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Sunday, 3 November 2013

"Cambrai 1917" by Alexander Turner and Peter Dennis

When I was at grammar school in the late 60's, history stopped somewhere around 1850. We were taught nothing about the 20th century. In English Lit we looked at the War Poets and we were taken to the theatre in Manchester to see "Oh What A Lovely War" but in history classes, nothing. What I know about the British in WW1 comes from general works like John Keegan's excellent book "The First World War", a few talks at the Western Front Association and documentaries on tv. I thought I would change that.

Whilst on holiday in September, I read Gary Sheffield's pocket-sized book on the Somme 1916 and I learnt quite a lot.

Our October meeting of the Military History Group at York U3A was given by Major Robin Russell, a retired officer in the British Army, who now acts as a tour guide of Gallipoli, which was his chosen subject. A very fine talk it was.

Two weeks ago, whilst mulling over these two learning experiences, I decided to do at bit more research into the British Army in WW1. Nothing very deep, I don't want to stray very far from French history. So I bought this book.

I love these Osprey books, they are not very long, this one is 96 pages including further reading and index, some maps, drawings and photographs, both contemporaneous and current, of the battlefields and the fighting units. They hold enough to tell the reader what happened with some guidance as to how to dig deeper if the reader decides to follow up. "Cambrai 1917" exemplifies  this very accessible format.

Cambrai is a very famous battle as it is the first major tank battle, or rather a major attempt at a combined arms attack in which tanks played a major role. I did not appreciate how small scale the battle was. The British attacked with two corps, seven divisions of infantry, a cavalry corps and the tank corps, about 430 tanks. The battlefield was about 12 miles X 6 miles. It started on 20th November and was all over by 1st December. No casualty figures are given in the book.

A very interesting and informative book but for now it's back to the French history for a book or two.

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