Arras and Vimy Ridge
The Great War 1914-18
By April 1917, on the Western Front, the Allied and German armies were locked in stalement, occupying trench systems stretching 440 miles from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. The town of Arras, occupied by the British but virtually destroyed by German artillery, was to be the launching point for a major attack which would divert German forces away from a larger French offensive on the Aisne.
In a preparatory five day bombardment, 2,400 British guns fired 2.7 million shells on a 20-mile front. Then on 9th April 1917, Easter Day, the assault began, in a snowstorm. Initially, major territorial gains were made, the British accomplished the longest advance since trench warfare had started, however rapid deployment of German reserves checked the advance and as British losses increased to around 158,000, the offensive was ceased on 16th May 1917.
Vimy Ridge stands on Hill 145, the highest point of the 14 km long Vimy Ridge. In the First World War, the Ridge was a highly significant part of the German defence system and now site of perhaps the most striking memorial on the Western Front. The monument took eleven years to build and rests on a bed of 11,000 tonnes of concrete, reinforced with hundreds of tons of steel. Carved onto the walls of the monument are the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place is unknown.
Located 20 metres below the pavements of Arras lies Wellington Quarry preserving the memory of thousands of soldiers quartered underground just a few metres from the front, before they were launched onto the battlefield. In November 1916, the British started preparing for the 1917 spring offensive and New Zealand tunnellers connected up the town's chalk extraction tunnels to create a real network of underground barracks large enough to accommodate 24,000 soldiers.
Take a tour below and above ground for a real feel for this offensive, the tactics and the very costly limited success.