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Posted on Oct 24, 2007 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

COMBAT! Battle of Vimy Ridge

By Alexander Wilson

Squad Leader’s Assessment of the Tactical Situation

You realize that there are two key points for raiding and capturing a trench: 1) surprise, and 2) speed.  Only if your troops can confuse and surprise the defenders, and then quickly and efficiently eliminate them, will you be able to succeed with your mission.  Most importantly, your squad must neutralize the majority of the German machine guns before they have a chance to decimate you and your force.

You are actually helped in your endeavor by the Germans’ recent victory over the other Canadian rifle squad, for since they killed your comrades so easily, they will be more sure of themselves and easier to catch off guard.  And they will probably not be expecting another attack in the same area as the one which they just defeated, which means that an attack from the marshes by your troops might just catch the Germans unaware.

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No matter how your troops assault the trench, it is imperative that they do not do it in the open where the machine guns can butcher them.  You have learned in the past two years of combat on the Western Front that the machine gun, when given a clear line of sight and an open killing zone, is the king of a battlefield criss-crossed with trenches.  Thus, it is vital that your soldiers possess some sort of protection, anything from a log to a rock to the dark of night, both when engaging the enemy and when moving into position for an assault.  If they don’t, they will invariably be killed.

Possible Courses of Action

The first course of action open to you would be to split your squad into two six-man groups, and then move one group into the abandoned farmhouse while the other took up positions among the rocks which dot the land to the west of the farmhouse.  Following a bombardment by the artillery battery supporting you, the six men in the farmhouse would provide covering fire for the second group in the rocks, keeping the Germans’ heads down while the “rock” group advances to the trench and attacks its defenders with bayonets.  Then the men in the farmhouse would join in the attack, and your troops would proceed east along down the remainder of the trench, clearing it of Germans.

A second course of action is also available to you and your men.  Instead of assaulting the trench from the rocks and farmhouse, your troops would instead attack from the same area as the other Canadian rifle squad did: near the swamps.  This might not only allow you to catch the Germans off guard, but would allow your soldiers to stay hidden in the marshes until ready to attack.  Your troops would move northeast at dusk, slowly crawling on their bellies through the field there, until they reach the swamps and trees.  After spending the night in the swamps, you would call for an artillery barrage – at the other end of the trench, near the farmhouse – at the crack of dawn.  Just before the assault, you would have the guns shift their fire to the end of the trench which your troops will assault, the eastern sector across from the swamps which is defended by two of the machine guns.  As the last few rounds of the barrage strike the earth, your troops would dash from the swamps and throw grenades to make it sound as if the barrage is still going.  They would then kill or capture the rest of the Germans, moving west through the rest of the trench.

Squad Leader’s Briefing

You gather your men together in a group and then brief them on your decision.  “Chaps, as most of you probably know, the main things you have to look out for when assaulting a trench are machine guns.  Since the machine guns are the Germans’ biggest asset, it is important that we put the majority of them out of action as quickly as possible.  This means that slugging it out with the Krauts from the rocks and farmhouse wouldn’t be a good idea – they can train all three of their machine guns on both of those positions.  The best way to do this would be to sneak into the swamps to our northeast, near the right flank of the trench.  We’ll lie in wait during the night, and as soon as dawn comes we’ll have our arty bombard the opposite end of the trench, to confuse the Germans as to which side the attack is coming from.  At the last second I’ll have the artillery shift their fire to the end of the trench that we’re going to attack, in order to throw up dust and smoke and make the two machine gun crews keep their heads down.  Then, as the bombardment dies off, I want you all to throw grenades and assault the trench – don’t be afraid to use your bayonets!  From there, all we have to do is clear the rest of the trench.

“Alright men, let’s go!  Keep your heads down until we get in the swamps.  We’ll take that trench yet!”

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