The battle of Vimy Ridge was one of the major, and most critical, battles of World War I. Vimy Ridge were a 475 meter tall fortification, which had an unobstructed view for several kilometers (Vimy Ridge- Radessays). The ridge was located near the French town of Arras. The first battles at the ridge took place between the Germans, who controlled the ridge, and the British and French. Eventually, the Canadian army would help fight in this battle. They took over the operation and were able to seize the ridge in a five day battle with the Germans. This would prove to be a defining moment for Canada’s history, militarily and as a nation.
Before the battle is discussed, it is important to understand the history which led to the decisive Canadian victory. In September 1914, with the war two months old, the Germans captured Vimy Ridge. Vimy Ridge was obviously valued by both sides because of its high elevation. Once the Germans controlled the ridge, they acted quickly to ensure they would control the ridge for a long time. They constructed deep defensive positions throughout the ridge, including bunkers, secret passages, caves and artillery-proof trenches. With these positions set up, their artillery constantly pounded the town of Arras, which was 12 kilometers southeast of Vimy (Vimy Ridge- Spartacus).
The French were the first to try to put a stop to this. Although the French performed admirably in their efforts, their attack was brutally repelled. The French attack in 1915 led to 150 000 casualties for the French (Cook). The next group to try to overtake the Germans was the British. The British were doomed before the battle even started. As word got out of an imminent British attack, German artillery fire increased. The British were pushed 2 kilometres off the front by this artillery. They were unable to ever “aggressively plan” to overtake the ridge (Cook). After these failures, it was now the Canadians’ turn to overtake the ridge.
The Canadians knew that the key to this battle was going to be their preparedness. The Canadians spent weeks behind the front lines preparing for the battle by fighting in terrain similar to that of the ridge. For the battle, the Canadians constructed mile upon mile of tunnels. This would be used to get to the ridge without having to deal with massive amounts of shellfire. Aerial photos were taken of the ridge for the Canadians to carefully study. Once all of these steps were completed, the Canadians were more than ready to completely destroy the Germans.
Weeks in advance of the battle, the British and Canadians had been ruthlessly shelling the ridge in order to weaken the Germans. The battle began on April 9, 1917 at 5:30 a.m., with four Canadian divisions attacking the ridge. Success in the battle was instantaneous for the Canadians. Within 30 minutes, the First Canadian Division had completely overrun the first German lines along the ridge. A half hour later, the Canadians had overrun the 2nd line of German defense as well. The Canadians achieved all of this success in the face of constant adversity and sacrifice (Cook). Many of the Canadian officers had been killed early on in the battle. The Canadians showed great courage in continuing to fight onward. Several sacrifices were made by soldiers such as single-handedly storming machine gun nests in order to take them out. Fighting culminated on April 12th, with the capturing of Hill 145, which was the highest elevation point, and therefore the most important part of the ridge. In the battle, 3598 Canadians were killed and 7000 were wounded (Cook). Casualties for the Germans totaled over 20 000(Cook). The victory was one of the only major advances on the Western Front for either side.
This battle was extremely significant for Canadian troops in terms of confidence and morale. After completely destroying one of the most powerful armies in the world, the Germans, the Canadian army now had the respect of other top armies around the world. They were now seen as effective troops who could get the job done when necessary. This battle was also extremely important for the troops themselves. The Canadians now believed that they were great soldiers because of their successes. This battle also allowed the Canadian army to become more competitive and allowed them to fight as Canadians whereas before this battle, they were known as Canadians fighting for the British. The troops learned a key secret for success that their British and French comrades had failed to capitalize on. They knew that if they prepared extremely well for a battle such as Vimy Ridge, then they could beat any high-powered army that they ever would have to fight against.
This battle was very significant for Canada as a nation as well. Before the battle, the people of Canada were essentially British subjects (Masse). After this battle, Canadian people finally had an identity for who they were. This battle was their coming of age, and they were now receiving respect from nations throughout the world. Canada was given a seat in the League of Nations as soon as it was developed and they were also given a seat at the very important Paris Conference. Vimy Ridge resulted in the bonding of the different cultures living in Canada. Before the battle, Canada was a country of separate nationalities and it was unimportant that the people felt they were Canadian (Masse). There was absolutely no patriotism in Canada. After the battle, it had been proven that all these great cultures could unite together to form a great nation such as Canada, which could compete with anyone in the world (Masse).
Vimy Ridge definitely changed Canada for the better at the time and for today. It made Canadians better at the time because the battle was the turning point in the war and it marked a symbolic birth for the nation. The battle as stated also united the Canadian Army that we have today. The nation was also united through this battle and Canada would not have had the patriotism that existed then or that we have today without this battle. This battle was not just about defeating the German army and making an advance on the western front. This battle was about Canada proving to itself and the world that it could compete. Since this battle, Canada has never looked back and has become one of the world’s leading nations in several departments. This battle changed Canada for the better.
Cook, Tim. “The Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April, 1917.”
http://www.civilization.ca/cwm/vimy/index_e.html. 20 Nov. 2007
Cook, Tim “Battles: The Battle of Vimy Ridge, 1917.” http://firstworldwar.com/
battles/vimyridge.htm. 20 Nov. 2007 <http://firstworldwar.com/
Masse, Martin. “Vimy Ridge: Can a War Massacre Give Birth to a Nation?”
http://www.quebecoislibre.org/020413-2.htm. 20 Nov. 2007
“Vimy Ridge.” http://www.radessays.com/viewpaper/8151/Vimy_Ridge.html. 15 Dec.
“Vimy Ridge.” http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWvimy.htm. 20 Nov. 2007
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