Battle of Vimy Ridge
Journal of Sgt. Jerry Lam of 4th Division
November 20, 1916 Entry #1
Today was my first day as a sergeant. Alongside my recent promotion from private, I was also given this journal in order to record any important events in our upcoming battle. But deep down, I believe that they gave us these journals in hopes of increasing our morale, especially after our most recent battle. The Battle of the Somme was a bloody disaster with 623,907 Allie troops lost, among those, 24,700 were my fellow Canadian soldiers. (Michael Duffy) During the battle, I watched many of my squad mates die before me due to the lack of planning and organization. All of this bloodshed, and for what? Although we gained a considerable amount of territory, it was simply not enough to justify the pointless slaughtering of our force. However, I was among the fortunate to have survived and even luckier to be unharmed. Due to the diminishing numbers in rank, I was promoted to sergeant and transferred to the 4th Canadian Division. This division was recently commissioned in order to provide relief during The Battle of the Somme, but still lacked full war experience. Nonetheless, we will need all the help we can get in our next set of battles, especially with many of our fellow fighters gone for good. Rest in peace my friends.
December 20, 1916 Entry #2
In the last few weeks, all the Canadian Corps. were moved to the opposite ends of the western slope of Vimy Ridge in order to provide relief for the British troops. (Veteran's Affair) There have been rumors circulating around about a siege on Vimy Ridge in a few months. From what I recall, the ridge was strategic because it controlled a large area of occupied France and has earned its reputation as an impregnable stronghold. According to the British troops, the ridge is about seven miles long and is surrounded by barb wires and machine-gun posts. (Don Quinlan) Vimy Ridge was able to withstand repeated attacks by French and British troops, which the last time I heard, have caused 200,000 casualties. (Don Quinlan) This has caused me to doubt the rumors of a siege of such significance, with only the Canadian Corps. available. As a soldier that witnessed the unnecessary bloodshed of my fellow troops during the Battle of the Somme, I cannot endorse such a siege on an impenetrable fortress. If these stories are true however, we will need an entirely new plan in order to successful capture the ridge. As for now, we are currently building up our defense and importing more supplies to last the winter. The odds are definitely against us...for now.
January 21, 1917 Entry #3
It has been confirmed that the rumors are true about the siege. The attack will be led by Lt. General Sir Julian Byng and Commander of the 1st Division, Sir Author Currie. For now, it appears that all the Canadian divisions are fighting together in this battle for the first time. (Richard Foot) This is very significant since this will be the first fight where Canadians, from all across the country, unite together to engage in a single conflict. Besides this significant fact, we have also been told that a new strategy will be in play instead of the one we used in the Battle of the Somme. In the last few days, we were given night missions that included scouting, listening to enemy communications and killing/capturing German guards. During these missions, our faces were painted black and were given night camouflage clothing in order to stay hidden from sight. When we returned, we were told to immediately report back to the office and give a detailed report on the battlefield, including location of trenches, machine-gun posts, and artillery bunkers. (Don Quinlan) While we were describing situation, the generals and leading officers were sketching out models of the battleground. Every time we pointed out an artillery camp or a stronghold, they would place a red marker over the location. The amount of planning I have seen so far is unprecedented and may be the change we need in order to secure the ridge. In addition to what I have seen and heard, The Royal Flying Corps. have also been called in to take aerial photographs of Vimy Ridge and provide detail on enemy placement. (Veteran's Affair) If all the plans align together correctly, victory will just soon follow.
March 19, 1917 Entry #4
The battle is slowly getting closer and closer. For the past month, we have been hard at work dissecting the battlefield even further. As the planning finished up, the training and preparation began. During early February, the officers released a training pamphlet to all the soldiers, mainly emphasizing on fire and movement tactics and the use of a platoon as a self-contained tactical force (Shaun Corkerry). The pamphlet also indicated the importance of specializing in a certain weapon (machine-gunners to grenade-throwers) (Tim Cook). In addition to these instruction manuals, we were also given a map filled with strategic locations for us to study. (Norm Christie) I have never seen so much dedication and planning put into a battle before. In most cases, we were told to blindly follow the leading officer and do whatever he commands us to do. Maps were only available for the officers and lieutenants, which was why we were to follow their every move. So when we all received these maps, our morale definitely went up. The day they gave us the maps was the day we all felt trusted. I never understood why they didn't give maps to everyone in the previous battles, but I do know that this will be a significant tactic in future battles. Alongside rigorous training and simulations (never done before), our engineers were at war underground. They have been digging extensive tunnels under the field to bring infantry units closer, but safer, to the German lines. Its remarkable what they have done! They were able to create twelve subway lines, which they hope to be used for connecting reserve lines to front lines in order to provide relief while advancing to the Germans as soon as possible. At the same time, we have been actively installing explosive charges underneath German territories in hopes of preventing a rotation from them. There is just too many things happening at once! (Peter Barton) I can almost taste the victory...
April 8, 1917 Entry #5
This is it! Tomorrow is the day we are attacking so I want to keep this as short as possible. Since the last entry, we have been taught a new artillery tactic that is done by shooting the artillery shell just over our heads in order to provide cover fire while weakening German trenches and machine-gun posts. The new movement is high-risk , high-reward as it requires precise timing in order to move without getting hit by our own artillery. In addition to the new strategy in firing, the artillery shells have also been changed, now called 106 fuse, to allow the bombs to explode on contact, rather than becoming buried in the ground (Richard Foot). These new strategies and weapons will definitely have a significant impact in the upcoming and future battles. By the way, as soon as I finished the fourth entry, the generals ordered the bombardment on the Germans to begin. Since March 20, our artillery have been firing non-stop at the German batteries, trenches, and strong points. That was phase one. Phase two began on April 2 when we brought out all of our artillery this time and began the enhanced bombardment. There were rumors circulating around during this time that the German's were calling this the "week of suffering" since we apparently prevented them from repairing damaged trenches and stopped their transport of ammo, food and relief troops (Don Quinlan). Whether this is true or not, tomorrow is day 0 and with our hours of training, we are ready for the attack. Bring it on!
April 9, 1917 Entry #6
The attack began at 5:30 am. The weather was cold and it began snowing. In the beginning, everything was going just as planned, with German forces taking heavy losses. By 6:25 am, our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd divisions reported their capture of their first objective, the Black Line. However, our division encountered a decent amount of trouble during our attack, which caused a delay for a few hours before finally capturing our first objective. Our main goal was to capture Hill 145, which was the highest and most important feature of the whole Ridge. By gaining control, it would give us a strategic view of German rearward defenses as well as the remaining of the ridge (Veteran's Affair). By 7:00 am, everything was going exactly to plan, EXCEPT our division. The other divisions were able to push the Germans all the way back to their third line and were able to capture a large chunk of the enemy's territory. Unfortunately for us, our division collapsed almost immediately after exiting our trenches. Our commanding assault officer miscalculated the German's strength and requested the artillery to leave a portion of the German's trench undamaged in order to allow for easier defense when we ACTUALLY capture the hill. (Andrew Godefroy) Because of this fatal error, the Germans were able to pin down our right flank while our left flank was unable to advance due to constant harassment from The Pimple (fortified region). This forced us to fall back and wait for support from our reserve unit. Luckily, we were able to capture the southern-half of the hill by roughly 4 pm. (Andrew Godefroy) Our division suffered the most causalities so far, and yet, I was once again fortunate enough to be left unharmed. God's guardian angel must be on my side...
April 10, 1917 Entry #7
As the other divisions moved on with their objectives, we were left to finish off our main objective: gain full control Hill 145. We made an attempt at around 3:15 pm to capture the remaining northern-half. We were able to briefly capture the peak, but the Germans counterattacked, causing us to back down. Throughout the afternoon and evening, our reinforcement were able to slowly surround the peak. By about 9:00 pm, the remaining German troops retreated. (Andrew Godefroy) With this capture, the only incomplete Canadian objective left is to capture the fortified Pimple. Capturing it would certainly bring defeat to the Germans. However, it is one of the most secured German locations due to its high altitude and strategic geography. (Veteran's Affair) Capturing it would be like capturing hell; it won't be easy...
April 12, 1917 Entry #8
WE DID IT! Throughout yesterday, our artillery bombarded The Pimple, weakening German's infantry lines. It caused heavy casualties on their end and forced them to send in reinforcements in order to relieve their dying defending division. We attempted an initial assault at 4:00 am today, but was forced to retreat and wait for support from the 24th British Division and additional artillery fire. (Jack Sheldon) At 5:00 am, we mounted another attack. The German defensive artillery fire was late and did not have enough firepower to prevent our push. With assistance from the other divisions, we were able to capture the entire Pimple by 6:00 pm. Capturing The Pimple was the last objective we needed before the Germans called defeat. (Jack Sheldon) This was definitely not the outcome I was expecting when I first heard the rumors of this battle. But before I end off the entry, the final casualties were recorded at 10,602; with 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded. We were able to seize 60 km2 of land, 54 artillery, 104 trench mortars, 124 machine-guns, and have taken 4,000 German soldiers as prisoners of war. (Don Quinlan) Compared with the Battle of the Somme, this is definitely victory at its finest!
May 30, 1917 Entry #9
The Battle of Vimy Ridge will not be recognized as any ordinary war, but instead, will be known as the war that changed a nation. This battle introduced never-before-seen strategies and training that will undeniably reform future conflicts. Vimy Ridge was the first time all four Canadian divisions, made up of soldiers from all parts of the country, fought together in a single conflict. Alongside this, Canadian Corps. is now recognized as an elite corps and is now respected all over the world. People have been saying that Canada's national identity and nationhood was made from this one battle. Although I do not completely agree with this statement, I am positive that Canadians, present and future, will be proud of our fight. We are our own independent country now; fighting only for what is right. In addition to increasing our reputation, the preparation/training before the battle was extensive and will change the way we view war planning. I am sure that with our victory, other countries will inevitably follow behind our footsteps in terms of their approach. From the new movement tactics to the night scouting/aerial missions, we can proudly say that we, as Canadians, pioneered such creative strategies. Finally, the most significant effect that this war had was the level of trust and morale boost it gave between the low-ranking privates to the higher-up officers. Instead of forcing the soldiers to blindly follow their commanders, we were able to create an environment where the troops actually knew what they were doing, even if their commander disappeared or died. By entrusting everyone with a map, we were able to increase the morale and the trust between each other while being able to fully train and prepare for the battle ahead. As our nation begins to rise in power, the Battle of Vimy Ridge will forever be known for its influence in the world of warfare.
Sources (Books & Internet)
- "The Capture of Vimy Ridge." Veterans Affairs Canada. Government of Canada, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/first-world-war/road-to-vimy-ridge/vimy5>.
- "Preparing for the Attack on Vimy." Veterans Affairs Canada. Government of Canada, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/first-world-war/road-to-vimy-ridge/vimy4>.
- Foot, Richard. "Vimy Ridge." The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., 20 July 2006. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/vimy-ridge/>.
- "Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 1917." Canada at War. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. <http://www.canadaatwar.ca/page9.html>.
- Cook, Tim. "The Battle of Vimy Ridge." Canadian War Museum. Canadian Museum of Canada, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/vimy/index_e.shtml>.
- Corkerry, Shaun (2001), Instructions for the Training of Divisions for Offensive Action 1916, Instructions for the Training of Platoons for Offensive Action 1917, Buckinghamshire: Military Press,
- Quinlan, Don. World Affairs: Defining Canada's Role. Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford UP Canada, 1998. Print.
- Christie, N. M., and S. Hickman. The Canadians at Vimy: April 1917. Winnipeg, MB: Bunker to Bunker, 1996. Print.
- Duffy, Michael. "The Battle of the Somme, 1916." First World War. N.p., 22 Aug. 2009. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/somme.htm>.
- Barton, Peter; Doyle, Peter; Vandewalle, Johan (2004), Beneath Flanders Fields: The Tunnellers' War 1914–1918, Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University
- Godefroy, Andrew (2007), "The 4th Canadian Division: 'Trenches Should Never be Saved'", Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment, Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, pp. 211–224
- Sheldon, Jack (2008), The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914–1917, Barnsley (UK): Pen & Sword Military