James McCud­den

BBC History Magazine - - Wwi Eyewitness Accounts -

James qual­i­fied as a pilot in April 1916 and shot down his first air­craft in Septem­ber. By June of 1917 he had been made a cap­tain. That year he was fly­ing the Sop­with Pup Scout with 66 Squadron, be­fore trans­fer­ring to fly the SE5a Scout with 56 Squadron.

There was one last great bat­tle on the western front in 1917. The bat­tle of Cam­brai, launched on 20 Novem­ber, saw two great Bri­tish in­no­va­tions. Hith­erto, the guns had not been able to open fire with­out the need for pre­lim­i­nary reg­is­ter­ing shots. Now, ad­vances in gun­nery al­lowed them to be moved up in se­crecy, after which they lay hid­den un­til the mo­ment came to fire a ‘pre­dicted’ hur­ri­cane bom­bard­ment onto the Ger­mans.

The sec­ond in­no­va­tion was the massed use of tanks to crush barbed wire and deal with sur­viv­ing Ger­man strong­points. Some 1,003 guns would be sup­ported by 476 tanks to break through in the Cam­brai area. Cap­tain James McCud­den watched the re­sults from the air.

About 8.30 we left the ground, and flew along the Ba­paume-Cam­brai road to 300ft, as the heavy clouds were down at this height. We ar­rived at Havrin­court Wood and saw smoke and gun flashes ev­ery­where. From 200ft we could see our tanks well past the Hin­den­burg Line, and they looked very pe­cu­liar nos­ing their way around dif­fer­ent clumps of trees, houses, etc. We flew up and down the line for an hour, but no sign of any Hun ma­chines about, al­though the air was crowded with our own. Very soon the clouds were too low, and there was noth­ing else to do ex­cept go home – so I did.

The tanks and in­fantry made ad­vances of up to 5 miles, but then the front stag­nated. The Ger­mans took the chance to try out their own new at­tack tac­tics and launched a full-scale counter-at­tack on 30 Novem­ber – a dev­as­tat­ing bar­rage fol­lowed by squads of ‘storm troop­ers’ us­ing in­fil­tra­tion meth­ods to by­pass cen­tres of re­sis­tance. Caught un­pre­pared, the Bri­tish were pushed back be­fore the line was sta­bilised. For all the drama, the bat­tle achieved lit­tle. Both sides had pre­miered their new tech­niques: but the western front still stood un­bro­ken.

“From 200ft we could see our tanks well past the line. They looked pe­cu­liar nos­ing their way around”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.