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Total Tank allocation at Cambrai. 20th November 1917

Total Tank allocation at Cambrai

The Official History incorrectly gives the following figures for tank allocation at Cambrai:

378 Fighting Tanks (9 Battalions, 42 tanks each) 

54 Supply tanks and Gun Carriers (7)

32 Wire pulling tanks

2 Bridging tanks

9 Wireless tanks (1 per brigade)

1 Transport Tank (to Carry Telephone cable for Army HQ)

476 Total

Source: OH, 1917, Vol 3. p28

These inaccurate figures have been quoted by many historians (including Fuller, S72.p144 and Liddell Hart, S13.p104f). 


The actual Total is almost certainly just under 432 fighting tanks:

The Train Timetable in PRO WO 95-92 dated 7 November 1917 indicates that 432 tanks (144 per brigade), 5 Gun carriers and One engineering gun carrier were to be taken to the Battlefield. 

The Preliminary Report on Tank Corps Operations with the third Army 20th Nov to 1st Dec 1917 pg.6, also in PRO WO 95-92 indicates  total of 432 tanks were to be used:  

324 Fighting

54 Spare

36 Wire pullers

18 Supply

5 Gun Carriers

The engineering tank was obviously overlooked in the breakdown, the total of 432 tanks also omits the Gun Carriers.


Thus each Tank Battalion should have deployed 48 tanks:

36 fighting tanks (12 per company)

6 spare  tanks (2 per company)

6 supply tanks (2 per company)

The Supply tanks were apparently all MK IV female tanks fitted with top towing gear, on the 20th November four were to be detached from each battalion to operate in three tank brigade wire pulling companies.

(see Supply and Wire pulling tanks for more info)


On Page 7 and 8 of the Preliminary Report the allocation of tanks is given. This indicates 346 fighting tanks were to be committed on the 20th November 1917 (108 in 1st and 2nd Brigades, 126 in 3rd Brigade). In addition it states that 32 tanks were to be used for Wire pulling (not 36 as above), 2 to carry bridging equipment for the Cavalry and 1 to carry cable for 3rd Army. 

The total of 346 fighting tanks committed  is consistent with 3rd Brigade committing all 18 of their reserve tanks whilst 1st and 2nd Brigades did not; this is mostly corroborated by other sources. Though in the event some companies from 1st and 3rd Brigades appear to have committed some spare tanks to action as fighiting tanks (i.e. not replacements for broken down tanks). 

It is unclear why only 32 tanks were apparently used for Wire pulling. The orders relating to Wire pullers indicates 36 tanks were to be used and none were to detached for other duties. Two missing wire pullers can be accounted for: "A" Battalions Battle history sheets are apparently complete, only 3 wire pullers are included, this is consistent with "A" battalion using the fourth Wire Puller as a supply tank, both "A" Battalion's supply tanks were apparently used as wireless carriers; one of "B" Battalion's wire pullers was deployed to carry cable for the cavalry. The other 2 missing wire pullers are presumably the tanks detailed to carry bridging equipment for the cavalry these were possibly from 4 company which was ordered to support the cavalry,s advance.

The author has to date found no other evidence relating to the two tanks allocated to carry bridging equipment. Some secondary sources claim three MK I / II tanks were  used to carry bridging equipment, the author has found no evidence for this in the original documents at Kew and it seems likely the facts have got confused; three old tanks were allocated as bridging tanks in the second battle of Cambrai in 1918, all three broke down on their way forward. 

As the table below illustrates the surviving Battalion and Brigade records indicate some battalions were missing a spare tank or two, thus the total probably fell a little short of 432.


Tanks Committed to action on 20th November - doesn't include Wire pullers and tanks solely used for supply / radio carrying duties 

1st Brigade committed all of its fighting and spare tanks, it probably also committed all six of its remaining supply tanks as some of the wire crushing tanks in advance of the first wave.  Total 132 tanks.

2nd Brigade committed all of its fighting tanks, its spare tanks stayed in reserve. Total: 108 tanks 

3rd Brigade committed all of its fighting tanks, and some of its spare tanks (not as replacements). Total: about 112 tanks 

Thus on 20th November 346 fighting tanks were committed to action (this number includes the 2 that failed to start)



20-Nov-17                                    
Brg Btn Coy Supply other Intended Reserve At start Started Engaged Enemy Ditched or    Broke Down Knocked   Out Rallied     TOT      
1 D 10   4 12   12 12 11 1 3 8   Int / res 35   1st Brig tot 144
    11     11   11 11 10 5 2 4   sup / oth 4   At start 119
    12     12   12 12 11 3 5 4   TOT 39   EE 112
  E 13   4 12   11 11 11 3 2 6   Int / res 35   Abd 19
    14     12   12 12 9 1 7 4   sup / oth 4   KO 44
    15     11   11 11 11 1 9 1   TOT 39   Ral 56
  G 19   4 30   24 24 23 2 5 17   Int / res 60      
    20 2   14   12 12 12 1 9 2   sup / oth 6      
    21     16   14 14 14 2 2 10   TOT 66      
2 A 1   1 12 1 12 12 12 4 2 6   Int / res 38   2nd Brig tot 139
    2   3 12 1 12 11 11 2 8 1   sup / oth 7   At start 108
    3 1 2 12   12 12 12 1 4 7   TOT 45   EE 107
  B 4   2 12 2 12 12 12 1 1 10   Int / res 42   Abd 12
    5   2 12 2 12 12 12 0 0 12   sup / oth 6   KO 20
    6 2   12 2 12 12 12 0 1 11   TOT 48   Ral 75
  H 22   1 12 1 12 12 12 1 3 8   Int / res 40      
    23 1   12 2 12 12 12 2 1 9   sup / oth 6      
    24   4 12 1 12 12 12 1 0 11   TOT 46      
3 C 7   4 12 2 12 12 12 3 1 8   Int / res 42   3rd Brig Tot 143
    8 1   12 2 12 12 12 3 2 7   sup / oth 6   At start 108
    9 1   12 2 12 12 12   2 10   TOT 48   EE 106
  F 16   4 12 2 12 12 12   1 11   Int / res 42   Abd 19
    17 1   12 2 12 12 12 2 3 7   sup / oth 6   KO 13
    18 1   12 2 12 12 12     12   TOT 48   Ral 76
  I 25   4 12 2 12 12 12   2 10   Int / res 41      
    26 1   12 1 12 12 12 8 1 3   sup / oth 6      
    27 1   12 2 12 11 10 3 1 8   TOT 47      
TOT     12 39 346 29 335 333 325 50 77 207         TOTAL 426


Total = 426 Mk IV tanks

 

Sources

 See links below and the relevant narratives for more detailed discussions and sources.


1st Tank Brigade. Tank allocation at Cambrai


2nd Tank Brigade. Tank allocation at Cambrai


3rd Tank Brigade. Tank allocation at Cambrai


Cambrai Narratives

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