Occupied by the Germans since August 1914, Cambrai is liberated in October 1918 following a battle between troops of the British 1st, 3rd and 4th Armies and German Empire forces between 8 and 10 October 1918. 1918 has been extremely difficult for the inhabitants: more and more frequent British air raids. Since the summer, Germans have been preparing their retreat.
On September 7th, the population is evacuated: 23 000 persons are leaving towards Belgium.
The battle began on 27 September with an attack by the First and Third Armies on the Canal du Nord. They advanced four miles along a thirteen mile front, captured 10,000 prisoners and cleared the canal.
The southern attack began on 29 September. It did not go according to plan. The American attack was soon bogged down (although elements from the 30th Division were able to seize control of the southern end of the St. Quentin Canal), forcing the Australians to join in much sooner than expected. The attack on the St. Quentin Canal was in serious trouble.
Further south the canal itself was also under attack. IX Corps had prepared carefully for the water crossing, providing their men with collapsible boats, life jackets and even floating piers, in the expectation that the Germans would destroy every bridge over the canal. Instead they realized that the bridge at Riquaval was still intact. By the end of the day four miles of the main Hindenburg Line were captured.
The following day the 3rd Army was in the western suburbs of Cambrai and by 2 October the line of the St. Quentin Canal had been captured. General Max von Boehm, commanding the local German army group, was forced to retreat to a new line running south from Cambrai.
This line only held for a few days. On 8 October the British Third and Fourth and French First Armies, launched a set-piece attack along a 17 mile front, forcing the Germans out of the new line. Cambrai was liberated on 9 October, and the Germans forced back to a new line on the River Selle, near Le Cateau. The BEF was returning to the battlefields of 1914.
The battle of Cambrai-St. Quentin is also know as the battle for the Hindenburg Line. Officially it was the battles for the Hindenburg Line, further broken down into the battle of the Canal du Nord, 27 September-1 October 1918 (the British First and Second Armies) and the battle of the St. Quentin Canal, 29 September-2 October 1918 (the Fourth and French First Armies), followed by the battle of Beaurevoir, 3-6 October 1918 and then the battle of Cambrai of 1918, 8-9 October 1918.
Before their departure, Germans were going to use the scorched earth policy and burned the downtown. Canadians will enter a ghost city, in ruins (900 buildings are completely destroyed, 5400 partially damaged).