Between Lens and Arras, along the A 26, the "Autoroute des Anglais":
Vimy Ridge, centrepoint of the Battle of Arras, 9 - 12 April 1917.
During the Second Battle of Artois (9-15 May 1915), the French 1st Moroccan Division managed to take possession of the ridge, after an astonishing 4 km advance, but the Division was unable to maintain the ridge, due to a lack of reinforcements, and consequently suffered heavy losses.
The French suffered approximately 150.000 casualties in their attempts to gain control of Vimy Ridge and surrounding territory. Following the Third Battle of Artois (or the Battle of Loos (September 1915)) the Vimy sector became calm for a period of time.
At Vimy and as on other former battlefields,
the fields are still full of unexploded explosives.
Visitors are warned not to walk outside the marked pathways.
The hill and it's barren slopes provided little cover
for attacking troops, ...
.. and it was an ideal position for machine guns and artillery
to fire on ennemy invaders.
(Satellite photo of the same spot:. Notice the shellhole traces)
The Germans conquered Vimy Ridge in October 1914, during the First Battle of Artois. Situated 8 km northeast of Arras, the ridge is approximately 7 km in length with a height of 145 m. (Hill 145), providing a natural panorama view for tens of kilometers. The German Sixth Army had heavily fortified the ridge with tunnels, three rows of trenches behind barbed wire networks, artillery, and numerous machine gun nests to protect the Lens coal mines, which were essential to their war efforts.
Vimy Ridge was defended by the Gruppe Vimy, a formation under 1st Bavarian Army Corps Commander General Karl von Fasbender. A Division of Gruppe Souchez, under 8th Reserve Corps of General Georg Karl Wichura, was also involved in the front line defence along the most northern point of the Ridge: the Pimple.
The Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial at Hill 145.
In 2005 it was under construction of renovations.
We visited the renovated monument in May 2008.
Click HERE for a Special Impression about
the Vimy Canadian National Memorial.
For now two views of the renovated
Memorial at Hill 145 of May 2008.
Rear side, west.
Front, east side.
Traces of trenches and shell holes on the western slope
of Hill 145.
The Arras-Vimy sector was conducive to tunnel excavation owing to the soft, porous yet extremely stable nature of the chalk underground. As a result, an underground warfare had been an important feature of the Vimy sector since 1915, with no less than 19 distinct mine crater groups existing along the Canadian front by 1917. Since their arrival in 1916, British Royal Engineer Tunnelling Companies had been active with offensive mining against German miners with 5 Tunnelling Companies stationed along the Vimy front at the height of the operations.
In preparation for the assault, British Tunnelling Companies, with the assistance of Canadian Engineers and infantry, created extensive underground networks and fortifications. Twelve subways, up to 1.2 km in length (the “Goodman” Subway), were excavated at a depth of 10 meters. The subways connected reserve lines to front lines, permitting soldiers to advance to the front quickly, securely, and most important; unseen. Concealed light rail lines, hospitals, command posts, water reservoirs, ammunition stores, mortar posts, machine gun posts, and communication centres were also often excavated in the subways. Many subways were also lit by electricity provided by generators.
Thirteen mines were also laid under German positions, particularly near the Pimple and the Broadmarsh Crater, with the intention of destroying fortified points before to the assault.
We went to visit...
... the preserved and restaurated trench system down Hill 145.
Before we go on: some concise information
about the Battle for Vimy Ridge from 9 until 12 April 1917.
On 5 January 1917 General Byng was ordered to plan attacks for Vimy Ridge as the Canadian Corps objective for the Arras Offensive. A formal assault plan was adopted by early March 1917. For the first time, all four Canadian Divisions were to be assembled to operate in combat as one Corps. Four Canadian Divisions were joined by the British 5th Infantry Division, and reinforced by artillery, engineers, and labour units. This brought the Canadian Corps nominal strength up to 170,000 men of all ranks, of whom 97,184 were Canadians.
Allied commanders believed it impossible to capture the ridge. The Canadians had a plan. The ground assault had been planned meticulously. Full-scale replicas of the Vimy terrain were built to rehearse. Five kilometres of subterranean tunnels and subways were dug in order to move Canadian troops and ammunition up to the front without their being seen by German observers.
On 2 April 1917, an artillery bombardment of 7 days ahead with 2.800 guns was stepped up to wear down the German soldiers. Before the battle began, more than one million shells had been fired into German trenches.
In the morning of 9 April, Eastern Monday, at 5.30 AM, 20.000 Canadian soldiers attacked in the first wave of fighting in the battle of Vimy Ridge behind an creeping barrage of artillery fire. The Canadians were extremely fast and successful and took the ridge by afternoon.
Germans surrendering to the Canadian troops...
The Germans were rather surprised. The did expect an attack.
But they presumed the start of the large offensive would take another 2 or 3 weeks.
In the next 4 days the Canadian Corps achieved all of it’s objectives. In 4 days, there were 10.602 Canadian casualties, of which 3.598 Canadian soldiers died. The German forces suffered even more heavily: 20.000 casualties. But the ridge was taken, much of it in the first day.
Some newspaper sheets of the period.
Aerial view from Vimy Ridge after the battle.
We visited the trenches,
which the Canadian Ministry of Veteran Affairs preserved along
the Grange Group Mine Craters southeast of the Memorial.
A sattelite photo of the site.
Left the Canadian 1st Line, right the German 1st Line.
We start at the Canadian 1st Line first.
Not many words from here now.
Let the photo's tell their own story...
Armoured plate for a sniper rifle hole.
View at the Grange Group Mine Craters
from the Canadian Parapet.
View at the German line on the other side of the crater lip.
Notice the German pillbox on the right for later.
View at the mine crater group.
We went around the crater lip to the German Lines.
The German 1st Line.
View from the German 1st Line over the craters
to the Canadian 1st line.
Zizagging German trenches.
This looks like a relic of a German 17 cm trench mortar.
German machine gun pillbox.
West of the German lines: traces of trenches, shellholes,
With warm compliments and gratitude
to the Canadian Hostesses and Hosts of the Memorial!
Continue to the next chapter:
Visit also the website of the COBWFA: