barrel roll

Barrel Roll Offensive

The Barrel Roll Offensive is an important fictional military attack in Harry Turtledove's Alternate history Great War trilogy. The attack was directed against Confederate Army entrenchments and fortifications outside of White House, Tennessee by the US First Army under Lieutenant General George Custer on Remembrance Day in 1917.

The Battle

The offensive (also known in the in-universe history as The Remembrance Day Offensive, The Nashville Offensive, or The Custer Offensive) is notable in that history for being the first occasion in warfare where barrels (tanks) were used en masse to break through enemy lines and achieve a tactical and strategic breakthrough (perhaps analogous the real world Battle_of_Cambrai). Over three hundred barrels are collected by Custer and lined up along a two mile stretch of front. After a short but intense artillery barrage, the barrels, led by Lieutenant Colonel Irving Morrell, charge forward and rip a wide hole in the Confederate line, forcing the Confederates to fall back and retreat toward the Nashville line, where the offensive ended and resettled into trench warfare. The offensive carried First Army to within artillery range of Nashville, and within the battle's end shelling of the capital of Tennessee commenced.

General Custer was under orders from the General Staff to use the barrels in a formation prescribed by the War Department, which had the machines stretched out piecemeal over the entire army front and supporting local infantry attacks. Custer, a former cavalryman who'd graduated last in his West Point class, thought differently. He arranged the barrels as he thought fit, lying about it to Chief of Staff Leonard Wood and even President Theodore Roosevelt, claiming that he was making the formation order of operations up to confuse alleged Confederate spies. When the Barrel Roll Offensive proved wildly successful, the War Department quietly changed their barrel doctrine.


CS losses were huge, and this battle more than any created a breakthrough in the stalemate that had developed along the front. While it didn't crush CS forces, it did knock them back considerably, and allowed US advancement.

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