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Failing to Exploit Success: The British Army at Cambrai

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Technical Report,26 Jun 2017,24 May 2018

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US Army School for Advanced Military Studies Fort Leavenworth United States

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This monograph analyzes why, after achieving success on the first day of the Battle of Cambrai, the British Expeditionary Force BEF failed to meet or at least sustain its gains of November 20, 1917. The BEF failed to reach its intended goals during the Battle of Cambrai because its commander and staff improperly planned, synchronized, and resourced its operational approach. Although it successfully used mass to reach its initial objectives, the attack culminated before it could successfully accomplish the decisive operation. This occurred due to a lack of simplicity in the plan, improper phasing and transitioning of the exploitation force, and ineffective command and control systems. Best remembered as the first employment of massed armor in battle, Cambrai is a seminal battle that illustrates the difficulties inherent in coordinating combined arms maneuver. In future conflicts, as the US Army looks to dominate adversaries through combined arms maneuver, synchronized across all domains, the Battle of Cambrai provides a glaring example of a military headquarters that did not properly array and resource its operational approach to achieve the decisive operation and exploit success. Understanding these planning deficiencies will help future US Army commanders and staffs plan operations that account for mission command, conducting exploitations, echeloning both fires and sustainment, and proper phasing and transitions.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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