Whitby High School

Battlefields Tour 18-21st March 2006


France - Vimy Ridge, Albert and Somme Tour - Monday 20th March

Vimy Ridge



Vimy Ridge

Vimy Ridge rises some 200ft above the Douai Plain to Its east. In World War One, it was one of the strongest defensive positions on the Western Front. The German positions were on the top of the ridge with the steep eastern scarp slopes providing cover to their rear. The allied troops were lower down on the gentler western slope. They were forced to attack over an open, exposed area.

Its Importance

The importance of the ridge has been recognised throughout the war and several attempts had been made to capture it. In 1915, 130,000 French troops had died in a failed attempt to take it.

It was important because the Ridge gave the Germans excellent views down the Arras, 8km to the south, which was a vital transport and communication centre for the Allies. It was an important link in the German defensive chain at the point where the Hindenburg line met the Flanders defences. Most importantly, its possession allowed the Germans the use of mines and factories in the Douai-Lens area.

By 1916 the allied blockade was having a serious effect on the German war effort and Germany was running short of raw materials. The coal from the mines below the ridge towards Lens was of great use to the Germans and could only be mined safely as long as the ridge was in their hands.

The Plan

The attack on the ridge was part of a general offensive in the Arras area by British and Empire troops, (The Battle of Arras), the main aim of which was to direct attention from a major French attack further east, (The Nivelle Offensive). The British 3rd army were to attack along the River Scarpe. The Canadians and some British troops were to attack on a 6.4km front to take Vimy Ridge.

Preparations

Miles of tunnels were dug on four different levels to get troops and supplies to the start lines in greater safety. There was a massive preliminary bombardment from 245 heavy guns and 600 field guns. It lasted from 29th March to 9th April and was absolutely continuous for the final 7 days.

The Attack - At 5.30am on Easter Monday, 9th April

1917 the Canadians attacked behind a creeping barrage in driving sleet and snow. Despite heavy losses they were able to secure most of their objectives and Hill 145, one of the main objectives, fell on 1Oth April and the rest of the ridge 2 days later. The Germans pulled back 3km across the Douai plain, giving up the coalfields in the process.

The Result

Vimy Ridge was a gain for the Allies, but on the whole the Battle of Arras was a fairly fruitless affair. Briefly, the Allies had the opportunity to break through but they failed to do so: The French Nivelle Offensive which followed was a terrible disaster, failing totally at a massive cost in human life and prompting mutinies in the French Army.

The capture of the formidable German defences on Vimy Ridge by frontal assault was an impressive achievement. It was also the only occasion on which all Canadian troops on the Western Front fought together as one united force. Thus it is of particular importance in Canada's rememberance of the war.

On reaching the summit of the ridge we were very disappointed to find the memorial under wraps for restoration. As consolation we sat down to lunch. Someone missed the sign obviously. To the rear is the covered memorial. Below are a few photographs of the meorial before restoration.

The Canadian Memorial

This is Canada's major memorial to it troops in WWI. It stands at the top of Hill 145 surrounded by land given to the Canadian government and preserved in its battle-scarred condition. The twin pillars of Adriatic marble symbolise the two nations that go to make up the Canadian nation - the British and the French. The wall behind the memorial carries the names of 11,285 Canadian dead whose bodies were never found. Some 620,000 Canadians served in WWI and 66,655 died. Of those, about 20,000 have no known grave.

The Trenches

These mark the front lines prior to the attack and although artificially preserved in concrete, they do follow the correct lines. They provide a vivid example of how narrow No Man's Land could be in certain parts of the Western Front. Just behind the Canadian front line is the entrance to the Grange Subway, one of the tunnel systems built to get the attacking Canadian troops into the front line area safe from enemy shellfire.

There is also a French Memorial here to the Moroccan troops who fought here in 1915.

Removing wounded Canadians on Vimy Ridge

Canadian machine gunners on Vimy Ridge


Home    Top    back    forward   

Updated 10th April 2006 by Mike Royden
The Whitby High School, Cheshire County Council.