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Tanks here to stay, say army on Battle of Cambrai’s 100-year anniversary

The First World War battle marked the first time tanks had been deployed in significant numbers.

A replica First World War Mk IV tank at the Cenotaph in central London (Yui Mok/PA)
A replica First World War Mk IV tank at the Cenotaph in central London (Yui Mok/PA)

Tanks are as relevant in current warfare as they were 100 years ago at the Battle of Cambrai, an Army commander has said.

During the First World War 476 British tanks spectacularly broke through enemy lines in Cambrai, north-eastern France, during a major offensive which began on November 20 1917.

Although this was not the first time tanks had been used in battle, the attack, which ended on December 6 1917, marked the first time they had been deployed in significant numbers.

Royal Tank Regiment commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Simon Ridgway told the Press Association that over the decades there has always been “lots of talk” about the end of the tank.

“I think at every stage someone has suggested that something is going to come and replace the tank on the battlefield – that has proven to not necessarily be the case,” he said.

“The key reason for that is we continue to adapt to meet the challenges that we face, and I think the utility of tanks and armour today has been recognised by lots of different people and armies.

The Battle of Cambrai marked the first time tanks were deployed in large numbers (Tank Museum/PA)

“And we continue to invest in the tank forces in this army, and I think they are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago.”

The Battle of Cambrai was also widely recognised as the first time UK and US soldiers fought and died together in conflict, as US Army engineers were attached to support the British attack.

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Ridgway, Commanding Officer of The Royal Tank Regiment (Ben Birchall/PA)

Catching the Germans by surprise, the offensive was initially successful – breaching what the British called the ‘Hindenburg Line’, it created a solution to the deadlock of trench warfare.

As a result, more ground was gained in the first three hours of fighting than the British had gained in three months at the Battle of Passchendaele.

A Challenger II Main Battle Tank speeds through water at Royal Tank Regiment HQ, Tidworth, Wiltshire (Ben Birchall/PA)

But the Germans counter-attacked, and eventually the offensive was halted. The battle came at a cost of 44,000 British and Commonwealth and 41,000 German casualties.

Based in Tidworth, Wiltshire, the Royal Tank Regiment is the oldest unit of its kind in the world, and since the end of the Second World War it has been deployed to every major conflict.

The regiment started out as a top secret band of trades from all walks of life, who were brought together in the Tank Corps to break the stalemate of trench warfare during the First World War.

A Challenger II Main Battle Tank crew at Royal Tank Regiment HQ in Tidworth (Ben Birchall/PA)

Lt Col Ridgway said the anniversary of Cambrai is “hugely important” to the Royal Tank Regiment, with the centenary being “particularly poignant” this year.

Stating that they will be thinking about the “sacrifice made by the people who pioneered the first use of tanks”, he said the challenges they faced were “hugely different” to those they face now.

“What they did is they overcame those challenges through adapting to the circumstance they found themselves in, and using a piece of equipment that had not been tested or proven,” Lt Col Ridgway said.

Veterans of the Royal Tank Regiment Association during a parade at the Cenotaph (Yui Mok/PA)

On Sunday, the day before the anniversary, the regiment, which is known for their black berets and overalls, marched down Whitehall to mark the centenary of Major General Hugh Elles leading his men into battle.

A replica Mark IV tank, which was used in Cambrai, was also at the Cenotaph in London.



From Belfast Telegraph