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World’s oldest tank regiment commemorates Cambrai Day

Cambrai Day (November 20) is an annual commemoration that honours the British soldiers who fought in the Battle of Cambrai during the First World War. It was significant because it was the first ever large-scale use of tanks in warfare.

The Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), formed in 1917, played a crucial role in the battle and has since become the part of the Armoured Corps of the British Army. Cambrai Day holds special significance for the Regiment as it commemorates its heritage and honours the soldiers who fought bravely during the conflict.

This is an annual reminder to all Tankies of the importance of teamwork. This applies equally to the tight knit crews which remain critical to how we operate our tanks, as it does to working alongside the other parts of the Army to overcome adversity in battle.” Lieutenant Colonel Mark Luson
Commanding Officer Royal Tank Regiment

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Luson, Commanding Officer of The Royal Tank Regiment explains the relevance of Cambrai to him and his personnel today:

“This is an annual reminder to all Tankies of the importance of teamwork. This applies equally to the tight knit crews which remain critical to how we operate our tanks, as it does to working alongside the other parts of the Army to overcome adversity in battle.”

The historical battle took place from November 20 to December 6, 1917, near the town of Cambrai in the northernmost part of France. The event marked a turning point in military tactics and highlighted the potential of tanks in warfare.

David Willey, Curator of the Tank Museum Bovington:

“On the battlefield, initially, the tank didn’t have the great impact that is sometimes claimed, but by the end of the First World War Britain had designed examples of pretty much all the types of armoured fighting vehicles we have in service today.’’

It was in this fight that the true potential of combined-arms manoeuvre was realised. Tanks, infantry, artillery, engineers, and aircraft all working together to engage with the enemy. By the summer of 1918 tanks were a common element of British fighting methods, with around 2,600 manufactured.

The RTR will mark Cambrai in several ways including those that keep with tradition and date back many years, as Lieutenant Colonel Luson explains:

“The Regimental Cambrai commemorations are centred around our ethos of servant leadership. Starting the day with the Officers and Senior Non-commissioned Officers serving Gunfire (a cocktail of black tea and rum) to the Troops at dawn, through to serving them their lunch later in the day."

He adds:

“A highlight of the day is always the inter Squadron football final for the Cambrai Cup and the Drumhead Service allows us to remember the sacrifices our predecessors have made to retain the proud reputation of the Regiment.’’

The Royal Tank Regiment is the world’s oldest tank Regiment, and this year (2023) saw a significant milestone in its illustrious history being reached and one that coincided with the crowning of His Majesty King Charles III.

On the battlefield, initially, the tank didn’t have the great impact that is sometimes claimed, but by the end of the First World War Britain had designed examples of pretty much all the types of armoured fighting vehicles we have in service today David Willey, Curator of the Tank Museum Bovington

The Coronation of the monarch this year came one hundred years since “The Tank Corps” became “The Royal Tank Corps” which took place on the 18th of October 1923, when His Majesty King Charles III’s great-grandfather, King George V became the unit’s Colonel-in-Chief.

That same year saw “Fear Naught” (fear nothing) adopted as its motto and the black beret and unit badge used for the first time by personnel.

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Images courtesy of: Tank Museum Bovington

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