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Vimy | Preparation | The Attack | Notes | Comments

The Attack, 9 April 

Easter Sunday found the Canadian Corps augmented to a strength of approximately 170,000 all ranks, of whom 97,184 were Canadians; apart from the British 5th Division in Corps reserve the non-Canadians were chiefly artillery, engineer and labour units attached for special tasks.  That evening the infantry battalions began to move forward to their assembly areas, guided by luminous painted stakes and in many cases completing their journey through one of the elaborate subways constructed by the tunnellers beforehand.  The enemy's forward wire had been cut and patrols now cut lanes through the Canadian wire so that forward companies could file through to occupy the shallow ditches in No Man's Land from which they would assault.  By 4 a.m. the troops were in position, without alarming the German outposts a bare 100 yards away.

Not until 5:30 a.m. did the batteries open fire.  After three minutes of rapid fire on the German forward trench the field artillery barrage began to creep forward, lifting 100 yards every three minutes.  Ahead of it a bullet-swept zone was created by 150 machine-guns.  Simultaneously the heavy guns deluged the German battery positions and ammunition dumps with high explosive and gas shells, the latter killing horses and thus putting an end to the mobility of guns and wagons.  Observation posts either had been destroyed or now were clouded by smoke and their telephone communications disrupted.  Seldom has counter-batter-y work been so effective.

A driving wind from the northwest made the attacking infantry shiver as they followed the barrage closely across the cratered and soggy ground; but it blew the falling snow and sleet into the defenders' faces.  Furthermore, coming after a comparatively quiet night the first hurricane of the bombardment had taken the enemy garrison by surprise and many failed to get out of their deep dugouts before Canadian infantrymen were at the entrances.  There was some hand-to-hand fighting, but the assault was a rapid and unqualified success.  Within thirty minutes the six assaulting battalions of the 1st Canadian Division had cleared all three trenches of the German forward defences.  After the planned pause during which the objective was consolidated under cover of a standing barrage, the rear companies continued the advance behind the creeping barrage to capture the intermediate line.  The experience of the 2nd Canadian Division, advancing on a frontage of 1400 yards, was very similar; and from its second objective, reached according to timetable, Thelus and the rounded summit of Hill 135 could be seen through the snow and smoke.  Enemy machine-gun posts had caused a considerable number of casualties, however.  On the 3rd Division front so much destruction had been caused by the artillery that the enemy was unable to offer any serious resistance.  By 7:34 a.m. the 7th and 8th Brigades had secured their second, and in this instance final, objective-roughly a mile of the crest of Vimy Ridge.  As their patrols moved down the wooded eastern slope they were fired on by snipers, however, and casualties began to mount.



The 4th Canadian Division had the hardest fighting of the day.  In its attack on Hill 145 the 11th (right) Brigade ran into a German strongpoint, which had been repaired following an earlier bombardment.  Machine-gun fire combined with uncut wire caused heavy losses here, and this affected the advance of the 12th (left) Brigade, which at first had made good progress.  It was not until repeated attacks had been made and darkness was falling that the last of the enemy was driven from the summit.

Although it was assumed that the 1st and 2nd Divisions would meet less opposition assaulting their third and fourth objectives there was no absolute certainty that the Germans were "on the run:" it was considered necessary, therefore, to adhere to the artillery programme.  Thus only at 8:35 a.m. did the reserve brigades move forward to the attack, with the British 13th Infantry Brigade on the left front of the 2nd Division's wider sector.  By 11 a.m. the 1st Canadian Division's 1st Brigade was in possession of its third objective, 1100 yards distant, while the 6th Canadian and 13th British Brigades had passed through the German intermediate line to occupy respectively Th6lus village and the fortified ground north of it.  Moving forward again at midday they cleared the second system of trenches on the reverse slope of the Ridge, and passed through Farbus.  By late afternoon patrols had penetrated to the railway embankment and the units were consolidating their gains in anticipation of counter-attack.  As the neighbouring 51st Division of the 17th Corps did not achieve its final objective until the following morning a defensive right flank had to be extended back to the intermediate line.


Subsequent Operations, 10-14 April Artillery reconnaissance aircraft directed harassing fire on German reserves moving forward across the Douai plain, with the result that effective counter-attacks never materialized.  On 10 April the 10th (reserve) Brigade of the 4th Canadian Division assaulted the two German trenches remaining on the reverse slope of the Ridge, following close behind a creeping barrage and clearing both within thirty minutes, though not without heavy loss.  The Canadian Corps now occupied the whole of its original objectives.

The necessity of employing the 10th Brigade in this last attack meant that a delay of 24 hours would be necessary before it could participate in the second (Northern) operation against the Pimple.  Again assisted by a snowstorm and driving wind, two of its battalions launched this previously rehearsed attack at 5 a.m. on 12 April, moving forward behind a barrage fired by 96 field guns.  Here also the German first and second trenches had been almost obliterated by the earlier bombardment and only slight opposition was encountered from the badly dazed garrison.  Meanwhile the 73rd Infantry Brigade of the British 24th Division captured the Bois en Hache to complete the operation.

Following the discovery that the Germans were making a general withdrawal an advance was ordered along the whole Corps front on the afternoon of 13 April.  The next morning, however, patrols came up against stiffened resistance along the forward defences of the German third line, running through Oppy and Mericourt.  This was far enough from the Ridge to reduce the advantages of observation and was too strong to attack without intensive preparation by heavy guns, which could not be moved forward until the almost obliterated roads had been rebuilt.  Here the Canadian advance was stayed for the moment.  The operation had cost the Corps over 11,000 casualties. The first phase of the Battles of Arras was at an end.  The Third British Army had had good success in front of Arras, though it had not got through the Hindenburg Line, and this combined with the Canadian advance at Vimy had resulted in the capture of more ground and more prisoners than any previous British offensive on the Western Front.  Nivelle's offensive on the Chemin des Dames was a bloody failure and was followed by widespread disaffection in the French armies.  The brunt of the rest of the year's campaign was to fall on the British, whose centre of activity moved northwards to Flanders.

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