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a city in northern France, on the Schelde River in the department of Nord. Population, 40, 000 (1968). Cambrai is a transportation junction. Its industry is represented by the production of lace, batiste, and knitted fabric and of goods made from them, primarily underwear; beer is brewed and sugar and confectionery produced there.
In antiquity a Roman city called Cameracum, Cambrai became part of the Frankish kingdom in the fifth century and was given to Lotharingia (Lorraine) by the Treaty of Verdun of 843. In 1076, Cambrai won the status of a commune in a struggle against its bishops, who were foreigners imposed by the emperor.
During the Italian wars of 1494–1559, the League of Cambrai against Venice was formed in Cambrai in 1508, and in 1529 a peace between France and the Holy Roman Empire was concluded in Cambrai. France acquired Cambrai in the Peace of Nijmegen of 1678.
In World War I, Cambrai was captured by German troops in August 1914. On Nov. 20–21, 1917, the British Third Army of sixth infantry and three cavalry divisions, supported by 378 tanks, struck two German divisions near Cambrai. The suddenness of the action and the great superiority in men and matériel led to a rapid breakthrough. But the British command failed to exploit the success: the infantry and the cavalry were left behind by the tanks, which suffered great losses. As a result the battle became positional on November 22, and from November 30 to December 6 the German Second Army of General Marwitz, 11 divisions strong, suddenly and powerfully counterattacked and recaptured a great part of the lost ground, capturing numerous prisoners.
The Battle of Cambrai marked the first mass use of tanks and the beginning of the antitank defense.