PREPARING FOR BATTLE
Vimy Ridge appeared impregnable. The Germans had built three main defensive lines of trenches protected by thickly strung barbed wire and honeycombed with numerous concrete bunkers housing machine guns. The trenches led to deep underground shelters and
tunnels where the Germans could be protected from artillery bombardments and emerge to repel attacks. The Canadian Corps was commanded by British Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, whose plan called for an assault of the entire ridge with the four Canadian
infantry divisions attacking at the same time, the only time during the war that this occurred. There were several stages to the operation, corresponding to the various objectives assigned to each division. After each objective was captured, fresh forces
would follow through to take over the lead of the advance on to the next objective. Finally, a dominating feature just to the north of Vimy, nicknamed “the Pimple” would be assaulted the following day, with the British 24th Division in support immediately
to the northwest.
Byng prepared the Corps down to the smallest detail. A massive replica of the intended battle area was built behind Canadian lines where the troops practiced their advances. To guide their advance, the men were fully briefed on the many topographical
features and enemy defences that they would encounter as the swept forward to the crest of the ridge and, for the first time, they were given accurate maps showing their routes. Prior to their attack, the Canadians were sheltered in deep underground
“subways” and holding chambers linked by tunnels through which the men could arrive at their assembly and jumping-off points in relative safety. These subways had electric lighting and telephone lines and they were also used to house headquarters, move
supplies forward, and evacuate the wounded. Behind the Canadian lines, existing roads were carefully maintained and new ones built to accommodate the need for rapid resupply and casualty evacuation; 30 kilometres of light railway tracks were laid for
the same purpose; and more than 30 kilometres of signal cable and 100 kilometres of telephone wire were installed. The preparations were unprecedented for the Canadian Corps.
For two weeks prior to the assault, Canadian and British artillery bombarded the German positions on and behind the ridge without respite. Vimy Ridge was pulverized and cratered by nearly 1,100 guns of all calibres firing more than one million shells
onto the enemy positions. The Germans referred to this as “the week of suffering.” The Canadians proved especially effective in neutralizing the German artillery prior to and during the assault, locating and destroying up to 80 percent of German artillery
in range of the battlefield.