HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDOn 20 November 1917, Field Marshal Douglas Haig ordered the Third Army, under the command of General Byng, to begin an attack on the Siegfried line southwest of the French town of Cambrai. It was the first major tank attack in history. Preceded by a violent but brief artillery barrage and spearheaded by more than 300 British tanks, Byng’s force achieved complete surprise. Over the next few days, Byng’s advancing troops tore a gap ten miles wide and six miles deep in German General von der Marwitz’s Second Army’s front.
After the initial shock, however, the Germans gradually regained their equilibrium once badly-needed reinforcements began to reach the threatened front. On 30 November, Ludendorf ordered a counterattack against the British salient. Now, under almost constant artillery and gas barrages and pressed steadily by counterattacking German infantry, Haig finally ordered Byng to pull his forward units back to shorten their defensive line. This movement began on 4 December and was competed three days later. In the end, despite the promising initial British gains, very little ground actually changed hands. The British, however, lost 44,000 killed and wounded, and 6,000 captured; the Germans lost 50,000 total casualties and 11,000 prisoners.
‘TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND’ is a regimental/brigade (the British tanks operate in companies) simulation of the Battle of Cambrai (20 November to 7 December, 1917). It covers the entire battle, from the early British victories against the deep German defenses, to the final German counterattack which successfully drove the British all the way back to their starting positions. This battle is interesting because it puts in stark contrast two very different offensive solutions to the problem posed by long-established and well-supported trench lines. Both armies had been feverishly working to develop their own means of breaking through the layered defensive positions that dominated the Western Front. In the case of the British, the solution was technological: the tank. In the case of the Germans, it was doctrinal: the Stosstruppen (infiltration) infantry. Both solutions would be tested in the Battle of Cambrai.
Despite the presence of tanks, the game turn sequence in ‘TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND’ illustrates that Cambrai was still very much a World War I battle with the infantry and artillery doing most of the “heavy lifting.” The turn sequence is asymmetrical and proceeds through the following stages (British player turn): reinforcement phase; tank repair phase; command control phase (campaign game only); initial air phase (optional); initial barrage phase; initial ground combat phase; initial movement phase; second air phase (optional); second barrage phase; second ground combat phase; second movement phase; and tank breakdown phase. The German turn is identical except that there are no “tank-related” phases, and no command control phase. The turn sequence also nicely illustrates that the major threat to the British tanks was not hostile fire, but everyday mechanical breakdowns.
‘TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND’ offers three short scenarios, and a single long scenario that combines all three into a campaign game. The short scenarios are: The British Breakthrough (20-22 November, three game turns); Battle of Bourlon (23-27 November, five game turns); and the German Counter-Attack (30 November – 4 December, four and a half game turns long). The Campaign Game begins on game turn one (20 November) and continues through the conclusion of turn seventeen (6 December). In addition to the different historical scenarios, the game also proposes several “what if?” scenarios. These include: a Free Set-Up scenario (for both players); a British Launch All-Out Offensive scenario; and a French Participation scenario. The designer also incorporates air units into the game system for those players who are interested, but (wisely, I think) makes the air war sub-routine optional.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONFor some reason, David C. Isby always seems to be at his best when it comes to designing games dealing with the 'Great War'. In fact, Isby's design for SPI's SOLDIERS (1972), even after all these years, still remains my all-time favorite World War I tactical game. And his earlier, Rand Game Associates title, CAMBRAI, 1917: The First Blitzkrieg (1974), was and is a great "beer and pretzels" treatment of the Battle of Cambrai; even better, perhaps, from a purely game players' perspective than the far more detailed, much prettier, but somewhat cumbersome title being discussed in this profile. Still, even if TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND is not David Isby's best design, it is nonetheless a thoughtful and very interesting simulation of the Battle of Cambrai. It is also certainly worth a look from anyone with even a passing interest in the First World War. Moreover, as an early look at the development of armored vehicles and doctrine, the Battle of Cambrai is important because of the chain of future events that it was instrumental in starting. The nature of warfare changed in fundamental ways in 1917; unfortunately, it was mainly the wrong people who realized it.
Seen within the broad sweep of military history, the Battle of Cambrai is important both for what happened, and for what did not. The irony of the battle’s outcome was that it was the Germans, and not the British who were jolted into an awareness of the potential of the tank. The Germans would study and debate the proper application of armored combat power; ultimately, they would mesh it with the proven Stosstruppen doctrine of breaking through and then bypassing the defenders’ strong points, leaving isolated enemy positions to be liquidated by follow-up troops. The British, with a few notable exceptions, would persist in viewing the tank as an infantry support weapon. It would be the Germans, and not the English or French, who would see the enormous combat potential of tanks used en mass. The world, to its extreme detriment, would only have to wait a little over two decades to finally see where these innovative German armored theories would lead.
- Time Scale: 24 hours per game turn
- Map Scale: 1250 yards per hex
- Unit Size: company/regiment/brigade
- Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, artillery, royal horse artillery, tank, Stosstruppen infantry, corps supply depot, air unit, and information markers
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: above average
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 2½-17 hours
- One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Standard Combat Results Table, Rolling Barrage Combat Results Table, Terrain Key, Terrain Effects Chart, Supply Index Track, and Turn Record Track incorporated)
- 400 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Set-up Instructions and Reinforcement Schedule incorporated)
- One small six-sided Die
- One Customer Complaint Card
- One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic game cover with Title Sheet