Wednesday, July 1, 2015

World War Wednesdays: The Day the Greatest Country in the World Proved It

     Happy Canada Day! The day we celebrate being citizens of the greatest country in the world. How fortunate we are to have the ability to enjoy the countless freedoms afforded to us by a nation renowned for its goodwill. Of course, as we all know, this has not come without a price. Countless people have given their lives in order to uphold the significance of this day, making it well worth the recognition. One day in particular stands out when we think of Canadians making a name for themselves in times of war, and will be the topic of today's post: April 9, 1917 at the capture of Vimy Ridge.
Canadians searching captured German trenches for Germans still hiding on Vimy Ridge, April 1917
Library and Archives Canada
     At 5:30 a.m., April 9, 1917, Easter Monday, the creeping artillery barrage began to move steadily toward the Germans. Behind it advanced 20,000 soldiers of the first attacking wave of the four Canadian divisions, heavily laden with 32 kilograms of equipment per soldier. There was some hand-to-hand fighting, but the greatest resistance, and heavy Canadian losses, came from the machine-guns in the German intermediate line. Overcoming this resistance, three of the four divisions captured their part of the Ridge by midday, right on schedule. In the final stage, the 2nd Canadian Division was assisted by the British 13th Brigade, which fell under its command for the operation.

     The 4th Canadian Division's principal objective was Hill 145, the highest and most important feature of the whole Ridge. Once taken, its summit would give the Canadians a commanding view of German rearward defenses in the Douai Plain as well as those remaining on the Ridge itself.
German front line from the Canadian trenches Vimy Ridge Hill 145 
     Because of its importance, the Germans had fortified Hill 145 with well-wired trenches and a series of deep dug-outs beneath its rear slope. The brigades of the 4th Division were hampered by fire from the Pimple, the other prominent height, which inflicted costly losses on the advancing waves of infantry. Renewed attacks were mounted using troops that were originally scheduled to attack the Pimple. Finally, in the afternoon of April 10, a fresh assault by a relieving brigade cleared the summit of Hill 145 and thus placed the whole of Vimy Ridge in Canadian hands. Two days later, units of the 10th Canadian Brigade successfully stormed the Pimple. By that time, the enemy had accepted the loss of Vimy Ridge as permanent and had pulled back more than three kilometers. Ultimately, Vimy Ridge marked the only significant success of the Allied spring offensive of 1917.
     The Canadian achievement in capturing Vimy Ridge owed its success to sound and meticulous planning and thorough preparation, all of which was aimed at minimizing casualties. But it was the splendid fighting qualities and devotion to duty of Canadian officers and soldiers on the battlefield that were decisive. Most of them citizen-soldiers, they performed like professionals.
Canadians attacked German machine-guns, the greatest obstacles to their advance, with great courage. They saved many comrades' lives as a result. Four earned the Victoria Cross for their bravery in such dangerous exploits, among them Wallacetown's own Ellis Sifton. Of these, three were earned on the opening day of the battle.
Lance-Sergeant Ellis Sifton of the 18th Battalion 
    The Canadian record, crowned by the achievements at Vimy, earned for Canada a separate signature on the Versailles Peace Treaty ending the war. Back home, the victory at Vimy, won by troops from every part of the country, helped unite many Canadians in pride at the courage of their citizen-soldiers, and established a feeling of real nationhood. That pride is still felt today every time we reflect upon our country's contributions in times of war. As we celebrate this great nation today, it is important to do it with gratitude for those who gave us the true reason to be proud. 
   Cheers, thanks for reading, and enjoy your Canada Day!
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