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on 25 June 2017
A fascinating book, which helped me learn more about the battle that my grandfather was involved in during WW1.
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on 16 January 2009
As we entered the twenty-first century, there was the suggestion from some social soothsayers that the importance of some big events from the early years of the previous century might fade: Scott's expedition to the Antarctic, the sinking of the Titanic, the suffraget movement, and even the Great War would all lose some of their potency and relevance to our modern age. This, like most futurologists' predictions, is risibly wide of the mark. For while there are writers of the calibre of Bryn Hammond, the past will continue to enlighten and inform the present.

Cambrai 1917 is an excellent book. It is exhaustively researched, concisely written and well designed. There is no putting of words into soldiers' mouths, no lame conjecture. On almost every page there are quotes reproduced verbatim from diaries, letters or official reports, so the reader sees the war from the point of view of the people who were right there, right then. When these contemporary passages are juxtaposed with Hammond's informed overview, the results make for an engaging and moving read, a story about people, not statistics. Hammond takes events from over ninety years ago and makes them as real and as vivid as anything going on now in Iraq or Afghanistan. An example: In mid-battle, the 'auto-vac', which supplies petrol to the tank engine, has just failed. With German shells thudding all around, one tank is now a stationary target. In the words of Captain Daniel Hickey, H28 'Hadrian', No. 23 Company, 'H' Battalion, Tank Corps:

"It was a trying moment! With tense faces the crew watched the imperturbable second driver as he coolly and methodically put the auto-vac right, ignoring all the proferred advice to give it a good hard knock. To the adjurations to hurry up or the tank would be blown to blazes, he replied with his habitual stutter: 'Why d-don't you m-mind your own b-bloody b-business?'"

Cambrai 1917 is a masterly account of an extraordinary battle. I thoroughly recommend it.
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on 7 September 2010
World War 1, or The Great War as it was called back then, is unique in the sense that never before or after have so many of the participants been able to write so clearly about their experiences. Many soldiers, not only the officers but also many privates, were well educated, and before the advent of radio and television, a good education meant proficiency in reading literature and expressing your thoughts in writing. Hence, there is an enormous amount of first-hand material for the keen historian to dig into, letters, diaries, and published as well as unpublished accounts.
With his book on the battle of Cambrai, Bryn Hammond has done just that. He has taken the deliberate step of letting the contemporary accounts carry most of his story, but of course linked together and explained by his own text.
The result is brilliant. The reader is left with a first-row impression of the battle and what it was like to participate in it. We are not spared horrible accounts of the whole-sale slaughter that all WW1 battles quickly ended up in, but at the same time we encounter the indestructible humour of the British soldier (nicely followed up by Mr. Hammond), and his will to fight but also to live - if possible at all.
In the preface and the afterword the author puts a lot of emphasis on his attempts to debunk the myths surrounding Cambrai, and to a considerable extent he is successful in his endeavour, however, that is not the chief reason for the book being so memorable.
The battle was different from many of the other slogging matches in WW1 in the fact that the British actually on day one achieved a clean break-through of the German lines. As a result they had to - for many of them for the first time - fight in the open, and that provided a whole lot of interesting experiences, vividly told by the many men whose voices we hear in the book.
This is one of the best books on the history of warfare that the undersigned has read in many years, and it richly deserves the 5 stars awarded.
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on 15 January 2009
Cambrai 1917 is a meticulously researched and well written, but above all readable book, which cleverly intersperses the events of the battle with personal memories of the combatants. These accounts woven into the narrative form an extraordinary account of what it was like for those brave men fighting the battle that was to change the face of warfare forever.

I am not a particular student of the First World War, but found the book easy to read. I particularly found great pleasure in some of the small details contained like the fact that cavalry was still being used in 1917, complete with lances, against modern weapons such as machine guns and that Scottish Regiments such as the Black Watch, were later in the war being manned not only by Scots, but also by other nationalities including the English.

I would recommend this book strongly, not just those people who study WW1 but to anyone who wants to gain an understanding of a major turning point in history. The book is very clearly written and the narrative pace moves very quickly. As the initial attack was launched, even though I knew the result so to speak, I couldn't help but believe that it was the beginning of the end of the war. The German counter-attack with Storm trooper tactics came almost as a big a surprise as any plot twist in a pot-boiler. This book would make a great addition to anyone's library or as great gift to anyone interested in modern warfare.
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on 28 January 2009
Cambrai 1917 is an excellent read. It is thoroughly researched and written in a lively and engaging style. The tex contains hundreds of quotes reproduced from diaries, letters, and official reports of the time and when these extracts are set alongside the author's eloquent prose you have an extremely exciting and revealing account of this extraordinary battle. Highly recommended
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on 22 October 2008
This is a compelling and fascinating read unveiling yet another extraordinary episode of the Great War. From the strategy and planning to the training and logistics in preparation for the assault to the manner of the German counter attack the reader is deprived of little from the author's exhaustive research. Hammond writes with clarity and chronicles the complexities of the battle for Cambrai making the account both comprehensible and logical.

Personal memories are used judiciously to add authority and poignancy to the story of the battle. Stories develop throughout the narrative and captivate the reader. Each account vividly illustrates in graphic detail the ebb and flow of battle, acts of personal courage and endurance as well as emphasising the human tragedy. The handling and the weaving of these accounts into the overall story is done so well that it at times it generates an extraordinary and shocking sense of excitement particularly the account of the German counter-attack.

Delving into any history particularly an account of one of the battles of the Great War would be deter many. However, this book requires little formative history or prior knowledge of the Great War. An incredibly authentic account is delivered with passion and enthusiasm fully illustrating author's exemplary scholarship and ability to articulate and sustain the story. It is a moment when men and machines combined and advanced together as an evocative symbol of the culmination of the industrialisation of warfare.
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VINE VOICEon 4 March 2009
This is a terrific book: well written, engaging and thorough. Bryn Hammond's entry onto the stage of Great War authorship marks him out as another fine historian to emerge from the University of Birmingham / Imperial War Museum stable.

Cambrai is an enigmatic battle. It is recognised that many of the operational approaches that had such a bearing on the fighting of 1918 made a debut on 20 November 1917 and the days that followed. The battle began so brightly for the British, with a combination of massed tanks and a surprise artillery bombardment breaking with seeming ease into the enemy's formidable and deep defences. So encouraging, such a relief was this after the heartbreaking slog through the mud at Passchendaele that bells were rung at home. Yet within a matter of days it had all gone horribly wrong. The Germans managed to array concentrate reserves and strike back with novel - unmechanised - tactics of their own and by the time the dust had settled both sides had broadly equivalent losses and there had been no strategically important gain of ground. It was another proof that it was possible to break in to an enemy's position, but damnably difficult to break out of it and beyond.

The myth to which the author refers is the characterisation of Cambrai as primarily a tank battle. The early mechanised success of the battle was seized upon in post war years by those in positions of military and political influence who had a tank agenda (Fuller and Liddell Hart predominantly); Cambrai is still the regimental day of the Royal Tank Regiment. Yet as Hammond so ably demonstrates, success at Cambrai was more to do with the effect of the hugely heavy, surprise bombardment and jumping barrage than any other factor. As would be the case in August 1918 - the next occasion of which massed tanks would lead an assault - the effect of tanks soon dwindled as they remained mechanically unreliable and were all too often easy meat for determined enemy artillery. Cambrai was not primarily a tank battle; this is to misinterpret things badly and in so doing miss the point that it was possibly the first time that artillery, tanks, infantry and aircraft combined to such great all-arms effect. The fact that tanks played barely a part in the desperate defensive fight when the Germans struck back should also indicate to the wise that Cambrai means more than tanks.

In some ways, the myth / countermyth aspect of this book is overplayed by the title. Putting it aside, "Cambrai 1917" is an excellent account of the battle. Drawing deeply upon the memories of individuals who were there, left in the form of various artefacts at the Imperial War Museum, and upon much primary documentary evidence, Hammond tells the story as well as it can be told. All the fears, doubts, confusion, elation and weariness of battle are there, as well as the plans, maps, orders and reports. It makes for a very human telling of the story and lifts this book from being a replay of the volume on this battle in the British Official History.

The book includes some good, clear, maps and a selection of photographs. Highly recommended.
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on 24 November 2008
This new book is very welcome. Few battles have been as deliberately mythologized as the Battle of Cambrai as tank propagandists tried to 'prove' their point that tanks (and tanks alone) held the secret to success on the Western Front. This viewpoint is comprehensively demolished by Bryn Hammond who restores the new British artillery and infantry tactics to centre stage without feeling any need to denigrate the men of the Tank Corps. Throughout the book is fair to all sides and indeed he gives full attention to the equally dramatic German counter-attacks; again not getting carried away in his cogent analysis of the new stormtrooper tactics.

Yet this is no dry 'textbook', it is an extraordinarily well written book, smoothly weaving in personal experience accounts that let us see the consequences of the Generals' tactics at ground level amongst the men who actually fought the grim battles in the trenches, on the guns, in the tanks or up in the skies above Cambrai. You get a powerful feeling of tension as the suspense builds up before the attacks; a real empathy for the men caught up in this awful blood-soaked battle. All in all a great addition to anyone's library...
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on 8 October 2014
This has sat on my bookshelf for a few years. I've just started to read it as I am working on a new novel of the period. It's full of detail and personal testimonies. Some nice maps and great pictures, too. An interesting book about the world's first all arms battle. It's not just tanks!
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on 12 June 2014
My Granddad was involved in the battle for Bourlon Wood in1917.
Excellent reading.
Gave me some idea of what our troops had to endure.
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