The victory at Vimy Ridge remains Canada’s most celebrated attack of the war.
On Easter Monday, 1917, the Canadian Corps captured one of the most dominating geographic features on the Western Front. Two Canadians in particular developed the plan to crack the German fortress at Vimy Ridge. The first was General Arthur Currie, a real estate broker from Victoria, British Columbia, who rose from the militia to become Canada’s top soldier. The second was McGill scientist and artillery officer Andrew McNaughton, who coordinated the “creeping barrage” artillery tactic that helped propel the Canadians to victory.
Artillery played a dominant role during the First World War. McNaughton was a leader in counter-battery strategy — the art of destroying the enemies’ guns — and even invented a sound-ranging device that helped pinpoint the location of enemy guns. The goal of the creeping barrage was to create a line of suppressing shellfire just in front of the Canadian troops and move it forward as the soldiers advanced across the battlefield.
On the morning of April 9, 1917, along the entire length of the ridge, all four Canadian divisions advanced side by side for the first time in a single attack. With the artillery hammering the Germans, the Canadians advanced quickly despite taking heavy casualties. Only on the far left flank were the Canadians delayed. A final push by the 4th Canadian Division on April 12 captured the last major position, known as “The Pimple.”
Following the success at Vimy, Lieutenant General Julian Byng was handed command of the British 3rd Army, while Currie was put in charge of the entire Canadian Corps. But victory came at a cost: April 9 was the single bloodiest day of the war for the Canadian Corps. During four days of fighting, Canada suffered more than ten thousand casualties; this was in addition to the ten thousand lost in the four months leading up to the attack.
While the battle itself did little to change the course of the war, it cemented the Canadians’ reputation as fierce attacking soldiers, a reputation that they would carry forward over the remaining eighteen months of the Great War.
— Text by Joel Ralph