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Monday, April 09, 2007

Vimy victory's strategic impact

If you're curious about the impact of the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge on the First World War itself, and not on Canadian nationalism, a fine place to start is inside the covers of John Keegan's 1998 bestseller The First World War, a magnificent book that provides a battle-by-battle, campaign-by-campaign chronology of the Great War.

Here is the relevant passage, from page 326 of the Vintage Canada Edition, 2000:

The success of the Canadians was sensational. In a single bound the awful, bare, broken slopes of Vimy Ridge, on which the French had bled to death in thousands in 1915, was taken, the summit gained and, down the precipitous eastern reverse slope, the whole Douai plain, crammed with German artillery and reserves, laid open to the victors' gaze...

"...There appears to be nothing at all to prevent our breaking through," wrote a Canadian lieutenant, "nothing except the weather." In practice, it was not the weather but the usual inflexibilty of the plan that deterred progress. A predicated pause of two hours, after the objectives had been gained, prevented the leading troops from continuing the advance. When they did so, the day was shortening and the impetus ran out.

On 10 April the first German reserves began to appear to stop the gap and when, on 11 April, an attempt was made to widen the break-in by an attack on the right at Bullecourt, an Australian division found uncut wire which the handful of accompanying tanks could not break. An intermission was then ordered, to allow casualties to be replaced and the troops to recover. Losses by then totalled nearly 20,000, one-third of those suffered on the first day of the Somme, but the divisions engaged were exhausted.

When the battle was resumed on 23 April, the Germans had re-organized and reinforced and were ready to counter-attack on every sector. As a result, attrition set in, dragging on for a month, and bringing another 130,000 casualties for no appreciable gain of ground. The Germans suffered equally but, after the humiliation at Vimy, quickly rebult their positions and were in no danger of undergoing a further defeat on the Arras front."

Thus, through an all-too-typical lack of proper battlefield planning, Canada's "sensational" success at Vimy Ridge 90 years ago today was soon transformed into yet another bloody stalemate.

Posted by Terry O'Neill on April 9, 2007 in Military | Permalink

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Comments

I have several of Keegan's Books, and am familier with his perspective of "Vimy" -Sir Martin Gilbert
the "dean" of British Historians has published several Books focused on World War I. Canada was given much space and accolades, but I consider Berton's Vimy his Masterpiece - people forget what a great "Reporter" Berton was. During World War II he was Editor of the famed Canadian Army Newspaper the Maple Leaf very close to the front lines. Berton had some great writers and reporters like Lional Shapiro, and Blair Fraser - MacLeod

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2007-04-09 2:06:21 PM


It was at Amiens, in August 1918, that the CEF really shone in a victory not only fought by, but also led by Canadians.

"Early August 1918 found the movements of the 20th Battalion cloaked with secrecy. Marches were made at night and orders to move were sudden. Eventually, it was revealed that the whole Canadian Corps would be taking part in a counter-attack near Amiens. "The great secret had been well maintained up to the last moment; the Germans would naturally expect an attack on any front where they found the Canadian Corps, which had been held in reserve during the fighting in March."

The Battle of Amiens was the turning point in the war, the beginning of the end for the Central Powers. It began on 8 August 1918 and its spearhead was made up of the Canadian Corps and the Australian Corps. On the first day, the Second Canadian Division advanced an unbelievable eight miles. On the second day, they made another advance of 5000 yards. Ludendorff, the German Commander-in-Chief, in his memoirs called 8 August "the black day of the German Army".

Posted by: DJ | 2007-04-09 4:39:14 PM


Whose poor battlefield planning are you talking about? Currie himself was meticulous. Higher echelons apparently did not anticipate success by the lowly colonials and were not prepared to exploit the breakthrough. The planned pause made sense for the Canadian Corps itself. I am speculating here, but Byng and Currie probably felt they did not have the forces necessary to go farther and did not want the Corps to reach a culminating point, thus becoming vulnerable to counter-attack. The failure, then, would have lain in not committing theatre reserves to the action, a decision obviously above the corps level.
If the attack had been exploited, could the Allies have forced an end to the war earlier, maybe even in '17? Smarter minds than mine will have to sort that out in the history books.

Posted by: TJ | 2007-04-09 8:33:58 PM


You are right DJ - Historian Dr. Martin Gilbert
defines the Battle in the same terms -Canadian "Historians" however for the most part fail to consider the impact of a huge US Army arriving at the Western Frant - but British French and German Historians do not - Germany decided to fight a war of attrition which ultimately defeated them - the huge losses are evident in the German War Cemeteries
in France, Belgium and Germany - Macleod

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2007-04-10 6:11:07 AM


For Ezra to state this in his Monday SUN colum is a disgrace. "But was it necessary to so thank their captors, on television?
Has he no idea that those apologies were forced by the Iranians?
Is he so bullish and selfish to attack brave UK sailors?.
I suggest that had it been Ezra in Iran under captivity that he would hum a sweet song for the Iranian thugs if he was under the threats they were.
The female UK sailor was forced to strip and was humilated , does Ezra forget that?
Blair did not bomb Iran true but he not negotiate either.
Blair stood firm and the sailors were released at no thanks to the Publisher of the Western Standard.

Posted by: freedom | 2007-04-10 3:45:35 PM



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