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  The Vimy and Notre-Dame
de Lorette ridges, at the northern approach to the city of Arras, first came into prominence in September 1914. At that time the German Army was defeated at the Marne (near Paris), and retreated north, with the French and British in pursuit. The two sides attempted to outflank each other all the way to the Belgian coast. At the end ofSeptember, the French and Germans met head on in fierce fighting north of Arras. By the end of 1914 the Germans were in control of Souchez and Neuville-St. Vaast, and the eastern part of Notre-Dame de Lorette Ridge and the whole of Vimy Ridge.

 
 
With the Germans in such a powerful position, the city of Arras was continuously in danger. In the spring of 1915 the French decided to remove this threat. After more than a month of bloody fighting that had cost them more than 100,000 casualties, the French reclaimed Notre-Dame de Lorette Ridge, the villages of Souchez, Albain-St. Nazaire and Carency to the south, Neuville-St. Vaast and the Labyrinth (a maze of German trenches south of Neuville-St. Vaast).

As part of a larger offensive, the British and French renewed the attack in September 1915. By the end of the month the Germans remained firmly in place on the heights of Vimy Ridge. However, the French had established positions along the western slope of the ridge. During the remainder of 1916 and into 1917, the fighting went underground and mining warfare was a continuous threat to both sides. The large craters blown out of the earth are visible today.

By the spring of 1917 it became clear that it was crucial to recapture Vimy Ridge for the Allies. The allied plans were for the British to attack on a front from Croisilles, south of Arras, to Givenchy at the northern tip of Vimy Ridge. The Canadians were charged with the responsibility of protecting the northern flank of the British attack from where the trenches crossed the Arras-Lens road, north of Ecurie, to Givenchy in the north. The four Canadian divisions were placed in numerical order from right to left facing Vimy. The attack was to be staggered, with one Division after another advancing in sequence.

 
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