What we learned at Vimy Ridge

Ninety-six years ago this week, Major General Arthur Currie taught us a lesson. Some of us heard him, while others may need a refresher. So here you go:

The battle of Vimy Ridge in World War I is one of the most celebrated moments in Canadian history. On 12 April, 1917 the Canadian corps, fighting in one cohesive formation for the first time in our history, took this coveted high ground from the Germans. That we took it at all is a big deal in Canadian history, but it’s how we took it that is the kicker.

Up to this point, battle plans were strictly guarded from the average soldier. The military had hierarchy for a reason and only the guys at the top had access to the details. Vimy was different. It relied on precision formation and advancement. Before Vimy, troops would blast fortifications with artillery then advance shortly thereafter. That gave the enemy plenty of time to set up their positions and start shooting. The battle of Vimy used a creeping barrage, consisting of concurrent bombardment and advancement with immediate repeat. If they were off by seconds, the Canadians would be blown to bits by their own artillery.

To pull off this precision-timed strategy, leadership fully briefed all involved. Each platoon leader had a clear picture of how their piece of the attack fit with the larger picture. Each man received a detailed trench map. They drilled relentlessly, ensuring each man knew the job above and below him, so he was prepared to take on that role if his compatriot fell. The plan ensured the troops could carry out the attack as planned, regardless of what happened on that ridge.

It was the democratization of battle and it was brilliant. By ensuring everyone knew their role and how it fit into the bigger picture, Currie avoided the chaos that plagued combat during the first world war, and succeeded where many had failed and died.

All because he had the good sense to trust his troops, and communicate transparently.

I hope you took some notes…