The Battle of Cambrai - 1917

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The Battle of Cambrai, from the 20th November to the 7th December 1917, was the first British campaign in World War One that tanks were used successfully by demonstrating the fact that the Hindenburg line could be penetrated. The town of Cambrai is in the North of France near the border between France and Germany. By 1917, Cambrai had become one of the most important railheads and HQ towns behind the German lines. In front of it lay the immensely powerful Siegfried Stellung - better known to the British as the Hindenburg Line. So strong was the defensive position here that German Divisions decimated during the Third Battle of Ypres were sent here to recuperate and refit. It included two lines of fortifications, with barbed wire belts tens of yards wide, concrete emplacements and underground works. A third parallel line was also under construction.

The initial plan proposed by J.F.C. Fuller in June of 1917 and almost simultaneously proposed by Henry Hugh Tudor, was that the tanks would sweep around the back of Cambrai and encircle the German forces. Both plans were taken up by the commander of the British Third Army, Julian Byng and the final plan was approved by Douglas Haig in September 1917 after another failure at Ypres. The plan was quite complex but basically the German line would be broken by a concentrated attack across a narrow front between the Canal de Nord and the St. Quentin canal. Cambrai would then be encircled and Boulon Ridge would be captured. Fuller had initially reported that the raid was "to destroy… demoralize and disorganize… and not to capture ground." (Fuller, 1917) By the time that focus had shifted from Ypres to Cambrai the raid had become a full sized assault.

The Tank Corps deployed its entire strength of 476 tanks, of which 350 were armed fighting tanks. They were led by the Tank Corps GOC, Hugh Elles, in an Mk IV tank called ‘Hilda'. Supporting the tanks attack was 1000 guns of the Royal Artillery and 14 newly formed squadrons...
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