The Battle of Cambrai (Battle of Cambrai, 1917, First Battle of Cambrai and Schlacht von Cambrai) was a British attack followed by the biggest German counter-attack against the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) since 1914, in the First World War. The town of Cambrai, in the département of Nord, was an important supply point for the German Siegfriedstellung (known to the British as the Hindenburg Line) and capture of the town and the nearby Bourlon Ridge would threaten the rear of the German line to the north. Major General Henry Tudor, Commander, Royal Artillery (CRA) of the 9th (Scottish) Division, advocated the use of new artillery-infantry techniques on his sector of the front. During preparations, J. F. C. Fuller, a staff officer with the Tank Corps, looked for places to use tanks for raids. General Julian Byng, commander of the British Third Army, decided to combine both plans.The French and British armies had used tanks in mass earlier in 1917, although to considerably less effect.
After a big British success on the first day, mechanical unreliability, German artillery and infantry defences exposed the frailties of the Mark IV tank. On the second day, only about half of the tanks were operational and British progress was limited. In the History of the Great War, the British official historian, Wilfrid Miles, and modern scholars do not place exclusive credit for the first day on tanks but discuss the concurrent evolution of artillery, infantry and tank methods.Numerous developments since 1915 matured at Cambrai, such as predicted artillery fire, sound ranging, infantry infiltration tactics, infantry-tank co-ordination and close air support. The techniques of industrial warfare continued to develop and played a vital part during the Hundred Days Offensive in 1918, along with replacement of the Mark IV tank with improved types. The rapid reinforcement and defence of Bourlon Ridge by the Germans, as well as their subsequent counter-stroke, were also notable achievements, which gave the Germans hope that an offensive strategy could end the war before American mobilisation became overwhelming.
Proposals for an operation in the Cambrai area using a large number of tanks originated from Brigadier Hugh Elles of the Tank Corps, and the reliance on the secret transfer of artillery reinforcements to be "silently registered" to gain surprise came from Henry Hugh Tudor, commander of the 9th (Scottish) infantry division artillery.In August 1917, Tudor conceived the idea of a surprise attack in the IV Corps sector, he suggested a primarily artillery-infantry attack, which would be supported by a small number of tanks, to secure a breakthrough of the German Hindenburg Line. The German defences were formidable; Cambrai having been a quiet stretch of front thus far enabled the Germans to fortify their lines in depth and the British were aware of this. Tudor's plan sought to test new methods in combined arms, with emphasis on combined artillery and infantry techniques and see how effective they were against strong German fortifications. Tudor advocated using the new sound ranging and silent registration of guns to achieve instant suppression fire and surprise. He also wanted to use tanks to clear paths through the deep barbed wire obstacles in front of German positions, while supporting the tank force with the No. 106 Fuze, designed to explode high explosive (HE) ammunition without cratering the ground to supplement the armour.
Two weeks before the start of the battle, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) began to train its pilots in ground-attack tactics. Before the ground offensive, the RFC was assigned sets of targets to attack, including trenches, supply points and enemy airfields. [ page needed ]
The battle began at dawn, approximately 06:30 on 20 November, with a predicted bombardment by 1,003 guns on German defences, followed by smoke and a creeping barrage at 300 yd (270 m) ahead to cover the first advances. Despite efforts to preserve secrecy, the Germans had received sufficient intelligence to be on moderate alert: an attack on Havrincourt was anticipated, as was the use of tanks. The attacking force was six infantry divisions of the III Corps (Lieutenant-General Pulteney) on the right and IV Corps (Lieutenant-General Charles Woollcombe) on the left, supported by nine battalions of the Tank Corps with about 437 tanks. In reserve was one infantry division in IV Corps and the three divisions of the Cavalry Corps (Lieutenant-General Charles Kavanagh). Initially, there was considerable success in most areas and it seemed as if a great victory was within reach; the Hindenburg Line had been penetrated with advances of up to 5.0 mi (8 km). On the right, the 12th (Eastern) Division advanced as far as Lateau Wood before being ordered to dig in. The 20th (Light) Division forced a way through La Vacquerie and then advanced to capture a bridge across the Canal de Saint-Quentin at Masnières. The bridge collapsed under the weight of a tank halting the hopes for an advance across the canal. In the centre the 6th Division captured Ribécourt and Marcoing but when the cavalry passed through late, they were repulsed from Noyelles.
On the IV Corps front, the 51st (Highland) Division was held at Flesquières, its first objective, which left the attacking divisions on each flank exposed to enfilade fire. The commander of the 51st Division, George Montague Harper had used a local variation of the tank drill instead of the standard one laid down by the Tank Corps.Flesquières was one of the most fortified points in the German line and was flanked by other strong points. Its defenders under Major Krebs acquitted themselves well against the tanks, almost 40 being knocked out by the Flesquières artillery. The common explanation of the "mythical" German officer ignored the fact that the British tanks were opposed by the 54th Division, which had specialist training in anti-tank tactics and experience against French tanks in the Nivelle Offensive. The Germans abandoned Flesquières during the night.
To the west of Flesquières, the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division swept all the way through Havrincourt and Graincourt to within reach of the woods on Bourlon Ridge and on the British left, the 36th Division reached the Bapaume–Cambrai road. Of the tanks, 180 were out of action after the first day, although only 65 had been destroyed. Of the other casualties, 71 had suffered mechanical failure and 43 had ditched. The British lost c. 4,000 casualties and took 4,200 prisoners, a casualty rate half that of the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) and a greater advance in six hours than in three months at Flanders but the British had failed to reach Bourlon Ridge. The German command was quick to send reinforcements and was relieved that the British did not manage fully to exploit their early gains. When the battle was renewed on 21 November, the pace of the British advance was greatly slowed. Flesquières, that had been abandoned and Cantaing were captured in the very early morning but in general the British took to consolidating their gains rather than expanding. The attacks by III Corps were terminated and attention was turned to IV Corps.
The effort was aimed at Bourlon Ridge. Fighting was fierce around Bourlon and at Anneux (just before the woods) was costly. 100 tanks and 430 guns, the 40th Division attacked into the woods of Bourlon Ridge on the morning of 23 November and made little progress. The Germans had put two divisions of Gruppe Arras on the ridge with another two in reserve and Gruppe Caudry was reinforced. The 40th Division attack reached the crest of the ridge but were held there and suffered more than 4,000 casualties in three days. More British troops were pushed in to move beyond the woods but the British reserves were rapidly depleted and more German reinforcements were arriving. The final British effort was on 27 November by the 62nd Division aided by 30 tanks. Early success was soon reversed by a German counter-attack. The British now held a salient roughly 6.8 mi × 5.9 mi (11 km × 9.5 km) with its front along the crest of the ridge. On 28 November, the offensive was stopped and the British troops were ordered to lay wire and dig in. The Germans were quick to concentrate their artillery on the new British positions. On 28 November, more than 16,000 shells were fired into the wood.German counter-attacks squeezed the British out of Moeuvres on 21 November and Fontaine on 22 November; when Anneux was taken, the 62nd Division found themselves unable to enter Bourlon Wood. The British were left exposed in a salient. Haig still wanted Bourlon Ridge and the exhausted 62nd Division was replaced by the 40th Division (John Ponsonby) on 23 November. Supported by almost
As the British took the ridge, the Germans began reinforcing the area. As early as 23 November, the German command felt that a British breakthrough would not occur and began to consider a counter-offensive.Twenty divisions were arrayed in the Cambrai area. The Germans intended to retake the Bourlon salient and also to attack around Havrincourt while diversionary attacks would hold IV Corps; it was hoped to at least reach the old positions on the Hindenburg Line. The Germans intended to employ the new tactics of a short, intense period of shelling followed by a rapid assault using Hutier infiltration tactics, leading elements attacking in groups rather than waves and bypassing strong opposition. For the initial assault at Bourlon three divisions of Gruppe Arras under Otto von Moser were assigned. On the eastern flank of the British salient, Gruppe Caudry attacked from Bantouzelle to Rumilly and aimed for Marcoing. Gruppe Busigny advanced from Banteux. The two corps groups had seven infantry divisions.
British VII Corps (Lieutenant-General Thomas D'Oyly Snow), to the south of the threatened area, warned III Corps of German preparations. The German attack began at 7:00 a.m. on 30 November; almost immediately, the majority of III Corps divisions were heavily engaged. The German infantry advance in the south was unexpectedly swift. The commanders of the 12th and 29th Divisions were almost captured, with Brigadier-General Berkeley Vincent having to fight his way out of his headquarters and grab men from retreating units to try to halt the Germans. In the south, the German advance spread across 13,000 m (13 km) and came within a few miles of the vital village of Metz and its link to Bourlon.
At Bourlon, the Germans suffered heavy casualties. Despite this, the Germans closed and there was fierce fighting. 70,000 rounds in their efforts to stem the German advance. The concentration of British effort to hold the ridge was impressive but allowed the German advance elsewhere greater opportunity. Only counter-attacks by the Guards Division, the arrival of British tanks and the fall of night allowed the line to be held. By the following day, the impetus of the German advance was lost but pressure on 3 December led to the German capture of La Vacquerie and a British withdrawal on the east bank of the St Quentin canal. The Germans had reached a line looping from Quentin Ridge to near Marcoing. The German capture of Bonavis ridge made the British hold on Bourlon precarious. On 3 December, Haig ordered a partial retreat from the north salient and by 7 December, the British gains were abandoned except for a portion of the Hindenburg line around Havrincourt, Ribécourt and Flesquières. The Germans had exchanged this territorial loss for a slightly smaller sector to the south of Welsh Ridge.British units displayed reckless determination; one group of eight British machine guns fired over
The first day of success was greeted in Britain by the ringing of church bells. [ citation needed ] including in the United States, were unprecedented. The particular effectiveness of the tanks at Cambrai was the initial passage through barbed wire defences, which had been previously "supposed by the Germans to be impregnable".The massed use of tanks, despite being a further increase on previous deployments, was not entirely new but the success of the attack and the resulting Allied press enthusiasm,
The initial British success showed that even the strongest trench defences could be overcome by a surprise attack, using a combination of new methods and equipment, reflecting a general increase in the British capacity to combine infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft in attacks.The German revival after the shock of the British attack improved German morale but the potential for similar attacks meant that the Germans had to divert resources to anti-tank defences and weapons, an extra demand that the Germans could ill afford to meet.
Wherever the ground offers suitable going for tanks, surprise attacks like this may be expected. That being the case, there can be no more mention, therefore, of quiet fronts.
The German counter-attack showed the effectiveness of artillery, trench mortars and evolving stormtrooper tactics, adopted from a pattern introduced by General Hutier against the Russians. [ page needed ] From the German perspective, questions arose regarding battlefield supply beyond railheads and the suitability of the MG 08 machine gun for rapid movement. [ page needed ] By the end of the battle, the British retained some of the ground captured in the north and the Germans a smaller amount taken in the south. The British conducted several investigations, including a Court of Enquiry. [ page needed ]
Sheldon wrote that both sides had c. 40,000 casualties and questioned the British Official History figure of c. 53,000 German casualties, calling them "inflated for no good reason". Miles recorded British casualties from 20 November – 8 December as 47,596, of whom 9,000 were taken prisoner and an official German total of c. 41,000 casualties, which Miles increased to 53,300 on the assumption that German figures omitted lightly wounded, which were counted in British casualty records. Harris wrote that 11,105 German and 9,000 British prisoners were taken.
Earlier in 1917 British casualties per square mile gained had risen to 8,222, but after Cambrai casualties fell to 86 per square mile until the end of the war.
The Battle of Cambrai is commemorated annually by the Royal Tank Regiment on Cambrai day, a major event in the regiment's calendar. The contributions of the Newfoundland Regiment at the 1917 Battle of Cambrai are remembered in the village of Masnières at the Masnières Newfoundland Memorial. Cambrai Day is also celebrated by 2nd Lancers (GH) of the Indian Army on 1 December every year as Lance Dafadar Gobind Singh (VC) of that unit was awarded the Victoria Cross during this battle.The name Cambrai was chosen in 1917 as the new name for the South Australian town of Rhine Villa, one of many Australian towns renamed during World War I to remove any connection with German place names. During the Remilitarization of the Rhineland in the late 1930s, Germany named a newly built Kaserne in Darmstadt for the battle, which was later merged with the nearby Freiherr von Fritsch Kaserne to become Cambrai-Fritsch Kaserne. The United States Army occupied Cambrai-Fritsch Kaserne from the end of World War II until 2008, when the land was returned to the German government.
The Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, was a campaign of the First World War, fought by the Allies against the German Empire. The battle took place on the Western Front, from July to November 1917, for control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders, as part of a strategy decided by the Allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917. Passchendaele lies on the last ridge east of Ypres, 5 mi (8.0 km) from Roulers junction of the Bruges (Brugge) to Kortrijk railway. The station at Roulers was on the main supply route of the German 4th Army. Once Passchendaele Ridge had been captured, the Allied advance was to continue to a line from Thourout to Couckelaere (Koekelare).
The Battle of Arras was a British offensive on the Western Front during World War I. From 9 April to 16 May 1917, British troops attacked German defences near the French city of Arras on the Western Front. The British achieved the longest advance since trench warfare had begun, surpassing the record set by the French Sixth Army on 1 July 1916. The British advance slowed in the next few days and the German defence recovered. The battle became a costly stalemate for both sides and by the end of the battle, the British Third and First Army had suffered about 160,000 casualties and the German 6th Army about 125,000.
The Battle of Bazentin Ridge(14–17 July 1916) was part of the Battle of the Somme (1 July – 18 November) on the Western Front in France, during the First World War. The British Fourth Army made a dawn attack on 14 July, against the German 2nd Army in the Brown Position from Delville Wood westwards to Bazentin le Petit Wood.
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The Battle of Flers–Courcelette(15–22 September 1916) was fought during the Battle of the Somme in France, by the French Sixth Army and the British Fourth Army and Reserve Army, against the German 1st Army, during the First World War. The Anglo-French attack of 15 September began the third period of the Battle of the Somme but by its conclusion on 22 September, the strategic objective of a decisive victory had not been achieved. The infliction of many casualties on the German front divisions and the capture of the villages of Courcelette, Martinpuich and Flers had been a considerable tactical victory but the German defensive success on the British right flank, made exploitation and the use of cavalry impossible. Tanks were used in battle for the first time in history and the Canadian Corps and the New Zealand Division fought for the first time on the Somme. On 16 September, Jagdstaffel 2, a specialist fighter squadron, began operations with five new Albatros D.I fighters, which were capable of challenging British air supremacy for the first time since the beginning of the battle.
The Battle of the Ancre Heights, is the name given to the continuation of British attacks after the Battle of Thiepval Ridge from 26–28 September during the Battle of the Somme. The battle was conducted by the Reserve Army from Courcelette near the Albert–Bapaume road, west to Thiepval on Bazentin Ridge. British possession of the heights would deprive the German 1st Army of observation towards Albert to the south-west and give the British observation north over the Ancre valley to the German positions around Beaumont-Hamel, Serre and Beaucourt. The Reserve Army conducted large attacks on 1, 8, 21, 25 October and from 10–11 November.
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The Third Battle of Artois, was fought by the French Tenth Army against the German 6th Army on the Western Front of the First World War. The battle included the Battle of Loos by the British First Army. The offensive, meant to complement the Second Battle of Champagne, was the last attempt of 1915 by Joseph Joffre, the French commander-in-chief, to exploit an Allied numerical advantage over Germany. Simultaneous attacks were planned in Champagne-Ardenne to capture the railway at Attigny and in Artois to take the line through Douai to force a German withdrawal from the Noyon salient.
The Battle of Messines(7–14 June 1917) was conducted by the British Second Army, on the Western Front near the village of Messines in West Flanders, Belgium, during the First World War. The Nivelle Offensive in April and May had failed to achieve its more ambitious aims, had led to the demoralisation of French troops and dislocated the Anglo-French strategy for 1917. The offensive at Messines forced the Germans to move reserves to Flanders from the Arras and Aisne fronts, which relieved pressure on the French. The tactical objective of the attack at Messines was to capture the German defences on the ridge, which ran from Ploegsteert Wood in the south, through Messines and Wytschaete to Mt. Sorrel, to deprive the German 4th Army of the high ground south of Ypres. The ridge gave commanding views of the British defences and back areas further north, from which the British intended to conduct the Northern Operation, an advance to Passchendaele Ridge and then capture the Belgian coast up to the Dutch frontier.
The Battle of Poelcappelle was fought in Flanders, Belgium, on 9 October 1917 by the British Second Army and Fifth Army against the German 4th Army, during the First World War. The battle marked the end of the string of highly successful British attacks in late September and early October, during the Third Battle of Ypres. Only the supporting attack in the north achieved a substantial advance. On the main front the German defences withstood the limited amount of artillery fire achieved by the British after the attack of 4 October. The ground along the main ridges had been severely damaged by shelling and rapidly deteriorated in the rains, which began again on 3 October, turning some areas back into swamps.
The Battle of Broodseinde was fought on 4 October 1917 near Ypres in Belgium, at the east end of the Gheluvelt plateau, by the British Second and Fifth armies against the German 4th Army. The battle was the most successful Allied attack of the Third Battle of Ypres. Using bite-and-hold tactics, with objectives limited to what could be held against German counter-attacks, the British devastated the German defence, which prompted a crisis among the German commanders and caused a severe loss of morale in the 4th Army. Preparations were made by the Germans for local withdrawals and planning began for a greater withdrawal, which would entail the abandonment by the Germans of the Belgian coast, one of the strategic aims of the Flanders offensive.
The Battle of Polygon Wood took place from 26 September to 3 October 1917, during the second phase of the Third Battle of Ypres in the First World War. The battle was fought near Ypres in Belgium, in the area from the Menin road to Polygon Wood and thence north, to the area beyond St Julien. Much of the woodland had been destroyed by the huge quantity of shellfire from both sides since 16 July and the area had changed hands several times. General Herbert Plumer continued the series of British general attacks with limited objectives. The attacks were led by lines of skirmishers, followed by small infantry columns organised in depth with a vastly increased amount of artillery support, the infantry advancing behind five layers of creeping barrage on the Second Army front.
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V Corps was an army corps of the British Army that saw service in both World War I and World War II. It was first organised in February 1915 and fought through World War I on the Western front. It was recreated in June 1940 during World War II and substantially reorganised in 1942 for participation in Operation Torch. It fought through the Tunisia Campaign and later the Italian Campaign.
The First Battle of Passchendaele took place on 12 October 1917 during the First World War, in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. The attack was part of the Third Battle of Ypres and was fought west of Passchendaele village. The British had planned to capture the ridges south and east of the city of Ypres as part of a strategy decided by the Allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917. Passchendaele lay on the last ridge east of Ypres, 5 mi (8.0 km) from the railway junction at Roulers, which was an important part of the supply system of the German 4th Army.
The Battle of Pilckem Ridge was the opening attack of the Third Battle of Ypres in the First World War. The British Fifth Army, supported by the Second Army on the southern flank and the French 1reArmée on the northern flank, attacked the German 4th Army, which defended the Western Front from Lille northwards to the Ypres Salient in Belgium and on to the North Sea coast. On 31 July, the Anglo-French armies captured Pilckem Ridge and areas on either side, the French attack being a great success. After several weeks of changeable weather, heavy rain fell during the afternoon of 31 July.
The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, sometimes called "Battle of the Menin Road", was the third British general attack of the Third Battle of Ypres in the First World War. The battle took place from 20–25 September 1917, in the Ypres Salient in Belgium on the Western Front. During the pause in British and French general attacks between late August and 20 September, the British changed some infantry tactics, adopting the leap-frog method of advance, where waves of infantry stopped once they reached their objective and consolidated the ground, while other waves passed through the objective to attack the next one and the earlier waves became the tactical reserve. General adoption of the method was made possible when more artillery was brought into the salient, by increasing the number of aircraft involved in close air support and by specialising the tasks of air defence, contact-patrol, counter-attack patrol, artillery observation and ground-attack.
In 1917, during World War I, the armies on the Western Front continued to change their fighting methods, due to the consequences of increased firepower, more automatic weapons, decentralisation of authority and the integration of specialised branches, equipment and techniques into the traditional structures of infantry, artillery and cavalry. Tanks, railways, aircraft, lorries, chemicals, concrete and steel, photography, wireless and advances in medical science increased in importance in all of the armies, as did the influence of the material constraints of geography, climate, demography and economics. The armies encountered growing manpower shortages, caused by the need to replace the losses of 1916 and by the competing demands for labour by civilian industry and agriculture. Dwindling manpower was particularly marked in the French and German armies, which made considerable changes in their methods during the year, simultaneously to pursue military-strategic objectives and limit casualties.
The German attack on Vimy Ridge, 21 May 1916 was a local attack on the Western Front during the First World War. The Germans intended to prevent mines being blown under German positions by capturing the British front line and mine gallery entrances. After the Third Battle of Artois The French Tenth Army had held positions on the western slope of Vimy Ridge and the German 6th Army occupied positions on the steeper eastern slope. After the beginning of the Battle of Verdun, the Tenth Army was withdrawn and the British First Army and Third Army on either flank, took over the French positions.
The First attack on Bullecourt was a military operation on the Western Front during the First World War. The 1st Anzac Corps of the British Fifth Army attacked to support the Third Army, engaged in the Battle of Arras.
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