The battle of Cambrai begins at 06:00 with carefully prepared and predicted, but unregistered, fire barrage by 1,003 guns on key German defences, followed by smoke and a creeping barrage 300 yards ahead to cover the first advances. Despite efforts to preserve secrecy, the German forces have received sufficient intelligence to be on moderate alert: an attack on Havrincourt is anticipated, as is the use of tanks.
Initially there is considerable success in most areas the Hindenburg Line is penetrated with advances of up to 8 kilometers achieved. On the right, the 12th (Eastern) Division advances as far as Lateau Wood before digging in is ordered; the 20th (Light) Division forces a way through La Vacquerie and then advances to capture a key bridge across the St Quentin canal at Masnières. The bridge collapses under the weight of the crossing tanks. The bridge collapse halts the hopes for advance there. In the center the British capture Ribécourt and Marcoing, but when the cavalry passes through, they are dealt a sharp blow and fall back from Noyelles.
In the center the 51st (Highland) Division is stalled at its first objective, Flesquières, leaving the advances around it exposed. It is believed that the commander of the 51st General George Montague Harper substitutes his own tank drill for the standard one and that an excessive space between the tanks and the infantry contributes to the failure. Flesquières is also one of the strongest points in the German line and is flanked by other strong points. Its defenders acquit themselves well against the tanks, engaging them aggressively. Almost forty tanks are knocked out by the Flesquières artillery, including sixteen by a single gun reportedly manned by a lone gunner. Despite this the Germans are forced to abandon Flesquières during the night.
On the left the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division sweeps all the way through Havrincourt and Graincourt to within reach of the woods on Bourlon Ridge and the 36th (Ulster) Division on their left reaches the Bapaume-Cambrai road. Of the tanks 180 are out of action after the first day, although only 65 have been destroyed. Of the remainder 71 have suffered mechanical failure and 43 had been ‘ditched’. The British had suffered approximately 4,000 casualties and have- taken 4,200 prisoners, a casualty rate half that of Third Ypres (Passchendaele), and a greater advance in six hours than in three months there. However, the British have failed to reach the heights of Bourlon Ridge. The German command is quick to send up reinforcements overnight and is relieved that the British do not manage to fully exploit their early gains.
The 75th Division, the last one formed during the war, of Gurkas and British from India, captures the Jerusalem-Jaffa road and then tomorrow will capture the vital hill of Nebi Samwil, the key to the city. The division adopts a key as its unit symbol.
Eighteen scouts of the Royal Flying Corps leave the ground under most unfavorable weather conditions in order to reconnoiter certain areas, and Captain Edward Mannock returns first with valuable information, while many other pilots bring back information that is of considerable use.
During an attack the tank which Captain Richard William Leslie Wain (Manchester Regiment attached Tank Corps) is commanding is disabled by a direct hit near an enemy strong point which is holding up the attack. Captain Wain and one man, both seriously wounded are the only survivors. Though bleeding profusely from his wounds, he refuses the attention of stretcher-bearers, rushes from behind the tank with a Lewis gun, and captures the strong point, taking about half the garrison prisoners. Although his wounds are very serious he picks up a rifle and continues to fire at the retiring enemy until he receives a fatal wound in the head. It is due to the valour displayed by Captain Wain that the infantry are able to advance and due to his efforts he will be awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.
Today’s losses include:
- A Victoria Cross winner
- The son of a later former Member of Parliament
- A son of the 4th Baron Kensington
- A grandson of the 3rd Baron ffrench
- The son of a Justice of the Peace
- Multiple sons of members of the clergy
- A grandson of a member of the clergy
- A Double Cambridge Blue
- Multiple families that will lose two, three and four sons in the Great War
- Multiple battalion commanders
- The brother of an Olympic Gold Medal rower who also served
- A Military Chaplain
- A 5-victory ace
- A Bedfordshire Constable
- A Rosslyn Park Rugby footballer
- A man whose son was killed at Jutland
- A man whose son will be killed in the Second World War
Today’s highlighted casualties include:
- Lieutenant Colonel Charles Strangways Linton DSO MC (commanding 4th Worcestershire Regiment) is killed at age 36.
- Lieutenant Colonel W J Alderman DSO (commanding 6th Royal West Kent Regiment) is killed.
- Major Robert Oscar Cyril Ward (Scottish Horse attached Tank Corps) is killed in action at age 36. He was a double blue at Trinity College, Cambridge.
- Captain ‘The Honorable’ Cecil Edwardes (Scottish Horse attached Tank Corps) is killed in action at age 41. He is the son of the 4th Baron Kensington.
- Captain Robert Edward Angus (Ayreshire Yeomanry attached Royal Flying Corps) is killed at age 23. He is the only son of James Angus JP and grandson of Robert Angus DL.
- Captain Robert Elcum Horsfall (Liverpool Regiment) is killed at age 27. His brother Ewart Douglas Horsfall served in the Rifle Brigade and Royal Flying Corps earning the DSO and MC and is a Gold and Silver Medal Olympic rower who will later manage the British Olympic Rowing Team.
- Captain Donald Farquharson Roberts MC (East Surrey Regiment) is killed at age 25. He is a Rosslyn Park Rugby footballer.
- Lieutenant Harold Martin Joseph Blake (Munster Fusiliers) is killed at age 24. His brother was killed in January 1916 and they are grandsons of Charles Austin ffrench 3rd Baron ffrench of Castle ffrench.
- Lieutenant Richard Frederic Norreys Bertie (Berkshire Yeomanry) is killed at age 41. He is the grandson of the Reverend Honorable Frederic Bertie.
- Lieutenant John Francis Edens (Newfoundland Regiment) is killed at age 21. His brother will be killed next March.
- Lieutenant Gilbert Trenchard Carre (Royal West Kent Regiment) is killed in action at age 24. He is the son of the Reverend Arthur Augustus Carre Rector of Smarden who has previously lost two other sons in the Great War, the first in September 1915 and the second in October 1916.
- Lieutenant Cyril Gordon Jones (Norfolk Regiment) is killed at age 25. He is the son of the Reverend David Jones
- Lieutenant Alexander Charles Nicholas March de Lisle (Leicestershire Regiment attached Royal Flying Corps) is killed in action at age 20 when his RE8 is hit by a shell and crashes while on artillery observation near Ypres. He is the son of the late Edwin Joseph Lisle March Phillipps de Lisle Member of Parliament for Mid-Leicestershire from 1886-92.
- Second Lieutenant Owen Watkin Wynn Hardinge Meredith (General List attached Royal Flying Corps) is killed when he is shot down by machine gun fire, while attacking a balloon near Cambrai at age 24. He is the only son of the late Vernerable Archdeacon Thomas Meredith late Vicar of Wolston and Archdeacon of Singapore. He was educated at Harrow and Cambridge University. He left Cambridge when the War broke out and took up war work at Coventry, subsequently entering Aeroplane Works at Hendon. At an aerodrome in England he made a record for high flying. He obtained his wings in July 1917 and went out to the front in October 1917. The Charity of Owen Watkin Wynn Hardinge Meredith will be set up by Thomas Meredith in memory of his son. A capital sum of money is in war stock and the interest from this is to be used to help the poor of the Parish of Tibberton.
- Second Lieutenant John Alan Harvey (Dublin Fusiliers) is killed at age 20. He is the only son of Reverend Ralph Harvey.
- Second Lieutenant Robert Alexander McFie (Lancashire Fusiliers) is killed at age 20. He is the son of the Reverend George Paton McFie.
- Second Lieutenant Eric Bannerman (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) is killed at age 20. His brother was killed in July 1916.
- Second Lieutenant Norman Carlyon Phear (Royal Flying Corps) is killed in an accident at age 19. His brother was killed last month.
- Second Lieutenant Charles Handley Lanphier Symons (Royal Fusiliers) is killed at age 29. He is the son of the Very Reverend Dean Symons who lost another son in September 1916.
- Chaplain the Reverend George Harvey Ranking attached IV Heavy Artillery is killed at age 46. He is the Vicar of Fernhurst, Sussex.
- Sergeant Thomas Frederick Stephenson DCM (Royal Flying Corps) is killed in action at age 23. He is a five victory ace.
- Sergeant George Stephen Babbington (Bedfordshire Regiment) dies of wounds at age 20. He is a member of the Bedfordshire Constabulary.
- Sergeant George Douglas (Tank Corps) is killed at age 40. He is the third of four brothers who are killed in the Great War.
- Sergeant Albert Ingham Robinson (West Yorkshire Regiment) is killed at age 35. His brother will be killed next March.
- Lance Corporal Herbert Charles Taylor (Gordon Highlanders) is killed in action at age 20. He is the third of four brothers who will lose their lives in the Great War.
- Private John B Sutherland (Seaforth Highlanders) is killed in action at Cambrai. His brother will die of pneumonia in November 1918.
- Private James Bernard Bygrave (Liverpool Regiment) is killed at age 31. His two brothers have already lost their lives in the Great War.
- Private Harry Wyndham Collins (East Kent Regiment) is killed at age 25. His brother will be killed next August.
- Private James Alexander (Gordon Highlanders) is killed at Cambrai at age 19. His brother was killed last August.
- Private Victor Carew (Royal Newfoundland Regiment) is killed in action at age 24. His brother was killed in July 1917.
- Private Jeremiah Donnelly (Newfoundland Regiment) is killed at age 20. His brother was killed in April 1917.
- Private Richard John Ballard (Hampshire Regiment) is killed in Palestine at age 20. He is the middle of three brothers who will lose their lives in the Great War.
- Gunner Allan Adie (Canadian Field Artillery) is killed at age 21. He is the first and youngest of three brothers who are killed in the War.
- Private John William Nugent (Middlesex Regiment) is killed at age 35. His son will be killed in May 1944.
- Private William Corke (Sussex Regiment) is killed at age 40. His son was killed on HMS Defence at Jutland.
- Private Benjamin Phillips (Machine Gun Corps) is killed at age 26. His brother was killed in April 1916.