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 (1914-1918) WWI Battles    
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anemone
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Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/14/2017 2:23:49 PM
The initial British success at Cambrai –an advance of 5 miles-showed that even the strongest trench defences could be overcome by a surprise attack by 3 cavalry and 10 Infantry divisions with 400 tanks using a combination of new methods and equipment, reflecting a general increase in the British capacity to combine infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft in attacks.-that was the intention anyway.

The German revival after the shock of the British attack caused a reversal- which improved German morale; but what really went wrong with this “too good to be true” start to a battle ?? Was it tanks breaking down or was it down to the failed tactics ??Or was it something quite novel that the Germans came up with???


[Read More]

Regards

Jim
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James W.
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/14/2017 9:50:13 PM
Another unfortunate example of the traditional British Army tendency to 'starve success' & 'reinforce failure'..

The comparative resilience shown by the Germans - post initial shock, was indicative of their military tradition, viz: counter-attack ASAP...


My grandfather was an engineer in the Tank Corps there..
& those poor bastards were literally 'run into the ground' - due to lack of understanding by command, per tank ops technical/human endurance limitations...

Phil andrade
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 3:19:46 AM
Let me suggest Jack Sheldon's book The German Army at Cambrai.

Here you will learn how superbly the Germans threw things together when they were under pressure; they were adept at acting reflexively, and countered with great effect.

We are, I think, rather too prone to lambasting British failure to exploit success : the thing needs balance in the telling.....and that story requires full and proper acknowledgement of just how formidable the Germans were ; at Riga in September, at Caporreto in October and again, here , a few weeks later at Cambrai, they proved themselves masters of Shock and Awe 1917 style.

The singular thing about Cambrai, of course, is that the Germans had themselves been victims of that Shock and Awe...in that regard, their resilience - as James reminds us - was astonishing.

Regards , Phil
---------------
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 4:37:33 AM
Thank you gentlemen for you preliminary comments

One respected commentator, a former junior officer, said that “Cambrai was a highly speculative gamble which I find inexplicable, so out of character is it with the rest of Haig’s career, not because it was inventive but because it was haphazard, not thought through” and that it was a “harum-scarum affair, ill-planned and feebly directed, yet in military history it stands as the most significant battle of the First World War“.

[Charles Carrington, Soldier from the wars returning (London: Hutchinson & Co, 1965), pp.205-6]

Would you agree with the sentiments expressed above; and if not- why not -if you please.

NB. Third Army closed down offensive operations on 27 November and units were ordered to consolidate. Three days later, The German Army struck back.

Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 6:28:21 AM
What was his rationale for his declaration that Cambrai 1917 was the most significant battle of the war, Jim?

Was it the first "all arms" battle? Is that it?

The use of tanks significantly as part of all arms?

Just wondering.


As an aside, the Newfoundland Regiment distinguished itself in this battle perhaps as much for its work during the withdrawal as in the initial attack.
This was a remarkable rebuild after the debacle at Beaumont-Hamel.
In December of 1917, the Regiment was informed that it now had the honour to add the "Royal" designation to their name, now the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. This was only the 3rd time in Britain's history that the "Royal" designation had been awarded in war time.

Note that Newfoundland was not a part of Canada or the Canadian Corps. They were a British colony and proud of that.

EDIT: NFLD had Dominion status during the war.


Cheers,

George


anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 6:51:44 AM

Quote:
Was it the first "all arms" battle? Is that it?


Yes George-it was all arms action- Cavalry, Infantry,Tanks and Aircraft to advance in unison and take Cambrai-the tanks were all but done in when they got into Bourlon Wood and there the attack broke down and everything went pear shaped-hence 3rd Arny GOC calling a halt to regroup.

The Germans however with some alacrity mounted a determined counterattack-which caused a degree of panic in some units and they turned.Despite adding the British reinforcements- the damage was done.The Germans hit on the idea of using their 76mm field guns as anti tank weapons and they did destroy perhaps ten tanks.Of course there were other factors to consider when assessing this battle.

Regards

Jim


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George
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 7:11:48 AM
Thanks JIm. If you would, please cite your sources when pasting text. Just put it in quotation format and add the reference.

It's the fair and correct way to proceed, academically.

Others may want to check out the source of your comment if it isn't an original creation. Why? Some are excellent. Some are of dubious quality. I would like the opportunity to judge for myself.

I believe that your last post came from historynet.com.


Cheers,

George

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 7:43:36 AM
I agree that the info came from the Long,Long,Trail; but not pasted on this occasion- I can assure you. I did not realise that I would have to show accreditation again Are you saying that if I read information from a book say,or was taught this information at a school. I cannot use that information in a post without saying where it came from-I am truly aghast.I am capable of carrying some military historical facts in my memory.Truth to tell I am at a loss for words George.

Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 9:15:55 AM
Jim I appreciate the change that I have seen in your approach. You have limited the number of posts of complete articles in your responses. Thank you.

There is no problem in reading something from a book or several books and then creating a comment based upon what you have learned. We all read and synthesize information and then formulate opinions. Formal essays may not generally be created out of a vacuum. Even a site like the Long, Long Trail provides references.

But, nipping something from a book or article and then posting it as your own creation is not on. That's all. Jim, it comes from my training.

If exact quotes are used and that is what yours was, then it is responsible and honourable to give credit. Failing to do so means that you are taking credit for someone else's work.

I don't think that it is sufficient to provide a "Read More" link once and then proceed to cut and paste from it again and again without acknowledging that you have done so.

As always, I appreciate your personal comments and there is no problem with using quotations. I have done it as have others.

My belief is that credit must be given when you do and yes every time. Surely it isn't an onerous task. I'm not asking for formal academic citation format. Just add a bracket and give the name of the web site or author.

Jim I will not bother you with this again so may we get back to Cambrai? Sorry that I have diverted attention.


Cheers,

George




anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 9:46:52 AM
As far as the Tank Corps was concerned- it was the creator of the initial success,but eventually the machines and the men in them became worn out and out of the battle-this in turn put the infantry in the worst possible situation- attacking across open ground; and thus open to the auld enemy the machine gun but this was not part of the battle plan-although it was always a distinct possibility.

The Germans vigotously defending Flesquiers seemed to have deprived the 51st HD of all initiative- and here their attack halted completely-it's men seeking cover wherever it could be found.The rot had set in with a vengeance.

Regards

jim
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George
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 10:13:46 AM
As I recall the dry canals in the area were quite the obstacle for the tanks.

Photographs seem show very deep and wide ditches as well. I don't know whether these were parts of the trench systems or purpose built as tank traps.

The tanks did carry fascines, the big bundles of sticks that were supposed to fill up the deep trenches. The tankers could release the bundle and it would fall into the ditch and the tank was supposed to trundle over.

I wish that I could find the article but again from recollection, the fascine bundles were not sufficiently large enough to fill some of the deep trenches and some tanks got stuck.



Don't know whether this one got out:




Does anyone know what these are called? The caption said trench filling devices but they are quite different than the fascine bundles. Were they just a concept improvement?



Cheers,

George

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 10:57:35 AM
The tanks are Mk V's carrying what were known as "crib fascines"-like a five sided box structure
presumably made of wood with steel supports inside to avoid crushing.Much more useful than brushwood,

Regards

Jim



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George
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 11:11:06 AM
Thanks Jim. When did they come on stream?

Cheers,

George

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 11:24:38 AM
MkV's were 1918 AFAIK- but in my wanderings I did see a female MkIV with a crib fascine-possibly Cambrai- but it was not captioned as such.I am sure now that MkV's with cribs were employed in the attack on the Hindenburg Line in 1918.

Regards

Jim
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Phil andrade
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 12:31:35 PM
People associate British success at Cambrai with tanks : that's more than understandable.

What is not given sufficient prominence in the popular perception is the enormous importance of predicted artillery fire .

This was a game changer.

Regards, Phil
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 12:42:15 PM

Quote:
The first battle in which the fireplan consisted entirely of predicted fire was the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, in which the British guns were moved into surveyed positions at the last moment, achieving tactical surprise when they commenced firing.

Predicted fire requires precise surveying of the gun position and accurate maps. Ideally all firing batteries will have been surveyed onto a common survey grid. Accurate shooting needs complicated calculations including such factors as the elevation of the target and firing position, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, gun barrel wear and even propellant batch and temperature.



Quote:
It was not just surprise that made the artillery effective: weight of firepower and the proportion devoted to neutralisation of enemy batteries were also important factors. The number of guns and the 900,000 rounds assembled for the operation were approximately equivalent to those used in the preliminary bombardment to the successful attack on Vimy Ridge six months before.





Sources-Wikipedia and Long Long Trail in that order

Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 1:12:53 PM
Is Cambrai 1917 one of the battles in which there was no preliminary bombardment in the weeks leading up to the attack?

Going on memory again, it seems to me that the attack on Vimy Ridge did feature preliminary bombardment and a huge expenditure of shells before the actual battle.

Cheers,

George

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 1:42:21 PM
The bombardment commenced at 0600 on the day of the attack-so secretly had all the guns been placed and set up- prior to 20th November.-making surprise complete. Days of bombardment prior to an assault were by then outmoded. Predicted gunfire was very much in.

Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 3:06:27 PM

Quote:
The bombardment commenced at 0600 on the day of the attack-so secretly had all the guns been placed and set up- prior to 20th November.-making surprise complete. Days of bombardment prior to an assault were by then outmoded. Predicted gunfire was very much in.

Regards

Jim
--anemone


I don't think so Jim. Artillery fire had become much more sophisticated by 1917, much more complex. Targets could be plotted and map shooting or predicted fire could be effected.

The shoot at Hill 70 in Aug. of 1917 was one of the more complex shoots of the war with four expert gunners including Alan Brooke in charge of different phases. Brooke handled the creeping barrage at the time of attack. CDN Andy McNaughton handled counter battery fire.

And indeed, preliminary bombardments were used extensively here as they were at Vimy in April of 1917.

The final battle of Passchendaele took place in mid-Nov of 1917 with preliminary bombardment. Cambrai was shortly after that.

At Passchendaele, Arthur Currie ordered from mid-Oct. , an almost continuous series of creeping barrages but with no attacks associated.

Just keeping the Germans on their toes. The actual attack didn't go in until Oct. 26.

And when it did, predicted fire was a big part of it.


It is true that at Amiens in 1918 there were no preliminary bombardments as the element of surprise was desired.

So it seems that preliminary bombardments were not totally outmoded. They may have changed in design but were not totally outmoded.


Cheers,

George


anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 3:39:00 PM
I have to agree-I did jump the gun somewhat-I should have been more circumspect and said "becoming"outmoded-long preliminary bombardments presaged an attack -whereas predicted gunfire "out of the blue" as it were- was shock and awe.

I am not at all happy with 51st Highland Division's performance as GOC Harper was not a supporter of infantry with tanks and therefore lost ground more quickly than other Infantry Divisions-what say you????

Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 4:35:47 PM
I really can't comment Jim because I am not sure of the tank/infantry doctrine of the period and I don't know anything about Harper.

I can tell you that CDN Currie was a little doubtful of the value of the tanks. He worried that the presence of the tank could dim the enthusiasm of the infantry soldier. Indeed, it seems that when tanks were present that sometimes the infantry were unsure of what they were supposed to do and so they held back until the tank did something. That went against their training but I don't know how much training the men received before Cambrai to integrate their efforts with that of the tank men.

I know that the infantry really like to see these behemoths take out an MG emplacement for them but I don't know whether it was well understood as to how tanks could best be employed.

At one point on day 1, accurate German artillery had destroyed a large number of tanks and the 51st could see the smoke in the distance but the 51st was not close enough to get there to support the tanks.

It seems that the tanks may have gotten ahead of the infantry and took fire from Flesquieres Ridge where the Germans had placed their artillery.

That's what I don't know enough about. Did the tanks just keep going until they were knocked out without any infantry with them?

This is a knocked out tank at Flesquières Ridge



Phil andrade
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/15/2017 4:43:15 PM
From the German point of view, Cambrai was a horrible shock, redeemed by a devastating counter attack.

Above all, it made the German High Command realise that it could no longer be complacent about " quiet sectors ", where weak or recuperating units could be deployed at low risk.

From now on, wherever the ground gave suitable conditions for tanks, there must be constant vigilance and thorough preparation of men and defences.

This was bound to increase pressure on resources, especially at a time when Germany was preparing to launch all out offensives in the West.

Cambrai, despite its relatively brief duration and its localised remit, had far reaching consequences that were to bear fruit almost exactly one year later.

Regards , Phil
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

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James W.
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/16/2017 1:08:05 AM
Ironically, due to the too thin steel skinning ( ~ 'armour', but only just..) of the early tanks, the Germans found an easily extemporised cheap 'penetrator',
viz: pulling the standard FMJ rifle bullet out of its cartridge like a bad tooth, & replacing it by 180`- blunt end out..
..since this was enough to punch a disc of steel into the tank, rather than simply flatten the point, or burst & spray lead through the rivetted plate seams ..

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/16/2017 4:20:42 AM
George-Historians are at variance regarding General Harper and tanks.The fact that there was so much distance between 51st HD and his tanks on approaching Flesquieres was IMO- that he did not like tanks because they drew artillery fire.So his "rover" tanks way out in front were first to get by the chop,by artillery at Flesquieres.As I said before-when this division was approaching Flesquieres-the defensive fire was so intense-it stopped 51 HD in it's tracks.I think it is fair to say that the planning was so loose- it allowed for such personal experimental tactics.He was promoted to command a Corps in March 1918

Regards

Jim
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anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/17/2017 4:23:31 AM
It may be of interest that I did mention in an early post that the Germans were using artillery to destroy tanks.In Liddell Hart's "History of the First World War pp 444 he devotes a paragraph to this matter-he makes mention of one German artillery officer who single handedly knocked out 16 tanks-it has become a bit of a legend; but his claim was exaggerated because only five wrecked tanks were found in the area of his gun. This exploit was lionised at British HQ.

Regards

Jim
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James W.
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/17/2017 6:51:09 AM
That is a perennial problem with tank claims.. tanks are often disabled in combat, with the crew bailing out, & are 'combat losses' true enough,
-yet are later recovered/refurbished/reused.. depending on - who holds the field..

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/17/2017 7:13:53 AM
Yes James- the Germans would get the wrecks in the case I mentioned.We withrew from the field- the attack on Cambrai being a failure.

Regards

Jim
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James W.
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/17/2017 7:22:44 AM
What was the period of time which elapsed between the British advance, & the German counter-attack, re-taking the lost ground, Jim?

Long enough to recover those stopped machines - deemed worthwhile fixing?

At that time, likely there was some urgency to ensure that a fixer-upper-opportunity, tank-wise - was not left in German hands - if at all possible..

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/17/2017 7:44:18 AM

Quote:
20 November – 30 December 1917: the Cambrai operations. A British attack, originally conceived as a very large scale raid, that employed new artillery techniques and massed tanks. Initially very successful with large gains of ground being made, but German reserves brought the advance to a halt. Ten days later, a counter-attack regained much of the ground.


I can find no evidence of tank recovery during the first ten days; but I presume that if a tank broke down mechanically-the crew would do what they could to right a defect;and ditched tanks may in certain circumstances have been pulled clear- but here I am only guessing.

Regards

jim
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James W.
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/17/2017 8:13:01 AM
Pretty sure Jim, that not much of a guess is needed to see - that not inconsiderable effort would be taken to ensure that little chance of a - then novel
- tank falling into German hands - in a condition that would allow thorough evaluative testing, should occur...

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/17/2017 8:34:14 AM
So far as I am aware -the Germans did copy our tanks-their first attempts were quite useless.

Regards

Jim
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James W.
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/18/2017 2:21:28 AM

Quote:
So far as I am aware -the Germans did copy our tanks-their first attempts were quite useless.

Regards

Jim
--anemone


Actually Jim, the 1st German attempt at a tank was a Teutonic monstrosity: [Read More] that more closely resembled the French effort..

The Germans did subsequently refurbish captured Allied tanks for use against their former owner/operators - whenever possible though..

Phil andrade
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/18/2017 3:18:18 AM
There is a story - apocryphal, I suspect - that a German flamethrower detachment destroyed a British tank in the Third Ypres battle in later August 1917.

There is certainly a famous photograph of German flammenwefer troops confronting a British tank : I had always believed that this was a training excercise.

Many so called battle photos of that conflict purport to depict soldiers in action, but turn out to have been taken in training ; or even to be staged.

In this case - if it was indeed in training - it's significant testimony to the use of captured British tanks to demonstrate their vulnerability and, perhaps, to bolster morale among soldiers who were worried about having to face the prospect of being attacked by them.

Another thing occurs to me: the dreadful fate of tank crews who were burned alive when their tanks brewed up after a direct hit had been apparent before Cambrai.

Those who surveyed the charred corpses might well have assumed that they had been victims of the flamethrower .

The Germans had been using flammenwerfer extensively in the summer of 1917 - and for at least a couple of years prior to then - so I must not be too dismissive of the story I mentioned in my opening sentence .

Regards, Phil
---------------
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"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/18/2017 4:54:39 AM
As O previously the Tank Corps was all but exhausted when the Germans with fresh reinforcements made their vigorous counterattack.Sime units were overrun,others held and some actually made some gains in Bourlon Wood but not for long.The British Line was all bits and pieces having lost all cohesion-the initial attack was planned to last no more than three days-this was day thirteen.

There were numerous gaps in the line which yhe Germans exploited and so the slow withdrawal began.Divisions like the battle hardened 12th Eastern which had taken it's objectives; was accused of running away in the enquiry The southern flank was subject to an artillery bombardment-mainly of gas shells and here was the "tipping point"-that whole wing fell back.The end was nigh but the battle struggled on-as had been normal for years.

Regards

Jim
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George
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/18/2017 6:22:26 AM
This is supposed to be a British tank destroyed by flamethrower.

The first one is too large so I made it a READ MORE

[Read More]



How does one verify the story though?


Cheers,

George

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/18/2017 6:36:26 AM

Quote:
A direct hit by an artillery or mortar shell could cause the fuel tanks (which were placed "high in the front horns" of the track frames either side of the drivers' area, to allow gravity feed) to burst open. Incinerated crews were removed by special Salvage Companies, who also salvaged damaged tanks.
Wikipedia

Your picture George-appears to me- to be just that- an artillery strike on one of the fuel tanks on one side.

Regards

Jim
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James W.
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/18/2017 6:43:34 AM
There were appalling engineering design flaws which made it though the rush to mass production..

The machines themselves were very hazardous for their own crews, with noxious levels of fumes/noise & generally poor ergonomics, compounded by obvious stupidities - as noted already..

George
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/18/2017 6:56:15 AM

Quote:

Quote:
A direct hit by an artillery or mortar shell could cause the fuel tanks (which were placed "high in the front horns" of the track frames either side of the drivers' area, to allow gravity feed) to burst open. Incinerated crews were removed by special Salvage Companies, who also salvaged damaged tanks.
Wikipedia

Your picture George-appears to me- to be just that- an artillery strike on one of the fuel tanks on one side.

Regards

Jim
--anemone


Jim the pic is part of a sequence. The one in the link shows an attack with flame thrower. Real or not, who knows?

anemone
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/18/2017 7:21:19 AM
Sorry George- does the sequence- which is not shown-actually show a flamenwerfer-if so- it is possibly real of course.The position of the fuel tanks made them dreadfully vulnerable to any missile-so why a flame thrower
except to demonstrate it's effect.

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Phil andrade
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Re: Cambrai 1917--A Quite Unexpected Reverse
Posted on: 3/18/2017 7:23:14 AM
The pic is, of course, " real " : the episode occurs....but you have to ask yourself : would a film crew - or solitary cameraman - stand so close to real combat in such circumstances ? More than doubtful , surely.

This has all the hallmarks of training ; or a staged event for propaganda.

But....there are authentic reports of a flamethrower attack against a British tank in August 1917 : the suggestion in this case being that the tank had already been knocked out - or had broken down - and that the flame attack was against British infantry who were sheltering behind it.

Those real pictures of battle that we do have convey the chaos and blur of combat ; the men are indistinct and seem to be trying to merge themselves with the earth.

Regards , Phil
---------------
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