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Sunday, April 09, 2017

100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is a war memorial site in France dedicated to the memory of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War. It also serves as the place of commemoration for Canadian soldiers of the First World War killed or presumed dead in France who have no known grave. The monument is the centrepiece of a 100-hectare (250-acre) preserved battlefield park that encompasses a portion of the ground over which the Canadian Corps made their assault during the initial Battle of Vimy Ridge offensive of the Battle of Arras.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the first occasion on which all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in a battle as a cohesive formation, and it became a Canadian national symbol of achievement and sacrifice. France ceded to Canada perpetual use of a portion of land on Vimy Ridge on the understanding that Canada use the land to establish a battlefield park and memorial. Wartime tunnels, trenches, craters, and unexploded munitions still honeycomb the grounds of the site, which remains largely closed off for reasons of public safety. Along with preserved trench lines, several other memorials and cemeteries are contained within the park.

The project took designer Walter Seymour Allward eleven years to see built. King Edward VIII unveiled it on 26 July 1936 in the presence of French President Albert Lebrun and a crowd of over 50,000 people, including 6,200 attendees from Canada. Following an extensive multi-year restoration, Queen Elizabeth II re-dedicated the monument on 9 April 2007 at a ceremony commemorating the 90th anniversary of the battle. The site is maintained by Veterans Affairs Canada. The Vimy Memorial is one of only two National Historic Sites of Canada located outside of Canada.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the first instance in which all four Canadian divisions participated in a battle together, as a cohesive formation. The nature and size of the planned Canadian Corps assault necessitated support and resources beyond its normal operational capabilities. Consequently, the British 5th Infantry Division and supplementary artillery, engineer and labour units reinforced the four Canadian divisions already in place. The 24th British Division of I Corps supported the Canadian Corps along its northern flank while the XVII Corps did so to the south. The ad hoc Gruppe Vimy formation, based under I Bavarian Reserve Corps commander General der Infanterie Karl Ritter von Fasbender, was the principal defending formation with three divisions responsible for manning the frontline defences opposite the Canadian Corps.

The attack began at 5:30 am on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917. Light field guns laid down a barrage that advanced in predetermined increments, often 91 metres (100 yd) every three minutes, while medium and heavy howitzers established a series of standing barrages against known defensive systems further ahead. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Canadian Divisions quickly captured their first objectives. The 4th Canadian Division encountered a great deal of trouble during its advance and was unable to complete its first objective until some hours later. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Canadian Divisions captured their second objective by approximately 7:30 am. The failure of the 4th Canadian Division to capture the top of the ridge delayed further advances and forced the 3rd Canadian Division to expend resources establishing a defensive line to its north. Reserve units from the 4th Canadian Division renewed the attack on the German positions on the top of the ridge and eventually forced the German troops holding the southwestern portion of Hill 145 to withdraw.

On the morning of 10 April, Canadian Corps commander Lieutenant-General Julian Byng moved up three fresh brigades to support the continued advance. The fresh units leapfrogged units already in place and captured the third objective line, including Hill 135 and the town of Thélus, by 11:00 am. By 2:00 pm both the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions reported capturing their final objectives. By this point the "Pimple", a heavily defended knoll west of the town of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, was the only German position remaining on Vimy Ridge. On 12 April, the 10th Canadian Brigade attacked and quickly overcame the hastily entrenched German troops, with the support of artillery and the 24th British Division. By nightfall on 12 April, the Canadian Corps was in firm control of the ridge. The Canadian Corps suffered 10,602 casualties: 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded. The German Sixth Army suffered an unknown number of casualties, and around 4,000 men became prisoners of war.

Although the battle is not generally considered Canada's greatest military achievement, the image of national unity and achievement imbued the battle with considerable national significance for Canada. According to Pierce, "the historical reality of the battle has been reworked and reinterpreted in a conscious attempt to give purpose and meaning to an event that came to symbolize Canada's coming of age as a nation." The idea that Canada's identity and nationhood were born out of the battle is an opinion that is widely held in military and general histories of Canada.

Google Street View offers never before seen look at Vimy Ridge. Click here!

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