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The Battle Of Vimmhy Ridge

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One of the most significant battles in the history of Canada was the battle of Vimy Ridge. This influence in ending World War I would change the way Canadians feel about themselves and others politically, nationally, and emotionally. Vimy Ridge is a piece of land that ran from northwest to southwest between Lens and Arras France. At its highest point the land was only 475 feet above sea level and four miles long (McKee 132). The land had been controlled by the Germans since 1914, withstanding three French attacks in 1914 and 1915. In these three attacks more than 200,000 men had fallen tiring to get up to the crest of the ridge. Behind the ridge the Germans could move safely and watch each allied move (McKee 133).

Nearly one year before the battle in May 1916 General Haig of the British forces made the decision to veto General Wilson’s motion to keep attacking the Germans. General Wilson had suffered many losses the days prior and was looking for revenge. Haig decided to halt this attack because Arras would be threatened if the Allies were to loose. The Canadians were led under Sir Julian Byng, who was British. Along side of Byng was General Currie, a Canadian solider. This was a big promotion because the British did not consider the Canadian soldiers “Fit enough to command anything larger than an infantry brigade.”(McKee 25).

A new tactic, which was hugely successful, was the �Creeping Barrage.’ The creeping barrage was designed to place a curtain of artillery fire just ahead of advancing men, a barrage that would constantly creep forward directly ahead of attacking troops. Initially, in the spring of 1916, for the Allies the situation could best be described as grim. The French armies were suffering mutinies following their near annihilation in the slaughter at Verdun. Only when the Canadian General Arthur Currie and the French General Nivelle devised this brilliant new strategy was there any hope of victory. Nivelle had come up a new style for supporting infantry with "creeping" artillery. The creeping barrage was a tactic used specifically in the Battle for Vimy Ridge. General Currie said, "If the lessons of war have been thoroughly mastered; if the artillery preparation and support is good; if our intelligence is properly appreciated, there is no position that cannot be wrested from the enemy by disciplined, well-trained and well-led troops attacking on a sound plan." (Birth of a Nation).

The Canadian Corps had planed on April 9, 1917 at 5:30 in the morning to take control of Vimy Ridge. Only 30,000 strategically placed soldiers would do what the British and French could not for over two years (Berton 16). After extensive planning and preparation the Canadian Corps were ready attack. All four Canadian divisions were arrayed in numerical order from south to north and all attacking in line. Their objective was to reach code named Black, Blue, Red and Brown lines (Goodspeed 85).

Before the Germans had time to climb out of their dugouts, the 1st division was on top of them. At the second trench the Canadians faced some resistance by the Germans but they pushed on and reached the Black Line at 6:15 in the morning. After this the Germans began to back off a little. The 2nd division was also very successful. They had captured the German trench called Graben and also reached the Black Line along with the 1st division. At 7:30 the 3rd division had reached the crest of Vimy Ridge. The 4th divisions task was the most difficult, securing a feature know as the Pimple and securing Hill 145. They were able to accomplish this goal, but they suffered heavy losses in doing so. On April 12, in a blinding snowstorm the Germans were pushed from their Canadian battalions. During the battle the Canadians captured more than 4,000 prisoners, 54 guns, 104 trench mortars, and 24 machine guns (Goodspeed 91).

Even though the battle was successful, Canadians experienced more than 10,000 causalities in which 3,598 were fatal. Although this is a high number of fatalities, it is much smaller than any pervious battle. The French were so enthused that they called the capture of Vimy Ridge, “an Easter gift from Canada to the French nation.” This comment displays the independence between the British Army and the Canadian Corps (Goodspeed 92).

The Battle of Vimy Ridge helped to change the nature of relations between Canada and Great Britain. Even after the Confederation of 1867 Canada was always considered a colony of Great Britain. On August 4, 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany, Canada was forced as a part of the empire to aid the mother country. “When Britain was at war, Canada is at war,” Laurier said in 1910, “There is no distinction.”(McKee, 130). Canada was seen as a colony of Great Britain and to be controlled by the British Army. No one presumed otherwise. When Britain asked for trained seaman and gunman, Canada always did their best to furnish them. Britain was never questioned and their authority was always unquestioned (Morton 145). This all changed after the battle of Vimy Ridge. After the victory, the Prime Minister Rob Borden insisted on having a seat at the peace conference. He also insisted on signing both the Peace Treaty and the League of Nations convent on the behalf of Canada (Morton 165). American president Woodrow Wilson disagreed and believed that Canada should be a puppet of Britain. This did not make a difference in the eyes of the Canadian Parliament, who approved both the Peace Treaty and the League of Nations. By 1918, the colony that trusted it fate to the British was now speaking its own mind. The battle of Vimy Ridge won Canadians that right to be heard (Morton 125).

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was also the birth of Canadian Nationalism. A French philosopher, Ernest Renan, said “Nations are built from the experience of doing great things together.” (Morton 145). It had turned many men, women, and children into Canadians. Until this point Old Country Immigrants had thought of themselves as British. The battle began to take on a mythic quality in the post-war days in Canada. The battle of Vimy Ridge was property of Canada and no one could take that away from them. Between the two world wars every immigrant, school child and every veterans’ son was made aware of it (Berton, 296).

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