War Events – April 9, 1917
April 9, 1917 was the first day of Canadians’ attack on Vimy Ridge. They were fighting against three Divisions of Germans – 6th Army, Reserves and the Bavaria Divisions. Their overall objective was to push the Germans off the hill and as far away as possible. They needed to keep the Germans out of Paris and away from the coast.
The fighting began at 5:30am with the final bombardment by the British 3rd Army spreading over 50,000 tonnes of shells over the German line with 2879 artillery guns, each one covering nine metres of the line. The new No. 106 fuses blew down and across on impact, taking out wire and some tunnels. Most of the artillery was aimed at the artillery batteries to minimize danger and injury to their troops. Bombardment silenced 70% of the German guns.
Why was Vimy so important?
Vimy’s elevated ridge gave whoever held it a huge strategic advantage and excellent vantage point of Allied positions and activity. Vimy was key to holding the Arras area, train hub of France. Vimy represented control of the Douai Plain and a large section of northern France.
To the French, it was a symbol of frustration and pointless deaths. France was on the verge of capitulation and surrender.
To the British, a victory was needed. The German raids on merchant ships had brought Britain close to starvation due to the 800,000 tons of supplies they were losing a month through U-boat attacks.
To the Germans, it cemented their hold on northern France.
October 2016 – when the Canadians arrived, it was the first time in WWI that four divisions of the Canadian army were assembled together to participate in a battle. Up to this point, they had been reinforcing British Corps. At Vimy, the British Army’s 5th Infantry Division – their artillery, engineers and labour units – were reinforcements for the Canadians.
Of the 170,000 Allied soldiers assembled at Vimy, 97,184 were Canadian.
Vimy was just a small part of the Battle of Arras in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. For the Allies, it was a diversion to draw German attention and resources away from a French offensive in the Champagne region. The French plan was to have the Canadians preoccupy the Germans with an attack in the north while France’s General Nivelle broke through the German lines and brought about the end of the war.
The French plan failed and resulted in slaughter and brought the French Army close to collapse.