Primary Documents - Canadian War Records Office on the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 1917
Reproduced below is the text of the official announcement by the Canadian War Records Office, dated April 1917, announcing the Canadians' success in seizing the heights forming the German stronghold of Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917.
As a consequence of the hard fighting experienced during the battle - and partly in public recognition of the Allied success - some four Victoria Crosses were awarded following the battle.
Official Announcement by the Canadian War Records Office on the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 1917
Again the Canadians have "acquired merit."
In the capture of Vimy Ridge on April 9th, as in the lesser action of Courcelette in September of last year, they have shown the same high qualities in victorious advance as they displayed in early days in desperate resistance on many stricken fields.
At half-past five on Easter Monday morning the great attack was launched with terrible fire from our massed artillery and from many field guns in hidden advanced positions.
Our "heavies" bombarded the enemy positions on and beyond the ridge, and trenches, dugouts, emplacements, and roads, which for long had been kept in a continual state of disrepair by our fire, were now smashed to uselessness. An intense barrage of shrapnel from our field guns, strengthened by the indirect fire of hundreds of machine guns, was laid along the front.
At the same moment the Canadian troops advanced in line, in three waves of attack. Flurries of snow drifted over the battlefield as the Canadians left their jumping-off trenches behind the rolling barrage. T he light was sufficient for manoeuvring purposes and yet obscure enough to obstruct the range of vision and lessen the accuracy of fire of the German riflemen and machine gunners.
The troops on the extreme left made a start under conditions as favourable as those in the centre and right, but they were soon confronted by a strong and constantly strengthening opposition. The advance of these troops was soon checked between its first and second lines of objectives by heavy fighting, which was more formidable against the centre of the line than against the flanks.
A dip in the ground caused a change of direction, which swung these troops off their central objectives. They reached their goals on the flanks, only to find themselves subjected to heavy, close-range fire of machine guns and rifles.
To be enfiladed from the centre and the north was bad enough, but to add to the situation, caves, or a tunnel, in the hostile line over which we had already advanced now disgorged Germans, who promptly reoccupied their old front and opened fire on our rear. The enemy at these points fought with unusual vigour and resolution.
These troops on the extreme left fought all day against the Huns, and by 10 o'clock at night succeeded in disposing of the enemy in their rear and capturing the major portion of the enemy trenches in their centre. "The Pimple," in the north, still remained to the enemy, but by then snow was falling heavily and it was wisely decided to consolidate the hard-won gains and prepare for a counter-attack rather than to undertake a further assault that night.
"The Pimple" would keep for the morrow.
In the meantime the other troops fought forward to one line after another without serious check, but with many brisk encounters and not without casualties. Most of these were the result of shrapnel fire, only a small percentage were fatal, and the majority of the wounds were of a minor character.
On the German second line the troops drew breath and consolidated their gains. Our barrage was laid before them steady as a wall. Fresh troops came up and deployed into position. They waited for the barrage to lift at the ordained minute and lead them on. The enemy's artillery fire - their counter-barrage and bombardment of our gun positions - was not strong as strength in such things is considered today.
Prisoners were already hurrying to our rear in hundreds, pathetically and often ludicrously grateful to the fortunes of war that had saved them alive for capture. They surrendered promptly and willingly.
The barrage lifted, and the two divisions on the right followed it forward to the German third line. Here again they paused for a time, then advanced again, behind the ever-ready and unslackening barrage, for a distance of about 1,200 yards.
This advance included the capture of several villages, Hill 140, a number of fortified woods, and several trenches and belts of wire. And still the enemy surrendered by hundreds and scuttled rearward to safety. Their resistance grew feebler, their hands more eager to relinquish their weapons and ascend high above their heads, at each stage of our advance.
At 10 o'clock snow fell heavily from black clouds sweeping low across the ridge. Half an hour later the snow ceased, the clouds thinned, and the sun shone fitfully over the shattered and clamorous battlefield.
Word was received at the advanced headquarters that the British division on our immediate right was enjoying a degree of success in its operations equal to the Canadian success.
Events continued to develop with rapidity and precision. By 1 o'clock every point in the enemy's third line of our objectives had been reached and secured. By this time the troops on the right had consolidated their gains and advanced strong patrols. From their new positions they commanded a wide view of enemy territory to the eastward.
They reported a massing of Germans on a road in the new field of vision, and our heavy guns immediately dealt with the matter. By noon one of the battalions of a division had received and dealt drastically with three counter-attacks. Its front remained unshaken.
Shortly after this the Canadian Corps was able to state that the prisoners already to hand numbered three battalion commanders, 15 other officers, and snore than 2,000 non-commissioned officers and men - with plenty more in sight - making for our "cages" as fast as their legs could carry them.
The final stage of the attack of the troops on the right was now made. They passed through the wide belts of enemy wire which fringed the plateau by way of wide gaps torn by our heavy artillery at fixed intervals. So they issued on the eastern slopes of Vimy Ridge - the first allied troops to look down upon the level plain of Douai since the German occupation in 1914.
They saw the villages of Farbus, Vimy, and Petit Vimy at their feet, and beyond these the hamlets of Willerval, Bailleul, Oppy, and Mericourt. They pressed on to Farbus Wood and Goulot Wood, and possessed themselves of several hostile batteries and much ammunition.
By an early hour of the afternoon all our objectives, save those of the left of the attack, were in our possession, and the task of consolidating and strengthening our gains was well in hand. Throughout the day the most courageous and devoted cooperation was rendered to the Canadian Corps by a brigade and a squadron of the Royal Flying Corps.
The night saw all of Vimy Ridge, with the exception of a few trenches on Hill 145, secure in Canadian hands.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
A 'Gearsman' was a tank crew member responsible for managing the gears.
- Did you know?