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100 Years On – Vimy Ridge

From April 9 to April 12, 1917, the Canadian Expeditionary Force conducted its first battle in which all four of its divisions were engaged at once.  As part of the larger Arras offensive, the Canadians captured Vimy Ridge and the surrounding countryside.

Key to this victory was preparation at all levels.  An immense collection of artillery, comprised of almost 1000 guns, mortars, and howitzers, was allotted 1.6 million shells for the battle.  Extensive reconnaissance gave commanders a good picture of the battlefield, which was passed all the way down to platoon leaders.  Canadian soldiers were extensively trained for the battle, and lower-echelon commanders were given information and freedom of command unheard of in other World War I offensives.

The Germans facing the Canadians were outnumbered almost four to one, and their commander had not yet implemented the new “defense in depth” concept the German army had developed the previous year.  Where the Canadians were able to provide relatively safe approaches to the front for their soldiers through the use of extensive tunnels, the Germans kept their reserves 24 miles behind the lines.  While the Germans fought valiantly to defend their positions, lack of resupply and reinforcement contributed to their defeat.

The Canadians reached all of their objectives by the end of April 12, and established control of the high ground at the far left of the Arras battlefield.  This victory cost them 3,598 dead and 7,004 wounded.  While this is a horrid butcher’s bill to our modern sensibilities, it is light when compared to the casualties of other First World War battles, and the Canadians had actually succeeded.



  1. That they did, and yes, the butcher’s bill was horrendous… Two generations worth of men dead.


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