In April 1917, Commonwealth forces launched an offensive against German lines around Arras. It was intended to support a major French attack along the Chemin des Dames ridge near the River Aisne to the south. Vimy Ridge dominated the area north of Arras. The Canadian Corps was tasked with capturing this vital high ground.

Background

Soldiers trained thoroughly for the task. They rehearsed their advance in full kit, over fields laid out with tape to mark the German lines. To mimic the 'creeping' artillery barrage, men on horseback rode ahead of them waving flags to simulate the shell fire.

For weeks before the offensive began, artillery bombarded the German positions destroying trenches, fortifications, ammunition and supply dumps.

On Easter Sunday a sharp north-westerly wind blew flurries of snow across No Man's Land. The troops received a hot meal and a tot of rum. By 4am on 9 April - Easter Monday - 15,000 Canadians were in position.

The Battle

At 5.30am, a final ferocious bombardment opened up and mines were detonated beneath the German lines. The attacking troops scrambled out of their concealed positions and advanced across the shattered, muddy ground, with a barrage of shells exploding just ahead of them, just as they had practised.

Along the southern part of Vimy Ridge, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions quickly fought their way through the German lines. The highest point of the ridge, Hill 145, was the objective of the 11th Brigade of the 4th Canadian Division

Hill 145 had been strongly fortified with several rings of trenches. Deep dugouts of concrete and steel protected the German soldiers from the bombardment and many were able to reach their machine guns before the advancing Canadians arrived. The 11th Brigade suffered heavy casualties, but gradually fought their way forward. By dusk, Hill 145 had been taken, along with the rest of the ridge to the south.

During the following three days, the remaining German forces were cleared from the northern tip of the ridge, and the high ground was entirely in Canadian control.

By taking Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Corps established a reputation as elite assault troops. For Canada, the battle became a symbol of national achievement.

Aftermath

During the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Corps suffered some 10,000 casualties, of whom nearly 3,600 were killed.

The fallen were buried by their comrades. Small cemeteries appeared across Vimy Ridge, a visual reminder of the cost of victory. Many of these original cemeteries were later formalised by the Canadian Corps burial officers.

After the Armistice they were passed into the care of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission. Today the Commission continues to care for the final resting places of all of those who died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

related Cemeteries & Memorials

Vimy Memorial rises up from Vimy Ridge, site of the Canadian Corps' stunning victory in 1917. It lists the names of some 11,160 Canadian servicemen who died in France and who have no known grave. More than 1,510 of those commemorated on the memorial died during the Battle of Vimy or in later actions in April 1917.

Canadian Cemetery No.2 contains the graves and memorials to more than 2,960 servicemen of the British Empire, of whom more than 2,140 remain unidentified. More than 690 of those commemorated in the cemetery served with Canadian units.

Nine Elms Military Cemetery contains the graves and memorials to more than 680 servicemen of the British Empire, of whom nearly 150 remain unidentified. Nearly 530 of those commemorated in the cemetery served with Canadian units. Also buried in the cemetery are more than 50 French servicemen.