The Battle of Cambrai in 1917 was a turning point in the First World War, thanks in large part to the introduction of new British technology. Find out more about what the British used at Cambrai and how it helped them win the battle.
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The Battle of Cambrai
On November 20, 1917, the Battle of Cambrai began in earnest. It would be the first time that tanks would be used en masse in warfare, and it would also mark the first time that the British would use planes to coordinate an artillery barrage. The battle was a resounding success for the British, who took the German forces by surprise and gained a significant victory.
The British tanks
In September of 1916, the Battle of the Somme finally ground to a halt after four months of fighting. In that time, over one million soldiers had been killed or wounded, with little ground being gained. British commander-in-chief Douglas Haig was looking for a new way to break the stalemate on the Western Front. His solution was to use a new weapon: the tank.
The first tanks were deployed at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. The British assault was initially successful, with the tanks breaking through German lines and advancing up to six miles on the first day. However, the Germans quickly regained their footing and by the end of the battle, the British had lost all their gains. Nonetheless, Cambrai was significant as it showed that tanks could be a formidable weapon on the battlefield.
The British artillery
The British artillery played a crucial role in the Battle of Cambrai, with new technology providing a decisive edge over the German defenses. The main new weapon was the Mark I tank, which had been developed in secret prior to the battle. This was supported by advances in artillery techniques, including the use of cavalry to provide mobile firepower, and the development of wireless communications to direct tank and artillery movements on the battlefield.
The British infantry
In the fall of 1917, the British army was bogged down in a bloody stalemate in Northern France. In an effort to break through the German lines, the British introduced a new weapon: the tank. The British infantrymen, equipped with these new tanks, managed to surprise and rout the German forces at Cambrai, marking a turning point in the war.
The German response
In response to the new British technology, the Germans made a number of changes to their own tactics and weapons. One was the introduction of their own tanks, which were larger and more heavily armored than the British tanks. The Germans also began using antitank guns, which could penetrate the armor of the British tanks. In addition, they began using aircraft to attack British tanks.
In the aftermath of the battle, the British forces introduced a new tactic referred to as the “creeping barrage.” This tactic proved very effective in breaking through the German front lines. The British also employed new armored vehicles, called tanks, which had been developed in secret prior to the battle. These vehicles proved to be very effective in breaking through the German trench lines.
At Cambrai the British used a new technology which was to have a lasting impact on the way wars were fought. They introduced the tank. This was a vehicle, armoured and with caterpillar tracks, which could cross trenches and other obstacles, and which carried guns. It was slow, but it was very effective.
The legacy of Cambrai was that it showed that tanks, used in the right way, could be very effective. It also showed that there was a need for better coordination between different types of troops (infantry, cavalry and artillery) if they were to be used together effectively.