During November 1917 preparations for the Battle of Cambrai were well underway. Each battalion of the Tank Corps recorded day to day events in War Diaries.
This series of posts reproduce a selection of entries from this month, giving us an idea of how tank crewmen prepared for their greatest challenge yet.
November 17th – 19th
The battalions spend these last three days before the battle moving their tanks into their starting positions and carrying out their final preparations, ready to go into action at 6:20 am on the 20th November.
B Battalion: No 4 Company. 2 tanks arrive from Plateau and driven to Wood. No 5 Company tanks entrain at Le Plateau at 4 am. Train leaves at 6.30 pm, arrives Ypres 7.45 pm. Tanks and personnel arrive at Dessart Wood at midnight. Company bivouac. No 6 Company entrain Plateau, detrain Ypres. Tanks and Company in Wood, Supply and Spare tanks with crews remain at Plateau and entrain 18th inst.
E Battalion: Operation order No 7 issued. Tanks to lead infantry for the first time. The Commanding Officer visited General Officer Commanding of 51st Division. 13, 14, 15 Companies moved to Havrincourt Wood.
F Battalion: Gouzeaucourt. Work preparing tanks for action, reconnaissances of routes & taping same carried out. Spare tanks were driven to DESSART WOOD & arrived safely
G Battalion: 19 Company and wire-pulling, spare and sledge-pulling tanks load up at PLATEAU.
I Battalion: 1 am; 26 Company entrained at “Z” Ramp. Train left at 4.40 p.m. and arrived at Old Heudicourt at 9 p.m. Company reached lying-up point at 6 a.m. on the 18th. 25 Company with 12 tanks, 5 reserve tanks, supply tanks and Wire pulling tanks proceeded to Plateau Station and entrained at midnight, 25 Company at “X” Ramp and remainder at “Z” Ramp.
B Battalion: No 4 Company, 2 wire pulling tanks arrive. No 5 Company – day spent in preparing for action. In the evening, Section commanders visited starting points and there met representatives of infantry platoons with whom they were operating. No 6 Company, supply and Spare tanks arrive at the wood from Plateau.
C Battalion: No 9 Company and details arrived at lying up places without incident. Preliminary Instructions No 14 issued. 2 lorry loads of filled LG drums arrive. Being sent up with trucks on light railway to Villers-Guislain tonight. Clearer weather.
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 first anniversary of the formation of the Battalion. The Commanding Officer and Adjutant proceeded to Havrincourt Wood to open Advanced HQ.
F Battalion: Reconnaissance was continued and also work on tanks. Arrangements made for pegging out position of assembly tonight. Tank commanders were given a brief outline of the scheme for the attack & rough operation orders were drafted. The four wire pulling and two supply tanks are due to arrive tonight, & will be offloaded and driven to GOUZEAUCOURT by Capt W ARNOLD.
H Battalion: Fins. Overhauling and preparing of tanks for action.
I Battalion: 4 pm; 25 Company left Plateau and arrived at New Heudicourt at 8 p.m. Tanks arrived at lying-up place at 3.30 p.m. and camouflaged by 5 a.m. 4.40 p.m. The remainder of the tanks left Plateau at 4.40 p.m. at arrived at Old Heudicourt at 6.41 p.m. and moved to lying-up point and then camouflaged. All the crews moved to Heudicourt after tanks arrived at Gouzeaucourt and camouflaged, leaving guard over the tanks.
A Battalion: No 3 Company’s tanks moved from Dessart Wood to Villers Plouich. Battalion Advanced HQ with 20th.
B Battalion: All tanks move to their starting points. Those of No 5 Company left at 4-15 pm, all tanks being in position by 3 am.
C Battalion: Gonnelieu. Operation Order No 6 issued. Battalion HQ moves to battle HQ 2 pm. Weather – fine. Approach march to starting point commenced at 4.50 pm and completed by about 11 pm. After completion of assembly Battalion HQ moved to battle HQ near Gonnelieu.
D Battalion: Havrincourt Wood. Strength of Battalion: officers 90; ORs 829
E Battalion: All fascines fitted to tanks and tanks left Havrincourt Wood 6.30 pm and reached point of deployment without mishap. The Commanding Officer, Adjutant and Reconnaissance Officer proceeded to 152nd Infantry Brigade Advanced HQ at Sherwood Avenue. Special Order of the Day issued by Brigadier General Elles, copy attached.
F Battalion: The four wire pulling and two supply tanks arrived at 2 am and parked. Supply tanks loaded & sledges. Scheme of operations & operation orders explained to officers of 18 Company. Point of assembly taped & staked out & infantry guides taken over ground. Crossings prepared over support & front line trenches. Tanks all assembled at 3 am and infantry in position.
G Battalion: All tanks move out from HAVRINCOURT WOOD to lying up and starting points at about 7 pm.
H Battalion: Tanks prepared for action and advanced to point of assembly.
I Battalion: Gouzeaucourt. Final orders for the battle were received at midday and crews marched to Gouzeaucourt at 1 p.m. 26 Company with 12 tanks left lying-up place at 5 p.m. and moved to Starting Points. Eleven tanks were in position at Starting Points by 8.30 p.m. I 24 arrived at 2 a.m. 20.11.17 owing to mechanical trouble en route. 27 Company with 12 tanks left at 5.30 p.m. Section 9 reached S.P. at midnight 19/20th . Tanks having stopped on the south side of Fifteenth Ravine from 2 hours during Approach March. Section 10 in position at S.P. by 9 p.m. Section 11 reached S.P. by 5.30 a.m. 20.11.17, having stopped in Partridge Road until 1 hour before Zero owing to their S.P. being exposed to view if enemy turned his searchlight onto them. Section 12 reached S.P. at 5.30 a.m. 20.11.17. as they also remained in Partridge Road till 1 hour before zero for the same reason. 25 Company left at 8.45 p.m. and arrived at S.P.s by midnight. I 11 had mechanical trouble en route and was replaced by I 10. Wire-pulling tanks left at 6.30 p.m. and arrived at S.P. at R 20 c 9.4 about 2 a.m. 20.11.17. I.W.3 arrived at 6.15 a.m. owing to being ditched and mechanical trouble en route.
For more information on the Battle of Cambrai, watch The Tank Museum YouTube documentary, Cambrai: The Tank Corps Story.
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