During the First World War, Vimy Ridge was so well fortified that it was thought to be impenetrable. Throughout 1915 and 1916, British and French troops had tried to break through German lines, but were unsuccessful and suffered terrible losses. Canadian soldiers took over the front line at Vimy Ridge and throughout the winter, prepared for a major assault.
To capture Vimy Ridge, the Canadians carefully planned and rehearsed their attack for months. Using aerial reconnaissance, Canadian troops were able to gather enough intelligence to build a replica of the Vimy terrain – a model that included nearly 80% of the German gun positions. Each individual soldier studied a detailed map of the land and underwent weeks of training behind the lines, using the Vimy Ridge replica to practice their every move.
At 5:30 a.m. on April 9, 1917, the assault began. The Canadians continuously fired their ammunition to provide a screen for the troops to hide behind. Every 3 minutes, the barrage of shellfire moved a little closer. The soldiers slowly crept forward, never stopping or racing ahead. By the afternoon of April 9, the two front lines had been taken by the Canadian troops. By April 12, the entire ridge was under Allied control, and remained in their hands for the duration of the war.
The success of the Canadian capture of Vimy Ridge can be attributed to meticulous planning, powerful artillery support, extensive training, and tactical innovation. However, the victory of the battle came at a high cost: 3,598 Canadians were killed and more than 7,000 were wounded. After the war, the Vimy Memorial was built on the highest point of Vimy Ridge as a tribute to the sacrifice and bravery of the Canadians who served their country in battle, a sacrifice that has contributed to Canada’s pride as a nation.
“I thought then…that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.” - Brigadier-General Alexander Ross
Quick Facts About the Vimy Memorial
- It took 11 years and $1.5 million to build
- It was unveiled in 1936 in the presence of more than 50,000 Canadian and French veterans and their families
- It rests on a bed of 11,000 tonnes of concrete and is reinforced with hundreds of tonnes of steel
- The walls of the Memorial are inscribed with the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were posted “missing, presumed dead” in France
- It was designed by Canadian sculptor and architect, Walter Seymour Allward, who once said the form of the design came to him in a dream