Today on April 9, 1917, Canadian expeditionary forces stormed through the heavily fortified German defenses at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
The four-day Battle of Vimy Ridge took place in northeastern France during World War I. It would prove to be a defining moment in Canadian history. As part of the broader Nivelle Offensive, the Allies' objective was to retake control of the high ground running along the Vimy Ridge escarpment. The Germans defended the seven-kilometer ridge with three infantry divisions totaling between 30,000 and 45,000 men. Germany had captured Vimy Ridge at the beginning of the war and spent years fortifying their position. By 1917, they had installed more than 80 defensive artillery batteries.
The British and French command became increasingly fixated on taking it back. Both armies spent months trying to break through the defensives, but every assault was repulsed. The entire area surrounding the ridge had become an open graveyard with 100,000 French corpses laying in the field. By early April, the Canadian Corps was called in to reinforce and support the effort. Field Marshal Julian Byng took command of the army and began detailed preparations — Byng would later become the Governor-General of Canada. Other notable leaders included Major Alan Brooke, the 33-year old mastermind behind the rolling barrage, and Sir Arthur Currie, who eventually became the commander of the Canadian Corps.
British and Canadian artillery spent weeks bombarding the German defenses. Finally, at 5:30 am on April 9, the first wave of Canadian soldiers began to advance. Most of their scheduled objectives were executed according to plan. By the mid-afternoon, they had captured most of the ridge with the support of creeping barrages. The village of Thelus fell on the second day, followed by the remainder of the crest. On April 12, the last pockets of resistance from the German 6th army retreated from the region. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the largest territorial advance of any Allied force to that point in the war.
The Canadian success on the battlefield has been attributed to a combination of tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery, and extensive training. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a significant nation-building event for the young country of Canada. Many historians describe the battle as the moment when Canada finally emerged from Britain's shadow. It remains the country's most celebrated military victory, marking the first time all four Canadian divisions fought together in unison.
From coast to coast, over 170,000 Canadian troops came together and prevailed against the heavily defended enemy position. 3,598 men lost their lives during the four-day battle with another 7,000 suffering from significant wounds. The Battle of Vimy Ridge showcased Canada as capable of operating independently and contributing to the war effort in a meaningful way. In 1936, the Canadian National Vimy Ridge Memorial was unveiled in France, becoming the centerpiece of a 250-acre battlefield park.