Military History Tours Polygon Wood and Passchendaele Centenary Tour 7 October 2017
Today I saw Cambrai, thus the influenza that has been making me splutter can do its damnedest, I have seen Cambrai. No Australians in this action.
First we drove to the town of Cambrai, then the old Roman road to the Memorial. Driving through the low rolling chalk hills that even today is good tank country, you can understand why such a site was chosen for the iconic battle. On the morning of 20 November 1917 1,000 silently registered guns opened up on the unsuspecting Germans and 378 Mk IV tanks rolled out of the mist. En masse for the first time the tanks cut the wire, and rolled through the defences in depth. The infantry had but to mop up taking 7,500 prisoners by mid-day. They were by then 6.5 km into the enemy defences. Then the weather turned for the worst excusing the waiting cavalry their task to exploit the gains, and not enough infantry was available. By the end of the first day, the MK IV’s mechanical reliability became an issue with about half the tanks unable to proceed further.
On 29 November the offensive halted after an advance of 10 km. It was then the Germans who showed their innovation. In preparation for Operation Michael in early 1918, German infantry trained in close fire and manoeuvre; and the newly trained storm troopers were deployed for the first time. Storm troopers were trained to scout for weak points in the enemy’s position, then lead infantry in striking at and exploiting the vulnerable locations. 20 Divisions attacked, driving the British back to the line they struck from on 20 November. Both sides equally suffered around 43,000 casualties.
These innovations: the tank, accurate silent artillery registration, and close fire and manoeuvre by infantry were to eventually end the stalemate of trench warfare.
We also saw the re-vamped Tank Memorial under construction. If it is intended to have this completed by the time of the Battle's centenary next month, they will need to get a wriggle on. In the adjacent cemetery we found two lone Australian graves a 17 Bn and a 15 Bn soldier.
Our minds buzzing with such knowledge, we drove to Arras, marvelled at the town, then checked out the market before returning to our hotel for a final dinner together before we were to drive to Brussels on the morrow and go our separate ways home or on to further adventures.