Myths about Vimy Ridge, as per Jack Sheldon "The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914-1917"

This is the general discussion area of the canadiansoldiers.com website; a forum in which issues pertaining to 20th Century military history from a British and Canadian perspective can be discussed freely. Posters are asked to please do others the courtesy of posting with their name rather than a pseudonym.

Myths about Vimy Ridge, as per Jack Sheldon "The German Army on Vimy Ridge 1914-1917"

Michael Dorosh
Michael Dorosh

June 9th, 2010, 5:10 pm #1

Just picked this book up at the Vimy visitor centre; a fresh perspective on the battle(s). Some interesting tidbits in the opening pages; I think Ed Storey will appreciate some of this.

a) The British Army never made a concerted effort to take Vimy Ridge after relieving the French. Despite (Canadian) accounts that crow about how "we" did it after the French and British failures of many months and years, the British not only never made a concerted effort on the Vimy front (mining is another story), but neither did the French after October 1915.

b) Vimy Ridge was not a fortress, nor impregnable. The Germans knew that defence in depth was the best option, but that the narrowness of the ridge put their positions in poor placement. Their second line was unviable, and they knew it. Even before the April 1917 battle, they had begun working on lines east of the ridge, though it was still not comparable to the Hindenburg Line. The key to the defence was to hold on to the main line in strength and hope for mobile reserves to deploy in strength quickly, but their front line was not built for this type of defence - and the Germans knew it. And the Canadians exploited this defence. What does this mean - the victory wasn't one of Canadian brilliance in the face of overwhelming odds; it was one of sensible tactics over a poorly sited defence.

c) And what of the hapless 4th Division. The ones who pursued the most aggressive policy regarding raids lost the highest proportion of experienced officers and junior leaders in the lead-up to the big day - Sheldeon asks if it is a coincidence that they then failed to meet their objectives on 9 April. Moreover, he suggests that the German Army's own 'lessons learned' from Vimy were invaluable and shaped from the 4th Division sector, where the Germans - so he says - pulled back in good order. One German regiment put VIMY as a battle honour on their colour, awarded many medals for the batle, and went to Passchendaele convinced it "had a working answer to Allied tactics and the power of the gun" in Sheldon's words.

Interesting points to ponder.
Quote
Share

Joined: January 2nd, 2004, 8:58 pm

June 9th, 2010, 10:49 pm #2

It's certainly different than any account I have read in the past (admittedly all of which were from a Canadian perspective)! I suppose only more corroborating evidence will help us understand which version is true. Thanks for the summary, Michael.
Quote
Like
Share

Ed Storey
Ed Storey

June 10th, 2010, 1:26 am #3

Just picked this book up at the Vimy visitor centre; a fresh perspective on the battle(s). Some interesting tidbits in the opening pages; I think Ed Storey will appreciate some of this.

a) The British Army never made a concerted effort to take Vimy Ridge after relieving the French. Despite (Canadian) accounts that crow about how "we" did it after the French and British failures of many months and years, the British not only never made a concerted effort on the Vimy front (mining is another story), but neither did the French after October 1915.

b) Vimy Ridge was not a fortress, nor impregnable. The Germans knew that defence in depth was the best option, but that the narrowness of the ridge put their positions in poor placement. Their second line was unviable, and they knew it. Even before the April 1917 battle, they had begun working on lines east of the ridge, though it was still not comparable to the Hindenburg Line. The key to the defence was to hold on to the main line in strength and hope for mobile reserves to deploy in strength quickly, but their front line was not built for this type of defence - and the Germans knew it. And the Canadians exploited this defence. What does this mean - the victory wasn't one of Canadian brilliance in the face of overwhelming odds; it was one of sensible tactics over a poorly sited defence.

c) And what of the hapless 4th Division. The ones who pursued the most aggressive policy regarding raids lost the highest proportion of experienced officers and junior leaders in the lead-up to the big day - Sheldeon asks if it is a coincidence that they then failed to meet their objectives on 9 April. Moreover, he suggests that the German Army's own 'lessons learned' from Vimy were invaluable and shaped from the 4th Division sector, where the Germans - so he says - pulled back in good order. One German regiment put VIMY as a battle honour on their colour, awarded many medals for the batle, and went to Passchendaele convinced it "had a working answer to Allied tactics and the power of the gun" in Sheldon's words.

Interesting points to ponder.
Even though the old addage that the victors write the history does have merit, I would be cautious of any German 'evidence' that may take the sting out of any battle that they have lost. Following along the lines of the Japanese who have a difficult time admitting that they had any part to play in the events leading up to or during the Second World War, the Germans have a difficult time grasping with the fact that they have lost major military engagements to non-professional armies like the Canadians.

Using the argument that 'ground was given up' to support an in-depth defensive posture or to draw the enemy into less favourable ground can easily be used to explain away any key battle whether it is Vimy, the Normandy Invasion or the Rhine Crossing. What has to be remembered is which side ended up signing cease-fire documents first and not let their perception of events lesson the achievements and sacrifices of our Veterans.
Quote
Share

Rick Randall
Rick Randall

June 11th, 2010, 3:41 am #4

Heh. There's a saying amongst US Regular Army officers I've heard more than once.

"Why imitate an army that's lost every war they've been in since beating the French in 1871?"
Quote
Share