, the second line had similarly passed into Canadian hands.
It did not come without cost however; 10,602 Canadians were wounded during the attack and 3,598 killed. The opposing German force suffered even more heavily: 20,000 casualties.