Donald Barten











Donald Barten

The Battle of Cambrai

The Battle of Cambrai (20 November 1917 - 3 December 1918) was the first battle in which a mass attack by tanks was used, in an attempt to break the deadlock in the war of attrition. This new weapon had previously been unsuccessful in the mud of Flanders, but dry chalky ground around Cambrai offered more chance of success. The attack went well at first, the tanks breaking through the Hindenburg line and making an unprecedented 4 miles of progress along parts of the front. However the British failed to take advantage by following up with sufficient troops and cavalry.

On 30 November, the day Donald Barten died, the Germans launched a ferocious counter-attack, wiping out the British gains. 204 British officers and 2859 men died on that day.

Relief from the Cambrai memorial -1

Relief from the Cambrai memorial

In the Battle, 8th Royal Fusiliers, Donald Barten's Battalion, part of 36 Brigade in the 12th Eastern Division, took part in the struggle for the bridges between Marcoing and Les Rues des Vignes. On 20 November, it was involved in an attack on a heavily fortified hilltop village called La Vacquerie. After a few days of consolidating its position, it attacked, on 24 November, a German trench, known as Pelican Trench.

The Battalion began 30 November, the day of the German counter-attack, in a front line position on Bonavis Ridge. The ferocious German attack threatened to break right through the British lines. The Battalion's two forward companies were overwhelmed and a third driven back when it tried to provide support. The commanding officer led out a counter-attack of all the available Headquarters officers and men. This action delayed the enemy sufficiently to allow the British to re-establish their line, although it suffered heavy casualties, including the commanding officer himself.

Relief from the Cambrai memorial - 2

Relief from the Cambrai memorial

2/Lt Barten was noted as missing in the Battalion diaries at the end of a day of heavy losses.

Battalion diary
Final page of battalion diary for 30 November 1917, in which Donald Barten in noted as missing
Click here to open a larger version

Transcript of battalion diary for 30 November 1917:

 At 7:00 a.m. the enemy opened a violent bombardment on trenches of 55 Div. S. of us + on the BONAVIS Ridge generally. About 8:00 a.m. the enemy having broken through 55 Div. appeared in great strength in the right rear of our front line Companies. In a few minutes these Coys were completely cut off. About 12 men in all got back to reserve line. D Coy going up to Support front line Coys was overwhelmed by enemy advancing + were compelled, after a fight, to fall back on the reserve line (were Battn. H.Q. was situated). The enemy had advanced to within 50 yds of our reserve line, when the C.O. Lt Col. N.B. Elliott Cooper D.S.O. M.C. led out a counter-attack of all the available men + officers of B.H.Qs, C + D Coys. This counter-attack drove the enemy back [word illegible] the CAMBRAI Rd, but here it came under heavy M.G. fire, suffering heavy casualties including the C.O. + all the other officers with him. The C.O. (wounded) seeing the impossibility of our men consolidating where they were, ordered them to withdraw, regardless of the fact that he must be left to be taken prisoner himself. The survivors of this very gallant counter attack withdrew to Reserve line again + held up the enemy about 200x in front of that line. We gained touch with our 9th Battn. on the Right + 37th Bde on the left, who were holding a line, about the same as ours. At about 10 a.m. the 7th R. Sussex came up to reinforce the 8th and 9th Battn. Our line and by now was established + we were easily able to break a few feeble attempts on the part of the enemy to continue his advance. We were harassed, throughout the day by enemy aeroplanes flying very low + firing M.G.'s into our trenches. The fighting quietened down to towards dusk + had died down completely by midnight. Our casualties on this day were heavy, 10 Officers + 247 O.R. The following Officers were missing or wounded. The C.O. (Lt Col. N.B. Elliott Cooper D.S.O. M.C.) Capt Nicholson (W), Capt Edwards M.C. (W), Lt Gade M.C., Lt Chadwick (W), Lt Carmichael, 2/Lt Barton [sic], 2/Lt Stearn, 2/Lt Parfect.

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