What was the first successful mass tank battle of WW1?

What was the first successful mass tank battle of WW1?

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What was the first big scale (over 50 tanks used) battle with the use of tanks in WW1?

Please note that the typical examples don't constitute good answer:

  • Battle of Flers-Courcelette (Somme) was the first use of tanks but definitely not >50.

  • Battle of Cambrai (November 1917) - which seems to be the standard answer on Google search - appears to be incorrect: as per Wiki, there were earlier battles with over 50 tanks fielded, though there were no good details/references.

  • Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, France (1918) is notable for being first tank-vs-tank battle, but it was mere 3 against 3 quantity-wise.

A likely candidate seems to be the Battle of Messines, which took place in June 1917. According to John F. C. Fuller in Tanks in the Great War, 1914-1918, 88 tanks were employed (p. 110). He says 40 tanks advanced with the start of the attack at dawn, and an additional 22 set out with infantry in the afternoon.

British heavy tanks of World War I

British heavy tanks were a series of related armoured fighting vehicles developed by the UK during the First World War.

The Mark I was the world's first tank, a tracked, armed, and armoured vehicle, to enter combat. The name "tank" was initially a code name to maintain secrecy and disguise its true purpose by making it appear to be a water transport vehicle for bringing water to the troops at the front line. [3] The type was developed in 1915 to break the stalemate of trench warfare. It could survive the machine gun and small-arms fire in "No Man's Land", travel over difficult terrain, crush barbed wire, and cross trenches to assault fortified enemy positions with powerful armament. Tanks also carried supplies and troops.

British heavy tanks are distinguished by an unusual rhomboidal shape with a high climbing face of the track, designed to cross the wide and deep trenches prevalent on the battlefields of the Western Front. Due to the height necessary for this shape, an armed turret would have made the vehicle too tall and unstable. Instead, the main armament was arranged in sponsons at the side of the vehicle. The prototype, named "Mother", mounted a 6-pounder (57 mm) cannon and a Hotchkiss machine gun at each side. Later, subtypes were produced with machine guns only, which were designated "Female", while the original version with the protruding 6-pounder was called "Male".

The Mark I entered service in August 1916, and was first used in action on the morning of 15 September 1916 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Somme Offensive. [4] With the exception of the few interim Mark II and Mark III tanks, it was followed by the largely similar Mark IV, which first saw combat in June 1917. The Mark IV was used en masse, about 460 tanks, at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. The Mark V, with a much improved transmission, entered service in mid-1918. More than two thousand British heavy tanks were produced. Manufacture was discontinued at the end of the war.


World War I generated new demands for armoured self-propelled weapons which could navigate any kind of terrain, and this led to the development of the tank. The great weakness of the tank's predecessor, the armoured car, was that it required smooth terrain to move upon, and new developments were needed for cross-country capability. [1]

The tank was originally designed as a special weapon to solve an unusual tactical situation: the stalemate of the trenches on the Western Front. "It was a weapon designed for one simple task: crossing the killing zone between trench lines and breaking into enemy (defences)." [2] The armoured tank was intended to be able to protect against bullets and shell splinters, and pass through barbed wire in a way infantry units could not hope to, thus allowing the stalemate to be broken.

Few recognised during World War I that the means for returning mobility and shock action to combat was already present in a device destined to revolutionise warfare on the ground and in the air. This was the internal combustion engine, which had made possible the development of the tank and eventually would lead to the mechanised forces that were to assume the old roles of horse cavalry and to loosen the grip of the machine-gun on the battlefield. With increased firepower and protection, these mechanised forces would, only some 20 years later, become the armour of World War II. When self-propelled artillery, the armoured personnel carrier, the wheeled cargo vehicle, and supporting aviation — all with adequate communications — were combined to constitute the modern armoured division, commanders regained the capability of manoeuvre.

Numerous concepts of armoured all-terrain vehicles had been imagined for a long time. With the advent of trench warfare in World War I, the Allied French and British developments of the tank were largely parallel and coincided in time. [3]

Early concepts Edit

Leonardo da Vinci is often credited with the invention of a war machine that resembled a tank. [4]

In the 15th century, a Hussite called Jan Žižka won several battles using armoured wagons containing cannon that could be fired through holes in their sides. But his invention was not used after his lifetime until the 20th century. [5]

In 1903, a French artillery captain named Léon Levavasseur proposed the Levavasseur project, a canon autopropulseur ("self-propelled cannon"), moved by a caterpillar system and fully armoured for protection. [6] : 65 [7] Powered by an 80 hp petrol engine, "the Levavasseur machine would have had a crew of three, storage for ammunition, and a cross-country ability", [8] : 65 but the viability of the project was disputed by the Artillery Technical Committee, until it was formally abandoned in 1908 when it was known that a caterpillar tractor had been developed, the Hornsby of engineer David Roberts. [7]

H. G. Wells, in his short story The Land Ironclads, published in The Strand Magazine in December 1903, [9] had described the use of large, armed, armoured cross-country vehicles equipped with pedrail wheels (an invention which he acknowledged as the source for his inspiration), [10] to break through a system of fortified trenches, disrupting the defence and clearing the way for an infantry advance:

"They were essentially long, narrow and very strong steel frameworks carrying the engines, and borne upon eight pairs of big pedrail wheels, each about ten feet in diameter, each a driving wheel and set upon long axles free to swivel round a common axis. This arrangement gave them the maximum of adaptability to the contours of the ground. They crawled level along the ground with one foot high upon a hillock and another deep in a depression, and they could hold themselves erect and steady sideways upon even a steep hillside." [11]

In the years before the Great War, two practical tank-like designs were proposed but not developed. In 1911, the Austrian engineering officer Günther Burstyn submitted a proposal for a fighting vehicle that had a gun in a rotating turret, known as the Motorgeschütz. [12] In 1912, the Australian civil engineer Lancelot de Mole's proposal included a scale model of a functional fully tracked vehicle. Both of these were rejected by their respective governmental administrations.

American tracked tractors in Europe Edit

Benjamin Holt of the Holt Manufacturing Company of Stockton, California was the first to file a US patent for a workable crawler type tractor in 1907. [13] [14] The centre of such innovation was in England, and in 1903 he travelled to England to learn more about ongoing development, though all those he saw failed their field tests. [15] Holt paid Alvin Lombard US$60,000 (equivalent to $1,728,222 in 2020) for the right to produce vehicles under Lombard's patent for the Lombard Steam Log Hauler. [16]

Holt returned to Stockton and, utilizing his knowledge and his company's metallurgical capabilities, he became the first to design and manufacture practical continuous tracks for use in tractors. In England, David Roberts of Hornsby & Sons, Grantham, obtained a patent for a design in July 1904. In the United States, Holt replaced the wheels on a 40 horsepower (30 kW) Holt steamer, No. 77, with a set of wooden tracks bolted to chains. On November 24, 1904, he successfully tested the updated machine ploughing the soggy delta land of Roberts Island. [17]

When World War I broke out, with the problem of trench warfare and the difficulty of transporting supplies to the front, the pulling power of crawling-type tractors drew the attention of the military. [18] Holt tractors were used to replace horses to haul artillery and other supplies. The Royal Army Service Corps also used them to haul long trains of freight wagons over the unimproved dirt tracks behind the front. Holt tractors were, ultimately, the inspiration for the development of the British and French tanks. [17] [19] By 1916, about 1,000 of Holt's Caterpillar tractors were used by the British in World War I. Speaking to the press, in claiming the British tanks in use in 1916 were Holt-built, Holt vice president Murray M. Baker said that these tractors weighed about 18,000 pounds (8,200 kg) and had 120 horsepower (89 kW). [20] By the end of the war, 10,000 Holt vehicles had been used in the Allied war effort. [21]

French development Edit

The French colonel Jean Baptiste Eugène Estienne articulated the vision of a cross-country armoured vehicle on 24 August 1914: [22]

"Victory in this war will belong to the belligerent who is the first to put a cannon on a vehicle capable of moving on all kinds of terrain"

Some privately owned Holt tractors were used by the French Army soon after the start of World War I to pull heavy artillery pieces in difficult terrain, [23] but the French did not purchase Holts in large numbers. It was the sight of them in use by the British that later inspired Estienne to have plans drawn up for an armoured body on caterpillar tracks. In the meantime, several attempts were made to design vehicles that could overcome the German barbed wire and trenches.

From 1914 to 1915, an early experiment was made with the Boirault machine, with the objective of flattening barbed wire defences and riding over gaps in a battlefield. The machine was made of huge parallel tracks, formed by 4×3 metre metallic frames, rotating around a triangular motorized centre. This device proved too fragile and slow, as well as incapable of changing direction easily, and was abandoned. [24]

In France, on 1 December 1914, Paul Frot, an engineer constructing canals for the Compagnie Nationale du Nord, proposed to the French Ministry a design for a "landship" with armour and armament based on the motorisation of a compactor with heavy wheels or rollers. The Frot-Laffly was tested on 18 March 1915, and effectively destroyed barbed wire lines, but was deemed lacking in mobility. [25] The project was abandoned in favour of General Estienne's development using a tractor base, codenamed "Tracteur Estienne". [26]

In 1915, attempts were also made to develop vehicles with powerful armour and armament, mounted on the cross-country chassis of agricultural tractors, with large wheels having coarse treads, such as the Aubriot-Gabet "Fortress" (Fortin Aubriot-Gabet). The vehicle was powered by electricity (complete with a supply cable), and armed with a Navy cannon of 37mm, but it too proved impractical. [27]

In January 1915, the French arms manufacturer Schneider & Co. sent out its chief designer, Eugène Brillié, to investigate tracked tractors from the American Holt Manufacturing Company, at that time participating in a test programme in England, for a project of mechanical wire-cutting machines. On his return Brillié, who had earlier been involved in designing armoured cars for Spain, convinced the company management to initiate studies on the development of a Tracteur blindé et armé (armoured and armed tractor), based on the Baby Holt chassis, two of which were ordered.

Experiments on the Holt caterpillar tracks started in May 1915 at the Schneider plant with a 75-hp wheel-directed model and the 45-hp integral caterpillar Baby Holt, showing the superiority of the latter. [28] On 16 June, new experiments followed, which were witnessed by the President of the Republic, and on 10 September, by Commander Ferrus. The first complete chassis with armour was demonstrated at Souain on 9 December 1915, to the French Army, with the participation of Colonel Estienne. [6] : 68 [29] [note 1]

On 12 December, unaware of the Schneider experiments, Estienne presented to the High Command a plan to form an armoured force, equipped with tracked vehicles. He was put in touch with Schneider, and in a letter dated 31 January 1916 Commander-in-chief Joffre ordered the production of 400 tanks of the type designed by Brillié and Estienne, [31] although the actual production order of 400 Schneider CA1 was made a bit later on 25 February 1916. [32] Soon after, on 8 April 1916, another order for 400 Saint-Chamond tanks was also placed. [33] Schneider had trouble with meeting production schedules, and the tank deliveries were spread over several months from 8 September 1916. [32] The Saint-Chamond tank would start being delivered from 27 April 1917. [34]

British development Edit

The Lincolnshire firm Richard Hornsby & Sons had been developing the caterpillar tractor since 1902, and built an oil engine powered crawler to move lifeboats up a beach in 1908. In 1909 The Northern Light and Power Company of Dawson City, Canada, owned by Joe Boyle, ordered a steam powered caterpillar tractor. It was delivered to the Yukon in 1912. Hornsby's tractors were trialled between 1905 and 1910 on several occasions with the British Army as artillery tractors, but not adopted. Hornsby sold its patents to Holt Tractor of California.

In 1914, the British War Office ordered a Holt tractor and put it through trials at Aldershot. Although it was not as powerful as the 105 horsepower (78 kW) Foster-Daimler tractor, the 75 horsepower (56 kW) Holt was better suited to haul heavy loads over uneven ground. Without a load, the Holt tractor managed a walking pace of 4 miles per hour (6.4 km/h). Towing a load, it could manage 2 miles per hour (3.2 km/h). Most importantly, Holt tractors were readily available in quantity. [35] The War Office was suitably impressed and chose it as a gun-tractor. [35]

In July 1914, Lt. Col. Ernest Swinton, a British Royal Engineer officer, learned about Holt tractors and their transportation capabilities in rough terrain from a friend who had seen one in Antwerp, but passed the information on to the transport department. [36] : 12 [37] : 590 When the First World War broke out, Swinton was sent to France as the Army's war correspondent and in October 1914 identified the need for what he described as a "machine-gun destroyer" - a cross-country, armed vehicle. [36] : 116 [36] : 12 He remembered the Holt tractor, and decided that it could be the basis for an armoured vehicle.

Swinton proposed in a letter to Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the British Committee of Imperial Defence, that the Committee build a power-driven, bullet-proof, tracked vehicle that could destroy enemy guns. [36] [38] : 129 Hankey persuaded the War Office - which was lukewarm to the idea - to make a trial on 17 February 1915 with a Holt tractor, but the caterpillar bogged down in the mud, the project was abandoned, and the War Office gave up investigations. [6] : 25 [38] : 129

In May 1915, the War Office made new tests on a trench-crossing machine: the Tritton Trench-Crosser. The machine was equipped with large tractor wheels, 8 ft (2.4 m) in diameter, and carried girders on an endless chain which were lowered above a trench so that the back wheels could roll over it. The machine would then drag the girder behind until on flat terrain, so that it could reverse over them and set them back in place in front of the vehicle. The machine proved much too cumbersome and was abandoned. [6] : 143–144

When Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, learned of the armoured tractor idea, he reignited investigation of the idea of using the Holt tractor. The Royal Navy and the Landship Committee (established on 20 February 1915), [39] at last agreed to sponsor experiments and tests of armoured tractors as a type of "land ship". In March, Churchill ordered the building of 18 experimental landships: 12 using Diplock pedrails (an idea promoted by Murray Sueter), and six using large wheels (the idea of Thomas Gerard Hetherington). [6] : 25 Construction however failed to move forward, as the wheels seemed impractical after a wooden mock-up was realized: the wheels were initially planned to be 40-feet in diameter, but turned out to be still too big and too fragile at 15-feet. [6] : 26–27 The pedrails also met with industrial problems, [40] and the system was deemed too large, too complicated and under-powered. [6] : 26

Instead of choosing to use the Holt tractor, the British government chose to involve a British agricultural machinery firm, Foster and Sons, whose managing director and designer was Sir William Tritton. [35]

After all these projects failed by June 1915, ideas of grandiose landships were abandoned, and a decision was taken to make an attempt with US Bullock Creeping Grip caterpillar tracks, by connecting two of them together to obtain an articulated chassis deemed necessary for manoeuvring. Experiments failed in tests made in July 1915. [6] : 25

Another experiment was conducted with an American Killen-Strait tracked tractor. A wire-cutting mechanism was successfully fitted, but the trench-crossing capability of the vehicle proved insufficient. A Delaunay-Belleville armoured car body was fitted, making the Killen-Strait machine the first armoured tracked vehicle, but the project was abandoned as it turned out to be a blind alley, unable to fulfil all-terrain warfare requirements. [6] : 25

After these experiments, the Committee decided to build a smaller experimental landship, equivalent to one half the articulated version, and using lengthened US-made Bullock Creeping Grip caterpillar tracks. [6] : 27 [41] This new experimental machine was called the No1 Lincoln Machine: construction started on 11 August 1915, with the first trials starting on 10 September 1915. [6] : 26 These trials failed however because of unsatisfactory tracks. [42]

Development continued with new, re-engineered tracks designed by William Tritton, [42] and the machine, now renamed Little Willie, [43] was completed in December 1915 and tested on 3 December 1915. Trench-crossing ability was deemed insufficient however, and Walter Gordon Wilson developed a rhomboidal design, [43] which became known as "His Majesty's Landship Centipede" and later "Mother", [43] the first of the "Big Willie" types of true tanks. After completion on 29 January 1916 very successful trials were made, and an order was placed by the War Office for 100 units to be used on the Western front in France, [37] : 590 [38] : 129 on 12 February 1916, [44] and a second order for 50 additional units was placed in April 1916. [45]

France started studying caterpillar continuous tracks from January 1915, and actual tests started in May 1915, [46] two months earlier than the Little Willie experiments. At the Souain experiment, France tested an armoured tracked tank prototype, the same month Little Willie was completed. [29] Ultimately however, the British were the first to put tanks on the battlefield, at the battle of the Somme in September 1916.

The name "tank" was introduced in December, 1915 as a security measure and has been adopted in many languages. William Tritton, stated that when the prototypes were under construction from August, 1915 they were deliberately falsely described in order to conceal their true purpose. [47] In the workshop the paperwork described them as "water carriers," supposedly for use on the Mesopotamian Front. In conversation the workers referred to them as "water tanks" or, simply, "tanks." In October the Landships Committee decided, for security purposes, to change its own name to something less descriptive. [48] One of the members, Ernest Swinton [49] ) suggested "tank," and the committee agreed. The name "tank" was used in official documents and common parlance from then on, and the Landships Committee was renamed the Tank Supply Committee. This is sometimes confused with the labelling of the first production tanks (ordered in February, 1916) with a caption in Russian. It translated as "With Care to Petrograd," probably again inspired by the workers at Foster's, some of whom believed the machines to be snowploughs meant for Russia, and was introduced from May 15, 1916. The Committee was happy to perpetuate this misconception since it might also mislead the Germans. [50]

The naval background of the tank's development also explains such nautical tank terms as hatch, hull, bow, and ports. The great secrecy surrounding tank development, coupled with the scepticism of infantry commanders, often meant that infantry at first had little training to cooperate with tanks.

Russian development Edit

Vasily Mendeleev, an engineer in a shipyard, worked privately on a design of a super-heavy tank from 1911 to 1915. It was a heavily armoured 170 ton tracked vehicle armed with one 120 mm naval gun. The design envisioned many innovations that became standard features of a modern battle tank – protection of the vehicle was well-thought out, the gun included automatic loading mechanism, pneumatic suspension allowed adjusting of clearance, some critical systems were duplicated, transportation by railroad was possible by a locomotive or with adapter wheels. However, the cost was almost as much as a submarine and it was never built. [51] [52]

The Vezdekhod was a small cross-country vehicle designed by aero-engineer Aleksandr Porokhovschikov that ran on a single wide rubber track propelled by a 10 hp engine. Two small wheels either side were provided for steering but while the vehicles could cross ground well its steering was ineffectual. In post-revolution Russia, the Vezdekhod was portrayed in propaganda as the first tank.

The Tsar Tank, also known as the Lebedenko tank after its designer – was a tricycle design vehicle on 9 m high front wheels. It was expected that such large wheels would be able to cross any obstacle but because of a flawed design most of the weight was forced through the smaller rear wheel, which became stuck when tested in 1915. The designers were prepared to fit larger engines but the project – and the vehicle – was abandoned.

German development Edit

The A7V was the only German tank of World War I that saw actual combat. A prototype was built in early 1917 for trials, with production of the vehicles beginning in October of the same year. They were used on about six occasions from March 1918. Only twenty were produced. [53] Germany also had several other projects on paper as well as other prototype tanks in development.

The first offensive using tanks took place on 15 September 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. Forty-nine of the Mark I type were committed, of which 32 were mechanically fit to take part in the advance and achieved some small, local successes. [54] : 1153 In July 1917, 216 British tanks were employed in the Third Battle of Ypres but found it almost impossible to operate in the muddy conditions and achieved little. Not until 20 November 1917, at Cambrai, did the British Tank Corps get the conditions it needed for success. Over 400 tanks penetrated almost six miles on a 7-mile wide front. However, success was not complete because the infantry failed to exploit and secure the tanks' gains, and almost all the territory gained was recaptured by the Germans. The Australian, Canadian and British forces then scored a far more significant victory the following year, on 8 August 1918, with 600 tanks in the Battle of Amiens. General Erich Ludendorff referred to that date as the "Black Day" of the German Army.

Parallel to the British development, France designed its own tanks. The first two, the medium Schneider CA and heavy Saint-Chamond, were not well-conceived, though produced in large numbers and showing technical innovations, the latter using an electro-mechanical transmission and a long 75 mm gun. Both types saw action on numerous occasions but suffered consistently high losses. In 1918 the Renault FT light tank was the first tank in history with a "modern" configuration: a revolving turret on top and an engine compartment at the rear it would be the most numerous tank of the war. A last development was the superheavy Char 2C, the largest tank ever to see service, be it some years after the armistice.

The German response to the Cambrai assault was to develop its own armoured program. Soon the massive A7V appeared. The A7V was a clumsy monster, weighing 30 tons and with a crew of eighteen. By the end of the war, only twenty had been built. Although other tanks were on the drawing board, material shortages limited the German tank corps to these A7Vs and about 36 captured Mark IVs. The A7V would be involved in the first tank vs. tank battle of the war on April 24, 1918 at the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux—a battle in which there was no clear winner.

Numerous mechanical failures and the inability of the British and French to mount any sustained drives in the early tank actions cast doubt on their usefulness—and by 1918, tanks were extremely vulnerable unless accompanied by infantry and ground-attack aircraft, both of which worked to locate and suppress anti-tank defences.

But Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander in Chief, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), requested in September 1917 that 600 heavy and 1,200 light tanks be produced in the United States. When General Pershing assumed command of the American Expeditionary Force and went to France, he took Lt. Col. George Patton. Patton became interested in tanks. They were then unwieldy, unreliable, and unproved instruments of warfare, and there was much doubt whether they had any function and value at all on the battlefield. Against the advice of most of his friends, Patton chose to go into the newly formed US Tank Corps. He was the first officer so assigned.

The first American-produced heavy tank was the 43.5-ton Mark VIII (sometimes known as the "Liberty"), a US-British development of the successful British heavy tank design, intended to equip the Allied forces. Armed with two 6-pounder cannons and five rifle-caliber machine guns, it was operated by an 11-man crew, and had a maximum speed of 6.5 miles per hour and a range of 50 miles. Because of production difficulties, only test vehicles were completed before the War ended. The American-built 6.5-ton M1917 light tank was a close copy of the French Renault FT. It had a maximum speed of 5.5 miles per hour and could travel 30 miles on its 30-gallon fuel capacity. Again, because of production delays, none were completed in time to see action. In the summer of 1918 a 3-ton, 2-man tank, (Ford 3-Ton M1918) originated by the Ford Motor Company was designed. It was powered by two Ford Model T, 4-cylinder engines, armed with a .30 inch machine gun, and had a maximum speed of 8 miles per hour. It was considered unsatisfactory as a fighting vehicle but to have possible value in other battlefield roles. An order was placed for 15,000, but only 15 were completed, and none saw service in the War.

American tank units first entered combat on 12 September 1918 against the Saint-Mihiel salient with the First Army. They belonged to the 344th and 345th Light Tank Battalions, elements of the 304th Tank Brigade, commanded by Lt. Col. Patton, under whom they had trained at the tank center in Bourg, France, and were equipped with the Renault FT, supplied by France. Although mud, lack of fuel, and mechanical failure caused many tanks to stall in the German trenches, the attack succeeded and much valuable experience was gained. By the armistice of 11 November 1918, the AEF was critically short of tanks, as no American-made ones were completed in time for use in combat.

After World War I, General Erich Ludendorff of the German High Command praised the Allied tanks as being a principal factor in Germany's defeat. The Germans had been too late in recognizing their value to consider them in their own plans. Even if their already hard-pressed industry could have produced them in quantity, fuel was in very short supply. Of the total of 90 tanks fielded by the Germans during 1918, 75 had been captured from the Allies.

The U.S. tank units fought so briefly and were so fragmented during the war, and the number of tanks available to them was so limited, that there was practically no opportunity to develop tactics for their large-scale employment. Nonetheless, their work was sufficiently impressive to imbue at least a few military leaders with the idea that the use of tanks in mass was the most likely principal role of armour in the future.

Highlights of U.S. Army appraisal for the development and use of tanks, developed from combat experience, were: (1) the need for a tank with more power, fewer mechanical failures, heavier armour, longer operating range, and better ventilation (2) the need for combined training of tanks with other combat arms, especially the infantry (3) the need for improved means of communication and of methods for determining and maintaining directions and (4) the need for an improved supply system, especially for petrol and ammunition.

At the war's end, the main role of the tank was considered to be that of close support for the infantry. Although the tank of World War I was slow, clumsy, unwieldy, difficult to control, and mechanically unreliable, its value as a combat weapon had been clearly proven. But, despite the lessons of World War I, the combat arms were most reluctant to accept a separate and independent role for armor and continued to struggle among themselves over the proper use of tanks. At the outset, thought of the tank as an auxiliary to and a part of the infantry was the predominant opinion, although a few leaders contended that an independent tank arm should be retained.

In addition to the light and heavy categories of American-produced tanks of World War I, a third classification, the medium, began receiving attention in 1919. It was hoped that this in-between type would incorporate the best features of the 6½-ton light and the Mark VIII heavy and would replace both. The meaning of the terms light, medium, and heavy tanks changed between the wars. During World War I and immediately thereafter, the light tank was considered to be up to 10 tons, the medium (produced by the British) was roughly between 10 and 25 tons, and the heavy was over 25 tons. For World War II, increased weights resulted in the light tank being over 20 tons, the medium over 30, and the heavy, developed toward the end of the war, over 60 tons. During the period between the world wars, the weights of the classifications varied generally within these extremes.

The U.S. National Defense Act of 1920 placed the Tank Corps under the Infantry. The Act's stipulation that "hereafter all tank units shall form a part of the Infantry" left little doubt as to the tank role for the immediate future. George Patton had argued for an independent Tank Corps. But if, in the interest of economy, the tanks had to go under one of the traditional arms, he preferred the cavalry, for Patton intuitively understood that tanks operating with cavalry would stress mobility, while tanks tied to the infantry would emphasize firepower. Tanks in peacetime, he feared, as he said, "would be very much like coast artillery with a lot of machinery which never works."

At a time when most soldiers regarded the tank as a specialized infantry-support weapon for crossing trenches, a significant number of officers in the Royal Tank Corps had gone on to envision much broader roles for mechanized organizations. In May 1918, Col. J.F.C. Fuller, the acknowledged father of tank doctrine, had used the example of German infiltration tactics to refine what he called "Plan 1919". This was an elaborate concept for a large-scale armoured offensive in 1919.

The Royal Tank Corps had to make do with the same basic tanks from 1922 until 1938. British armoured theorists did not always agree with each other. B. H. Liddell Hart, a noted publicist of armoured warfare, wanted a true combined arms force with a major role for mechanized infantry. Fuller, Broad, and other officers were more interested in a pure-tank role. The Experimental Mechanized Force formed by the British under Percy Hobart to investigate and develop techniques was a mobile force with its own self-propelled guns, supporting infantry and engineers in motor vehicles and armoured cars.

Both advocates and opponents of mechanization often used the term "tank" loosely to mean not only an armored, tracked, turreted, gun-carrying fighting vehicle, but also any form of armored vehicle or mechanized unit. Such usage made it difficult for contemporaries or historians to determine whether a particular speaker was discussing pure tank forces, mechanized combined arms forces, or mechanization of infantry forces.

British armoured vehicles tended to maximize either mobility or protection. Both the cavalry and the Royal Tank Corps wanted fast, lightly armoured, mobile vehicles for reconnaissance and raiding—the light and medium (or "cruiser") tanks. In practice the "light tanks" were often small armoured personnel carriers. On the other hand, the "army tank battalions" performing the traditional infantry-support role required extremely heavy armoured protection. As a consequence of these two doctrinal roles, firepower was neglected [ citation needed ] in tank design.

Among the German proponents of mechanization, General Heinz Guderian was probably the most influential. Guderian's 1914 service with radiotelegraphs in support of cavalry units led him to insist on a radio in every armoured vehicle. By 1929, when many British students of armour were tending towards a pure armour formation, Guderian had become convinced that it was useless to develop just tanks, or even to mechanize parts of the traditional arms. What was needed was an entirely new mechanized formation of all arms that would maximize the effects of the tank.

The German tanks were not up to the standards of Guderian's concept. The Panzer I was really a machine-gun-armed tankette, derived from the British Carden Loyd tankette. The Panzer II did have a 20-mm cannon, but little armour protection. These two vehicles made up the bulk of panzer units until 1940.

In the twenties France was the only country in the world with a large armour force. French doctrine viewed combined arms as a process by which all other weapons systems assisted the infantry in its forward progress. Tanks were considered to be "a sort of armoured infantry", by law subordinated to the infantry branch. This at least had the advantage that armour was not restricted purely to tanks the French army would be among the most mechanised. Tanks proper were however first of all seen as specialised breakthrough systems, to be concentrated for an offensive: light tanks had to limit their speed to that of the foot soldier heavy tanks were intended to form a forward "shock front" to dislodge defensive lines. The doctrine was much preoccupied with the strength of the defender: artillery and air bombardments had to destroy machine guns and anti-tank guns. The envelopment phase was neglected. Though part of the Infantry branch, tanks were in fact concentrated in almost pure tank units and rarely trained together with foot soldiers.

In 1931, France decided to produce armour and other equipment in larger quantities, including the Char B1 bis. The B1 bis, developed by Estienne in the early 1920s, was still one of the most powerful tank designs in the world fifteen years later. In 1934 the French cavalry also began a process of mechanisation tanks were to be used for exploitation also.

As the French Army was moving forward in the area of mechanization, doctrinal strife began to develop. In 1934, Lieutenant Colonel Charles de Gaulle published Towards the Professional Army (Vers l'Armée de Métier). De Gaulle favoured a professional mechanised force, capable of executing both the breakthrough and the exploitation phase. He envisioned a pure armour brigade operating in linear formation, followed by a motorized infantry force for mopping-up. His ideas were not adopted, as being too expensive.

From 1936 French tank production accelerated, but the doctrinal problems remained, resulting in 1940 in an inflexible structure, with the Infantry and Cavalry fielding separate types of armoured division.

During the course of the 1920s and early 1930s, a group of Soviet officers led by Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky developed a concept of "Deep Battle" to employ conventional infantry and cavalry divisions, mechanized formations, and aviation in concert. Using the expanded production facilities of the Soviet government's first Five Year Plan with design features taken in part from the American inventor J. Walter Christie, the Soviets produced 5,000 armoured vehicles by 1934. This wealth of equipment enabled the Red Army to create tank organizations for both infantry support and combined arms, mechanized operations.

On 12 June 1937, the Soviet government executed Tukhachevsky and eight of his high-ranking officers, as Stalin shifted his purge of Soviet society against the last power group that had the potential to threaten him, the Red Army. At the same time, the Soviet experience in the Spanish Civil War caused the Red Army to reassess mechanization. The Soviet tanks were too lightly armoured, their Russian crews could not communicate with the Spanish troops, and in combat the tanks tended to outpace the supporting infantry and artillery.

The United States was not nearly so advanced in the development of armoured and mechanized forces. As in France, the supply of slow World War I tanks and the subordination of tanks to the infantry branch impeded the development of any role other than direct infantry support. The US War Department policy statement, which finally came in April 1922, was a serious blow to tank development. Reflecting prevailing opinion, it stated that the tank's primary mission was "to facilitate the uninterrupted advance of the riflemen in the attack." [ citation needed ] The War Department considered that two types of tanks, the light and the medium, should fulfill all missions. The light tank was to be truck transportable and not exceed 5 tons gross weight. For the medium, restrictions were even more stringent its weight was not to exceed 15 tons, so as to bring it within the weight capacity of railroad flatcars, the average existing highway bridge, and, most significantly, available Engineer Corps pontoon bridges.

Although an experimental 15-ton tank, the M1924, reached the mock-up stage, this and other attempts to satisfy War Department and infantry specifications proved to be unsatisfactory. In reality it was simply impossible to build a 15-ton vehicle meeting both War Department and infantry requirements.

In 1926 the General Staff reluctantly consented to the development of a 23-ton tank, although it made clear that efforts were to continue toward the production of a satisfactory 15-ton vehicle. The infantry—its new branch chief overriding the protests of some of his tankmen who wanted a more heavily armed and armored medium—decided, too, that a light tank, transportable by truck, best met infantry requirements. The net effect of the infantry's preoccupation with light tanks and the limited funds available for tank development in general was to slow the development of heavier vehicles and, ultimately, to contribute to the serious shortage of mediums at the outbreak of World War II.

J. Walter Christie was an innovative designer of tanks, engines and propulsion systems. Although his designs did not meet US Army specifications, other countries used his chassis patents. Despite inadequate funding, the Ordnance Department managed to develop several experimental light and medium tanks and tested one of Walter Christie's models by 1929. None of these tanks was accepted, usually because each of them exceeded standards set by other Army branches. For instance, several light tank models were rejected because they exceeded the 5-ton cargo capacity of the Transportation Corps trucks, and several medium tank designs were rejected because they exceeded the 15-ton bridge weight limit set by the engineers. Christie simply would not work with users to fulfill the military requirements but, instead, wanted the Army to fund the tanks that he wanted to build. Patton later worked closely with J. Walter Christie to improve the silhouette, suspension, power, and weapons of tanks. [ citation needed ]

The Christie tank embodied the ability to operate both on tracks and on large, solid-rubber-tired bogie wheels. The tracks were removable to permit operation on wheels over moderate terrain. Also featured was a suspension system of independently sprung wheels. The Christie had many advantages, including the amazing ability, in 1929, to attain speeds of 69 miles per hour on wheels and 42 miles per hour on tracks, although at these speeds the tank could not carry full equipment. To the infantry and cavalry the Christie was the best answer to their need for a fast, lightweight tank, and they were enthusiastic about its convertibility. On the other hand, the Ordnance Department, while recognizing the usefulness of the Christie, was of the opinion that it was mechanically unreliable and that such dual-purpose equipment generally violated good engineering practice. The controversy over the advantages and drawbacks of Christie tanks raged for more than twenty years, with the convertible principle being abandoned in 1938. But the Christie ideas had great impact upon tank tactics and unit organization in many countries and, finally, upon the US Army as well.

In the United States the real beginning of the Armored Force was in 1928, twelve years before it was officially established, when Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis directed that a tank force be developed in the Army. Earlier that year he had been much impressed, as an observer of maneuvers in England, by a British experimental armoured Force. Actually the idea was not new. A small group of dedicated officers in the cavalry and the infantry had been hard at work since World War I on theories for such a force. The continued progress in the design of armour, armament, engines, and vehicles was gradually swinging the trend toward more mechanization, and the military value of the horse declined. Proponents of mechanization and motorization pointed to advances in the motor vehicle industry and to the corresponding decrease in the use of horses and mules. Furthermore, abundant oil resources gave the United States an enviable position of independence in fuel requirements for the machines.

Secretary Davis' 1928 directive for the development of a tank force resulted in the assembly and encampment of an experimental mechanized force at Camp Meade, Maryland, from 1 July to 20 September 1928. The combined arms team consisted of elements furnished by Infantry (including tanks), Cavalry, Field Artillery, the Air Corps, Engineer Corps, Ordnance Department, Chemical Warfare Service, and Medical Corps. An effort to continue the experiment in 1929 was defeated by insufficient funds and obsolete equipment, but the 1928 exercise did bear fruit, for the War Department Mechanization Board, appointed to study results of the experiment, recommended the permanent establishment of a mechanized force.

As Chief of Staff from 1930 to 1935, Douglas MacArthur wanted to advance motorization and mechanization throughout the army. In late 1931 all arms and services were directed to adopt mechanization and motorization, "as far as is practicable and desirable", and were permitted to conduct research and to experiment as necessary. Cavalry was given the task of developing combat vehicles that would "enhance its power in roles of reconnaissance, counterreconnaissance, flank action, pursuit, and similar operations." By law, "tanks" belonged to the infantry branch, so the cavalry gradually bought a group of "combat cars", lightly armoured and armed tanks that were often indistinguishable from the newer infantry "tanks."

In 1933 MacArthur set the stage for the coming complete mechanization of the cavalry, declaring, "The horse has no higher degree of mobility today than he had a thousand years ago. The time has therefore arrived when the Cavalry arm must either replace or assist the horse as a means of transportation, or else pass into the limbo of discarded military formations." Although the horse was not yet claimed to be obsolete, his competition was gaining rapidly, and realistic cavalrymen, sensing possible extinction, looked to at least partial substitution of the faster machines for horses in cavalry units.

The War Department in 1938 modified its 1931 directive for all arms and services to adopt mechanization and motorization. Thereafter, development of mechanization was to be accomplished by two of the combat arms only—the cavalry and the infantry. As late as 1938, on the other hand, the Chief of Cavalry, Maj. Gen. John K. Herr, proclaimed, "We must not be misled to our own detriment to assume that the untried machine can displace the proved and tried horse." He favored a balanced force made up of both horse and mechanized cavalry. In testimony before a Congressional committee in 1939, Maj. Gen. John K. Herr maintained that horse cavalry had "stood the acid test of war", whereas the motor elements advocated by some to replace it had not.

Actually, between the world wars there was much theoretical but little tangible progress in tank production and tank tactics in the United States. Production was limited to a few hand-tooled test models, only thirty-five of which were built between 1920 and 1935. Regarding the use of tanks with infantry, the official doctrine of 1939 largely reiterated that of 1923. It maintained that "As a rule, tanks are employed to assist the advance of infantry foot troops, either preceding or accompanying the infantry assault echelon."


The group were buried with full military honours after readings by relatives, a firing salute was sounded and The Last Post was played.

Born in Peckham in 1895, Frank Mead, pictured in his uniform, was the son of Thomas Mead and Elizabeth Louisa Rutland. He died aged 23

Pte Wallington's niece Margot Bains, and Paul and Chris Mead, the two great-nephews of Pte Mead, attended today's funeral at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) British cemetery at Hermies Hill, near Albert.

Known as the war detectives, the Ministry of Defence's Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) organised the service after identifying the two soldiers and tracing their surviving relatives.

Research suggests Ptes Wallington and Mead were killed on December 3, 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai - which marked the first large-scale use of tanks - while they were both in their early twenties.

Born in Peckham in 1895, Frank Mead was the son of Thomas Mead and Elizabeth Louisa Rutland. He died aged 23.

Through his brother Reginald, the JCCC sourced a DNA sample and traced his great-nephews Paul Mead, who lives in California, and Chris Mead, from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

Chris Mead, who will on Wednesday visit for the first time the area where his great-uncle died in battle, said: 'We couldn't believe it when we heard.

'It's been an emotional time and we never dreamt of anything like this. It's been a fantastic experience, an incredible event and very moving.

'My father passed away four years ago but he had held on to all of Frank's letters. We had the letters from the trenches but did not know where he (Frank) was. We are just grateful for the opportunity for his story to be told.'

Known as the war detectives, the Ministry of Defence's Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) organised the service after identifying the two soldiers and tracing their surviving relatives

Research suggests Ptes Wallington and Mead were killed on December 3, 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai - which marked the first large-scale use of tanks - while they were both in their early twenties

Pte Mead's great-nephew Chris said: 'My father passed away four years ago but he had held on to all of Frank's letters. We had the letters from the trenches but did not know where he was. We are just grateful for the opportunity for his story to be told'

Also born in Peckham but a year later, Henry Wallington was born to Joseph Henry Wallington and Edith Bennett. He was 22 when he was killed.

He had three sisters, Dorothy, Mabel and Grace, and two half-brothers, Joseph and Walter.

It was through Walter that the JCCC was able to get a positive DNA match and trace his niece, Margot Bains.

Ms Bains, from Lincolnshire, said of today's ceremony: 'It's been beautiful, very moving. We didn't know about Henry, we didn't know he existed at all.'

Family research uncovered that her father and his brother were illegitimate and given away when they were young, while their father had another family in London with four other children - three girls and a boy, Henry.

As far as the research shows, the family line has only been carried through on the side of the illegitimate children, Ms Bains said, adding: 'My father didn't know he had another family.

'It is mixed feelings of course - not towards Henry but towards his father, because he gave my Dad away. That must have haunted them. It would have been very taboo at that time to have illegitimate children.'

Each year, the remains of around 40 British soldiers who died in the First World War are found on battlefields in Europe and the JCCC tries to identify them.

The three soldiers were found in a back garden in the village of Anneux when the owner dug a trench for a drainpipe.

A wristwatch, silver pipe band and remnants of British Army uniforms were also discovered but could not provide any further clues to identify the third man and the investigation continues.

Nicola Nash, who led the JCCC search to identify the soldiers, said: 'Getting that match was just an amazing achievement. I'm just so pleased the families are actually able to be here today to see them be buried.

'It's absolutely devastating when you get two matches and one that actually hasn't been identified. We will still keep working on it and we will identify him.'

Presenters Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell also attended the funeral while filming part of ITV's Long Lost Family documentary for a special episode looking at the work of the JCCC.

Each year, the remains of around 40 British soldiers who died in the First World War are found on battlefields in Europe and the JCCC tries to identify them

A wristwatch, silver pipe band and remnants of British Army uniforms were also discovered but could not provide any further clues to identify the third man and the investigation continues

The Battle of Cambrai: The first mass tank attack in WW1

The Battle of Cambrai was a conflict that took place in World War I and marks the first effective use of tanks in warfare.

It was also the first time UK and US soldiers fought and died together in conflict, as US Army engineers were attached to support the British attack.

Although this was not the first time tanks had been used in battle, the attack, which ended on December 6 1917, marked the first time they had been deployed in significant numbers.

At dawn on November 20, 1917, the British Third Army launched an attack towards Cambrai using the largest number of tanks so far in the conflict.

A British 40th Division tanks passing captured German guns from the Battle of Cambrai. They are on their to the attack on Bourlon Wood. on the Western Front

Focusing their attack on the Germans' Hindenberg line on the Western front, troops were able to take around 7,500 prisoners.

Catching the Germans by surprise, the offensive was initially successful – breaching what the British called the ‘Hindenburg Line’, it created a solution to the deadlock of trench warfare.

As a result, more ground was gained in the first three hours of fighting than the British had gained in three months at the Battle of Passchendaele.

But more than half of the tanks were out of action by the end of the first day, despite British forces making advances of around five miles.

The soldiers were forced to retreat over the coming days because of bad weather and inadequate reinforcements.

A British Tank transporting a German Naval Gun, dismounted from a ship and used In land fighting during The Battle Of Cambrai, France, 1917

The Germans counter-attacked, and eventually the offensive was halted after an advance of around six miles.

On November 30 General Georg von der Marwitz launched launched 20 divisions against the British and they managed to break through in the south.

By December 5 the British had been driven back near to the original position they attacked from and casualties amidst the heavy fighting between the sides was enormous.

The battle came at a cost of 44,000 British and Commonwealth and 41,000 German casualties.

By early December, when the battle ended, more than 80,000 men from both sides were either wounded, missing or killed.

Breaking the German Defences

By the autumn it was clear that, with enough time and preparation, a British attack could break in to the German defences over a small area. The difficulty was turning this into a deeper break through and forcing a widespread German retreat. Cambrai was an attempt to bring this about and end the year with a British success.

Cambrai was to be a combined arms battle that would see tanks and infantry break in to the German defences, artillery neutralise defensive positions and break up counterattacks, and cavalry carry out the break through. They would all be backed up by exhaustive logistic preparations to keep them supplied, and staff work to ensure personnel and supplies were all in the right place at the right time. By autumn 1917 this was all increasingly familiar to the Army.

Innovations at Cambrai would be the mass use of tanks, and, arguably more importantly, the artillery techniques. Rather than a massive days or weeks long preparatory bombardment, there would be nothing until the moment the attack was launched.

We’ll look at how this was to be achieved, and the impact of the Tank Corps on the plan, in Part II.

For more information on the Battle of Cambrai, watch The Tank Museum YouTube documentary, Cambrai: The Tank Corps Story.

Find out more about First World War tanks and beyond in the books below.

German Advance Blocked at the Marne

The advance towards Paris of five of the German Armies stretching along a line from Verdun to Amiens was set to continue at the end of August 1914. The German First Army was within 30 miles of the French capital. By 3 September the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) had crossed the Marne river in a retreat to the south and was in a position east of Paris between the French Sixth and French Fifth Armies. However, the commander of the German First Army made a fateful change to the original directive of The Schlieffen Plan, making an assumption that the Allies were not in a position to hold out against an attack on Paris from the east. The original Schlieffen Plan directive had been for German forces to attack Paris from the north in an encircling manoeuvre. Launching an attack east of Paris on 4 September the German First Army made progress in a southerly direction. However, the change to the Schlieffen Plan now exposed the right flank of the German attacking force. From 5to 8 September the French Armies and British First Army carried out counter-attacks against the German advance on a line of approximately 100 miles from Compiègne east of Paris to Verdun. The Battle of the Ourcq River (5- 8 September 1914) was carried out by the French Sixth Army against the German First Army of General von Kluck.

On 9 September the German First Army began to pull back as the British First Army moved in on its left flank. With no option but to make a fighting withdrawal, all the German forces in the Marne river region retreated in a northerly direction, crossing the Aisne to the high ground of the Chemin des Dames ridge.

The First Battle of the Marne was a strategic victory for the Allied Forces. It marked a decisive turn of events for the Allies in the early weeks of the war and Germany's Schlieffen Plan was stopped in its tracks. One of the famous events in the crucial defence of Paris is that 600 Parisian taxis were sent from the city carrying French reinforcement troops to the fighting front.

The Navy almost flew the Eagle off carriers

Posted On January 28, 2019 18:40:15

The Air Force has made the F-15 Eagle an icon of air superiority fighters. The Navy’s F-14 Tomcat has its iconic status, thanks in large part to Top Gun and JAG, among other Hollywood productions.

A U.S. Navy F-14D Tomcat aircraft flies a combat mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But the Navy could have flown the F-15 off carriers. In fact, McDonnell-Douglas, who had made the iconic F-4 Phantom, which was in service with the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, proposed what was known as the F-15N “Sea Eagle.”

A formation of F-15C Eagles fly over Gloucestershire, England. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Erin Trower)

There was, though, a problem with the Sea Eagle. Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that the design could not carry the AIM-54 Phoenix, which the Navy needed in order to counter Soviet long-range bombers armed with heavy anti-ship missiles.

The track records of both planes are nothing to sneer at. The F-14 proved to be a superb addition — it never had to face the big fight with the Soviet Union, but it nevertheless scored five air-to-air kills in United States Navy service. The F-15 scored 104 air-to-air kills with no losses across all operators, including the United States Air Force and Saudi and Israeli planes.

Here’s a video showing just what might have been, and why it didn’t happen.


Voices of the First World War: Tanks On The Somme

Since the onset of trench warfare, British military and political leaders had wanted to develop an armoured vehicle that could carry troops over the shell-holes and barbed wire-strewn battleground of the Western Front. To this end, Winston Churchill set up a Landships Committee in early 1915. Thomas Brown of the King’s Liverpool Regiment explained what advantages the concept eventually offered.

They were very cumbersome things at first, with terrific caterpillar wheels, you know. What they were very good at, of course, was that they were able to get across the trench, and they’d crush the wires. They did work that the artillery couldn’t do. Very often, our men attacked the German front line and found the wire hadn’t been cut by our own artillery. But as soon as the tanks came along of course they simply crushed the wires, you see and even if there were machine-guns. Because the infantry used to follow just behind the tank, there was usually a little party of infantrymen following the tank. But I think they frightened the life out of Jerry when he first saw them!

The Landships Committee produced a prototype. It was successfully trialled and the Army ordered 100 such machines. Amidst great secrecy, the vehicles were field-tested at Barnham in Norfolk in mid-1916. Robert Parker was one of those who drove the first tanks there.

We had charge of the tanks that were available then. And we were ringed round with sentries and it was a £100 fine [about £4,500 in 2012] or six months imprisonment if we disclosed what we were on. Well we thought, ‘We’ve got a heavy load here to drive.’ We made ourselves acquainted with them and we built jumps. We knocked trees down and built ramps for tuition purposes and one of the tests was to balance the tank on the edge of a tree trunk up a ramp.

British Army leaders were keen to use this new invention on the Somme, where an anticipated breakthrough had failed to materialize. Tanks were shipped out to France in August 1916 for use in an assault planned for mid-September. This allowed the infantry who were to fight alongside the tanks – such as Philip Neame – to do a limited amount of training with them.

We were one of the first brigades ever to see a tank, I think. We were ear-marked to do our third attack in the Somme towards the middle of September when the tanks were first to be used, and so we were allotted one of the first tanks to land in France to do some training with our brigade. Everybody was staggered to see this extraordinary monster crawling over the ground, and we did what training we could with this one tank. Learning to follow the tank at suitable intervals and that sort of thing. It was a very limited amount of training you could do with one tank.

The arrival of the tanks on the Western Front was kept secret from those who wouldn’t be going into battle with them. Horace Calvert explained how this was achieved.

They were on the roadside covered with tarpaulin sheets: we couldn’t see nothing except a square outline and there was two or three around it, guarding it. And when we asked what it was, the simple reply was, ‘Tanks.’ We naturally assumed water tanks and we’d no reason to think otherwise. It was one of the best kept secrets, I think, on that front. Knowing the shortage of water, we thought we were getting reserve supplies to make sure there was adequate supplies. And that was accepted by all, I believe.

Tanks were used for the first time on the Somme in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916. Once the secret weapon had been unveiled, British soldiers got their first glimpse of them. It was a sight which astounded many, including Sidney Taylor.

And we saw these tanks coming over for the first time they’d never been used before. It was a funny sensation to see a dozen tanks coming over shell holes, no stopping. Didn’t matter what they came over, they got over it alright, and it was horrifying. It gave you a funny sensation to think that all these were coming and they were on our side, they weren’t against us! But we realised that this was the very first time they’d ever been used. The 15th, I think it was the 15th of September, and you could see them coming and then when they got level with you and then they’d go over up to the front line. It was a wonderful sensation, really, to see them. But it was horrifying, you know.

Forty-nine tanks were set to be deployed at intervals along the British assaulting line on 15 September. As part of 3 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, Cecil Lewis was able to view the attack from above.

There was a half-hour hurricane bombardment and then the tanks were put over. Well, from the air at about 5 or 6,000 feet behind the lines watching this whole scene there was again this extraordinary solid carpet of wool, you know, but it was just as if somebody had taken his finger in the snow and pulled it through the snow and left a sort of ribbon. There were four or five of these ribbons, as I remember, between Fricourt and Boiselle and running back there toward High Wood. Through these lanes at Zero Hour we saw the tanks beginning to lumber. They’d been cleared for the tanks to come up in file. They came up three or four in file, one behind the other. Of course they were utterly unexpected. The first lot went sailing over the trenches and we thought, ‘Well this is fine!’ Because the whole thing was the year was getting a bit late, ‘If we don’t get through now, we never shall!’ This is the great opportunity and hope was high. We thought, ‘If they can get through the third line defences, we can put the cavalry through and the whole war will become mobile again!’

On 15 September 1916, German soldiers in their trenches were astonished to see a large metal canister lumbering towards them, propelled forward on tracks, and blazing away with double machine guns. This was the iconic British Mark I tank, the very first of its kind ever to appear on a battlefield. The Mark I did not advance very far, and it proved to be quite a handful to operate, but it nonetheless marked a quantum shift in the way that war would be fought.

This revolution would be slow to develop, and its impact would only be nominally felt on the battlefields of WWI. It certainly got the Germans thinking, however, and before long the German A7V Sturmpanzerwagen entered production. Then, on 24 April 1918, just under two years after the first appearance of the Mark I, the first tank battle in history was fought at Villers-Bretonneux in France.

This battle also did not amount to much, and within a few months the curtain closed on WWI in Europe, and both sides went back to the drawing board to develop and improve this latest idea in warfare. Hardly an original idea, of course, since armored battle machines had been in existence since the earliest siege engines, but this was certainly something new.

Despite the heavy punitive conditions imposed on Germany in the aftermath of WWI, by the time the first shots of WWII were fired, the Germans were far in the lead in the evolution of tank design and tactics. Almost before the French knew what had hit them, the German Panzer divisions rolled across western Europe almost unopposed.

The British, in a state of shock, went quickly to work, and began producing various marks of tank, none of which ever really came to compare with the German. Tank warfare on a major scale began in North Africa, where desert conditions were entirely conducive to a war of mass maneuver. The imbalance of quality of tanks, however, was only really corrected when the Americans came into the field.

The greatest tank battles, of course, were fought on the Eastern Front, between the massed ranks of cheaply built Russian tanks, and the mighty Panzers, and in this case quantity proved more decisive that quality.

The next major deployment of tanks in battle came in the Arab/Israeli wars, and in the Middle East, tanks are still a decisive factor. The Cold War saw mass tank deployment in Europe, and the refinement of the concept to perhaps its highest degree. It was in the first Gulf War, however, that the tank returned to the desert, and advances in technology proved just how devastating this weapon could still be.

In the modern context, however, with the development of missile technology, tanks are tending to lose their relevance, but from the day that the Mark I entered the battlefield, not much was ever the same again.

The Ironclads of Cambrai: The First Great Tank Battle Paperback – 8 August 2002

First published in 1967, The Ironclads of Cambrai (TIOC) shows its age just a bit. The author's style is a bit plodding and is characterized by that tedious style of military writing which goes something like ". and then the 1st Battalion moved forward to the ridge and then it moved down the ridge and by noon it had reached the bottom of the ridge. After a brief skirmish, the Battalion started off again at 1 PM and moved. " -- a style that focuses on the travel of individual units with little regard to the implications and context of the evolving battle.

On the other hand, TIOC presents a nicely done introdution to the invention of the tank and its operational birth with the Tank Corps. It does present the tank's halting first steps into battle and convincingly highlights the tank's first major impact in an operational sense at the Battle of Cambrai.

The author gets a bit hung up on fixing blame for the disappointing results of the battle and gets a bit deep in recounting the German counterattack -- ". and then the battalion retreated to the woods, where after replusing two serious attacks, it continued to retreat to the road. Two hours passing, the battalion again moved to the rear, ending that days movement near the farm."

All, in all TIOC was a decent read and a nice introduction to the beginning of tank warfare. It was a mediocre accounting of the battle of Cambrai.

Watch the video: Ναταλία Γερμανού: Ποια μεγάλη επιτυχία της είναι αφιερωμένη στον Πέτρο Ίμβριο; Video