Hundreds of British Tanks Breach the Hindenburg Line at Cambrai
General Byng' s Army, After Nearly Reaching Its Objective, Forced to Retreat
British Forces, 250,000
Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander
Third British Army, General Sir Julian Byng
Detail of U. S. Army Engineers
German Forces, 500,000
General von Marwitz, Commander
Bavarian Army—Crown Prince Rupprecht
The multiple defenses of the Hindenburg zone were breached and deeply penetrated for the first time, on a seven-mile front, west by south of Cambrai, in a brilliant surprise attack launched before daybreak on November 20, 1917 by the Third British Army, commanded by General Sir Julian Byng. By so simple a stratagem as merely omitting the usual violent artillery "preparation," which would have advertised to the enemy that an attack in force was/impending, and relying instead on the crushing power of 600 armored "tanks" to batter down the concrete works and wire barriers in the Hindenburg zone, General Byng had taken the Germans wholly unawares, overrunning their outer defenses, capturing 10,000 prisoners and in 48 hours advancing eight miles through three parallel lines of defense to the very walls of Cambrai.
Here the British advance was stopped by the interposition of 250,000 Bavarian Reserves, hurriedly sent to the scene. There being no British Reserves available to assist in exploiting his gains, General Byng was compelled at length to' retreat out of the German zone. This withdrawal, however, before an enemy force outnumbering his troops two to one, detracts not a single iota from the glory of General Byng's achievement. Incidentally, it was the good fortune of an American contingent, composed of U. S. Army engineers and physicians, to assist the British during their retreat from Cambrai. Exchanging their engineering tools and medicine packs for weapons of war, at a crucial moment, the Americans jumped into the fray and gallantly assisted in breaking the force of the Ger...