November 30, 1917 – German Counter-Attack at Cambrai
Pictured – Nach der Tankschlact bei Cambrai.
The Battle of Cambrai started with a surprise British attack, and ended with a surprise German one. Haig ordered the end of offensive operations on November 27, and British troops began to settle down in the five miles of ground they had won. The German commander, Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, had other plans. On November 28 he gave the order to attack in two days.
The German Second Army pounded the British lines with 16,000 poison gas shells for two days, and then attacked on the 30th. The onslaught fell like a hammer blow. German troops recaptured almost all the ground they had lost over the last week. Upon recapturing Masnières, pioneers blew up the bridge over the St Quentin Canal to prevent another British attack. Advancing for more than three miles, the Germans captured 6,000 Tommies and 158 guns.
Many British companies were surrounded and totally destroyed. Hastily-formed battle groups of staff officers, runner, cooks, orderlies, and signalers took up rifles and desperately defended their positions, which had recently been far from the front-line. “The men all fought it out,” wrote a headquarters officer, “and when on December 2 the ground was recovered their bodies lay littered indistinguishably with a heap of dead assailants.” In most places however the Germans were victorious, particularity through the use of gas shells and low-flying aircraft in support. The British held the line in some places but largely were driven back to where they had started before the Battle of Cambrai.