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Vimy Ridge 1917: Birth of a Nation. The Allied Military Leaders were slowly learning that sending troops "over the top" to be slaughtered as they stumbled toward enemy machine gunners and barbed wire was not going to bring victory.
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The Allied Military Leaders were slowly learning that sending troops "over the top" to be slaughtered as they stumbled toward enemy machine gunners and barbed wire was not going to bring victory.
Using tunnellers, engineers and railway troops, Canadian forces led by General Arthur Currie transformed the terrain. Currie helped develop a new strategy to tackle the endless massacre of soldiers along the western front. He insisted that his soldiers be carefully trained and thoroughly prepared for battle, rather than mindlessly charging across battlefields.
The preparations included building 11 underground tunnels to move troops secretly and safely and an underground city of 34 kilometres of wiring and 1770 kilometres of telephone cable. Models were built and the troops were informed of the features of their targets. As well the enemy was weakened by a barrage, or bombardment, of great accuracy. This was aided by aerial reconnaissance (a military survey of enemy territory.
In earlier battles, the enemy generally had a good idea of when an attack was coming. After a punishing barrage, soldiers emerged and would attack. Soldiers also normally advanced in lines and as they tried to cross over broken ground and barbed wire, they were usually mowed down by machine gun fire.
This time, Canadians used a new tactic called the "creeping barrage." In this type of attack, the artillery continued to fire even as the Canadians left their trenches. The goal was to hurl shells just ahead of the advancing forces. In this way, enemy soldiers were forced to stay in the dugouts and keep their heads down. This mean the soldiers on the ground and the artillery troops had to have perfect discipline, training and timing. The hope was that, while the enemy huddled deep, Canadian forces would be on top of them before they could organize resistance. Obviously, errors would be disastrous for the advancing troops who could be killed by friendly fire.
When Canadians did finally unleash their attack, it was a bitter snowstorm on 9 Arpil 1917. The Timing and training paid off. In the snow of bombardment, 40 000 Canadians sped from their trenches and overwhelmed the German forces. Within hours, most troops had reached their positions. In two days, German forces retreated from the ridge. The victory was staggering. The Canadian forces had taken more guns, ground, and prisoners than any previous British attack. The Canadians won four Victoria Crosses for their gallantry under fire. As well, a new sense of Canadian identity was forged in the firestorm of Vimy.