It was ninety years ago (on this day) that the Battle of Vimy Ridge began. When it ended 3 days later as a result of the heroic and unrelenting actions of the combined four divisions of the Canadian Corps, an important strategic battle had been won and truly, Canada emerged as a nation among nations.
The Canadian forces of World War One had deployed as part of the British Expeditionary Force but by way of this major battle victory succeeded where earlier attempts by both the French and British army had failed.
The four Canadian Divisions success during those three days of relentless fighting against an enemy force of over 40,000. That German force occupied well established trench works and bunkers on high ground. The entire Canadian offensive was uphill into well positioned machine gun and mortar emplacements. In addition to the heavy and constant barrage, poison gas added a deadly extra weapon employed against them.
In all, the Canadian contingent was made up of over 170,000 young men from across Canada. When the battle ended, 3,600 members of the Canadian had been killed in battle and over 7,000 injured.
In the course of this battle the Canadian troops introduced their own unique order of command whereby each individual platoon operated as a self sufficient unit with its own mission. Additional innovations introduce in the battle were the first successful utilization of creeping barrage in which Canadian artillery constantly laid down a forward moving heavy weapon onslaught that proceeded the troops by about 10 meters. Early attempts had been less than satisfactory. If the troops lagged too far behind the barrage, temporarily stunned enemy troops would reemerge and resume defenses. If the advancing Canadian forces were too fast they would become victims of friendly fire.
As much as the unique treatment of platoons and the use of creeping barrage were iatrical parts of Canadian success in that battle, the battle took place below ground by way of vast arrays of tunnels were dug reaching beneath enemy lines. Often narrow gauge rail lines had been built into the tunnels to transport tons of explosives to be exploded beneath German trenches and gun emplacements.
The small Canadian flying corps provided huge assistance by over flying the German target emplacements, sending back Morse code messages used to focus heavy artillery fire that constantly rained down on the German lines.
It is right that each Canadian ought to remember these brave men’s’ collective actions and never forget the huge prices paid during that great battle.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor do the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.