During the battle of Cambrai in World War I, November 20 to
December 7, 1917 ... the first American units saw action. The same
battle also showcased the first large-scale effective use of
combined arms, marking an evolution in warfare, said Dr. Brian F.
World War I Battle of Cambrai in 1917 is remembered 100 years later for wide-scale combined arms usage.
This battle in France is the U.S. Army's first major 'great' war
campaign. (U.S. Army image created by Travis Burcham, November 17,
The battle began with a successful British offensive
against the Germans, said Neumann, who is an historian and
WWI subject matter expert with the U.S. Army Center of
Success of the offensive, he said,
was due to the effective coordination of combined arms,
which included infantry, artillery, tanks and combat air
support. All were used to overrun the German trench lines in
the vicinity of the northern French town of
The use of combined arms gave the
battlefield more of a three-dimensional look, with air,
tanks and artillery all supporting infantry, along with some
cavalry support, he said.
The British employed
several hundred tanks, which were used to overrun the German
trenches and tear holes through their lines, he said. It was
the most significant utilization of tanks to date.
The U.S. Army's role in the fighting was fairly limited, he
said, noting that it consisted of Soldiers from the 11th,
12th and 14th Engineer Regiments, who were engaged in
railway construction work behind the trench lines in support
of the British.
Although America's role in the battle
was limited, the news that Soldiers were finally engaged in
a major battle for the first time since war was declared in
April made headlines and boosted morale on the home front,
By Nov. 30, the British had essentially
outrun their supply lines and artillery support, and that's
when the Germans mounted a successful counterattack, Neumann
Luck for the Army engineers ran out on that day
as well, when the Germans overran their area, resulting in
28 U.S. casualties.
The survivors regrouped and were
reorganized into reserve infantry with their main effort
being to build trenches and help the British to re-stabilize
their lines, he said.
The Battle of Cambrai, though
heralded for successful use of combined arms, was actually a
fairly typical of WWI battle, in that a successful offensive
was then met by a successful counter-offensive, with the
lines between friend and foe not shifting that much and a
lot of casualties taken on both sides: around 45,000 on each
side, he said.
Although America had declared war
against Germany seven months earlier, the Army wasn't yet
ready for large-scale combat operations, Neumann said.
While the roughly four U.S. combat divisions in France
were still in training, he said, they would see plenty of
action in 1918.
By David Vergun
Army News Service
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