Cambrai Tank 1917 opens on March 15, 2018


On November 20, 1917, at 6:20 am, 476 British Mark IV tanks launched an assault on the Hindenburg Line. This is the start of the Battle of Cambrai, an offensive designed to breach this ‘impregnable’ German fortified defence line. At dawn, the silence is broken by the sound of engines and the clatter of tank tracks moving across the chalky soil. In thick fog, the advance of these new machines of war was initially masked by the drone of patrolling planes and the tumultuous roar of the massed artillery. Planned for months, in the greatest secrecy, the offensive heralds the birth of tank warfare; tactics that will influence Hitler’s Blitzkrieg and dominate the next century of warfare. Deborah, a ‘female’ tank, was one of the 476. Discovered in 1998, when she was unearthed from the battlefield, where she lay 2.5 metres underground.

Deborah now stands in testimony to the cruelty and harshness of the fighting. This broken Iron Monster is the unforgettable centrepiece of the Cambrai Tank 1917.

The Cambrai Tank 1917 centre can be found in Flesquières, just a few metres from the battlefield where the Mark IV tank ‘Deborah’ was hit by a German shell in November 1917.

July 2017, Deborah was moved to the purpose built museum, by four of her crew member. Copyright Rob Pritchard - Britain at War Magazine

Four of Deborah’s crew members, killed in the engagement, rest at the Flesquières Hill British Cemetery, alongside the centre. Upon entering the ‘Staff HQ’ room, you are immediately thrown into the Battle of Cambrai: vintage photographs and animated maps explain the different phases of the offensive. This introduction gives visitors the background to understand November 1917. Continuing your journey, six metres deep, you will finally get to discover Deborah, see her ‘in the flesh’ as a virtual tour lets you explore her as she was over 100 years ago.

Deborah in her Flesh
Inside the Cambrai Tank 1917

Displayed on bare concrete, so reminiscent of the walls of a blockhouse on the Hindenburg Line, objects belonging to the combatants evoke the participants, tankers, gunners, airmen, engineers and nurses, the men and women involved in the fighting in 1917. At the end of your visit, in the auditorium, a 20-minute film takes you on a journey to the heart of history in the region of Cambrai. Outside, just a few steps away, pay your own respects to George Foot, William Galway, Joseph Cheverton and Frederick William Tipping, the four members of Deborah’s crew who fell on November 20, 1917. Like their families, and that of the tank’s commander, Frank Gustave Heap, remember the soldiers who fell on the battlefields of Cambrai. And perhaps, for you too, a great Franco-British friendship will be born in memory of these famous events.

The Tank commander

The portrait of Frank Gustave Heap by Deborah before she was moved to the museum.

Tim Heap, grandson of the Tank Commander Frank Gustave Heap from Blackpool, during one of his visit to Cambrai. His grandfather was awarded the Military Cross for his action in Flesquières

The Crew of Deborah

Frederick William Tipping was the oldest of Deborah's crew. His granddaughter, Jennifer Dodd, pays regular visits to the Cambrai region

Jennifer offering medals and letters of her grandfather to the museum
RIP Joseph Cheverton, died on his 20th Birthday

Watch the video of the move of Deborah from the barn where she remained 17 years to the new purpose built museum. The delicate transfer took place in July 2017.

Walks around Flesquières

‘The Route of the Tanks’. This 6.9 km circuit takes you from the church to various points of interest related the November 1917 battle: The Orival Wood Cemetery, where poet Ewart Alan Mackintosh rests; the Flesquières Hill British Cemetery; and the Cambrai Tank 1917, adjacent to the Monument of Nations, with views of the battlefields. You will pass by the site of a trench, a faithful reconstruction created for the filming of the BBC documentary, ‘The Trench’.

The Cambrai Memorial commemorates more than 7,000 servicemen from Britain and South Africa who died in the Battle of Cambrai and whose graves are not known.

Louverval Memorial - Doignies

The names of the fallen are inscribed inside the Memorial. Located next to Louverval Military Cemetery, in Doignies, where the remains of 124 British soldiers rest, the Cambrai Memorial pays tribute to these 7,048 combatants from the United Kingdom and beyond.

On the Route Nationale at the exit for the village of Boursies in the direction of Bapaume (Hameau de Louverval).

59400 Doignies

Cambrai German Military Cemetery

From 1914 to 1918, Cambrai was a key strategic headquarters, hospital and logistics location for the German Army. The wounded who succumbed there, and many soldiers killed at the front were, from 1917, buried in a new necropolis, on the Route de Solesmes. From the outset, the cemetery was designed to accommodate the dead from the hospitals and the Western Front; friends and foes alike. Route de Solesmes, Cambrai

Cambrai German military cemetery

Forty kilometres from Flesquières, on November 4, 1918, one of the great name of British poetry fell. A signed trail invites you to pay tribute to him. The circuit – ‘in the footsteps of Wilfred Owen’ – from the forest house where he wrote his last letter to his mother to the cemetery where he now rests, traces the last days of Wilfred Owen, one of the greatest of the Great War Poets.

The grave of Wilfred Owen in the village of Ors

Author: Delphine Bartier - Nord Tourism - dbartier@cdt-nord.fr

Deborah is the only surviving tank from the 476 deployed at the Battle of Cambrai. In fact, only seven Mark IVs remain in the world. The only running example is on display at the Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset; a male tank, that was presented to the Royal Navy's Gunnery School, HMS Excellent, after the war to commemorate their help training Tank Corps gunners; it was temporarily refurbished for Home Guard duties in 1940 during World War II. It is maintained in full running order.
The only Mark IV tank remaining in full order, Tank Museum Bovington

Bibliography - "Deborah and the war of tanks 1917" by John Taylor. Pen and Sword.

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