Cambrai; the first massed tank attack
The mass tank attack on the first day of The Battle of Cambrai, 20 November 1917, was one of the most successful attacks of the First World War; the day was the only one on which church bells in Britain rang for victory. The Battle of Cambrai ended in disappointment, with the Germans regaining most of the ground taken, but it is always remembered as the first massed tank attack. Sites from The Battle of Cambrai provide the major focus of this battlefield tour. However, Cambrai was also the centre of some of the most dramatic events of the final stages of the war in 1918 and we can include some of these sites in a tour.
These are just four examples of sites which can be included in a Cambrai tour; however, there are many more:
The Cambrai Memorial
The memorial commemorates over 7,000 men who were killed in The Battle of Cambrai, but have no known grave. A large proportion of the men commemorated were killed during the German counterattack and the final days of the battle. The memorial includes two stunning panels by the sculptor Charles Sergeant Jagger, which depict an attack by a Lewis gun team and the evacuation of a wounded soldier; Sergeant served in World War 1 and was awarded the MC.
Flesquières was the scene of heavy fighting after which the ground in front of the village was littered with the wrecks of tanks. The memorial at Flesquières gives sweeping views over this ground. The village is also the home of the tank museum where visitors can view the tank Deborah, knocked out in the village on 20 November 1917. The museum is the culmination of a remarkable story, during which a group of local enthusiasts excavated the tank in 1998, following a search of years inspired by a local legend of a buried tank. Several of Deborah’s crew lie in the cemetery next to the museum.
The bridges at Masnières, over the River Escaut and the St Quentin Canal, were key objectives on the first day of The Battle of Cambrai. The village was reached successfully, but the canal bridge collapsed while being crossed by the tank Flying Fox II, creating a major hold up to the British advance. The image of the tank lying in the canal is one of the most famous from the battle. The village was also the only site of cavalry action on the first day of the battle, when a squadron of the Fort Garry Horse crossed the canal on an improvised bridge.
Sited on high ground which gives sweeping views from all sides, Bourlon Wood became the main focus of fighting as The Battle of Cambrai continued after the first day. As British troops were drawn into the wood, the Germans launched a surprise counter attack, which regained nearly all the ground taken in the battle. Today, Bourlon Wood is the site of a memorial to the Canadians, who captured the wood in the final weeks of World War 1.
A German counter attack on 30 November 1917, took the British completely by surprise. British troops were driven back from their early gains in the battle and this became a major crisis when the Germans captured Gouzeaucourt. A counter attack by the Guards Division drove the Germans out of the village and stabilised the line. Many of the Guardsmen are buried in the cemetery in the village and from here the visitor can get good views over the ground over which they advanced, in what eye witnesses described as parade ground fashion.