MHO Home   Forum Home   Help   Register   Login
 
 
Welcome to MilitaryHistoryOnline.com.
You are not signed in.
The current time is: 12/14/2017 8:07:15 AM
 (1914-1918) WWI Battles    
AuthorMessage
Phil andrade
London, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Moderator
Posts: 2597

Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/20/2017 4:35:35 AM
One hundred years ago a tsunami of British tanks surged forward around Cambrai and initiated a new chapter in military history.

We've been here before, so forgive me for repeating a topic, but I think that this is a special day when it comes to centennials.

The tanks were the dramatic feature, but it wasn't just about them, of course.

A very successful artillery programme - predicted fire - made a huge impact.

Equally striking was the brilliant German riposte : a counter attack on the grand scale, organised and deployed quickly and a good exemplar of the legendary reflexive skills of the Germans.

Each side suffered in the order of forty five thousand casualties in more than two weeks of intense battle : eleven thousand Germans and nine thousand British troops were taken prisoner. About one quarter of the British casualties were fatal ; of the eleven thousand who died, seven thousand are commemorated on a CWGC memorial as having no known grave.

Few battles have started so spectacularly well and ended so disappointingly for the attacker.

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

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

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Posts: 5704

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/20/2017 6:42:28 AM
Phil, most of the literature says the British forces under the command of esteemed General Byng, failed to exploit their impressive gains of the first day.

And they were impressive, shocking the Germans. I suspect that the allies were shocked too. This didn't happen all that often.

The maps seem to indicate that the British chose the battlefield well, keeping the fighting mostly between Canal du Nord and Canal de L'Escau. Tanks could maneuver on that terrain. This part of France is criss-crossed by the canal system. Natural (well man-made) defensive positions.

But what were the reasons for the failure to exploit? Was the artillery unable to keep up with the infantry?

Was the tank force spent or had the favourable terrain changed so that they were not as valuable as before?

Or was it the fact that the Germans quickly deployed 20 divisions to counter attack? That was a massive response.

There was a delay after the initial successes and the British did not exploit. Ludendorff did consider pulling back.

Was that short delay also an opportunity missed by the British?




Cheers,

George

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Posts: 5704

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/20/2017 6:48:38 AM
The German counter attack featured a new tactic, new on the western front.

It was the Hutier infiltration tactic.

Other than making assumptions about what that was, based on the name, how did the technique work in practice?

How did these special troops infiltrate and what did they do once they got to where they were supposed to be?

Cheers,

George

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Posts: 5704

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/20/2017 6:55:21 AM
I meant to add that the colonial troops of the Newfoundland Regiment, the same regiment that had been destroyed on the Somme at Beaumont-Hamel, fought with great distinction as part of the British forces at the Battle of Cambrai, 1917.

Shortly after, they were honoured and given the right to call themselves the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. I believe that they were the only regiment so honoured with the title, "Royal", during the war.

We remember that the colony of NFLD was not part of Canada in 1917 and I suspect that the men would have reacted with great hostility should anyone have had the temerity to suggest that it was.

Cheers,

George

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Posts: 5704

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/20/2017 7:15:08 AM
Cambrai was launched at a dodgy time of the year, weather wise.

I am not sure why Haig wanted to attempt this major attack.

The Nivelle Offensive had ended disastrously six months earlier so the attack at Cambrai wasn't needed to support or take pressure off any offensive action by the French.

His reserves had been depleted because the British had sent men to Caporetto to assist there.

I think that he was feeling the heat from PM David Lloyd George and other politicians in the aftermath of the disastrous Passchendaele campaign.

There is another thread active right now that addresses the career of PM DLG. Some argue that he was actively trying to undermine Haig's position and control of the direction of the war at this stage.

So Haig needed a win to cement his position.

Cheers,

George

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Posts: 5704

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/20/2017 10:16:42 AM


Was Cambrai 1917 the swan song of mounted cavalry in this war?

It seems that the cavalry divisions were scapegoated for a lot of the failures to exploit initial gains.

That famous picture is of a tank, "the flying fox", that was supposed to seize the bridge crossing the canal at Masnière to allow the cavalry to cross and begin flanking operations at villages along the way.

Clearly it did not. The tank was too heavy for the bridge and it collapsed.

Cavalry units were charged with getting across the canal to eliminate MG positions and other positions that would stop the infantry. They would work the flanks to allow the tanks to make frontal assaults.

The cavalry, partly because of poor communications, had been told that their route across the canal had been secured by the tanks.

When they rode up, attention to their assignment was delayed and they spent a good deal of time looking for another route across.

The tanks were lauded as the wonder weapon but if there was still a role for mounted cavalry, then that role was not clearly defined and the co-ordination required between tank and cavalry was not that well established or it just plain didn't work.

Cavalry and tanks were told to work together but it is my understanding that they never practiced prior to the battle. No time for combined arms was allotted.


Quote:
At Cambrai, the cavalry was expected to use its superior mobility to pass through the gap created by the tanks and infantry, surround each village or the flanks of enemy positions while the tanks performed a frontal assault.



While the two were supposed to work together, it seems that the tankers felt that the horsemen could not complete their tasks.

This comment was made by a tanker at the Mesnière crossing.


Quote:
Major Philip Hammond of “F” Battalion Tank Corps saw the FGH arrive and later recorded his understanding of the cavalry approaching the bank of the canal,

"Then the most ludicrous thing happened, there was a great deal of clattering, galloping and shouting and a lot of our medieval horse soldiers came charging down the street; I yelled at them that the bridge was gone but they took no notice of me and went right up to it, one MG [machine gun] would have wiped out the lot, and then they turned about and with a very pious air trotted back the way they had come.53"


So the cavalry has taken the heat in many analyses for the stumbling of the attack. But it is simply not true or at least, not a fair analysis.

The tankers blamed the cavalry but the tanks and infantry had to secure the crossing for the horses. They did not do that.

The Fort Garry Horse of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade who approached the Mesniére crossing immediately followed the banks of the canal, under fire, to find another crossing. They found a narrow foot bridge upon which were infantry crossing in single file.

Finding wood and willing French citizens, they began to build two 8 feet wide bridges across the canal. Acting as their own engineers, they completed the task in one hour and fifteen minutes. A local innkeeper donated the doors from his building to lay on top of this rough structure to provide a smoother surface for the horses.

Still when they crossed, a number of horses and riders fell into the canal and drowned but cross they did.

All the while the FGH were out of communication with all command.

Communication breakdown and a top down approach to command seems to have been a problem in this battle despite the use of modern communication methods.


The cavalry divisions were disappointed in themselves. They did not complete all of their assignments. But the planning that was supposed to co-ordinate tanks, cavalry and infantry was ineffective.

The cumbersome command structure meant that the cavalry divisions could not react quickly as the divisional commanders had to send situation reports back through the command chain to the top and then wait for instructions to make their way back. Opportunities evaporated.

So in post battle analysis, the cavalry was blamed for missing a golden opportunity.

PM DLG opined that the time for cavalry was over.

Churchill piped up that the cavalry should be converted to tank divisions or used to reinforce artillery or the air service.

SA Gen. Smuts suggested selling the horses to the Americans. (Would love to hear his logic on that initiative. )


In January of 1918, British 4th and 5th Cavalry divisions were disbanded.

Indian cavalry were not disbanded by were shipped out to Palestine.

The Canadian government requested that the Canadian Cavalry Brigade remain as a mounted unit. The Canadians perhaps thinking that cavalry still had a place, felt that to disband the brigade would harm cavalry training and recruitment at home. Canada only had a couple of cavalry units.

Besides, the CCB had been quite effective in combat so the British command left it as a mounted unit.


The British Cavalry Corps had been reduced by 20 regiments by March 1918.

Now how ironic was that given that the remaining cavalry regiments played an important role in stopping the Germans during the Spring Offensive.


cheers,

George

Phil andrade
London, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Moderator
Posts: 2597

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/20/2017 10:42:19 AM
George,

Thanks for entering the thread so quickly and so cogently.

It's always reassuring to see you on parade here !

You say I am not sure why Haig wanted to attempt this major attack .

I, too, am intrigued as to this.

He needed to wipe a lot of egg off his face after Passchendaele . The French had demonstrated at Malmaison what could be done with meticulous preparation and the all arms battle. The British needed to show that they could do this too. More than that, there were cohorts of British officers who were anxious to demonstrate what their beloved tanks could accomplish, especially after they had floundered in that Flanders morass .

I wonder what strategic goals were formulated for this attack. There was a big cavalry force held ready to exploit, so it begs the question as to where British GHQ saw this going. Maybe there was a crucial element in the ground, over and above its suitability for tanks. Was it some kind of lynchpin in the Hindenburg Line, which, if lost, would seriously compromise the integrity of the defensive system ? The scale of the German riposte suggests that they saw the strategic stakes as high.

You're right to mention the Hutier method, George. New to the Western Front, but all too tried and tested at Riga and Caporetto.

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

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

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Posts: 5704

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/20/2017 2:41:57 PM
Thanks Phil. I don't know much about these infiltration tactics employed by the Germans.

If anyone wishes to weigh in with exactly what the German soldiers did that was so effective, I would appreciate it.

What was the British response? Were they completely flummoxed?

Cheers,

George

Phil andrade
London, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Moderator
Posts: 2597

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/20/2017 4:30:58 PM
This German method was - like so many successful tactics in that war - very dependent on artillery.

The infiltration brings to mind the storm troopers , clearing their way through with grenade, light machine gun and sometimes flamethrower. And so they did...but it was the artillery preparation , organised by a gunner genius by the name of Bruchmuller, that was essential to that succcess.

Bruchmuller managed to deploy artillery and unleash barrages of incredible intensity. These were not the week long affairs of the Somme and Ypres, but short - several hours of concentrated violence, unleashing millions of shells ( largely gas ) that not only destroyed defences and the men within, but also isolated and disrupted LOC and blinded and destroyed the opposing artillery.

I don't know enough about the technique to go into details ; but whatever he did, that man transcended in his role.

Editing : I don't think that Bruchmuller himself was at Cambrai ; but I'm sure that his influence was very apparent in the success of the German counterattack .

His method reached its apogee on 21 March 1918 against the British, and again on 27 May , when the French were the recipients of his bounty.

The British did adapt tactics, but, for all their skills, it was sheer scale and violence that allowed the Germans to prevail. Two hundred shells per second were hitting the British for several hours on 21 March 1918. It's a bit mind boggling, to say the least.

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

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

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

Jim Cameron
North Bellmore, NY, USA
top 15
E-8 Master Sergeant


Posts: 687

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/20/2017 6:54:09 PM
Tanks were still so new to the battlefield that they barely had their own tactics and doctrine worked out, not to mention issues of crew comfort and mechanical reliability. Cooperation with the cavalry and infantry was easy enough to order, but expecting it to happen without extensive combined arms training was simply not realistic.
---------------
Jim Cameron

Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.

MikeMeech
UK
top 30
E-5 Sergeant
Posts: 322

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/21/2017 6:08:44 AM

Quote:
This German method was - like so many successful tactics in that war - very dependent on artillery.

The infiltration brings to mind the storm troopers , clearing their way through with grenade, light machine gun and sometimes flamethrower. And so they did...but it was the artillery preparation , organised by a gunner genius by the name of Bruchmuller, that was essential to that succcess.

Bruchmuller managed to deploy artillery and unleash barrages of incredible intensity. These were not the week long affairs of the Somme and Ypres, but short - several hours of concentrated violence, unleashing millions of shells ( largely gas ) that not only destroyed defences and the men within, but also isolated and disrupted LOC and blinded and destroyed the opposing artillery.

I don't know enough about the technique to go into details ; but whatever he did, that man transcended in his role.

Editing : I don't think that Bruchmuller himself was at Cambrai ; but I'm sure that his influence was very apparent in the success of the German counterattack .

His method reached its apogee on 21 March 1918 against the British, and again on 27 May , when the French were the recipients of his bounty.

The British did adapt tactics, but, for all their skills, it was sheer scale and violence that allowed the Germans to prevail. Two hundred shells per second were hitting the British for several hours on 21 March 1918. It's a bit mind boggling, to say the least.

Regards, Phil
--Phil andrade


Hi

Any reading about the Cambrai battle details the success of the German counter attack in the southern part of the battlefield, in the north the German attack failed. Basically this was because the British in the north had stronger (old German) defences while in the south the defence was 'weaker' and more 'dispersed'. Strong and Marble's book 'Artillery in the Great War' page 153 mentions that in the northern attack:

"The 30-60 minute bombardment was inadequate... ...Without gaps for the stormtroopers to flow through, they simply piled up in front of the British lines."

And no doubt were left 'hanging over the barbed wire' as in previous battles and showing that 'success' depends on many aspects not just a particular tactic which although successful on part of the battlefield was not elsewhere.

Many of the techniques associated with 'Bruchmuller' (or the Bruchmuller/Pulkowski method) were already in use by the British and French. The British artillery at Cambrai is a case in point where no 'pre-battle' barrage was used, instead the British used 'silent' registration. This involved a lot of different techniques coming together (which had been developed during the war) this included the 'survey-in' of all guns and targets onto the same grid to ensure they were located "in precise sympathy, one with another." Also "all barrels of all guns when laid on the same bearing must be precisely parallel" Good grid references were needed and had to be transferred to an accurate blank map - an artillery board on which own guns were already located (measures were taken to eliminate inaccuracy due to any warping of the artillery board).
The enemy guns were located by 'Flash' survey, 'Sound ranging' aerial photography or rather a combination of methods. Also taken into account would be wind speed and temperatures and how they would effect the shells in flight at different altitudes. Barrel wear and its effects would also have to be taken into account. Methods used by the British artillery at Cambrai is well covered in Farndale's 'History of the Royal regiment of Artillery - Western front 1914-18', pages 216-217, with information on 'Meteor' pages 372-237, 'Sound Ranging' pages 374-379. There is also Chasseaud's massive 'Artillery's Astrologers' on survey and mapping on the Western Front.
The use of the 'Hurricane bombardment' can be problematic, as seen in the different results of the northern and southern counter-attacks at Cambrai. For them to work lots of guns are needed to put enough artillery shells on to the target in a short space of time. As was seen at Cambrai and during the 1918 German Spring offensives if the defences were strong it may not work as well as expected. It should also be remembered that the British and French were always attacking 'stronger' defence lines on the Western Front which is one of the reasons long artillery barrages were necessary (another reason for the British was in the first years of WW1 they did not have enough 'suitable' artillery). During the 100 Days we see increasing use of 'shorter' bombardments by the British and French as the Germans had moved from their strong defensive positions in the Spring Offensive and had made themselves much more vulnerable, indeed when retreating to there previous strong defences they had a problem holding them against the French and British artillery supporting the infantry or infantry/tank attacks. We should also remember that a reason for the German 'defence in depth' method was due to the damage inflicted on the German troops by the French and British artillery. It should also be noted that during WW1 many similar 'problems' to be solved resulted in very 'similar' solutions.
Battle methods and techniques are rather more complicated than many think, one type of 'tactic' does not suit all battles and do not necessarily mean limited casualties. Even the 'successful' use of Bruchmuller' and 'stormtrooper' tactics on the first day of the 1918 Spring Offensive still cost the Germans 40,000 casualties and did not reach their planned first day objectives. 'Cheap' ways of waging war usually turn out to be illusionary.

Mike


George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Posts: 5704

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/21/2017 7:11:20 AM
Very good post Mike and thank you.

Cheers,

George

Phil andrade
London, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Moderator
Posts: 2597

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/21/2017 11:07:24 AM
The honours of battle were very much even at Cambrai.

The fighting did have a more insidious and indirect effect that Jack Sheldon explains in his book.

The Germans were determined that they should never again be caught with their pants down on a quiet front. They were also very alarmed at the thought of further tank onslaughts.

As a result, they ended up jumping at shadows, constantly diverting resources to construct anti tank defences, and also bolstering up sectors of frontline in order to avoid any complacency about so called quiet sectors.

Cambrai had been regarded as one such, which amplified the surprise and the sense of vulnerability .

The upshot was that German manpower and material were dispersed far and wide, diminishing the strength in areas where they were sorely needed.

This was to have significant consequences.

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

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

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

Jim Cameron
North Bellmore, NY, USA
top 15
E-8 Master Sergeant


Posts: 687

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/22/2017 10:53:42 AM
Another artillery technique was to calibrate individual guns on ranges established well behind the front, beyond enemy observation. This gave each gun its own firing data, and allowed firing by map reference, without registration fire giving away the target of an attack, with fair prospects of success.
---------------
Jim Cameron

Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.

Jim Cameron
North Bellmore, NY, USA
top 15
E-8 Master Sergeant


Posts: 687

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/22/2017 11:13:34 AM

Quote:


The Germans were determined that they should never again be caught with their pants down on a quiet front. They were also very alarmed at the thought of further tank onslaughts.

As a result, they ended up jumping at shadows, constantly diverting resources to construct anti tank defences, and also bolstering up sectors of frontline in order to avoid any complacency about so called quiet sectors.

The upshot was that German manpower and material were dispersed far and wide, diminishing the strength in areas where they were sorely needed.

This was to have significant consequences.

Regards, Phil
--Phil andrade


On a front as long as the Western Front, quiet sectors were inevitable, even necessary. Men and guns were not unlimited, and logistical infrastructure was expensive and difficult to establish. Fortunately, not every sector covered, or protected, areas worth attacking. Both sides took advantage of this, for economy of force, to rest experienced formations, and to train new ones. Quiet sectors could of course become active, but by and large both sides had the reserves, and necessary mobility, to reinforce them as and when needed. But having to bolster otherwise less critical sectors could become very expensive, very fast.
---------------
Jim Cameron

Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.

Phil andrade
London, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Moderator
Posts: 2597

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/22/2017 12:00:00 PM
Ammunition problems prevented the Germans from further exploiting some of their successes at Cambrai. They could not get enough ammo forward fast enough to sustain the advance in some sectors.

The Germans regarded the capture of six or seven thousand British prisoners in a day or two of fighting as a unique event since the onset of static warfare on the Western Front.

They, too, appear to have been taken back by the extent of their success on November 30th, just as the British had been ten days earlier .

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

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

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Posts: 5704

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/22/2017 12:00:49 PM
The British went into the Battle of Cambrai with a reduction in reserves because they had to bolster the failing Italian army, being cut apart by Austro-German forces at Caporetto.

Cambrai was over on Dec. 6. Caporetto was over by Dec. 2.

So I don't know when the British and French decided to commit forces to the Italian front or whether those reserves were en route even as the Germans countered at Cambrai.


Cheers,

George

MikeMeech
UK
top 30
E-5 Sergeant
Posts: 322

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/22/2017 1:12:47 PM

Quote:
The British went into the Battle of Cambrai with a reduction in reserves because they had to bolster the failing Italian army, being cut apart by Austro-German forces at Caporetto.

Cambrai was over on Dec. 6. Caporetto was over by Dec. 2.

So I don't know when the British and French decided to commit forces to the Italian front or whether those reserves were en route even as the Germans countered at Cambrai.


Cheers,

George
--George


Hi

The French and British had already sent Heavy Artillery units to Italy earlier in the year to help the Italians, these were in fact due to return but that was cancelled. Plans had also been drawn up to send French and British Divisions to Italy if needed. With Caporetto these plans came into effect (three months after they had been drawn up). The French moved two divisions on 28 October, detraining in Italy on 31 October, another two arrived by 10 November. Trains then came available for the British to move troops, the 23rd and 41st Divisions left France between 6 and 13 November and were followed by the 7th and 48th Divisions between 17 and 24 November. French and British air squadrons, fighter and Corps squadrons plus Kite Balloon units, were also sent with these formations. The initial RFC units were No. 28 Sqn. (Camel), No. 34 Sqn. (RE.8) followed by No. 45 Sqn. (Camel), No. 66 Sqn. (Camel) and No. 42 Sqn. (RE.8).
So the BEF lost basically the equivalent of the Canadian Corps and five squadrons of aircraft from its ORBAT.

Mike

George
Centre Hastings, ON, Canada
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Posts: 5704

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/22/2017 4:53:57 PM
Thanks Mike. So when the Germans countered, did the British have sufficient reserves to stop the attack. There were 20 German divisions I believe and the maps seem to indicate that they were all around the salient created by the original British attack.

It also begs the question whether the British and French could have exploited the initial attack. Was exploitation part of the original plan?

Cheers,

George.

Jim Cameron
North Bellmore, NY, USA
top 15
E-8 Master Sergeant


Posts: 687

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/22/2017 5:07:38 PM
A perennial problem. All even successful attacks were apt to gain were a vulnerable salient all but impossible to exploit from, whether exploitation was part of the original plan or not.
---------------
Jim Cameron

Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.

MikeMeech
UK
top 30
E-5 Sergeant
Posts: 322

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/23/2017 6:19:41 AM

Quote:
Thanks Mike. So when the Germans countered, did the British have sufficient reserves to stop the attack. There were 20 German divisions I believe and the maps seem to indicate that they were all around the salient created by the original British attack.

It also begs the question whether the British and French could have exploited the initial attack. Was exploitation part of the original plan?

Cheers,

George.
--George


Hi

The plan for Cambrai as issued by the Third Army on 13th November, 1917 at 7 am.(OH 1917 Volume III Appendix I) had the following:

1. Object - "...to break the enemy's defensive system by a coup de main; with the assistance of tanks to pass the Cavalry Corps through the break thus made: to seize Cambrai, Bourlon Wood, and the passages over the Sensee River and cut off the troops holding the German front line between Havrincourt and that river."

2. "The operation is designed to take advantage of the existing favourable local situation. Surprise and rapidity of action are therefore of the utmost importance."

3. Army Commander's intention is - "...First, to gain possession of the quadrilateral formed by the Canal de l'Escaut-Sensee River-Canal du Nord. Secondly, to clear up the area lying to the west of this quadrilateral."


It is of interest to note that in the discussions with Byng about the plan Haig recommended that: "Specially trained detachments of all arms, lightly equipped, might be allotted, under one commander, the tasks of securing Bourlon Wood and Marquion." (OH 1917, Vol. III, page 18) Haig also put in the option of ending the attack after 48 hrs if it did not progress enough (of course this did not happen in the event).

I believe the training of infantry with tanks before hand lasted 10 days for each Division, although I think that worked out as two days per battalion.

I think the reference to forming a 'salient' is important. Any successful attack could form one (unless you were taking a salient from the opposing side of course. The 'smaller' type of salient could be at 'greater' risk to counter-attack as it would be easier for the opposition to mass against it. This could be a problem with the 'bite and hold' operations (seen as a panacea for operations on the Western Front by some) as unless it was difficult to attack from the German side due to physical geography or you could rapidly build (or use) strong defensive positions and kept an artillery superiority to stop counter attacks, then the troops would always be in a vulnerable position. Another way round the problem of 'forming a salient' is by using continuous 'bite and hold' attacks along the front so the enemy could not send enough troops or artillery to take out a particular salient that had been formed. This, it could be argued, is what the 'allies' done during the 100 Days.

Mike

MikeMeech
UK
top 30
E-5 Sergeant
Posts: 322

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/23/2017 7:45:25 AM

Quote:
Another artillery technique was to calibrate individual guns on ranges established well behind the front, beyond enemy observation. This gave each gun its own firing data, and allowed firing by map reference, without registration fire giving away the target of an attack, with fair prospects of success.
--Jim Cameron


Hi

Reference this, 'Third Army Artillery Instructions No. 18' of 29.10.17 (but amended on 5th and 11th Nov. 1917) for the Battle of Cambrai, mentions that:

"In addition calibration will be carried out by III Corps on their range near Quinconce, and the Army range at Fricourt will be placed at the disposal of IV Corps for this purpose. Assistance will also be given to III Corps on the Army range if required."

Also:

"Guns and howitzers should be grouped in batteries according to wear and loss of M.V. [Muzzle Velocity], as determined by I's.O.M. [Inspector's of Munitions] and the result of calibration shoots."

Truly science in action.

I hope that is of interest.
Mike

Phil andrade
London, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Moderator
Posts: 2597

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/23/2017 8:10:57 AM
Mike,

Very, very helpful, thanks.

The word local in para 2 reaches out and grabs me.

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

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

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

Jim Cameron
North Bellmore, NY, USA
top 15
E-8 Master Sergeant


Posts: 687

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/23/2017 8:24:11 AM
Another problem with a salient formed by a successful attack was that unless the attack was on a broad enough front, enemy artillery could fire into it from both flanks, and even cover the whole interior. To make it broad enough to avoid this required a very major operation.

Attempting to exploit forward from the salient could also be all but impossible, as previously discussed, as enemy reserves fed into the fight. Later in the war, exploitation forward would be replaced by "lateral exploitation", from sector to sector along the front.
---------------
Jim Cameron

Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.

MikeMeech
UK
top 30
E-5 Sergeant
Posts: 322

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/23/2017 9:47:17 AM
Hi

Zabecki in 'Steel Wind' (book on Bruchmuller), page 49, has some details of the 'Pulkowski method' as part of Bruchmuller's tactics. This system is stated to have consisted of two main components:

1. 'Tageseinfluesse' (Daily influences)- This was based on the ballistics effects caused by changes in the weather: wind conditions, wind speed, air temperature, air density and the temperature of the powder. These could be measured periodically and firing data updated from correction factors that were listed in tables. By spring 1918 the German Army had developed a system of measuring the ballistic meteorological factors and transmitting the data to battery positions via telephone on the day of the attack. By mid-1918 each corps and front line division had its own meteo station. Meteo messages were sent 4 hrs before the start of any firing and then every two hrs.

2. 'besondern Einflusse' (Special Influences) - These were based on the individual characteristics of each battery's guns and nature of the manufacture of lots of ammunition. Also the wear on the individual gun tube.

Personally I like Zabecki's work in general but I can't help feeling he goes a bit over the top on Bruchmuller/Pulkowski method in apparently thinking it was in 'advance' of what the 'allies' were doing based on the use of the B/P method in the spring of 1918. While the system was good (although Bruchmuller did not convince all the German senior military) it was hardly unique. As we have seen the 'Special Influences' were already in use by the British before the battle of Cambrai. (as an aside the British were also selecting 'higher quality' .303 rounds from the manufacturing lines for use with synchronised guns on aircraft during 1917, before opening special production lines during 1918).

On the 'Daily Influences' the British 'Meteo' reports GHQ, in March, 1916, issued a directive that they would be issued twice daily. From 2nd March 1917 they became six times daily, there were further improvements throughout the rest of the war (details in Annex K 'Development of Meteor in France 1914-1918' in Farndale). I believe the French had similar systems, so it appears the B/P method was not 'superior' to the methods of the 'allies' just another example of similar problems resulting in similar solutions.

Mike

Jim Cameron
North Bellmore, NY, USA
top 15
E-8 Master Sergeant


Posts: 687

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/23/2017 9:58:47 AM
Far from being an advance, what it sounds like is applicable of the fire control systems that naval forces were already using for long range gunnery by way of their mechanical plotting tables in their heavy units to land combat.
---------------
Jim Cameron

Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.

Jim Cameron
North Bellmore, NY, USA
top 15
E-8 Master Sergeant


Posts: 687

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/23/2017 9:59:23 AM
Far from being an advance, what it sounds like is applicable of the fire control systems that naval forces were already using for long range gunnery by way of their mechanical plotting tables in their heavy units to land combat.
---------------
Jim Cameron

Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.

anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major


Posts: 6103
http:// 82.44.47.99
Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/24/2017 9:34:34 AM
Bad weather intervened, however, so that the cavalry could not exploit the breakthrough, and adequate infantry reinforcements were not available. More significantly, half the tanks were out of action at the end of the first day’s fighting, mainly due to mechanical failure. The battle degenerated into a brutal trench struggle,.

By November 29 the offensive had been halted after an advance of about 6 miles (10 km). On November 30 the Germans surprisingly counterattacked with 20 divisions, spearheaded by stormtroopers. These specially trained groups used the tactics of infiltration to find and exploit weak points in the British line causing more than a hint of pabic; and by December 5 the British had been driven back almost to their original positions.

The British were caught off balance by the brilliantly executed German attack and fell back in disarray. Casualties on both sides were about equal—45,000 each. By 8 December, when the battle ended, the British had lost most of their territorial gains.There was an Official Enquiry into the tout of the right/southern flank.

Regards

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

Phil andrade
London, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Moderator
Posts: 2597

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/24/2017 12:19:05 PM
In a sense, Cambrai might be compared with Neuve Chapelle, which had been fought more than two and a half years earlier.

Both battles were portentous, and in both cases an initial surprise and success was marred by failure to exploit.

There were controversies and recriminations after both of them, and the Germans were also susceptible to these.

Both battles were conspicuous for major German counter attacks .

It’s an astonishing testimony to how far the technology of war had developed when the two are compared, and yet there is a sense of consistency and continuity in the difficulties that confronted both attackers and defenders in that war .

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

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

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major


Posts: 6103
http:// 82.44.47.99
Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/25/2017 7:22:08 AM

Quote:
A court of enquiry convened at Hesdin to examine what had gone wrong at Cambrai. This unusual step was taken after questions had been asked by the War Cabinet, following a German counter attack that had apparently come as a surprise and against which the British forces lost ground and suffered heavy losses. Initial success, even if containing the seeds of a war winning approach that would germinate on the Santerre plateau in August 1918, had been short lived, and there was bitter disappointment at the net result.

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]

The Long Long Trail

Regarfs

jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Michigan Dave
Muskegon, Michigan, MI, USA
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major


Posts: 2960

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/25/2017 9:29:46 AM

Quote:
Tanks were still so new to the battlefield that they barely had their own tactics and doctrine worked out, not to mention issues of crew comfort and mechanical reliability. Cooperation with the cavalry and infantry was easy enough to order, but expecting it to happen without extensive combined arms training was simply not realistic.
--Jim Cameron



Hi Jim,

Fascinating topic, boy the Tanks back then sure were a work of art! Here is a short documentary with actual footage, plus some WWI questions answered!

[Read More]

Thanks,
Dave
---------------
"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

MikeMeech
UK
top 30
E-5 Sergeant
Posts: 322

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/25/2017 10:18:21 AM

Quote:

Quote:
A court of enquiry convened at Hesdin to examine what had gone wrong at Cambrai. This unusual step was taken after questions had been asked by the War Cabinet, following a German counter attack that had apparently come as a surprise and against which the British forces lost ground and suffered heavy losses. Initial success, even if containing the seeds of a war winning approach that would germinate on the Santerre plateau in August 1918, had been short lived, and there was bitter disappointment at the net result.

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]

The Long Long Trail

Regarfs

jim
--anemone


Hi

The comments from a "respected commentator" are problematic as we need to know 'exactly' what he meant by "ill-planned"? Anyone looking at the actual pre-battle instructions (many of which are available, and have been for many years, in the OH 1917 Vol. III appendices)will find it does not look ill-planned at all! The battle planning was detailed at all levels down from Byng (Haig would comment on the plans but the detailed work would be done by the Army commander and his staff, Byng at Cambrai, and the commanders and staff at his formation HQs).
Of course all the planning in the world will be effect by the actual battle itself, not only what the enemy does or doesn't do but also what the weather does and any number of other factors.
Of interest is the 'Tank Corps Special Order No.6' sent by Ellis to all units involved in the battle on 19 November, in this he states (with suitable hyperbole)that:

"1. Tomorrow the Tank Corps will have the chance for which it has been waiting for many months-to operate on good going in the van of battle.
2. All that hard work and ingenuity can achieve has been done in the way of preparation.
3. It remains for unit commanders and tank crews to complete the work by judgement and pluck in the battle itself.
4. In the light of past experience I leave the good name of the Corps with great confidence in their hands.
5. I propose leading the attack of the centre division."

This shows several points about a WW1 battle, basically 1 & 2 he is saying that we have got the tank terrain we need and have done or the planning we can. However, 3 & 4 show the realities that basically there was nothing else the 'command' can do and it was up to the 'troops on the ground' to use their training and experience to succeed. No. 5 is interesting as although Ellis did 'lead' the attack in a tank he then only had a tank commanders view of the battle, so he soon returned to his HQ so he could get the 'bigger picture' (when possible) to undertake his 'command function'.
As is well known communications in battle was problematic throughout WW1, which is why commanders needed to be at HQs at all levels to receive any communications that were available. Indeed in the pre-battle we see a huge number of documents produce to try to cover all points of what might happen (one of the 'new' sounds of battle in WW1 was the sound of typewriters) however, this was hard to do during battle and instructions were given verbally which were then followed up by written instructions to confirm them (this became quite common during the 100 Days). One example in the OH, Appendix 15, 'Third Army Instructions to IV Corps to Cease Offensive Operations, 27th November', the first paragraph states:

"In confirmation of the verbal instructions given you this afternoon, the resources at the disposal of the Army do not permit of the offensive being continued any longer."

Also in para 4 it states that the:

"47th and 59th Divisions are at your disposal for the relief of 62nd and Guards Divisions when required. The relief of these troops should not, however, be unduly hurried, as other fresh troops cannot be made available for some days, and our resources must be economized."

From this it appears any more fresh troops were having to come from some distance, presumably from other Army commands. The rest of the document covers the various defensive measures to be put into place.

I hope that is of interest.

Mike


anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major


Posts: 6103
http:// 82.44.47.99
Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/25/2017 12:48:05 PM
Mikr I note that you have picked up on Carringtons "ill planned "-I take that you agreed with the rest of his comment??? Hereunder more recriminations for perusal from the same source; which U have to say that I agree with.


Quote:
The collective view of the operational factors contributing to British defeat was outlined very clearly in the papers assembled for the enquiry. That the enemy attack had been a surprise was denied. All those consulted said it was expected and suitable defensive measures had been taken. Far from admitting that the men holding these positions were tire

d, having not been relieved, on the contrary they were, according to Byng, “elated, full of fight”. Both of these points are open to challenge. Byng, Haig and Smuts all assigned the absence of serious resistance on the southern part of the front to a lack of training among junior officers, NCOs and men – a much more credible factor, but one directly attributable to the rush to undertake the operation despite advice from the staff that the divisions were simply not in a condition to undertake it.

The tactically poor position and thinly held front resulting from the 20 November assault is hardly mentioned and where it is, is denied
The Long Long Trail

Regards

jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

MikeMeech
UK
top 30
E-5 Sergeant
Posts: 322

Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/26/2017 8:20:26 AM

Quote:
Mikr I note that you have picked up on Carringtons "ill planned "-I take that you agreed with the rest of his comment??? Hereunder more recriminations for perusal from the same source; which U have to say that I agree with.


Quote:
The collective view of the operational factors contributing to British defeat was outlined very clearly in the papers assembled for the enquiry. That the enemy attack had been a surprise was denied. All those consulted said it was expected and suitable defensive measures had been taken. Far from admitting that the men holding these positions were tire

d, having not been relieved, on the contrary they were, according to Byng, “elated, full of fight”. Both of these points are open to challenge. Byng, Haig and Smuts all assigned the absence of serious resistance on the southern part of the front to a lack of training among junior officers, NCOs and men – a much more credible factor, but one directly attributable to the rush to undertake the operation despite advice from the staff that the divisions were simply not in a condition to undertake it.

The tactically poor position and thinly held front resulting from the 20 November assault is hardly mentioned and where it is, is denied
The Long Long Trail

Regards

jim
--anemone


Hi

I may neither 'agree' or 'disagree' with Carrington, I have not read all of his book, however, any one book and one author is 'just a source' that has to be compared with other 'sources' to endeavour to get a 'full picture' even if that is truly possible.
The main point is that a battle not going to 'plan' does not actually mean it had been 'badly planned' there are numerous reasons a battle can go awry.

One has to say any attack will put the attacking forces in poorer defensive positions than they had prior to the attack. They may or may not have reached all their planned objectives or even exceeded them, however, at some point they will have to consolidate, usually the enemy's positions by 'turning them round' so they faced the other direction or digging new positions. When the attackers are within enemy positions they will also know that that enemy will have its artillery well registered on them (the positions being well known to them). Indeed after an attack you may have to withdraw to a better defensive position so you can hold it. In part this was the case at Cambrai, as stated in the 'GHQ Order for Withdrawal on the Bourlon Front 3rd December 1917' (again this followed GHQ's verbal instructions to Byng) which states:

"...the Third Army front will be withdrawn with the least possible delay from the Bourlon Hill-Marcoing salient to a more retired and shorter line of defence to be selected by you.

2. The line chosen should be the best available with a view to gaining security of defence combined with economy of troops. The abandonment of ground recently won is quite secondary to these considerations.

3. The security of your right flank about la Vacquerie, Welsh Spur [Ridge], and to the south of those places, so it is essential to the security of whatever line you select to the north and north-west of those places that your particular attention is drawn to this matter."

This is never a easy process in battle.

The German Spring Offensives during 1918 suffered severely from the 'successful' attack (although poorly planned strategically) which not only caused them large casualties (including over ground they had given up in the spring of 1917 to improve their defensive line) but also left them in very poor defensive positions, which caused them great problems during the 'allied' offensives during 1918.

On the enemy counter-attack at Cambrai, of course German counter-attacks were expected although the exact timings and location would probably receive a limited warning. After all this is why the British had Counter-Attack Patrol aircraft in the sky during the day light hours to try and spot them and give warning (weather permitting). One example of the warning of a possible counter-attack building up was the '55th Division Warning Order, 28th November 1917' which stated:

"Certain indications during today point to the possibility of enemy making an attack against our front. All troops will be warned to be specially on the alert in trenches and all posts"

It continues with the measures to be taken.

I hope that is of interest.

Mike


anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major


Posts: 6103
http:// 82.44.47.99
Re: Cambrai + 100
Posted on: 11/26/2017 9:18:59 AM
Hi Mike-I have read your post- which was most interesting thank you;I now accept that "one swallow does not make a summer" vis a vis Carrington. However I have read enough about Cambrai to be convinced that the so called "retreat" was in fact a disorderly rout-particularly on the southern flank- hence the Official Enquiry into this part of the battle.I still feel that this action was very much a speculative trial of a full scale assault using troops hacked by tanks on a broad front; and i am sure that much was learned from this effort

Regards

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

 (1914-1918) WWI Battles    
 Forum Ads from Google