Preparing for Battle
Added Training for the Troops
Throughout the war, soldiers trained behind the lines to sharpen their fighting skills such as bomb throwing, musketry, and bayonet fighting, as well as taking part in general physical exercises. Prior to the Canadians’ attack on Vimy Ridge, however, the training became site specific and occurred on a large-scale replica of the German trench system and surrounding area. Trenches, machine gun emplacements and tangles of barbed wire were all marked and soldiers walked through the model of it until they knew the terrain like the backs of their hands.
Attacking from behind a Creeping Barrage
Soldiers also practiced the precise timing needed to operate under a creeping barrage.
In a creeping barrage, artillery fire moved forward in steps, slightly ahead of the advancing infantry.
Therefore, it was very important that the infantry walked at a steady pace of 100 yards (a football field long) every 3-5 minutes. If they moved faster than that pace, they risked being hit by the leading curtain of their own side's artillery fire (death or injury from friendly fire).
However, they also needed to remain close enough to that leading barrage so they would be ready to attack before the enemy emerged from their dugouts to defend their trenches once the overhead barrage stopped. Soldiers lagging the barrage in No man's land could end up as sitting ducks for enemy defensive fire.
Into No Man's Land
In the Winter before the Canadians’ attack on Vimy Ridge, there was constant activity happening in No Man’s Land. Small groups of soldiers crept into the craters that separated the two trench systems to scout out the terrain, listen for enemy activity and repair barbed wire. One such soldier was Captain George McKean:
The Canadians took part in numerous trench raids - 29 of them within the first three months they were stationed at Vimy! Whereas patrols involved small numbers of soldiers, trench raids were much bigger. The largest trench raid Canadians participated in involved over 1 500 troops. A trench raid is an attack that doesn’t aim to capture and hold territory. Instead, the goals are fourfold: to capture prisoners for interrogation, to diminish enemy morale, to gather information about the enemy, and to damage trench infrastructure.
For more information on Canadian trench raiding, see Raiding.