Rendez-vous at Louverval Military Cemetery and Cambrai Memorial - Doignies
Louverval Military Cemetery in Doignies is the final resting place for 124 soldiers of the British Army. The nearby Cambrai Memorial was built as a tribute to the 7,000 soldiers of the United Kingdom and South Africa declared missing in the aftermath of the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917.
In the summer of 1917 the third Battle of Ypres had not provided the British Army with the victory it sought and so by the end of the year another major assault was planned. The objective of this operation was to be Cambrai, an important German garrison and railway depot. The British intended to exploit the favourable terrain by using a new generation of tanks, the Mark IVs, in massive numbers to break through the Hindenburg Line and open up a passage for the infantry to pass through. The plan also relied on the air force to attack the German rearguard to prevent the arrival of reinforcements.
At 6.30 on the morning of 20th November, 476 tanks and six infantry divisions mounted an attack. The Germans were surprised and obliged to fall back. By the end of the day the British Army had advanced nine kilometres and had for the first time broken through the hitherto impregnable Hindenburg Line. With the capture of 8,000 prisoners, this first 'combined' operation was considered a success.
However over the coming days the British were unable to consolidate their position; reinforcements arrived too slowly along the congested and dilapidated roads and this gave the Germans time to recoup and reorganize. On 30th November the German counter-attack began, relying heavily on the use of gas shells. In two hours they had advanced 5 kilometres and had infiltrated the Allied line using small groups of highly-skilled soldiers. By 4th December, when the fighting ceased, the British Army had lost almost all of the ground it had gained over the previous days. The human cost of the Battle of Cambrai was particularly heavy with the loss of 44,000 British and 45,000 German men.