The First use of Tanks in history

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by aghart, Aug 7, 2016.

  1. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator–Courcelette

    On September 15th, it will 100 years to the day that Tanks were used in action for the very first time. On Saturday 17th September 2016 at the Tank Museum, Bovington, there is a commermeration event hosted by the Museum and The Royal Tank Regiment.

    In Dorset there are two graves of Tank Corps soldiers who fought in that battle.

    Lance Corporal Wilfred da Cunha Brooks was the NCO in Tank D6 which was destroyed on 15 September 1916 whilst attacking the village of Gueudecourt.
    He was born in Sale in Cheshire in 1891 where his father Arthur was the manager in shipping merchant’s office. Wilfred attended grammar schools at Bolton, Sale and Manchester before studying for City and Guilds qualifications at the Manchester School of Technology. He also served in the Manchester University OTC from 1 February 1909 to 30 September 1911. Having graduated, Wilfred worked as an assistant manager of a cotton warehouse.

    According to his obituary, he was offered a commission at the outbreak of war but was unable to accept because of his employment. He then joined the Westinghouse Company as Inspector of Munitions in their artillery shell fuse department. Eventually Wilfred enlisted into the MMGS on 30 April 1916 and, after initial training, was appointed as an instructor.
    D6 went in to action on 15 September 1916, it was the only tank in C Gp supporting 41st Div attack on Flers. D6 followed main Rd to Flers until it reached German Switch Trench, where it passed Sgt Carmichael, of 21 KRRC, who was taking part on the assault. He described the sight of the tank lumbering past of my left, belching forth yellow flames from her Vickers gun and making for the gap where the Flers Rd cut through the enemy trench! The tank then turned east and north again to move down eastern side of the village. He supported the infantry as they fought their way to their third objective (the Bull’s Rd at the northeast of the village); his role being recognised by CO 26 Bn Royal Fusiliers: This tank was of the greatest material use and the party in charge of it distinguished themselves considerably. Despite the obvious dangers from German artillery, the tank pressed on north, away from the protection of the infantry who were falling back onto Flers. The tank was hit and burnt out.
    After his tank was destroyed, he only managed to get back to safety after passing through both enemy and British barrages. He then volunteered to join another tank crew and went back into action on 1 October 1916 at Eaucourt L’Abbaye. His tank was put out of action when the gearing became entangled with barbed wire which provided the objective. Leaving the tank, he attempted to cut the wire to allow the tank to be extracted but was shot by the German defenders. Having been ordered to abandon the tank by his skipper, probably Captain George Bown, Wilfred set fire to it but whilst escaping, he was wounded in the right forearm by a grenade.

    For his action at Eaucourt L’Abbaye, he was awarded the Military Medal. Wilfred was evacuated to the Bangour War Hospital, near Edinburgh, where he stayed for more than a year. Although he recovered from his wounds, he was not fit to return to active duty until November 1917, so was put in charge of the workshops of
    the hospital’s X-ray Department. Having been promoted Corporal, he was sent to the Tank Corps Depot at Worget Camp. There he contracted cerebra-spinal meningitis and died shortly afterwards at the Weymouth Isolation Hospital on 2 February 1918. He was buried in Weymouth but his life is commemorated at St Ann’s Church on Sale Moor and at the Manchester

    2Lt Neville Tattersfield was a Pte in 1916 during the first tank action. On 1 January 1916 he was posted to the 27th Battery of the M.M.G.S., but on 1 April was transferred to the Armoured Car Section. This Armoured Car Section seems not to have lasted a long time as within five weeks, on 4 May, he was posted to the Heavy Section, Machine Gun Corps; this was the name under which what was to become the Tank Corps first operated. Neville therefore found himself at the cutting edge of the new military technology of the day: Tanks!

    Neville was sent to France with the first draft of officers and men on 16 August 1916, arriving at Le Havre on 17 August; the first of the tanks arrived on 21 August.
    Training was undertaken in France for several weeks: two companies of the Heavy Section, Machine Gun Corps were being trained for the very first tank action, which was to take place on 15 September 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. Unfortunately the War Diary of Neville's unit, 'C' Company, is less detailed than the other tank unit that was involved ('D' Company), and it is therefore not possible to say with any certainty which tank Neville was with on 15 September. A letter from Neville published in the Dewsbury Reporter on 7 October describes how he had only "one wash in a week and not even a shave..."; he goes on, "...our 'bus' has been stuck; unfortunately our steering was wrong before we went into action but we went in and returned safely."
    After taking part in the operations on the Somme, Neville was granted leave in England in April 1917. Returning to his unit on Good Friday (6 April), he was immediately returned to England as his application for a commission had been accepted.

    It was not until 13 March 1918 that he returned to France, arriving in Boulogne. He was posted to the 2nd Battalion, Tank Corps, and joined his unit on 21 March 1918, which turned out to be one of the most important days in the First World War.

    It had been nearly a year since Neville was last in France. During that time, the course of the war had changed. Due to being posted home in early April 1917, Neville had fortunately just missed out in the Battle of Arras. Later that year saw the Third Battle of Ypres (commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele) and the Battle of Cambrai.

    Although the details of his actual involvement are not known, it seems that Neville may have been involved in the counter-attack by the 2nd Battalion of the Tank Corps against the March 1918 German offensive. This small counter attack took place at Beugny, a village four miles east of Bapaume on 22 March. This counter-attack came at a crucial stage in the attempt to stem the German tide; it was made without infantry support and with minimal assistance from the artillery. Although many casualties were incurred in the 2nd Battalion, Neville came through this unscathed. The counter-attack was successful as it stopped the German advance here for twenty-four hours.

    The German offensive was stopped, and by the summer of 1918 the Allies, led by the British, were ready to attack the Germans. The opening day of the next phase of the war was scheduled to be 8 August _ this would become known as the Battle of Amiens. This was the start of the campaign known as 'The Hundred Days' which would end with the Armistice on 11 November.

    A brief report in the Dewsbury Reporter stated that Neville had been wounded on 9th August when a shell burst near him when he was attempting to unditch his tank whilst under heavy machine gun and shell-fire. Maurice - Neville's nephew - stated that Neville "could have been killed but for a spirit flask, which my mother gave him, stopped one of the bullets". His medical records indicate that he incurred gun-shot wounds in a buttock and upper left arm.

    Neville was taken first of all to the 15th Australian Field Ambulance, from where he was sent the following day (10 August) to the 20th General Hospital, where he was operated on for the removal of shrapnel. Eleven days later, on 21 August, Neville was evacuated to England to recuperate.
    In 1918 a much greater threat to the worldwide population than the Great War occurred, when the Spanish 'flu epidemic broke out. Neville was admitted to a military hospital in Wareham on Monday 11 November, ironically the day the Armistice was signed. He died 9 days later, a victim of Spanish Flu. Below the graves of the two men.

    Weymouth, Tank corps.jpg Weymouth, Tank corps.jpg wareham2.jpg
  2. Awesome read. Thank you for sharing sir!
  3. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator

    100 years to the day.

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    Canadian Commander likes this.

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