Manual Vimy Ridge: Arras

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Contents:
  1. Round trip transfer from Arras to Vimy Ridge and Fraternisation Memorial. - Rmb Transports
  2. Vimy Ridge
  3. Traveler Photos

We had got away so well and we had taken thousands of German prisoners. So in Arras — when we went back then, we felt this is it. We are just getting ready now to make the final push, which was going to sweep the Germans before us.

So there was this great optimistic air. A major success on the opening day was the attack launched by the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge. A combination of new tactics was used to great effect — including careful rehearsal of the assault and tunnels to bring the troops forward. British signaller William Muir described these underground passageways. The Canadians held the ridge, all this side of the ridge and the Germans were on other side of the ridge but to reach the Canadians we had to use the tunnels through the ridge.

They were works of art; they were well-made tunnels, made by pitmen and that sort of thing. And there was a waggon line into them, a railway line. And we signallers had to go down with an officer and went through the tunnels for miles upon miles and landed at the other side.

The tunnels were covered with people, hundreds and hundreds sitting with their backs to the wall. Sitting with their backs and their rifles all held there, ready to come out. The Canadian assault was preceded by a devastating, week-long barrage on the German positions. Whilst I was in Arras itself at that time the noise, the sound of the bombardment was terrific. It was terrific!

The ground was shaking with all this, it was terrible. The four Canadian divisions fought together for the first time at Vimy. As we moved forward we had to thread our way amongst the shell-holes; the ridge was a mass of shell-holes from the heavy preliminary bombardment. The German trenches were almost obliterated.

The first objective was the German mainline trench, which was taken quite easily. From then on we moved into a position just over the crest of the ridge and when we reached the top of the ridge a remarkable panorama unfolded itself. We could see all the red brick mining villages around Lens and, in the immediate foreground, the villages of Vimy and Petit Vimy.

There was also the elaborate German concrete gun positions which were ranged on either side of the Lens-Arras road which ran through there. The Germans held on to some trenches at the bottom of the ridge and they caused quite a few casualties from rifle fire, from snipers.

There was also…they also managed to hold on for some time to a position on our left called The Pimple and they also caused quite a lot of trouble from there. Despite a high number of casualties, the assault on Vimy Ridge was a stunning success.

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Round trip transfer from Arras to Vimy Ridge and Fraternisation Memorial. - Rmb Transports

Within a matter of days it had been captured from the Germans. The weather was heavy with rain and a real snowstorm at times. Late that afternoon, the Canadian troops had reached the crest of the ridge, went on down the other side and captured lots of German artillery guns and prisoners. Now, the Germans had dug a long tunnel under Vimy Ridge with four outlets of stairways by which the soldiers could come and go into their trenches above ground.

Vimy Ridge Heaven to Hell - Full Documentary

It had all modern conveniences: electric lights; ventilation and a large bathroom for the soldiers. There were three tiers of beds on each side of the tunnel and plenty of space to walk and have tables in the middle.

Description

When our gun-crew went over the top that morning, our objective was to control any movement of troops trying to come up that first opening or stairway from the tunnel below. When we arrived there we found the entrance had been partially blown in by shell-fire from our own artillery.

The Battle of Arras was planned in conjunction with a large French assault in the Aisne area further south to start a week later — known as the Nivelle Offensive. But the breakthrough Nivelle had promised did not materialise, and the French suffered huge losses. Feeling they were being ordered into futile attacks again and again, demoralised French soldiers began to voice their discontent.

Vimy Ridge

Georges Pilliet witnessed such unrest during attacks on German positions near the Chemin-des-Dames. We were taken again on the plateau for a second attack — which was a failure as well as the first — and then for a rest and we were told we had to go for a third attack. Of course the men were not very satisfied to have to go for a third time, they imagined and they thought that it was for others to take the part of this heavy duty. And the next morning everybody went into the attack.

In some parts of the French line, the indiscipline turned into full-blown mutiny. French officer Pierre Gautier was ordered to suppress mutinying troops at Romigny in May Looking at the crowd who was coming towards us we could see the Champagne bottles had been emptied but they were unarmed — they had no guns, nothing. So I ordered the bayonets to be put back in the sheaths. And they got to us: they were shouting and one of them had a frying pan and was hitting it as hard as possible with a poker.

As the mutinies began to affect the French Army, other Allied troops had to keep the Germans occupied. British soldiers were engaged in a series of smaller attacks which did not match the initial success around Arras. Harold Bashford was ordered to take part in one such operation at Oppy Wood. Then we learnt that we were to make an attack on Oppy Wood. Having heard that previous attacks had been unsuccessful, it sounded rather ominous. Previous to the attack we were moved up to a forward position and joined by a draft just arrived from England who would be taking over our trench when we went into the attack.

It was obvious the Germans were aware that an attack was imminent and they subjected our position to a heavy bombardment. How fortunate we had been not being thrown in at the deep end.

Traveler Photos

A case of mass shell shock. You know they just… haywire. The whole lot. They just went haywire. The casualties mounted as the Germans recovered from the initial assault. We passed through the first line, that was the German front line of trenches, and our front line were holding them, or what was left of them. We passed through them and we went up and gradually progressed towards the German support lines.

Things got very, very hot. And we had to hold our position in shell-holes in front of the line of trenches which it was intended that we should take and we had to stay there and wait until dark. The Allied attacks around Arras continued into May, as they tried to achieve the original objectives of the first attack.

On the 3rd of May, in a particularly brutal encounter, British and Australian troops attempted to capture German-held Bullecourt. Lewis gunner A Wilson remembered the large number of casualties that day. And I had a Lewis gun — and that was quite a work of art to carry a Lewis gun over conditions like that — but I had my Lewis gun, and I was right opposite a big gap in the wire and I got through without much trouble and I got installed, and I got my machine gun down inside one of the trenches. Construction and restoration of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial took place over a two-year period and was completed in To the valour of their Countrymen in the Great War And in memory of their sixty Thousand dead this monument Is raised by the people of Canada.

Carved on the walls of the monument are the names of 11, Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place was then unknown. More than 7, are buried in 30 war cemeteries within a kilometre radius of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Altogether, more than 66, Canadian service personnel died in the First World War.

If you are travelling without a car, we recommend that you first take the train to Arras. To contact the Arras Tourism Office: Telephone: 03 21 51 26 95 calling from France ; calling from Canada Email: contact explorearras. The Memorial is about 6 km away from the Vimy train station and there is no public transportation available there.

Take exit 7, direction Lens, on the N17 and drive for about 2 km. All three turn-offs are for the same road that leads to the commemorative site. Turn left towards the wood at the intersection. From Paris, it should take you approximately 2 to 2. Take the N17, direction Lens and drive for about 10 km. From Arras, it should take you approximately 15 minutes to reach the site. Take the A26 and continue on this road for approximately km. From Calais, it should take you approximately 1.

Take the A1 motorway, direction Paris. Continue on this road for approximately 45 km.