8. The Battle of Cambrai (1917)
This operation was first conceived as a one-day, tank-led raid on the Hindenburg Line near Cambrai, where the ground was suitable for tracked vehicles. But in the planning stage it developed into a full scale attack on a two-corps front (10km). There was to be no preliminary bombardment and strict secrecy was to be maintained during the preparatory stage. The operation was to be called off after 48 hours if the situation did not look promising.
8.2 Order of Battle
The operation was conducted by 3rd Army with IV Corps on the left of the line, III Corps on the right and V Corps in reserve. Within IV Corps, 36 Div were on the left to secure the left flank of the advance, 62 Div were in the centre facing Havrincourt and 51 Div on the right facing Flesquières.
8.3 62 Div Operations. See Map 2.
8.3.1 First Tour
On 20.11.17, the opening day of the battle, 62 Div broke through both the Hindenburg Main and Support Lines, occupying Havrincourt and Graincourt, and by the end of the day had crossed the Bapaume to Cambrai road (N30). This represented an advance of 7 km in one day, an outstanding achievement at that time. The next day the division took Anneux and the tanks entered Bourlon Wood, but the infantry were too exhausted to follow them. That night the 48 hour review point was reached and III Corps were ordered to establish a defensive front while IV Corps attacked Bourlon Wood and village. Most of the remaining serviceable tanks were now with IV Corps. On 22.11.17 German counter attacks drove the front line back south of the Bapaume to Cambrai road, but later that day 62 Div attacks restored the front to that reached on 21st. During the night of 22/23.11.17 62 Div was relieved by 40 Div and moved back to the area Neuville - Ruyaulcourt - Havrincourt Wood - Bertincourt for rest and recuperation.
Between 23 and 24.11.17 40 Div captured most of Bourlon Wood and entered Bourlon village, though without capturing it.
8.3.3 Second Tour
On 25.11.17 62 Div relieved 40 Div in the line. The next day a high level conference was held, the C in C Sir Douglas Haig presiding, to decide the next moves. The front line in the IV Corps sector now lay in the low ground between Flesquières Ridge and Bourlon Ridge to the north, a bad position in which to overwinter. So either Bourlon Ridge including the village and wood, must be taken and held, or the British line must be pulled back to Flesquières Ridge. It was decided to attempt the former. The attack was made on 27.11.17 by 62 Div, with the Guards Div on their right attacking Fontaine. 62 Div completed the capture of the wood and about half of the village, but a counter attack later the same day forced them back to their start line of that morning. At this point the British offensive was virtually at an end, and it was decided to withdraw the line to Flesquières Ridge for the winter. The 28.11.17 was a quiet day except for artillery exchanges and on the night of 28-29.11.17 62 Div was relieved by 47 Div and moved to the Beaumetz - Lebucqière - Bertincourt area for rest. This marked the end of 62 Div’s active participation in the battle. On 30.11.17 the main German counter attack began.
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Two tanks believed to be in Bourlon Wood after the Battle of Cambrai.
satellite photograph shows Havrincourt in the
north with the bend of the Canal du Nord in the north-western corner. The
diagonal line near the canal is the Autoroute,
A2. Havrincourt Wood lies in the south-west corner,
while an arm of it extends to the centre. The start line for 62 Div lay between
a point just west of the bend in the canal and the northern side of the
a broader view of the