Preparing for Battle

“A thorough preparation must lead to success. Neglect nothing.”
General Sir Arthur Currie
Canada's acclaimed military commander (1875-1933)

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.

Scale model of the German lines and trenches at Vimy (LAC M#3397952).
Creeping

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.

The creeping barrage map used by Vimy gunners(LAC M#178448).

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:

“In our patrol…we had planned to go into one of these craters…we crawled towards it…I had moved forward a few yards and lay listening, when what appeared to me to be a huge dark object moved swiftly across my face about an inch from my nose.  My heart gave a great bound and I partly sprang to my feet, when I saw, moving swiftly away from me, a huge rat!”

“We carefully wriggled our way in the German wire and lay there listening.  In the trench, not many yards to our right, we could plainly hear a German working party…apparently repairing a trench.  We carefully noted the location, so that, as soon as we returned to our trench, we could notify the trench mortar men, and they would lob a few rounds over…”

Captain George McKean (1888-1926), Canadian Victoria Cross recipient.

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

Canadian soldiers returning from a trench raid (LAC M#3404809).

Unit Home

Gearing Up. Wasteland and Ruins. Open Cemetery. Map of Division Placement at Vimy.

Gearing Up Quiz

Gearing Up Quiz. Ridge Landscape. Byng and Currie. Timing.

The Road to Vimy Ridge

Introduction Homepage