The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Memorial to the Missing at Cambrai is situated on a terrace adjacent to the Louverval CWGC Cemetery near the village of Doignies, France. The site was the location of a field ambulance during the Battle of Cambrai (Nov. 20th to Dec. 6th, 1917) and the burials are from that time, unchanged except for the landscaping and permanent headstones added in the 1920’s. There are only 124 graves, and these would probably have been moved to a consolidation cemetery had the memorial not been built here.
The design of the memorial is a semi-circular pantheon-style temple, supported by eight sets of doric columns with two faux end chapels. In the center of the semi-circle is the Stone of Remembrance, and the inscription on the façade is THESE ALL DIED IN FAITH. There are now 7,057 British and South Africans listed on the inside panels, all of them lost in the Battle of Cambrai.
The memorial was the work of H. Chalton Bradshaw (1893 – 1943), whose background was previously explained in the article on the CWGC Ploegteert Memorial to the Missing. The bas-relief sculptures on the ends are by Charles S. Jaggar (1885 – 1934), who served in WW1 virtually from start to finish, having enlisted in August, 1914 in the Artist’s Rifles, (28th County of London Battalion), and he was wounded three times. His most famous work is The Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London. He also contributed the sculptures to the former CWGC Memorial to the Missing at Port Taufiq in Egypt, which was destroyed during the Six Day War in 1967.
One hundred years ago the Battle of Cambrai was raging in France. Coming only ten days after the end of Third Ypres (Passchendaele), it has long been overshadowed by that major catastrophe, although Cambrai wasn’t small, but the fight was noteworthy for two reasons.
First, for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) it was their most significant ‘what-if’ lost opportunity of the war. The initial attack was a smashing success, moving nine kilometers, which was about the same distance they had achieved at Passchendaele in over three months of fighting. All of the objectives were captured and all three German defense lines had been broken by the second day. Had the BEF been able to deploy sufficient reinforcements fast enough, this breach might well have been permanent, forcing a major German retreat. But it was not to be.
Second, this action saw the first use of several important tactical and technological advancements on the Western Front by both combatants. For the BEF foremost was the use of tanks.
The BEF’s battle plan was devised under the direction of the military theoretician, occultist and mystic Lt. Col. J.F.C. Fuller (1878-1966), later the author of the seminal treatise The Foundations of the Science of War (1926). In 1912 he had postulated his Six Principles of War, which became eight in 1915 and nine in 1925. These were Direction, Concentration, Distribution, Determination, Surprise, Endurance, Mobility, Offense and Security. Fuller’s work became the basis for courses at places such as the U.S. Army War College.
Fuller’s plan was history’s first blitzkrieg. There was no advance artillery barrage, the attack was led by the armor, coordinated with the infantry, artillery, aviation and even cavalry in a true combined arms operation, using over 1,000 guns, nearly 300 airplanes and 476 Mark IV tanks.
Other BEF ‘firsts’ at Cambrai were the use of sound ranging to find German artillery and the establishment of the world’s first blood bank.
The Germans, in their turn, introduced modified field artillery that could take out tanks. When they mounted their inevitable counterattacks on Nov. 30th, they introduced their Stoßtruppen infiltration tactics to the Western Front, which had contributed greatly to the collapse of the Italians at Caporetto in October, and their advance was just as swift as the BEF’s had been, pushing the line back five kilometers in one day, a foreshadow of the March 1918 offensives.
After-action the Germans fully realized the potential of tanks. They had a few of their experimental Abteilung 7 (Verkehrswesen) Sturmpanzerwagen heavy tanks (usually called just the A7V) and more were on order, but they also set up a tank repair shop to reconstruct serviceable Mark IV’s from the many hulks that were recovered from the Cambrai battlefield. These were called Beutepanzers and over 90 of them were used along with 20 A7V’s in the 1918 Spring Offensives.
The result of the Battle of Cambrai was a stalemate, with heavy losses on both sides, especially considering that it was only a sixteen day battle. The BEF had 44,000 casualties including 9,000 taken as POW’s, and the Germans 41,000 including 11,000 POW’s.