Cambrai

20th November - 30th December

In the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917 the British Army attacks the German Hindenburg Line using new tactics and technology.

By the end of 1917 the British Army had learned a lot of lessons on the Western Front. At the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917 they started putting them to use.

The aim was to smash through the German Hindenburg Line at a specific point near the town of Cambrai.

Tanks lead the way!

Tanks first appeared at the Somme in September 1916. They were good but there weren't enough of them and they had some mechanical issues. They were used again in the Third Battle of Ypres but the thick mud left them immobilised and they were picked off by German artillery.

At Cambrai the British had an improved version of the tank and the conditions were perfect.

Rather than using a long artillery bombardment as they had usually done before, the British only used a short bombardment at Cambrai. That way the Germans had less time to get ready for the attack. Then a huge number of tanks - over 300 - charged at the Hindenburg Line with infantry following up behind. It was a dramatic success and they punched though in several places.

The success of the first day led newspapers in Britain to print glorious headlines. After the terrible losses of recent battles such as Ypres, the British people needed some good news.

Unfortunately the success at Cambrai didn't last because the Germans launch a counterattack.

The German counterattacks put an end to the British celebrations. They used a new tactic - stormtroopers. Stormtroopers were specially trained soldiers who worked in small units and looked for the weak points in the enemy line.

The British had moved forward so far on the first day of the attack that new reinforcements and supplies couldn't reach them quickly enough. As a result, they couldn't hold on to their newly won ground once the German counterattacks started and they had to retreat.

However Cambrai showed that British tactics were improving. By using artillery, tanks and infantry together during the first day of the attack they were able to make good progress.

Tanks travelling by rail to the front ready for the Battle of Cambrai. Tanks were always given a name, You can see here the front two tanks are called Cynic and Dragon. Names had to be approved by the officers!

A tank in action at Cambrai, climbing up a muddy bank.

See the progress of the Western Front on our animated battle map