The Battlefield Debut of the Tank, 1916

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by liverpool annie, Jan 6, 2009.

  1. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    It was the summer of 1915 and the British were desperate. Fighting on the Western Front had degenerated into stalemate. The ditches that separated the opposing forces proved an insurmountable barrier that had transformed the conflict from a war of movement into a deadly battle of attrition. A new fighting vehicle was needed - one that could traverse the cratered moonscape of the Western Front and breach the line of enemy trenches. This would allow the cavalry to pour through the exposed gap and envelop the Germans from behind. What was needed was a tank.

    Development of the tank began in the summer of 1915. The idea was to combine the caterpillar tracks of an American tractor with an iron-clad machine that could straddle the enemy's trenches. By spring of the following year a working model was available for testing. Manned by a crew of four, the 30-ton weapon's armament consisted of two cannon mounted on its sides. It lumbered along at three miles an hour. Encased in an unlit steel box, the crew suffered in an atmosphere that was only one step removed from Hell - unbearably hot, dusty, noisy, the air filled with the nauseating stench of gas fumes.

    The new weapon made its battlefield debut on September 15, 1916 when fifty of the machines joined the Battle of the Somme in a third attempt to attack and break through the German defenses. The attack failed - no breakthrough occurred. Only 35 of the tanks actually took part in the battle. Their presence shocked the enemy, but their practical impact was minimal due to a lack of effective tactics and numerous mechanical failures. But, the door to the future was opened and the first step taken in the development of a weapon that would dominate the battlefield of future wars.

    "...lumbering slowly towards us came three huge mechanical monsters such as we had never seen before."

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