Cambrai, 1917, 18
The Battle of Cambrai, launched in November 1917, heralded the first time tanks were used in significant force, a little over a year after they had made their tentative debut at Flers on the Somme in September 1916. By the autumn of 1917, the popular reputation of tank effectiveness had suffered. Aside from their undoubted initial value as a surprise tactic, they were deemed to be of limited use in offensive operations, unwieldy and prone to malfunction.
The Honour is borne on the Guidon of the 8th Hussars.
The 8th Hussars paraded and marched on the 9th of November to Longuevillette and Hardinval. ‘HQ’, ‘A’ and ‘D’ Squadrons went to Longuevillette, and ‘B’ and ‘C’ Squadrons to Hardinval. All horses were undercover except those of ‘D’ Squadron. The march continued to the 12th without incident, with all the squadrons arriving at Cartigny.
On the 19th orders were issued for the regiment to move to the forward concentration area on the night of the 19th, and the remainder of the day was spent in preparations. It was the eve of the Battle of Cambrai, and its operations were to last from the 20th of November to the 7th of December.
On the 19th of November, the regiment, as part of the 5th Cavalry Division, was concentrated south of Roisel. At 1 am on the 20th the regiment paraded and formed part of the Brigade which marched via Bouchy, Tincourt Wood, Equancourt, to forward concentration area at Bois d’Estart, north-west of Fins, awaiting their orders at daybreak. The regiment off-saddled and fed, and the men had breakfast. It stood to at 9 am., saddled up, and moved forward. The Brigade set out via Beaucamps, Villers, Rouich, to an area one-and-a-half miles south of Marcoing, where they all bivouacked for the night. During a cold wet night, the horses remained saddled up, having had no water since morning.
A light misty rain fell all the 21st. The horses still remained saddled up with no opportunity of watering. At 12 noon orders were received to move at a moment’s notice. Eventually, the regiment moved forward to support the 1st Cavalry Division and marched via Marcoingto Ribecourt, where again the regiment bivouacked. Orders at this stage were issued to off-saddle till midnight. Then fresh orders altered this to remain off-saddled, but ready to move at 7 a.m. There was still no water for the horses. Though it rained all night, it was a little warmer.
The 22nd was a fine if dull, day. The regiment paraded at 7.15 am, and moved back to Equancourt via Havrincourt and Metz, halting a mile west of Fins at 12 for two hours. The men off-saddled and watered, the first time since 7 am on the 20th. Then a move was made to Equancourt at 2 pm. The men got shelter here, though all the horses were in the open. Naturally, the men and animals felt very tired, as exceedingly little sleep was possible since the move from Cartigny. At midnight orders came to move at 6.30 next morning.
The regiment paraded at 6.15 am on the 23rd and marched twenty miles to Bray via Etricourt, Mouslains, Boucluvesnes, Clery, Maricourt, reaching Bray at 12.30 pm. The rain fell, and men and horses were under cover of a sort. The next day the regiment received orders to stand to at an hour-and-a-half’s notice after 8 am It cleaned up as much as possible. On the 25th it was still standing ready to move at an hour-and-a-half’s notice, unable to leave billets. The order to stand to was cancelled on the 26th, and the 8th received orders to move to the Tertry area. The men bathed and cleaned up generally.
The regiment paraded at 9.15 am on the 27th, and proceeded in the rain to the Brigade starting point, northwest of Cappy. It marched via Cappy, Estees, Villers, Carbonnelles, Brie, Mons en Chaussee, to the new camp near Tertry. After the hardships of the last week, it was trying to find the huts in a very dirty state, not waterproof. The squadrons were exercised on the 29th, and they cleaned up and improved the camp.
The surprise attack on Cambrai on the part of the cavalry did not produce the results anticipated, and the cause of this is in no wise obscure. The Army Commander had laid down as one of the main conditions that the cavalry operations should only take place provided that the infantry captured the Beaurevoir-Masnieres line, but this condition was never fulfilled. Thus the main cavalry operation was put utterly out of the question.
On the 30th of November, the Ambala Brigade consisted of X Battery, R.H.A., the 8th Hussars, the 9th Hodson’s Horse, and the 18th Lancers. All the morning of the 30th, heavy and continuous drumming to the north gave notice of unusual military activity. At 9.30 am orders came to move at once in a northerly direction. Saddles and wagons had to be packed and dumps made. The regiment turned out and was at the starting point by 11 am.
From the starting point, the Brigade trotted eleven miles without stopping through Roisel to Villers Faucon, followed by the rest of the Cavalry Division. On arrival there, during a halt of half an hour, they were informed that a strong German attack had broken through the new line occupied after the Battle of Cambrai, and that Villers Guislain, Gouzeaucourt were in German hands, and that they were still advancing.
Orders were of the briefest. The Brigade, with the 8th Hussars leading, was to push on to Gauche Wood, stop the advance and connect up with the Guards Division on the left, who were attacking Gouzeaucourt. Soon after passing Peiziere, the regiment found itself distinctly incommoded by the wire of the rear defences of our line, coming under heavy fire from the northwest of Villers Guislain.
The advance was impossible, as the enemy was in great strength One squadron, however, succeeded in gaining a hollow road about three or four hundred yards west of Gauche Wood where it became engaged in a free fight with the enemy, losing Major Ryder, the squadron commander, and fifteen men. Shortly afterwards the 9th Hodson’s Horse relieved it, arriving just as an attack was debouching from Gauche Wood.
This attack was held up on the line of the railway. The remainder of the 8th, after making vain efforts about Chapel Crossing, joined the squadron about 4 pm. The horses had been left some way in the rear.
On the 1st of December, the regiment received orders to move to the southwest of Revelon farm and remained there all day. The 9th Hodson’s Horse and the 18th Lancers were still in the line after the successful attack on Gauche Wood.
In the evening the regiment rejoined the Brigade near the station of Heudecourt and bivouacked there for the night. It moved up to support the corps sector on the 2nd, but the Brigade remained in the valley southwest of Revelon farm all day, returning to the horses at 8 pm.
The next day came orders to move back to Villers Faucon, and we bivouacked in the same valley as we had on our way up. On the 4th we moved. from Villers Faucon at 2 pm., dismounted, and took over from the Royal West Surreys the support line from Revelon farm, Eaucourt Road to Chapel Hill.
The men were very tired on the 6th, as they had had very little sleep since the 30th. The regiment marched on the 8th to Cartigny, occupying the same stables and huts as before.