Vimy Ridge Remembered


I think not
#1
"The whole Empire will rejoice at the news of yesterday's successful operations. Canada will be proud that the taking of the coveted Vimy Ridge has fallen to the lot of her troops. I heartily congratulate you and all who have taken part in this splendid achievement."

His Majesty the King to Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, April 10, 1917. War Diary, 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade

We may marvel at the firepower of the hundreds of missiles and smart bombs used in U.S. attacks on Iraq, but an overwhelming battlefield fusillade creating shock and awe is not a new idea. In fact, Canadian soldiers fighting in the First World War were pioneers of the tactic.

It was at Vimy Ridge, a strategic 14-kilometre long escarpment that overlooks the Douai plain of France. German occupying troops controlled the ridge using a network of trenches that snaked along the crest and down into the valley, connecting with another network of natural caves. 150,000 French and British soldiers had died trying to take it back. Allied commanders believed the ridge to be impregnable.

But the Canadians had a plan, the first battle strategy for this new nation's commanders to conceive and execute on their own. Even military "experts" of the time admitted dubiously that the Canadians' plan couldn't be any worse than the British tactics at the Somme, which cost 24,000 Canadian casualties. So the Canadian army – all four divisions, totalling 100,000 men – got the go-ahead.

The ground assault had been planned meticulously for months. Full-scale replicas of the Vimy terrain were built to rehearse unit commanders on what to expect both from the enemy and from Canadian units on either side. Canadian spotters had identified and mapped about 80 per cent of the German gun positions. Five kilometres of tunnels were dug in order to move Canadian troops and ammunition up to the front without their being seen by German observers. And for a couple of weeks leading up to the battle, Canadian and British artillery pounded the Germans with 2,500 tons of ammunition per day.

At 5:30 in the morning on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, the assault began. It was raining. It was freezing cold. And it began with a huge artillery barrage… shock and awe 1917-style.

Over 1,100 cannons of various descriptions, from British heavy naval guns mounted on railway cars miles behind the battlefield, to portable field artillery pieces dragged into place by horses, mules or soldiers just behind the Canadian lines, fired continuously – in some cases until they exhausted their ammunition.

The Canadian battle plan was simple: the withering barrage provided a screen for the Canadian troops to hide behind. Hundreds of shells would land at once, spraying plumes of muddy earth upward like a polluted version of some giant decorative water fountain. Every three minutes the 850 Canadian cannons would aim a little higher, advancing the row of shellfire forward by 90 metres.

The attacking Canadian foot soldiers were expected to keep up, advancing, taking and occupying German positions, moving forward, never stopping, never racing ahead. Falling behind would make them clearer targets for German guns mounted higher up the ridge. Getting ahead of the artillery would put them in danger of being blasted by their own guns.

The giant naval cannons focused on the reinforced concrete bunkers protecting German heavy gun emplacements. The immense but inaccurate shells sent plumes of dirt, concrete and shrapnel skyward with every impact. The craters left behind were as large as houses.

The fight to take Vimy Ridge cost Canada dearly, but it would become the cornerstone of the nation's image of its place in the world. In four days, 3,600 Canadian soldiers died, another 5,000 were wounded. But the ridge was taken, much of it in the first day. The valour of the troops, the originality of the plan, the success where larger, more established armies had failed, all contributed to a new nation's pride.

The battle was hailed as the first allied success of the long war, achieved mostly due to the innovation of using a creeping, continuous massive artillery barrage to protect squads of advancing troops. Both sides used the tactic in future battles.

But even today we're paying the cost. At Vimy and other former First World War battlefields, the ground is so full of unexploded ordnance that visitors are warned not to stray from marked pathways. The risk from shells that fell and never exploded is still so high that it's too dangerous, nearly a century later, to walk onto the actual battlefield to search for remains of soldiers listed as "missing."

Today, there's a large park at Vimy Ridge, dedicated to Canada. The striking memorial features a 30-tonne limestone figure carved from a single block, a hooded figure representing Canada herself, gazing down on a single tomb overlooking the Douai plain.

The twin stone pillars list the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who died in France and whose remains were never found.
 
Kreskin
#2
My wife's great grandfather perished at Vimy Ridge. She would like us to go Vimy someday to see the memorial.

Those farmboys didn't know how to go backwards.
 
Kreskin
#3
p.s. thank you for posting this. It means a lot.
 
I think not
#4
You're welcome. God Bless their brave souls.
 
#juan
#5
I've been there,

The massive columns of the Vimy Ridge memorial are awe inspiring. As a Canadian I was unquestionably proud but the thousands of white crosses dampened my patriotic ardor somewhat. I am still proud but I'm still shocked that so many lost were lost for a quarter of a mile of real estate that is now a park. My brother's daughter was there last year and she was awed by the care that is taken to keep the park imaculate. Something we can thank the French for.
 
FiveParadox
#6
It doesn't need to be Remembrance Day to remember the brave souls, and the brave people, who have fought for what is right. As mentioned above: Lest we forget. May the lessons taught to us in war never be forgotten.
 
I think not
#7
I meant to post this on Sunday, but didn't want to impinge on someone else who may have wanted to do so. I figure I was safe with Tuesday.
 
Finder
#8
Here here, Fiveparadox, but I grieve for both sides in the first world war as both alliances were drawn into conflic which had been building for well over 50 years and the cost of was was with such number dead, in the dozens of millions that they thought war had ended forever. It is a pitty that so little was done to win the peace. So much pointless death it truly makes you wonder how we can still kill each other to this day.
 
Blackleaf
#9
It was some ancestor of mine (probably my great-great grandfather) who fought in World War I.

He survived, but he had shrapnel. After the war, he went back working on the railways. One snowy and icy day, he was standing on a railway track sweeping something up with a broom when suddenly he slipped on the ice, fell over backwards, and banged his head on the ground. The shrapnel inside him shot out of the top of his head like a bullet, and killed him instantly.
 
Finder
#10
Thats a horrible story! To live all that time just to be killed by the war afterward.
 
I think not
#11
/bump
 
Mogz
#12
I know i'm late on this topic, but for the month of April I was busy and rarely had time to hit the forums.

With regard to this issue, first off let me say thank you to ITN for posting this. Especially because you're an American, posting on a significant part of Canadian History. I myself have always been enthralled with the lore surrounding Vimy Ridge. I've read dozens of books, and i've watched dozens of history specials on the Battle, and i'll never cease to be amazed. I think my amazement lies in the fact that the 1st Canadian Corps (all four Canadian Divisions) were volunteers. Every man that stepped on to the fields of Flanders was there on his own free will. Our great success at Vimy has become not only the corner stone of the Canadian Army, but the corner stone of Canada as a nation. For decades historians have said that April 10th, 1917, not July 1st, 1867, is the day Canada truely became a nation. From a soldiers stand point Vimy Ridge is still to this day a source of pride for those who wear the rifle green beret. To me there is nothing better than watching a Regiment parade with their battle honours flying, and seeing the small patch labeled "Vimy Ridge; 1917". Thanks for posting this ITN, gracious as always my friend.
 
Colpy
#13
Quote: Originally Posted by Mogz

I know i'm late on this topic, but for the month of April I was busy and rarely had time to hit the forums.

With regard to this issue, first off let me say thank you to ITN for posting this. Especially because you're an American, posting on a significant part of Canadian History. I myself have always been enthralled with the lore surrounding Vimy Ridge. I've read dozens of books, and i've watched dozens of history specials on the Battle, and i'll never cease to be amazed. I think my amazement lies in the fact that the 1st Canadian Corps (all four Canadian Divisions) were volunteers. Every man that stepped on to the fields of Flanders was there on his own free will. Our great success at Vimy has become not only the corner stone of the Canadian Army, but the corner stone of Canada as a nation. For decades historians have said that April 10th, 1917, not July 1st, 1867, is the day Canada truely became a nation. From a soldiers stand point Vimy Ridge is still to this day a source of pride for those who wear the rifle green beret. To me there is nothing better than watching a Regiment parade with their battle honours flying, and seeing the small patch labeled "Vimy Ridge; 1917". Thanks for posting this ITN, gracious as always my friend.

Absolutely!

The first ground taken and kept by Allied troops in WWI.

As an aside Douglas Haig was a complete idiot. On July 1, 1916, he lost 50,000 men in the MORNING of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. His most famous quote? "The machinegun is INEFFECTIVE against mass attack." Need we wonder how he lost 50,000 men in 6 hours?

He should have been impressed by the flexibility and imagination of the "colonials"!
 
I think not
#14
You're welcome Mogz.
 
catman
#15
Vimy Ridge should be remembered as part of the greater tragety now know as world war I.
An unecessary war where Canadians were lured into fighting for the British Empire against her German counterparts.
 
darkbeaver
#16
Another glorification of a useless battle in a useless war. They died for nothing. What a waste.
 
catman
#17
The Quebecois got it right when they refused to participate in a war between crumbling Empires.
 
Dexter Sinister
#18
Saddest thing of all, to my mind: 620,000 Canadians mobilized, 67,000 killed, 173,000 injured, many of them cripplingly and permanently. For a country with less than 10 million people at the time, that's a whole generation of young men. And it being an all-volunteer army tells us something about who they were: the adventurous spirits, the bold and brave, the risk takers... We lost more than just those men, we lost a spirit and an attitude too. Imagine how different Canada might be if they'd lived and had children and grandchildren... That's one of Pierre Burton's conclusions in his book about Vimy Ridge. At the end he asks, "Was it worth it?" His answer was no, and so is mine.

In retrospect it's easy to see that it was a stupid war fought for stupid reasons and created the roots of conflicts--notably in the MIddle East--that are still vexing the planet. That's one of the reasons why we ought to remember; you'll never make sense of the current geopolitical situation if you don't understand WW1.

And it's certainly no reason not to honour our fallen and remember their sacrifices. My mother's father and his brothers were there. They all came home again, and they were all physically whole, but other relatives confirmed that they were never the same after that. As one of my Great Aunts put it, all the joy was burned out of them. They were casualties too. Their whole generation was.
 
snfu73
#19
Listening to the news, I heard the announcer says that this was a day of rememberance and celebration. I don't see any reason to celebrate. It was war. It was people killing people. That isn't anything to celebrate. Remember and learn from? Yes. Celebrate...no.
 
Curiosity
#20
SNAFU

Aren't we lucky then you aren't calling the shots and making the rules to honor the slain.

The least we can do is pay homage those who have died for their nation - for whatever cause or reason.

It would seem you lack knowledge of the meaning of the word celebrate... a missing link which often takes only a few minutes to look up on the internet to discover something new...

Thesaurus (external - login to view)

Library (external - login to view) > Words (external - login to view) > Thesaurus (external - login to view)
celebrate

verb
  1. To mark (a day or an event) with ceremonies of respect, festivity, or rejoicing: commemorate (external - login to view), keep (external - login to view), observe (external - login to view), solemnize (external - login to view). See remember/forget (external - login to view).
  2. To show joyful satisfaction in an event, especially by merrymaking: rejoice (external - login to view), revel (external - login to view). Idioms: kill the fatted calf, make merry. See laughter (external - login to view).
  3. To pay tribute or homage to: acclaim (external - login to view), eulogize (external - login to view), exalt (external - login to view), extol (external - login to view), glorify (external - login to view), hail (external - login to view), honor (external - login to view), laud (external - login to view), magnify (external - login to view), panegyrize (external - login to view), praise (external - login to view). Idioms: sing someone's praises. See praise/blame (external - login to view).
Last edited by Curiosity; Apr 10th, 2007 at 07:22 AM..
 
#juan
#21
Quote: Originally Posted by Dexter SinisterView Post

Saddest thing of all, to my mind: 620,000 Canadians mobilized, 67,000 killed, 173,000 injured, many of them cripplingly and permanently. For a country with less than 10 million people at the time, that's a whole generation of young men. And it being an all-volunteer army tells us something about who they were: the adventurous spirits, the bold and brave, the risk takers... We lost more than just those men, we lost a spirit and an attitude too. Imagine how different Canada might be if they'd lived and had children and grandchildren... That's one of Pierre Burton's conclusions in his book about Vimy Ridge. At the end he asks, "Was it worth it?" His answer was no, and so is mine.
In retrospect it's easy to see that it was a stupid war fought for stupid reasons and created the roots of conflicts--notably in the MIddle East--that are still vexing the planet. That's one of the reasons why we ought to remember; you'll never make sense of the current geopolitical situation if you don't understand WW1.
And it's certainly no reason not to honour our fallen and remember their sacrifices. My mother's father and his brothers were there. They all came home again, and they were all physically whole, but other relatives confirmed that they were never the same after that. As one of my Great Aunts put it, all the joy was burned out of them. They were casualties too. Their whole generation was.

Quote has been trimmed, See full post: View Post
Whether Vimy Ridge was worth it or not is something that can be argued for decades and it has been. One point I'd like to make is that Canadian troops had already put in time as cannon fodder for at least a couple of incompetent British generals who inherited their commissions. Vimy Ridge was at least a Canadian planned operation. The 3600 Canadians who lost their lives and the thousands injured at Vimy were a terrible price, but far better than the 11,000 who were cannon fodder and who were so blasted to smithereens that there wasn't enough left to identify. As well, those who came home could be very proud of their achievements. This coming November we might not have a single WW1 veteran at the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa, but I remember when we had tens of thousands. I just wish we had treated our veterans a little better when they were still here.
 
catman
#22
WW1 vets in the US were certainly ignored by their government after the war. 'The Bonus March' is a subject worth looking into.
 
talloola
#23
My grandfather fought in the Boer War, and also World War 1. He never spoke of the wars,
kept it all inside for the rest of his life. He survived physically, remained very healthy, but
something was taken from his spirit forever.
I remember him well, he was very quiet, didn't want any trouble with anyone, ever, just lived out
his life, without bothering anyone.
 
Dexter Sinister
#24
Quote: Originally Posted by talloolaView Post

...just lived out his life, without bothering anyone.

Yeah, I've seen the same pattern in veterans of both World Wars, I'm sure it's visible in Vietnam veterans (though I don't currently know any) and it'll be visible in the veterans of Kosovo and Afghanistan and Iraq and so forth. Very bright and able people, content to live out their lives being much less than they could have been. One of my favourite people (dead now, alas) was a veteran of convoy escort duty on corvettes in WW2, very intelligent, widely read, deeply thoughtful and insightful, he'd have been an excellent academic and teacher, spent his professional life selling shoes and never wanted anything more than peace and quiet. Nothing wrong with that, but he could have been so much more, for himself and many others, and I've always felt the combat experience broke something in him.
 
talloola
#25
[quote=Dexter Sinister;820227]Yeah, I've seen the same pattern in veterans of both World Wars, I'm sure it's visible in Vietnam veterans (though I don't currently know any) and it'll be visible in the veterans of Kosovo and Afghanistan and Iraq and so forth.

Why can't it 'just' all end. It's such a helpless feeling for all of us who, just want peace, and peace
comes closer from time to time, but then away it goes, as some new war is born, it's very frustrating.
The U.S. government just seems to have become paranoid since 911, and if they don't elect someone
who is a moderate/diplomat in 2008, they will continue with their non peaceful methods, and threats
to other countries, and their accusations toward others as 'terrorists', when, what is really needed is a more diplomatic approach, and some 'calm'.
McCain and Gulianni both scare me, as they just want to continue on in the same path as Bush.
 
snfu73
#26
Quote: Originally Posted by CuriosityView Post

SNAFU

Aren't we lucky then you aren't calling the shots and making the rules to honor the slain.

The least we can do is pay homage those who have died for their nation - for whatever cause or reason.

It would seem you lack knowledge of the meaning of the word celebrate... a missing link which often takes only a few minutes to look up on the internet to discover something new...

Thesaurus (external - login to view)

Library (external - login to view) > Words (external - login to view) > Thesaurus (external - login to view)
celebrate

verb

  1. To mark (a day or an event) with ceremonies of respect, festivity, or rejoicing: commemorate (external - login to view), keep (external - login to view), observe (external - login to view), solemnize (external - login to view). See remember/forget (external - login to view).
  2. To show joyful satisfaction in an event, especially by merrymaking: rejoice (external - login to view), revel (external - login to view). Idioms: kill the fatted calf, make merry. See laughter (external - login to view).
  3. To pay tribute or homage to: acclaim (external - login to view), eulogize (external - login to view), exalt (external - login to view), extol (external - login to view), glorify (external - login to view), hail (external - login to view), honor (external - login to view), laud (external - login to view), magnify (external - login to view), panegyrize (external - login to view), praise (external - login to view). Idioms: sing someone's praises. See praise/blame (external - login to view).

Well, screw your dictionary terms...when I see celebrate, I think of a party...I think of glorification. I don't think death and war and mass destruction should be celebrated. Remembered, yes. Celebrated...in the way that I most often use the term, and most often hear it used....no. But thanks so much for your help in the matter.
 
snfu73
#27
Quote: Originally Posted by talloolaView Post

My grandfather fought in the Boer War, and also World War 1. He never spoke of the wars,
kept it all inside for the rest of his life. He survived physically, remained very healthy, but
something was taken from his spirit forever.
I remember him well, he was very quiet, didn't want any trouble with anyone, ever, just lived out
his life, without bothering anyone.

I can't imagine what war would do to someone. I think how war would affect me...I just can't imagine how it would mess with me. It is not something I would wish on anyone...and I wish there was some way to put an end to it...especially modern warfare.
 
EagleSmack
#28
Quote: Originally Posted by snfu73View Post

I can't imagine what war would do to someone. I think how war would affect me...I just can't imagine how it would mess with me. It is not something I would wish on anyone...and I wish there was some way to put an end to it...especially modern warfare.

I suppose that all warfare is modern at the time it was fought.
 
spaminator
Curious Cdn
#30
My Great Uncle was there, a mule skinner limbering guns. He was a teenager of seventeen years old but he was already an experienced war veteran by the time of Vimy.
 

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