The Tank

British poster 1917 - reserve

1914 - All major armies had armored cars and trains at the start of the war. The British would lead the Allies in the development of motorized armored vehicles, the armored personnel carrier, and the treaded tank.

1914 - In Britain, Col. Ernest D. Swinton had led the development of the Lanchester Armoured Cars with armor developed by the Royal Naval Division led by Lt. Walter G. Wilson, and 2 brigades of the Royal Naval Division sent to Belgium in Oct. 1914 were equipped with armored cars.

1915 Jan. 5 - Col. Swinton persuaded Winston Churchill to develop a better armored vehicle, and Churchill wrote to PM Asquith: "It would be quite easy in a short time to fit up a number of steam tractors with small armoured shelters, in which men and machines guns could be placed, which would be bullet-proof. . . Used at night, they would not be affected by artillery fire to any extent. The caterpillar [track] system would enable the trenches to be crossed quite easily and the weight of the machine would destroy all barbed wire entanglements"

1915 Feb. 22 - Churchill created the Admiralty Landships Committee chaired by sub expert Tennyson d'Eynecourt, and included Commander Briggs and the brilliant engineer Lt. Wilson. Work began at the William Foster Company by a team of engineers led by Wilson. The Company manager at Lincoln, William Tritton, made a significant contribution by modifying the caterpillar tread patented in 1901 by Alvin Lombard and used on farm tractors in America by Benjamin Holt. The team by Aug. made the first prototype, "Little Willie," and a second prototype "Mother" that had a rhomboid shape. These early models were known as "centipedes" or "landships."

1915 Sept. 6 - The British tested the first prototype, "Little Willie" built by the William Foster Company. The improved version called "Big Willie" performed successfully and 100 production models were ordered. The Royal Naval Division began to train 700 men as "crews" (a naval term) for the landships, as they were first called, and were formed into the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps in the Royal Naval Divison. The crews gave naval terms to the parts of the tank: "hatches," "hull," "bows," "bulkheads," "fore," and "aft."

1916 Jan. 28 - The Landships Committee met to make plans for production models, and selected the name "tank" for the models. The Mark I (male) had a 6-lb Hotchkiss canon in each of the side postoons, and the Mark I (female) had machine guns. Each tank weighed 28 tons and could travel at 2-4 mph. The first 50 would be sent to Gen. Haig in France. Workers at the Foster Company stencilled obscure names on the shipping crates to keep the contents secret, including the term "water carriers" bound for Mesopotamia.

1916 Sept. 15 - Battle of Flers-Courcelette began, included the first use of "tanks" by British in attack on the Quadrilateral at night, 10 kept back in reserve, each weighed 28 tons; the lead tank, known as D1, was the first tank in history to go into battle; noise of tank and its 105 hp engine was deafening; each side gun weighed a ton (had to be removed to get through French railroad tunnels); tank D1 went down Longueval-Ginchy road to Delville Wood, Germans terrified and ran, but artillery shell put D1 out of commission; tank D3 helped take the Switch Line, but not the Gap Trench; airplane spotted a tank in village of Flers; this became the first good news of the battle, published in headlines of newspapers. It was tank D16, with 3 others that were the only ones still operating, that broke the German lines, and on Sept 17 the British took High Wood.

1916 Nov. 16 - The Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps became the The Tank Corps, and the name for the new vehicles was now official.

1916 - The French produced its first tank, the Schneider CA1, then the Char St. Chamond M17. In 1917, Renault produced over 3000 M17 tanks, including 500 for the Americans. The British produced over 1000 Mark IV and 400 Mark V models. The Mark V had an improved trench-crossing mechanism called Crib that allowed clear vision by the drivers, unlike the earlier fascines carried on the front ot the Mark IVs that obscured vision. Germany's first tank was the A7V in 1917

1917 Apr. - At the Battle of Arras, British Mark 11 training tanks were used but without success.

1917 June 7 - At Battle of Messines, the Mark IV was first used.

1917 Oct. 12 - At Battle of Passchendael, the Mark IV was not successful in the deep mud.

1917 Nov. 20 - At the Battle of Cambrai, the British used over 300 tanks of the Mark IV design, led by Gen. Hugh Elles in his Mark IV named "Hilda." The Germans used anti-tank weapons against the center group advancing on Flesquieres. One of the tanks lost at Flesquieres was D51, the "Deborah" that was found buried in the ground in 1998 and disinterred.

1918 - British enlarged Mark V tank could carry 24 soldiers as well as the crew of 8. The Whippet tank was faster but with lighter armour.

1918 August - The Allied offensive "Advance to Victory" was greatly aided by British Mark Vs and Whippets and French Remault tanks.

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