Wednesday 6 December 2017

Reflections on Cambrai

Thursday 6th December 1917

Word has filtered down from high command that they believe the German counter-attack, and thus the Battle of Cambrai is over. If they read the battlefield correctly then some appraisal seems called for.

The first day of this battle, like the southern portion of the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, the Battle of Messines Ridge and the Third Battle of Ypres, was a spectacular success. Then, like other offensives before it, things began to run out of steam on the second day as the enemy’s defences hardened and the grand plan began to break down into small local initiatives, seemingly un-co-ordinated by high command. It has to be said that the same pattern seems to have befallen the enemy with their attack on 30th October.

Modern warfare, it seems, is over too large an area, with too many local variables, to control more than one day’s attack. It had been hoped that the use of tanks en-masse might achieve a decisive breakthrough and many of us here thought that this had been achieved. Still, though, the advantages of entrenched positions, barbed wire, machine guns, modern quick-shooting rifles and massed quick-firing artillery all lie with the defender.

At the time of writing it is difficult to see any attack being capable of being sustained for long enough to achieve any broad breakthrough. The tank may yet prove to be the weapon to achieve it, when used flexibly with well-trained infantry and over-powering artillery. However, communication will still be at a premium. A commander controls a battlefield many times broader and deeper than Wellington of Napoleon controlled at Waterloo and it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to get messages through to front line units in time for their subsequent actions to make a difference. Telephone wires are, inevitably, cut and then the general has to rely on runners who can best advance at a walk along crowded trenches. No doubt this winter will see General Headquarters in Montreuil-sur-Mer working hard on how to overcome the difficulties of the attack in order to gain a final breakthrough next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment