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Remembered Today:

E Battalion, TANK CORPS, NOV'17


gnr.ktrha
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I`m not sure historians cannot deny the facts. Harper ignored the instrutions of the Tanks Corps as a result considerable time was wasted as the infantry had no idea where the tanks had cut the barbed wire so incurred unnecessary casulaties from pillboxes in looking for the breaks. This delay also prevented the cavalry advance until the next day and thus the chance of taking Bourlon with out a fight was lost.

Perhaps if the infantry had gone forward with the tanks, all fire would of been concentrated on the steel monsters allowing the infantry to get work on the defences.........thats nothing more than speculation.

Remember Harper was also against the development of the machine gun as well as the tank.

Back onto Fuller.........

Whilst most historians think that 378 or 381 tanks were used at Cambrai Fuller puts the figure at exactly 476 machines. So you see there any many differences in his own interpretation of this action. He goes to the trouble of counting the wireless tanks, gun carriers etc.

Steve.

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I think that over-simplifies matters

The wire on the Flesqueres ridge was not only just in front of the main trenches but also down the slopes; the tanks were canalised up the rue de Vache and instead of attacking in line abreast, skylined themselves as they reached the first obstancle at the top of the hill; few had fascines and therefore weew unable to tckle the trenches in accordance with either Fuller or Harper's plan; they were therefore highly vulnerable to the German field guns.

I have seen no evidence that Harper was against tank development (but would be happy if you could show me sources confirming this ). You may rmemeber that his experience at Beaumont -Hamel in 1916 and at 3rd Ypres showed that they had limitations over ground and that they attacted fire onto the infantry.

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Steve,

You need to read the history of the battle again, especially the bit where the infantry of 152 Brigade are held up at the Flesquieres Ridge, at 12.45 unable to get through the extremely thick swathes of barbed wire due to having no tanks! Mostly taken out by the 6 batteries of field guns, 2 of which had previously had experience of dealing with French tanks (so no shock tactic there eh!), dug in on the fortified Hilltop of Flesquieres.

In no part of my reading into Harper have I read that he thought tanks, or machine-guns for that matter, a waste of effort. As an engineer, he had concerns about tanks, many of which were vindicated during the coming days. They were very slow, not very manoeuvrable, and extremely unreliable. Additionally, in fact, the Highland Division were pioneers in the use of machine-guns in the Sustained Fire (indirect fire) role. If you have anything that legitimizes your argument, then you need to state your sources otherwise it remains fanciful hypothesis. The Divison were also pioneers of infantry tactics that are still used today, which is why a frontal assault on a fortified hill was anathema to them and flew in the face of their tactical doctrine, along with the prevailing Army doctrine. In the circumstances that they faced, against the most difficult objective of the day, I could see no other formation on the field do any better.

The only discourse I have seen between the Tank Corps and the Highland Division occurred when a Tank Corps officer threw his teddy out the pram on the 23rd of November, prior to the attack on Fontaine, because he had to take orders from the infantry.

Highland Division attack Principles (pre-Arras):

1. That the objective of all offensive operations must be to envelope the enemy – i.e. hold him in front and attack him in flank

2. That the fullest use must at all times be made of mechanical weapons – i.e., guns, machine guns, trench-mortars, &c. the minimum use of infantry; either in attack or defence, was to ensure unnecessary casualties.

3. That troops must always be in depth; they must neither attack nor defend in one or two dense lines of men, but in a succession of well-extended lines.

Aye

Tom McC

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Tom - e-mail received , many thanks expecially for the section on tactics

Will have a good read tonight

Stephen

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Steve

It is a known fact that bare chested infantry in the open alongside tanks will incur unnessesary casualties. The concentration of artillery fire on the tanks includes the unarmoured infantry. The same applied then, as it does today, with the use of HESH when tanks have dismounted infantry.

Regarding machine guns, part of the fire plan of the 51st Highland Division at the successfull battle of Beaumont Hamel was the use of a machine gun barrage supporting the attack. Perhaps Uncle Harper had more foresight than Fuller in his "retrospectives."

Tom

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Gwyn,

It comes from 152 Brigade's Diary. The Highland Division were meticulous in writing down details and tactics, and of course the Official History, which as you would expect is almost identical to the Battalion and Brigade diaries in general content - but does not cover intricate detail.

Aye

Tom McC

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Gwyn,

It comes from 152 Brigade's Diary. The Highland Division were meticulous in writing down details and tactics.

Aye

Tom McC

And very helpful it is too!

I think that 2/Lt Black's tank in 13 Company was called ESCAPADE, and was a Female. I am suspicious that the tank numbers given are not the "crew numbers" (the alpha-numeric numbers) painted on the tank's horns, but I need to delve deeper to say for sure.

Gwyn

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Chaps,

If you are basing facts on Bryan Cooper and Fuller, you need to research wider. Cooper's references, considering his comments - and material based on - are restricted in factual substance (a massive understatement) to say the least.

Aye

Tom McC

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Please dont launch attacks against people who do not quote sources. So called 'arm chair' experts are writing on this forum 24/7 with out quoting sources. The point you are making is nothing new to this forum.

Diaries I have found to be to be sometimes inaccurate written by clerks, junior NCO's and contributions from top brass who were no where near the front line during the action. After action reports are based on the findings of men who were actually there, now the small problem we have with this action is that all tanks that were in the thick of the fighting were knocked out and all crew members killed! Reports are thus based on the few survivors from the other tanks or the infantry. No diary or report is written as such to make the writer and his organisation appear incompetent.

Bryan Cooper goes into even more detail in his book 'Tank Battles of WW1" see page 45. On page 46 of this book he mentions the complaints that the Tank Corps made against Harper and the Third Army Staff......would they just complain for no reason at all? Has Cooper just made this all up?

Your documentation is accumulated by the very people the Tank Corps were not happy about.

I would like to see what the war diary and history of the 5th Battalion has to say on the topic.

In case anyone here hasnt read Bryan Coopers opinion regarding what happened...........here it is. Is the only reason why you consider his works to be a load of old tosh because his opinion differs from the sources you have read? A true historian considers all sources, a brigade report is not a primary resource since is has been typed up and edited by a man who was not actually there.

To dismiss Fuller possibly one of the greatest WW1 tank tacticians of WW1, pioneer of such tactics as "Leap frogging" is to be ignorant of the history the WW1 tank. Cambrai would not of been 'Cambrai' without Fuller. It is also worth remembering that Liddell Hart used Fullers information to write the Corps history.

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and yet another author has a dig at Harper.............this time George Forty in his book "Pictorial History of the Tank Regiment".

He writes:

The "attack drill" has been evolved by Fuller and was to work well during the battle, except in the 51st Highland Division area whos commander (widely known as 'Uncle Harper') had rejected the scheme as 'fantastic and unmilitary' and instuted his own system. The failure at Flesquieres was ascibed in the British official history as beeing directly caused by the departure from the prescribed attack drills.

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See "Tanks and Trenches" Page 80.

Which has an interesting account of someone who survived the action with E Battalion. There is a lot of detail here regarding the terrain and from what is written here infantry would of been rather useful as it appears the majority of tanks were picked off when on the crest of the ridge NOT before they reached the first line of trenches.

In fact at the bottom of page there is a photo showing two E Battalion tanks that have been knocked out sitting in the lip of a trench................it seams that infantry would of been rather useful at this point since the barbed wire has obviously been breached.

Steve.

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Steve- if you visit the ground, you will find that the tank had skylined themselves as they attempted to cross the trenches. Even using Fuller's "drills" the effect would have been the same (ie brewed up tanks), as the infantry were still required to be behind the tanks.

Stephen

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I do understand that some people do not like to see Harper used as the scape goat of Cambrai...........but lets me honest any soldiers job is to follow orders and instructions and Harper does his own thing, he doesnt even learn from the first day! If he had followed instructions then probably then no one could blame him.

It is through his order that considerable time was lost and also some of the element of surprise despite the capture of those prisoners. No historian can deny the fact that Harper let his troops rest for one hour during the first day of a critical offensive which allowed the germans to re-organise yet more defences. On the second day he lets his troops advance to find Flesquieres abandoned then moves forward bag pipes playing only to be slaughtered by a re-organised line because he couldnt be bothered to wait for tanks! Does this strike you as a general who is keen to work with tanks?

Remember also the failure at Fontaine where the same mistake is repeated a third time! Harper decides to refuses to send reienforcements to the Seaforths........they are wiped out and then later he decides to attack fontaine whilst not using all his troops and this fails to break through.

The german gunners were specialist tank busters on that ridge but the plan was for the infantry to deal with the guns, with no infantry the gunners could get as many rounds off as the liked with out a care in the world.

There are experts who dont believe its all Harpers fault. David F for example said that he could not believe that the infantry could not find the gaps in the wire crushed by the tanks however the Military Historian at Sandhurst (I think his name is Lloyd something?) does believe Harper is to blame.

It would indeed of been interesting to see what would of happened if the Highland Division had launched their attack on different ground.

Steve.

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  • 6 months later...
Hello,

Thanks for both replies. His name was John Richmond, I have not come across any middle names, so the man you refer to may be someone else. His number was 95436. He enlisted into the London Scottish in 1915 and saw service with them in France from Dec 1915 to May 1916, he was later posted to the MGC. He was awarded 7 Days FP No2 on the 2nd Nov 1917 and was wounded in action on the 20th Nov 1917. He recieved a GSW to Upper Left Arm and Right hand. Discharged to duty in march 1918 but then went sick with VD for about 60 days! He rejoined the 5th Bn Tank Corps on the 29th May 1918. His records also state he was a trained 1st Class Lewis Gunner.

Was E Battalion supporting the 51st Highland Div during the action of the 20th Nov 1917?

Many thanks,

Stewart

Hi everyone,

I am researching my uncle, Private Jim Birch 69568, 5th battalion tank corps. killed 16/4 /18 at Meteren. I have posted previously with the details of his final action involving 2nd Lieut Baker at Meteren but wondered if anyone can tell by his number when he might have transferred into the tank corps?? He was originally in the Warwickshire regiment. Also, would there be any record of tank crews and their tanks by name anyplace? I have the action at Meteren sorted out fairly well but know nothing of Jim prior to his last 30 days

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A 69*** serial would have made him an early transfer -probably as the Bn was formed in earl 1917

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  • 3 months later...

Hi Guys,

I am not sure if it is "Kosher" to change the subject a little but I noted that information may be forthcoming based upon service numbers. I had an uncle killed at Meteren in 1918, Jim Birch, 5th Tank battalion number 69568, previously pvte 21504 Warks regt. He was from Birmingham.

Can anyone tell me when /where he may have joined either battalion based upon these service numbers please?

Thanks

Charlie

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To dismiss Fuller possibly one of the greatest WW1 tank tacticians of WW1, pioneer of such tactics as "Leap frogging" is to be ignorant of the history the WW1 tank. Cambrai would not of been 'Cambrai' without Fuller. It is also worth remembering that Liddell Hart used Fullers information to write the Corps history.

Fuller invented Leapfrogging...errrrr, no he didn't! Read the attack on the Y Ravine, Beaumont Hamel, November 1916. As possibly one of the greatest tank tacticians, were there any others (with the same resources) to compare him [Fuller] to?

Diaries I have found to be to be sometimes inaccurate written by clerks, junior NCO's

No, they are not. They are generally written by the C.O. or another officer in his stead. The lowest rank, I have read about, writing the Battalion Diary is Sergeant Addison of the 4th Black Watch after the Battle of Loos. There were no officers left to draft the diary entry as they had all become casualties; as a qualified journalist with the Dundee press, Sergeant Addison completed this duty.

the small problem we have with this action is that all tanks that were in the thick of the fighting were knocked out and all crew members killed!

Again, no they were not. If you look at D & E Battalions records. D (on the left) were held up, and not all of the tanks in E Bn were knocked out. Some of the tanks were low on petrol, others had ran out of petrol. As a consequence of which all they could do is stand off and fire their weapons - some expending all of their complement of ammunition. Additionally, some of the tanks that rallied had to so, as they were no longer combat effective. There are records of some of the tanks (Female) being unable to fire their machine-guns due to small arms damage to the Lewis guns caused by German MG fire. Other records report German machine-gun rounds entering the gap between the sponson and the tank hull causing casualties to the crew thus deprecating the effectiveness of the tank's ability to fully function. It was at Flesquieres that they would be at the edge of their endurance and pollutive attrition (from Carbon Monoxide) on the crews after the fighting at the earlier stages. Other critiques mention the quality and accuracy of the tank gunnery. Remember, compared to towns in the other attacks, Flesquieres was probably the furthest away and hardest to obtain.

Tom McC

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Reports are thus based on the few survivors from the other tanks or the infantry. No diary or report is written as such to make the writer and his organisation appear incompetent.

Any of the diaries I have read appear to be written with pithy and in earnest. If you read again the content of your last sentence it appears that you are insinuating is that they (HD & D/E Tanks) collectively wrote a cover-up. It is maybe not what you are saying wholesale, but you have tried to sow a seed of doubt. I personally think that it would difficult for 8 battalions of infantry and the mainstay of 2 tank battalions to collude and write a 'story' of events. The write-ups in their diaries do have a similarity in that they have a collective, shared experience. Also, they and Ivor Maxse consider that they were the victors.

Tom McC

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Harper ignored the instructions of the Tanks Corps as a result considerable time was wasted as the infantry had no idea where the tanks had cut the barbed wire so incurred unnecessary casulaties from pillboxes in looking for the breaks.

Harper? The tactics used by IV Corps (62 Division and 51st (Highland) Division) were the same .

Who said that time was wasted looking for gaps in the wire [insinuation is, gaps caused by the tanks]? This is obviously referring to part of the attack by 152 Brigade, of which, some of the soldiers looked for gaps in the thick and deep wire, but not caused by the tanks, because there wasn't any.

Tom McC

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Bryan Cooper goes into even more detail in his book 'Tank Battles of WW1" see page 45. On page 46 of this book he mentions the complaints that the Tank Corps made against Harper and the Third Army Staff......would they just complain for no reason at all?

I do not have Cooper's: Tank Battle's of World War One; however, I do have The Ironclads of Cambrai (1967). I am assuming that it may contain the same ill-researched historic inaccuracies detailed in 'Ironclads'

I do not recall the Tank Battalions attached to the Highland Division complain, at all, about the tactics involved. If nothing else the Highland Division receive an encouraging and positive endorsement, along with developing the established tactic for the army in 1918.

Has Cooper just made this all up?

Not totally, with the aid of Elles, Fuller, and Liddell-Hart. Also, I hasten to add, that unlike Robert Woolcombe's excellent book, The First Tank Battle (with a a series of reference notes at the end of each chapter); Cooper does not refer to a single reference source...albeit, it is not difficult to work out where they come from.

Tom McC

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