History

Wars & Campaigns

Boer War
First World War

►►Western Front

►►►Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

►►Allied Offensive: 1916

►►►Allied Offensives: 1917

►►►German Offensive: 1918

►►►Advance to Victory: 1918

►►Siberia
Second World War
►►War Against Japan

►►Italian Campaign

►►►Sicily

►►►Southern Italy

►►►The Sangro and Moro

►►►Battles of the FSSF

►►►Cassino

►►►Liri Valley

►►►Advance to Florence

►►►Gothic Line

►►►Winter Lines
►►North-West Europe

►►►Normandy
►►►Southern France
►►►Channel Ports

►►►Scheldt
►►►Nijmegen Salient

►►►Rhineland

►►►Final Phase
Korean War
Cold War
Gulf War

Operations 

GAUNTLET Aug 1941

(Spitsbergen)

HUSKY Jul 1943

 (Sicily)

COTTAGE Aug 1943

 (Kiska)

TIMBERWOLF Oct 1943

(Italy)

OVERLORD Jun 1944

(Normandy)

MARKET-GARDEN Sep 44

(Arnhem)

BERLIN Nov 1944

(Nijmegen)

VERITABLE Feb 1945

(Rhineland)

Battle Honours

Boer War

►Paardeberg

18 Feb 00

First World War
Western Front
Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

Ypres, 1915

22 Apr-25 May 15

Gravenstafel

22-23 Apr 15

St. Julien

24 Apr-4 May 15

Frezenberg

8-13 May 15

Bellewaarde

24-25 May 15

Festubert, 1915

15-25 May 15

Mount Sorrel

2-13 Jun 16

Allied Offensive: 1916

►Somme, 1916

1 Jul-18 Nov 16

►Albert

.1-13 Jul 16

►Bazentin

.14-17 Jul 16

►Pozieres

.23 Jul-3 Sep 16

►Guillemont

.3-6 Sep 16

►Ginchy

.9 Sep 16

Flers-Courcelette

15-22 Sep 16

Thiepval

26-29 Sep 16

►Le Transloy

. 1-18 Oct 16

Ancre Heights

1 Oct-11 Nov 16

Ancre, 1916

13-18 Nov 16

Allied Offensives: 1917

►Arras 1917

8 Apr-4 May 17

Vimy, 1917

.9-14 Apr 17

Arleux

28-29 Apr 17

►Scarpe, 1917

.3-4 May17

►Hill 70

.15-25 Aug 17

►Messines, 1917

.7-14 Jun 17

►Ypres, 1917

..31 Jul-10 Nov 17

►Pilckem

31 Jul-2 Aug 17

►Langemarck, 1917

.16-18 Aug 17

►Menin Road

.20-25 Sep 17

►Polygon Wood

26 Sep-3 Oct 17

►Broodseinde

.4 Oct 17

►Poelcapelle

.9 Oct 17

►Passchendaele

.12 Oct 17

►Cambrai, 1917

20 Nov-3 Dec 17

German Offensive: 1918

►Somme, 1918

.21 Mar-5 Apr 18

►St. Quentin

.21-23 Mar 18

►Bapaume, 1918

.24-25 Mar 18

►Rosieres

.26-27 Mar 18

►Avre

.4 Apr 18

►Lys

.9-29 Apr 18

►Estaires

.9-11 Apr 18

►Messines, 1918

.10-11 Apr 18

►Bailleul

.13-15 Apr 18

►Kemmel

.17-19 Apr 18

Advance to Victory: 1918

Amiens

8-11 Aug 18

►Arras, 1918

.26 Aug-3 Sep 18

►Scarpe, 1918

26-30 Aug 18.

►Drocourt-Queant

.2-3 Sep 18

►Hindenburg Line

.12 Sep-9 Oct 18

►Canal du Nord

.27 Sep-2 Oct 18

►St. Quentin Canal .29 Sep-2 Oct 18
►Epehy

3-5 Oct 18

►Cambrai, 1918

.8-9 Oct 18

►Valenciennes

.1-2 Nov 18

►Sambre

.4 Nov 18

►Pursuit to Mons .28 Sep-11Nov

Second World War

War Against Japan

South-East Asia

Hong Kong

 8-25 Dec 41

Italian Campaign

Battle of Sicily

Landing in Sicily 

   9-12 Jul 43

Grammichele 

15 Jul 43

Piazza Armerina

16-17 Jul 43

Valguarnera

17-19 Jul 43

Assoro 

  20-22 Jul 43

Leonforte

 21-22 Jul 43

Agira

24-28 Jul 43

Adrano 

29 Jul-7 Aug 43

Catenanuova

29-30 Jul 43

Regalbuto

29 Jul-3 Aug 43

Centuripe

  31 Jul-3 Aug 43

Troina Valley

 2-6 Aug 43

Pursuit to Messina

 2-17 Aug 43

 Southern Italy

Landing at Reggio

 3 Sep 43

Potenza 19-20 Sep 43
Motta Montecorvino 1-3 Oct 43
Termoli 3-6 Oct 43
Monte San Marco 6-7 Oct 43
Gambatesa 7-8 Oct 43
Campobasso 11-14 Oct 43
Baranello 17-18 Oct 43
Colle d'Anchise 22-24 Oct 43
Torella 24-27 Oct 43

The Sangro and Moro

The Sangro

19 Nov-3 Dec 43

Castel di Sangro

.23-24 Nov 43

The Moro

5-7 Dec 43

San Leonardo

8-9 Dec 43

The Gully

..10-19 Dec 43

Casa Berardi

 ..14-15 Dec 43

Ortona

20-28 Dec 43

San Nicola-San

.31 Dec 43

Tommaso

.
Point 59/ 29 Dec 43-

Torre Mucchia

4 Jan 44

Battles of the FSSF
Monte Camino

.5 Nov-9 Dec 43

Monte la Difensa-

2-8 Dec 43

 Monte la Remetanea

.
Hill 720

25 Dec 43

Monte Majo

3-8 Jan 44.

Radicosa

4 Jan 44

Monte Vischiataro

8 Jan 44

Anzio

22 Jan-22 May 44

Rome

.22 May-4 Jun 44

Advance

.22 May-22 Jun 44

to the Tiber

.
►Monte Arrestino

25 May 44

►Rocca Massima

27 May 44

►Colle Ferro

2 Jun 44

Cassino
►Cassino II

11-18 May 44

►Gustav Line

11-18 May 44

►Sant' Angelo in

13 May 44

Teodice

.
►Pignataro

14-15 May 44

Liri Valley
Liri Valley

18-30 May 44

►Hitler Line

18-24 May 44

►Aquino

18-24 May 44

►Melfa Crossing

24-25 May 44

►Ceprano

26-27 May 44

►Torrice Crossroads

30 May 44

Advance to Florence
Advance

17 Jul-10 Aug 44

to Florence

.
Trasimene Line

20-30 Jun 44

Sanfatucchio

20-21 Jun 44

Arezzo

4-17 Jul 44

Cerrone

25 - 31 Aug 44

Gothic Line
►Gothic Line

25 Aug-22 Sep 44

►Monteciccardo

27-28 Aug 44

►Montecchio

30-31 Aug 44

►Point 204 (Pozzo Alto)

31 Aug 44

►Monte Luro

1 Sep 44

►Borgo Santa Maria

1 Sep 44

►Tomba di Pesaro

1-2 Sep 44

►Coriano

3-15 Sep 44

►Lamone Crossing

2-13 Sep 44

Winter Lines
►Rimini Line

14-21 Sep 44

►San Martino-

14-18 Sep 44

San Lorenzo

.
►San Fortunato

18-20 Sep 44

►Casale

23-25 Sep 44

►Sant' Angelo

11-15 Sep 44

 in Salute

.
►Bulgaria Village

13-14 Sep 44

►Cesena

15-20 Sep 44

►Pisciatello

16-19 Sep 44

►Savio Bridgehead

20-23 Sep 44

►Monte La Pieve

13-19 Oct 44

►Monte Spaduro

19-24 Oct 44

►Monte San Bartolo

11-14 Nov 44

►Capture of Ravenna

3-4 Dec 44

►Naviglio Canal

12-15 Dec 44

►Fosso Vecchio

16-18 Dec 44

►Fosso Munio

19-21 Dec 44

►Conventello-

2-6 Jan 45

Comacchio

.
►Granarolo

3-5 Jan 44

Northwest Europe
Dieppe

19 Aug 42

Battle of Normandy
Normandy Landing

6 Jun 44

Authie

7 Jun 44

Putot-en-Bessin

8 Jun 44

Bretteville

8-9 Jun 44

       -l'Orgueilleuse .
Le Mesnil-Patry

11 Jun 44

Carpiquet

4-5 Jul 44

Caen

4-18 Jul 44

The Orne (Buron)

8-9 Jul 44

Bourguébus Ridge

18-23 Jul 44

Faubourg-de-

18-19 Jul 44

       Vaucelles .
St. André-sur-Orne

19-23 Jul 44

Maltôt

22-23 Jul 44

Verrières Ridge-Tilly--

25 Jul 44

         la-Campagne .
Falaise

7-22 Aug 44

►Falaise Road

7-9 Aug 44

►Quesnay Road

10-11 Aug 44

Clair Tizon

11-13 Aug 44

►The Laison

14-17 Aug 44

►Chambois

18-22 Aug 44

►St. Lambert-sur-

19-22 Aug 44

       Dives

.

Dives Crossing

17-20 Aug 44

Forêt de la Londe

27-29 Aug 44

The Seine, 1944

25-28 Aug 44

Southern France
Southern France

15-28 Aug 44

Channel Ports
Dunkirk, 1944

8-15 Sep 44

Le Havre

1-12 Sep 44

Moerbrugge

8-10 Sep 44

Moerkerke

13-14 Sep 44

Boulogne, 1944

17-22 Sep 44

Calais, 1944

25 Sep-1 Oct 44

Wyneghem

21-22 Sep 44

Antwerp-Turnhout

   24-29 Sep 44

Canal

.

The Scheldt

The Scheldt

1 Oct-8 Nov 44

Leopold Canal

6-16 Oct-44

►Woensdrecht

1-27 Oct 44

Savojaards Platt

9-10 Oct 44

Breskens Pocket

11 Oct -3 Nov 44

►The Lower Maas

20 Oct -7 Nov 44

►South Beveland

 24-31 Oct 44

Walcheren

31 Oct -4 Nov 44

Causeway

.

Nijmegen Salient
Ardennes

Dec 44-Jan 45

Kapelsche Veer

31 Dec 44-

.

21Jan 45

The Roer

16-31 Jan 45

Rhineland
The Rhineland

8 Feb-10 Mar 45

►The Reichswald

8-13 Feb 45

►Waal Flats

8-15 Feb 45

►Moyland Wood

14-21 Feb 45

►Goch-Calcar Road

19-21 Feb 45

►The Hochwald

26 Feb-

.

4 Mar 45

►Veen

6-10 Mar 45

►Xanten

8-9 Mar 45

Final Phase
The Rhine

23 Mar-1 Apr 45

►Emmerich-Hoch

28 Mar-1 Apr 45

Elten

.
►Twente Canal

2-4 Apr 45

Zutphen

6-8 Apr 45

Deventer

8-11 Apr 45

Arnhem, 1945

12-14 Apr 45

Apeldoorn

11-17 Apr 45

Groningen

13-16 Apr 45

Friesoythe

14 Apr 45

►Ijselmeer

15-18 Apr 45

Küsten Canal

17-24 Apr 45

Wagenborgen

21-23 Apr 45

Delfzijl Pocket

23 Apr-2 May 45

Leer

28-29 Apr 45

Bad Zwischenahn

23 Apr-4 May 45

Oldenburg

27 Apr-5 May 45

Korean War
Kapyong

21-25 Apr 51

Domestic Missions

FLQ Crisis

International Missions

ICCS            Vietnam 1973

MFO                 Sinai 1986-

Peacekeeping

UNMOGIP

India 1948-1979

UNTSO

 Israel 1948-    ....

UNEF

Egypt 1956-1967

UNOGIL

Lebanon 1958    ....

ONUC

 Congo 1960-1964

UNYOM

Yemen 1963-1964

UNTEA

W. N. Guinea 1963-1964

UNIFCYP

 Cyprus 1964-    ....

DOMREP

D. Republic 1965-1966

UNIPOM

Kashmir 1965-1966

UNEFME

Egypt 1973-1979

UNDOF

Golan 1974-    ....

UNIFIL

 Lebanon 1978    ....

UNGOMAP

Afghanistan 1988-90

UNIIMOG

Iran-Iraq 1988-1991

UNTAG

Namibia 1989-1990

ONUCA

C. America 1989-1992

UNIKOM

Kuwait 1991    ....

MINURSO

W. Sahara 1991    ....

ONUSAL

El Salvador 1991    ....

UNAMIC

Cambodia 1991-1992

UNAVEM II

Angola 1991-1997

UNPROFOR

Yugosla. 1992-1995

UNTAC

Cambodia 1992-1993

UNOSOM

Somalia 1992-1993

ONUMOZ

Mozambiq. 1993-1994

UNOMUR

 Rwanda 1993    ....

UNAMIR

Rwanda 1993-1996

UNMIH

Haiti 1993-1996

UNMIBH

Bosnia/Herz.1993-1996

UNMOP

Prevlaka 1996-2001

UNSMIH

Haiti 1996-1997

MINUGUA

Guatemala 1994-1997

UNTMIH

Haiti 1997    ....

MIPONUH

 Haiti 1997    ....

MINURCA

C.Afr.Rep. 1998-1999

INTERFET

E. Timor 1999-2000

UNAMSIL

Sie. Leone 1999-2005

UNTAET

E. Timor 1999-2000

Exercises

 

Vimy, 1917

Vimy, 1917 was a Battle Honour granted to Canadian units participating in the battle to take the Vimy Ridge in April 1917, during the battles on the Western Front during the First World War.

Overview

The battle to capture Vimy Ridge - a dominating terrain feature overlooking the Douai Plain - was one component of the overall Battle of Arras. It is considered to be the most significant Canadian military achievement of the First World War, and is viewed as one of the events directly related to Canada achieving the status of independent nation after 1918.

Vimy Ridge was one of the most heavily defended points on the entire Western Front and was considered largely impregnable by the British and French. The Germans had fortified it with tunnels, three rows of trenches behind barbed wire, plentiful artillery in support, and and numerous machine gun positions. French and British efforts to take the ridge have generally been described in standard accounts of the battle over the years as costly, but more recent scholarship has questioned the degree to which British units actually attempted a capture of the heights.

Allied Offensives 1917

Arras, 1917 – Vimy, 1917Arleux – Scarpe, 1917 – Hill 70 – Ypres, 1917 – Pilckem – Langemarck, 1917 – Menin Road – Polygon Wood – Broodseinde – Poelcappelle – Passchendaele – Cambrai, 1917

The ridge, stretching from the town of Vimy to Givenchy-en-Gohelle, was a high feature overlooking the surrounding area, providing excellent lines of sight for artillery observers and allowing detailed observation of movement for miles in all directions. The Douai Plain, just east of the Ridge, offered tantalizing prospects for rapid movement following a breakthrough on the Ridge.

The Canadian Corps was moved to the Vimy area and began intensive training. For the attack, Canadian soldiers would be briefed and even private soldiers would be told the objectives. Maps would be widely distributed and rehearsals over scale models of the terrain would be conducted. Patrolling would be intensive, punctuated by trench raids both large and small. The artillery, using techniques pioneered by the Canadians to locate and destroy enemy artillery, would play a key role in the battle.

In addition to the four divisions of the Canadian Corps, the British 5th Division also provided a brigade for the attack.

The hard lessons learned by the Allies in the previous years - notably at the Battle of the Somme - caused continual evolution of Canadian tactics and planning. The Infantry Section was created after the Somme, and Infantry Platoons were changed from being simply an administrative entity to a true tactical unit. Each platoon was given a specific task in the battle plan rather than vague instructions. The engineers would also play a large part, digging large tunnels for both logistical purposes as well as for mining (detonating large amounts of explosives under the German lines).
 
After the battles at Thiepval and Courcelette, four divisions of the Canadian Corps were moved to a new front, stretching ten miles from Arras to Lens. Veterans recognized some of the terrain from earlier battles at Festubert, where the 1st Division had seen some of its earliest combat. South of the river Souchez, which ran through the corps' front, was a seven mile long ridge – only 470 feet high at its peak – now devoid of trees and even grass, having been fought over for months and years.
 
German Defences
 
Popular history has Vimy Ridge converted into a fortress by the Germans, with the Canadians tasked with taking it back. New research suggests that the Germans were less well prepared than the popular histories of the war may have portrayed.
 
What is not in dispute is the military value of the ridge; the view from the top of the ridge of the Douai Plain is unobstructed for dozens of miles in all directions, making the ridge a natural military objective. The Germans first captured it in October 1914. It was briefly recaptured by a French Moroccan unit in May 1915, but could not be held due to lack of reinforcements and the Germans quickly regained it. The French launched a second major attempt to take it in September 1915 but only succeeded in capturing the town of Souchez at the base of the ridge.
 
That assault had been the last major attempt to retake the ridge. When British troops took over the sector, the emphasis turned to tunneling and mining. In May 1916, a major German infantry attack on a 2,000 yard front attempted to push the British back from the ridge, and managed to secure several British tunnels and mine craters before the advance was halted. British counter-attacks failed to restore their positions.

Early in 1917, German strategic planners examined their options for the new year. Major offensive actions by the British and French in the spring of 1917 were anticipated, though it was not known where they might fall. Vimy Ridge was acknowledged as a possibility. A German offensive was considered, but rejected, due to shortages of men, and smaller, limited objective attacks were similarly considered and rejected. The Germans concluded that their only feasible option was to wait for the Allied storm to break.

On 12 February 1917, a Canadian deserter from "C" Company of The Royal Canadian Regiment made his way into the lines of Reserve Infantry Regiment 23 of the 12th Reserve Infantry Division. The German division was two days from completing a three-month tour of duty in trenches on the Vimy front. The deserter was a German national who had enlisted under a false name with the 97th Battalion, C.E.F. in Saskatchewan. During his interrogations, he revealed information about the dumping of ammunition behind the lines and the Germans inferred that a major offensive was being planned at Vimy Ridge by the Canadians.

Canadian Preparations

The Canadians began to move into the sector in October 1916. Lessons learned from the Somme were already permeating the various arms of the service in the British and Empire forces in France. The infantry was reorganized into platoons and sections, with emphasis now on small groups of men led by platoon commanders, sergeants and corporals. The new Lewis machine gun was distributed liberally (Vimy Ridge would be the last time that the 10th Battalion used heavy American-made Colt machine-guns). For the Vimy operation, maps were printed by the thousands and distributed far down the chain of command – something truly unprecedented. Giant outdoor models of the terrain were built, and infantry units practiced the assault by walking over them.

(Left) Canadian troops walk over a scale model of the ridge during rehearsals. (Right) Vimy Ridge had been battered into a featureless morass by the time the Canadian Corps advanced over its crest on April 9th.  The true significance of the feat of capturing the heights cannot be discerned from photographs of the terrain. Library and Archives Canada photographs.

The artillerymen had developed a true science to their methods; flash-spotting and sound-ranging teams were now able to pinpoint the location of enemy batteries – before the attack on April 9th, 1917, over 80% of the German artillery would be located and knocked out. The gunners, who had started the war ignorant of basic conditions such as barrel wear and the effects on their shooting, were now measuring atmospheric conditions, and even better, had developed a new fuse specifically for cutting barbed wire to allow the infantry passage through No Man's Land. There were also far fewer duds than previously, due to improvements in the manufacturing of ammunition.

A new branch had been developed to support the infantry – the Canadian Machine Gun Corps – and their weapons were also used to thicken barrages, firing indirectly in great loops over the trenches and into German rear areas, preventing ration parties, reinforcements, wiring parties and other logistical movements from doing necessary work.

The Canadians spent the winter of 1916-17 making preparations. It was the worst European winter in 21 years; cold and wet, freezing rivers solid. Plans for a spring offensive in the Arras sector had been laid out as early as November 1916. In addition to lessons learned from the Somme, Canadian staff officers who had visited Verdun gave a series of lectures to Canadian Corps commanders, and reiterated the importance of artillery, and the need for flexibility in lower level infantry units.

Following a conference of corps commanders held at First Army Headquarters on 21 November, the Canadian Corps drew up plans for a two-corps operation to recapture the whole enemy position from the Arras-Lens road to the Souchez River. The assumption then (December, 1916) was that the Canadians would be assigned the assault on the left, northward from Vimy village. On 19 January 1917, however, the First Army notified General Byng that he would be responsible for capturing the whole of the main crest. His objectives would not include an independent height of 120 metres at the north end of the Ridge, known as "The Pimple", which with the Bois en Hache across the Souchez would be assaulted later by another corps. Active preparations were put in hand for the southern attack, which General Byng would make with his four Canadian Divisions, supplemented by the 5th British Division of the 1st Corps and with Canadian and British heavy artillery in support.

Along the whole German front line it would have been difficult to find terrain better suited to defence, combining the advantages of observation and concealment. The crest of the Ridge was formed by two heights, Hill 135 (measured in metres), immediately north of the village of Thélus, and Hill 145, two miles farther north-west. The western slopes facing the Allied lines rose gradually over open ground which afforded excellent fields of fire for small arms and artillery. (German histories complain, however, that their positions on the narrow forward slope of the Ridge were fully visible to the Canadians.) The reverse slope dropped sharply into the Douai plain, its thick woods providing adequate cover for the enemy's guns. Opposite the Canadian right there was a gradual descent from Hill 135 to the headwaters of the Scarpe, north-west of Arras, with only a few villages and copses breaking the wide expanse of open fields. At its other extremity the Ridge extended beyond Hill 145 to "The Pimple", west of Givenchy*, whence the ground fell quickly to the valley of the Souchez.1

The tactical plan for Vimy Ridge was drawn up by the Canadian Corps and approved by the British 4th Army in March.

The Corps, with all four Canadian divisions fighting together for the first (and, as it turned out, the only) time, would assault after a week-long bombardment, following behind a creeping barrage lifting in 100-yard intervals. There would be four phase lines (identified by code words bearing the names of colours – BLACK, RED, BLUE and BROWN). On the left of the ridge, there was room for only two phase lines. While light guns would provide the creeping barrage, medium and heavy artillery would provide standing barrages deeper in German territory, on known defensive positions.

Set to go on Easter Sunday, 8 April 1917, the attack was delayed a day. A two week bombardment commenced in late March. The firing intensified for a period of seven days of heavy shelling before Zero Hour, and was known to the Germans as the “Week of Suffering.” In addition to the artillery preparation, tunnelling companies had expanded on the underground network of tunnels that had begun to appear in the chalky Arras-Vimy sector as early as 1915. The Bavarians had blown twenty mines by March 1915 alone, and gained a clear advantage over their French counter-parts by early 1916. The British engineers who took over the sector that year put a halt to German tunneling and mining, and by the start of 1917 there were 19 distinct crater groups, each with several large craters resulting from blown mines.

The tunnelling companies by early 1917 had turned some of their attention to building massive subways, up to 1,300 yards long, connecting reserve positions to the front and allowing safe and secret passage for entire battalions. By the time of the assault on the ridge, entire underground cities were in existence, with light rail lines, hospitals, command posts, water reservoirs, ammunition dumps, weapons positions, and signals posts. Mining continued as well, and the German tunnellers continued their efforts at counter-mining.

 

Intelligence efforts for the battle preoccupied the infantry, along with training and rehearsals. The Germans had superiority in the air, meaning observation of the effectiveness of artillery at Vimy had to be done from the ground. The narrow battalion frontages at Vimy provided few natural vantage points; confirmation was often a case of a risky night patrol or trench raid. Just one day before the battle, while reports from across the corps front were reporting that the barbed wire was coming down satisfactorily, the intelligence section of the 10th Battalion just couldn't tell for sure what was going on out in No Man's Land – the heavy shells were burying the wire in mud, and the limited vantage points gave them no way to see for themselves that obstacles to the advance were gone. An earlier request to send a raiding party to investigate had been denied - too much activity would have tipped off the Germans that something big was in works – but this time, the divisional commander himself, Major-General Arthur Currie, was monitoring the situation and gave the go-ahead.

Yet another unique artillery development assisted the raiders forward at 4:30a.m. on April 8th – a “box barrage.” Preceded by a creeping barrage, artillery would then and fire shells on three sides of a selected piece of German line, in order to seal it off while friendly troops infiltrated in and did their work – knocking out installations, taking prisoners, identifying enemy units, seizing weapons, etc. The raid was costly – 5 dead and 13 wounded of a total of 85 men divided into three parties – but it was discovered that the German wire was still intact in places, and forward trenches were still intact. On the afternoon of April 8th, General Currie rectified this by withdrawing the 10th Battalion from its positions in the front line and turning the entire divisional artillery onto the German positions in front of it.

The Battle

On 2 April 1917 the Canadian Corps had launched the largest artillery barrage in history up to that point, shelling the German trenches for 7 days with over one million shells. Their counter-battery program, aided by flash spotting and sound ranging, destroyed about 86% of the German artillery by Zero Hour on the day of the attack, 9 April.

Zero Hour saw the artillery shift its fire into creeping barrages. Canadian machine guns also lent their weight to the artillery fire, utilizing indirect fire. After less than two hours, three of the four Canadian divisions had taken their objectives; the 4th Canadian Division, however, was caught by machine gun fire on the highest point of the Ridge known as Hill 145, or by its nickname, "The Pimple". It would be three days before the entire ridge had been cleared. The total cost would be 3,598 Canadians killed and 7,104 wounded.

The German Sixth Army, under General Ludwig von Falkenhausen, suffered approximately 20,000 casualties. The Canadians also took 4,000 Germans as prisoners. The attack and objective had only limited grand-strategic significance, as the simultaneous British and Australian attack to the south of the Ridge was unsuccessful. Vimy Ridge came to have a strong symbolic significance, and to the Canadian Corps was an enormous boost to their confidence and sense of identity

British Forces

Vimy is properly considered an Allied victory rather than purely a Canadian one. While the Canadian Corps planned the battle and provided the majority of participants, British participation was also sizeable.

  • British I Corps provided 132 heavy artillery pieces and 102 field guns to the 863 of the Canadian Corps, or 21 percent of the artillery involved.2
  • Of the 13 brigades of infantry employed in the assault, one entire brigade was British (the 13th Brigade of the British 5th Division).
  • 16 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps employed 24 aircraft as artillery spotters from 1 April to 13 April, losing three.
  • Considerable effort was also made by British logistical units throughout the Lines of Communication supporting the assault.
Troops of the 29th Battalion, CEF photographed on Vimy Ridge. The airbursts were the product of Lord Beaverbrook's imaginative Ministry of Information rather than German artillery. LAC Photo. The smashed village of Vimy after the battle; the Douai Plain can be seen in the distance. Whether the battle was important strategically or not, the feeling that something tangible had been achieved was highlighted to the soldiers there by the expansive view from the heights.LAC Photo.

Legacy

To Canadians, the name Vimy Ridge has been historically very meaningful. It was the first time in the nation's history that a corps-sized formation fought organized as such. The success of the attack, resulting from detailed planning and a variety of innovative tactics standing in stark contrast to what had happened at the Somme only months earlier, sealed the reputation of the Canadians as among the finest troops on the western front. The capture of the Ridge by the Canadian Corps, under the command of British General Julian H.G. Byng (with Canadian General Sir Arthur Currie acting as Chief-of-Staff), was a turning point for Allied Forces during the First World War. The success of the Canadian forces in this battle, at Passchendaele, and in Canada's Hundred Days helped earn Canada a place at the Versailles peace negotiations. Some have suggested that Canadian unity was fostered - all nine provinces were represented in the order of battle of the Canadian Corps - but as Pierre Berton points out in the seminal work regarding this battle the taking of the ridge achieved legend status very quickly, and with it the myths often surrounding legendary feats.

Canadians had been arrayed opposite the ridge from October 1916, but the Germans had been there two years longer than that; occupying the high ground in October 1914 and denying repeated French and British attempts to take the heights. By 1917 three strong defensive lines had been constructed, including concrete fortifications. Their artillery was sited on a reverse slope safe from direct view. The Canadians spent the winter planning their assault. Unlike the Somme, assault troops would be organized into small parties; wire-cutting shells would be available on large numbers to clear a path, creeping barrages would let Canadian infantry walk up to the German trenches and take them before defenders had a chance to react. And McNaughton's counter-battery work would be so efficient that the majority of German guns (83 percent, as it turned out) would be neutralized in advance of the battle. Fire support would be massive with 245 heavy guns, 480 18-pounders and 138 howitzers. Twenty percent of those guns were from British artillery regiments; a brigade of British infantry would also make the Vimy assault as part of the Canadian Corps.

It is probable that with the exception of the Krakatoa explosion of 1883, in all of history no human ears had ever been assaulted by the intensity of sound produced by the artillery barrage that launched the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917. In the years that followed, the survivors would struggle to describe that shattering moment when 983 artillery pieces and 150 machine guns barked in unison to launch the first British victory in thirty-two months of frustrating warfare.3

More recent scholarship suggests that the Germans were in the midst of reorganizing their defences when the Canadian attack was launched, thinning out their line in the midst of a general redeployment. This is contrary to the popular depiction of the battle of Canadians wresting the hill from a dug-in and determined enemy. The German Army Group commander responsible for the Vimy sector noted in his after action report:
 
"Decisive for the unfavourable outcome on 9 April was the non-appearance (emphasis in original) of the reserves. Had they been at the right place at the right time, it is probable that they would have succeeded in largely balancing out the disadvantages caused by other circumstances. The British (sic), in the general judgement of the eye-witnesses, performed with such lack of skill following the break-ins that timely counter-strokes would have ejected them once more, or at least held them.4
After a week long barrage, the Canadians went forward into driving sleet and captured the bulk of the Ridge in one morning (stubborn German defenders would hold out on the 4th Division front for three days).

Vimy became a symbolic Canadian triumph, one of the "great things" that nations must do together to achieve identity. It made no difference that (Corps Commander Lieutenant General Julian) Byng and at least half the soldiers were British-born. A solid, unequivocal victory also told Canadians - and their allies - that the secret of successful attacks had been unlocked, if not fully extracted. The futility of the Somme had been overcome.5

Vimy had been a triumph, but a costly one - 10,602 men were casualties, including over 3,500 men killed - and there were more casualties east of the Ridge in subsequent battles at Arleux and Fresnoy on the Arras plain. The cost was hard to bear, especially at a time when conscription was becoming a large issue in Canada. Vimy's most eloquent historian assessed the cost:
Was it worth it? Was it worth the cold and the lice, the rats and the mud? Was it worth the long hours standing stiffly in the trenches, praying that no sniper's bullet would find its mark? Was it worth it to crawl out ito No Man's Land with a bag of bombs, seeking to mangle the men in the opposite trench before they mangled you? Was it worth that tense, chilly wait on Easter Monday morning...when the world finally exploded and the enemy was driven from the heights at a cost in lives and limbs the High Command and the press described as minimal?

There was a time, less cynical, more ingenuous, when most Canadians were led to believe that the answer was yes. Nations must justify mass killings, if only to support the feelings of teh bereaved and the sanity of the survivors. In Canada, long after the original excuses were found wanting - the Great War, after all, was clearly not a war to end wars - a second justification lingered on. Because of Vimy, we told ourselves, Canada came of age; because of Vimy, our country found its manhood.

But was that worth it? Was it worth the loss of thousands of limbs and eyes and the deaths of five thousand young Canadians at Vimy to provide a young and growing nation with a proud and enduring myth?

Now that the Vimy fever has cooled, a new generation sees the Great War for what it was...Was it worth it? The answer, of course, is no.
6

Berton's cynicism is a counterpoint to Corrigan's assessment of the war as a whole:

The threat of German militarism had been removed, at least for a further generation, the lost French territories were regained and Belgium was once more secure. This was a just war, and a necessary war. The British expenditure in lives and in treasure was great, but there was no alternative, and the price paid, in this author's respectful submission, was worth that outcome.7

Whether we feel it was worth the cost paid or not, Berton's conclusion is food for thought: "Who can say what these future entrepreneurs, lost in the appalling trench warfare of 1914-18, would have wrought if they had lived?"8

The first memorials on the ridge were more modest than the later Monument; this marker commemorates the sacrifice of the 87th Battalion, CEF. LAC Photo. That something great, and costly, had been achieved was known almost immediately. This tribute to the sacrifice belongs to the 2nd Canadian Division. LAC Photo.

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial

The battle is commemorated by the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, set atop Hill 145 near Vimy and Givenchy. It is the largest of Canada's war monuments. The memorial was unveiled by King Edward VIII in 1936, after 11 years of construction, in front of an assembled crowd of 50,000, many of whom were veterans of the French, Canadian and British armies that fought there.


The dedication of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial on 26 July 1936 coincided with a pilgrimage of Canadian veterans to the monument.

In recognition of the great sacrifices made by Canada, the French government formally granted Canada a portion of the ridge in perpetuity. Since the memorial stands on Canadian soil, it is tended by Veterans Affairs Canada.


In addition to just the monument, part of the battlefield at Vimy, including portions of the Canadian tunnel system, have been preserved.
Canadian students give tours each summer of the preserved trench-lines and subways - these sandbags are permanently cast in concrete.
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Battle Honours

The Battle Honour "Vimy, 1917" was awarded to the majority of units in the Canadian Corps, and those units of the post-war Militia perpetuating units of the CEF.

Those units who directly participated, for which the Battle Honour "Vimy, 1917" was awarded, included:

1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade

1st Canadian Brigade

  • 1st Battalion, CEF

  • 2nd Battalion, CEF

  • 3rd Battalion, CEF

  • 4th Battalion, CEF

2nd Canadian Brigade

  • 5th Battalion, CEF

  • 7th Battalion, CEF

  • 8th Battalion, CEF

  • 10th Battalion, CEF

3rd Canadian Brigade

  • 13th Battalion, CEF

  • 14th Battalion, CEF

  • 15th Battalion, CEF

  • 16th Battalion, CEF

4th Canadian Brigade

  • 18th Battalion, CEF

  • 19th Battalion, CEF

  • 20th Battalion, CEF

  • 21st Battalion, CEF

5th Canadian Brigade

  • 22nd Battalion, CEF

  • 24th Battalion, CEF

  • 25th Battalion, CEF

  • 26th Battalion, CEF

6th Canadian Brigade

  • 27th Battalion, CEF

  • 28th Battalion, CEF

  • 29th Battalion, CEF

  • 31st Battalion, CEF

7th Canadian Brigade

  • The Royal Canadian Regiment

  • Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

  • 42nd Battalion, CEF

  • 49th Battalion, CEF

8th Canadian Brigade

  • 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles, CEF

  • 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, CEF

  • 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, CEF

  • 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles, CEF

9th Canadian Brigade

  • 43rd Battalion, CEF

  • 52nd Battalion, CEF

  • 58th Battalion, CEF

  • 118th Battalion, CEF

10th Canadian Brigade

  • 44th Battalion, CEF

  • 46th Battalion, CEF

  • 47th Battalion, CEF

  • 50th Battalion, CEF

11th Canadian Brigade

  • 54th Battalion, CEF

  • 75th Battalion, CEF

  • 87th Battalion, CEF

  • 102nd Battalion, CEF

12th Canadian Brigade

  • 38th Battalion, CEF

  • 72nd Battalion, CEF

  • 73rd Battalion, CEF

  • 78th Battalion, CEF

  • 85th Battalion, CEF

Those units not directly involved in the Vimy fighting who are also associated with the Battle Honour "Vimy, 1917" include:

 

  • 11th Battalion, CEF

  • 23rd Battalion, CEF

  • 30th Battalion, CEF

  • 33rd Battalion, CEF

  • 35th Battalion, CEF

  • 36th Battalion, CEF

  • 38th Battalion, CEF

  • 48th Battalion, CEF

  • 51st Battalion, CEF

  • 54th Battalion, CEF

  • 56th Battalion, CEF

  • 59th Battalion, CEF

  • 60th Battalion, CEF

  • 61st Battalion, CEF

  • 62nd Battalion, CEF

  • 63rd Battalion, CEF

  • 65th Battalion, CEF

  • 67th Battalion, CEF

  • 68th Battalion, CEF

  • 77th Battalion, CEF

  • 82nd Battalion, CEF

  • 83rd Battalion, CEF

  • 84th Battalion, CEF

  • 86th Battalion, CEF

  • 88th Battalion, CEF

  • 89th Battalion, CEF

  • 90th Battalion, CEF

  • 92nd Battalion, CEF

  • 93rd Battalion, CEF

  • 95th Battalion, CEF

  • 99th Battalion, CEF

  • 100th Battalion, CEF

  • 101st Battalion, CEF

  • 103rd Battalion, CEF

  • 104th Battalion, CEF

  • 106th Battalion, CEF

  • 113th Battalion, CEF

  • 115th Battalion, CEF

  • 116th Battalion, CEF

  • 118th Battalion, CEF

  • 120th Battalion, CEF

  • 123rd Battalion, CEF

  • 124th Battalion, CEF

  • 125th Battalion, CEF

  • 131st Battalion, CEF

  • 134th Battalion, CEF

  • 137th Battalion, CEF

  • 141st Battalion, CEF

  • 142nd Battalion, CEF

  • 143rd Battalion, CEF

  • 144th Battalion, CEF

  • 151st Battalion, CEF

  • 158th Battalion, CEF

  • 166th Battalion, CEF

  • 170th Battalion, CEF

  • 173rd Battalion, CEF

  • 174th Battalion, CEF

  • 175th Battalion, CEF

  • 179th Battalion, CEF

  • 182nd Battalion, CEF

  • 185th Battalion, CEF

  • 187th Battalion, CEF

  • 190th Battalion, CEF

  • 191st Battalion, CEF

  • 192nd Battalion, CEF

  • 195th Battalion, CEF

  • 198th Battalion, CEF

  • 203rd Battalion, CEF

  • 204th Battalion, CEF

  • 205th Battalion, CEF

  • 207th Battalion, CEF

  • 215th Battalion, CEF

  • 216th Battalion, CEF

  • 221st Battalion, CEF

  • 225th Battalion, CEF

  • 226th Battalion, CEF

  • 231st Battalion, CEF

  • 241st Battalion, CEF

  • 244th Battalion, CEF

  • 245th Battalion, CEF

  • 253rd Battalion, CEF

  • 255th Battalion, CEF

  • 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles

  • 9th Canadian Mounted Rifles

  • 10th Canadian Mounted Rifles

  • 11th Canadian Mounted Rifles

Notes

  1. Nicholson, G.W.L. Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919 p.222

  2. Granatstein, Jack. Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace. (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, ON, 2002). p.113

  3. Berton, Pierre. Vimy (McClelland and Stewart, 1986). ISBN 0140104399, p.14. Berton is clearly writing for effect here; it is not clear why his figure of 983 guns does not match Granatstein's figure of 863. John Marteinson gives a figure of 2,817 guns(!) in We Stand On Guard: An Illustrated History of the Canadian Army. Bill Rawling in Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps 1914-1918 (University of Toronto Press, 1992) gives a figure of 863 guns of the Canadian Corps with the British I Corps providing an additional 132 heavy artillery pieces and 102 field guns (or 21 percent of the artillery involved). Whatever the true figure, veterans have described the sound of the barrage as overwhelming.

  4. Sheldon, Jack The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914-1917 (Pen & Sword Military Books Ltd, Barnsley, UK, 2008) ISBN 978-1-84415-680-1 p.329

  5. Morton, Desmond. When Your Numbers Up: The Canadian Soldier In The First World War p.169

  6. Berton, Ibid, pp. 307-308. Berton's fatality figure must include the fighting east of the Ridge.

  7. Corrigan, Gordon. Mud, Blood and Poppycock: Britain and the First World War (Cassell, London, UK, 2003) ISBN 0304366595, p.50  

  8. Berton, Ibid


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