The Battle of Cambrai

As The Third Battle of Ypres was winding down, Haig was already planning another assault against The Germans in front of the town of Cambrai. He was convinced that Germany was coming to the end of its ability to carry on the war and that further blows against the German Army might end the war before the end of the year. He was also anxious for a victory before the end of the year to silence the growing criticism of his strategy on The Western Front.

The Battle of Cambrai is usually remembered as the battle in which tanks were used in large numbers for the first time. On the opening day of the attack, 20 November, the British gains of over 4 miles with low casualties were spectacular by the standards of World War 1. It was the only occasion on which church bells were rung in Britain to celebrate a victory. However, much of the British success on the day is explained by the use of other innovations. The British achieved surprise by having no preliminary bombardment and without pre-registering German gun positions and defences by ranging shots. Tanks were largely used to flatten barbed wire, particularly in front of the formidable Hindenburg line. As with The Battle of Arras, the success of the opening day was not to be repeated. Fighting continued, but gains were limited and much more costly. Much of the fighting focused on the British attempt to take the high ground around Bourlon Wood.

As the fighting continued, the Germans were planning a major counter attack. Revolution in Russia meant that she was no longer playing an active part in the war and the Germans were able to begin the process of bringing hundreds of thousands of troops to The Western Front from the East. The British were now within a salient which they had punched into the German line and, on 30 November, the Germans launched an attack which largely took the British by surprise. Employing new tactics, a short, intense bombardment was followed by groups of storm troopers moving forward, by-passing strong points which were then left for following troops and artillery to deal with. The Germans forced the British to withdraw, giving up almost all of the ground gained at the beginning of the battle. British losses were about 44,000 men, including prisoners. German losses were something similar.