An Unlikely Leader

“Thorough preparation must lead to success. Neglect nothing.”

“In business we strive for 100% efficiency while we are content with 25% in war” was the jaundiced view of Victor Odlum a Canadian army Major who served with Arthur Currie.

Currie was equally appalled at high casualty rates and is credited with being the tactician behind the taking of the heavily fortified German high ground known as Vimy Ridge in April 1917. His preparation included a detailed examination of the battle of Verdun where he discovered that the French senior officer’s accounts differed from the experiences of their junior counterparts with the former relying on maps that the later knew little about.

Currie provided charts to every man and held exercises behind the lines on a replica battlefield while perfecting the use of machine gun “indirect fire.” The soldiers got a sense of actual distances and synchronised their approach with the timing of artillery attacks to minimise causalities; the “Vimy glide.” 

The commander of the 1st. Canadian Division who was willing to take advice from others retired with the rank of full General and became vice chancellor and principal of McGill University Montreal which was a remarkable achievement for someone with a high school diploma whose experience of soldiering before the war was limited to the study of the available texts.

Had he been born anywhere other than Canada in 1875 it is doubtful if he would have had the same opportunities. 

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