His iron-clad fleet flowed forward
November 20, 2017 6:07 AM   Subscribe

One hundred years ago today began the Battle of Cambrai. On November 20th, 1917, the British army launched the first massed tank attack in history. Nearly five hundred vehicles, accompanied by air power, poison gas, and swarms of infantry, slammed into German lines before the northern French city of Cambrai.

The first day saw serious territorial gains, in Western Front terms. Hindenburg was grudgingly impressed. But the British failed to exploit their success, the Germans recovered from the shock, then counterattacked successfully. Nearly 100,000 people were casualties on both sides combined.

Eleven months later there would be another battle on the same site. Twenty-three years later the Germans, having absorbed Cambrai's lessons about mechanized warfare, would return with massed tanks of their own.

One report from 1918. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his account in 1923.

A British veteran remembers his experience. One video account, with quizzes. A British documentary (missing some audio; sorry). Gamed digitally in Battlefield 1 and by old-fashioned SPI tabletop wargaming.

One tank-centric site. Perhaps we overstate the importance of tanks at Cambrai.

Previously, a good note from ghostinthemachine.
posted by doctornemo (9 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for this. I'm going to read it when I have more coffee.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 6:31 AM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just missed the Channel 4 program last night which had Guy Martin building a functional replica of a WW1 tank with help from engineers from JCB, but I've enjoyed his other shows so I expect this one is interesting too. Available to watch online if you're in the UK (trailer).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:42 AM on November 20, 2017

Cambrai is also the home of the madeleines that inspired Proust to write Remembrance of Things Past.
posted by jonp72 at 11:12 AM on November 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

For some reason I just decided to re-listen to the Blueprint for Armageddon series on Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. World War One is just so incredibly, unimaginably, horrifically, psychotically insane.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:29 AM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Cambrai is a pretty cool battle. It was a great success as a Great War battle, but a failure in terms of its potential. The British had no idea what they actually achieved. In the short time since 1914, they had institutionalized trench warfare, and thought only in terms of gaining yards and taking trench lines. They didn't appreciate that tanks returned mobility to warfare. If they had, they could have shortened the war considerably. I think Fuller understood this but couldn't get his superiors to see. On the other side, Guderian studied it extensively and it helped him formulate panzer tactics in the interwar years.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 3:32 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I still have my copy of To The Green Fields Beyond in my basement... along with The Great War in the East, another cool SPI offering that included Caporetto and the Brusilov Offensive. SPI put out a few good WWI games in the late 70s. I may have to dig them up again.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 3:40 PM on November 20, 2017

Cambrai is also the home of cambric.
posted by languagehat at 5:39 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

(Ah, I'd be happy to play those, GhostintheMachine . )
posted by doctornemo at 7:41 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I left Fuller out of the post because I got distracted by parts of his biography - the fascism, the occult. I started assembling too many links on him, and thought it deserved a separate post.
posted by doctornemo at 7:42 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

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