During November 1917 preparations for the Battle of Cambrai were well underway. Each battalion of the Tank Corps recorded day to day events in their War Diaries.
This series of posts reproduce a selection of war diaries entries from this month, giving us an idea of how tank crewmen prepared for their greatest challenge yet.
November 13th – 16th
The time for training is almost over and these 4 days are mainly taken up with entraining, railway moves and detraining. Almost all the battalions pass through Plateau Station as they move towards their forming up points.
A Battalion: Overhaul of tanks and practice of Co-operation with infantry.
B Battalion: Officer Commanding No 5 Company and Section commanders proceeded to Liencourt to meet troops of 6th Division with whom they were operating. The attack was practised at dawn, tanks being represented by flags with No of Section and name of tank painted thereon. No 6 Company changing sprockets and adjusting camouflage nets with laths.
D Battalion: Strength of Battalion: Officers 87; ORs 825. On this date Battalion moved from Wailly to Meault (Tankodrome at Plateau).
F Battalion: Reconnaissance officers go to meet Royal Engineers officers to arrange about work to be done on routes etc. Preparations continued for entrainment and 18 Company moved off in the afternoon to Central Workshops in order to be ready to entrain at 12.30 the next day
G Battalion: 19 Company and 6 spare tanks of all companies leave WAILLY stone sidings for PLATEAU.
B Battalion: Advance party under Capt Cockell leave Battalion HQ at Wailly and proceeds to form advanced BHQ at Transport Lines, Equancourt. No 5 Company Wire-pulling tanks 6017 and 6013 joined Company at Le Plateau. Company commander and Officers Commanding 5 and 7 Sections proceed to Equancourt for reconnaissance. Advance party proceed to Transport Lines.
C Battalion: Estimated time for zero – 6.15 am. Bad fog nearly all day. No 8 & 7 Companies have to leave Tankodrome 5 pm 15th so as to load up by midnight 15/16th. No 17 Company, F Battalion train derails near camp, Battalion turned out for assistance.
F Battalion: 16 &17 Companies moved off to Central Workshops & also the six spare tanks. All tanks were entrained without difficulty except for two tanks of 17 Company which broke down necessitating two new tanks being drawn to replace them, & also a broken truck which delayed 16 Company entrainment.
G Battalion: 20 and 21 Companies leave BEAUMETZ for PLATEAU. Battalion HQ moves from ARRAS to MEAULTE.
H Battalion: Battalion entrained at Montenescourt (40 ) tanks.
D Battalion: Meaulte. Strength of Battalion: Officers 87; ORs 825.several men came and went. On 18th operation orders were received for Battalion to move into forward area. HQ and Tankodrome were situated in the Havrincourt area.
E Battalion: The Commanding Officer and Reconnaissance Officer visited Havrincourt Wood. The CO held a conference of Company commanders at Meaulte.
F Battalion: All trains arrived at PLATEAU STATION. 18 Company’s train nearly came to grief owing to one of the trucks, conveying personnel, jumping the points at a crossing not far from the station & becoming derailed, thus killing two men & injuring 8 others. A certain amount of equipment was also lost owing to this accident & the train delayed. Fills of ammunition and petrol etc were drawn at the station and all fascines were hoisted on to the top of the tanks. Great difficulty was experienced in doing this owing to the chains repeatedly giving way, but the job was eventually completed with the exception of two tanks. Battalion Headquarters moved by road to map square V3c 0.8 (Sheet 57C). The companies arrived and detrained without incident; 16 & 18 Companies at NEW HEUDICOURT, 17 Company at OLD HEUDICOURT, spare tanks at SOREL, & were driven to their lying up places at GOUZEAUCOURT with exception of spare tanks which were ordered to lie up at DESSART WOOD owing to the work on their route not being finished.
G Battalion: 20 and 21 Companies leave PLATEAU and arrive at BERTINCOURT and RUYAULCOURT respectively.
H Battalion: Battalion detrained at Fins (40 tanks)
A Battalion: Nos 1 & 2 Companies entrain at Bray and arrived at Ytres Siding, Sh 57C: P.32.d, and detrained. Tanks and crews then proceeded to Dessart Wood at Sh 57C, W.1.c. Battalion HQ moved from Wailly to Sh 57C: V.3.d.30.50. Company HQs of 1 & 2 Companies moved from Bray to same grid ref.
B Battalion: No 4 Company. 12 tanks entrain at Plateau Siding. 2 tanks remain at Plateau for repairs. Tanks detrained at Sorel and driven to Dessart Wood. Company encamped in wood, Company HQ in Transport Lines. No 6 Company Supply tank crews draw sledges.
E Battalion: Lt J D M Buchanan reported for duty as Assistant Adjutant. Tank commanders and Reconnaissance Officers proceeded to Havrincourt Wood to be near the line for reconnaissance work. All Companies entrained at the Plateau at mid-night, but not to move off until 17th inst. The Commanding Officer superintended entrainment, which was carried out without a hitch.
G Battalion: Brigadier General Commanding inspects sledge-pullers at BILLON WOOD.
I Battalion: 27 Company left Plateau at 4.40 p.m. and detrained at Old Heudicourt at 6.40 p.m. Tanks then proceeded to the lying-up place at Gouzeaucourt and camouflaged there by 5.30 a.m. 17.11.17. 2.p.m. 26 Company with 12 tanks proceeded to Plateau ready to entrain at midnight.
The final War Diaries post will cover the 17-19th of November.
For more information on the Battle of Cambrai, watch The Tank Museum YouTube documentary, Cambrai: The Tank Corps Story.
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