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Tanks 1914-1918

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Tanks 1914-1918
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Author(s): Albert G. Stern
Date Published: 2010/04
Page Count: 236
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-144-7
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-143-0

The beginning of the age of independent armoured fighting vehicles

This fascinating book is essential reading for those who are interested in how the battle tank came into being and the first steps that led to the creation of the leviathans of the modern battlefield. Whilst this book contains elements of the progress of allied tanks in their first actions, its principal focus is upon the development of the tank itself, its associated equipment and the process of persuading a reactionary command structure as to its potential on the field of battle. This book benefits from the inclusion of diagrams of many of the types of battle tank together with specifications of engines, gearing etc. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket for collectors.

In June and July, before the great offensive began, the tanks fought three actions. They were all three small affairs, but each was noteworthy. It had been unfortunate for the tanks that the great success of the first day’s attack at Cambrai in November 1917, brilliant in its actual achievement and still more brilliant in its promise of what tanks could do, had been largely obscured by the unexpected and disheartening success of the German counter-attack. The three actions of June and July, small as they were, served to hearten those, and there were some, who had begun to wonder if there was indeed a future for the tank.<br>
The first of these actions was a raid near Bucquoy, on June 22nd. It was carried out by five platoons of infantry and five female tanks, and was the first occasion on which tanks had attacked by night. It showed not only that they could manoeuvre by night, but that darkness was a great protection to them. The infantry was held up by a heavy barrage from trench mortars and machine-guns. Though reinforced, it could not advance, and the tanks went on and carried out the attack alone. One tank was attacked by a party of Germans, and its crew shot them down with revolvers. In spite of the heavy trench mortar fire not a Tank was damaged, and all returned.<br>
On July 4th sixty tanks went into action with the 4th Australian Division against the Hamel spur, which runs from the plateau of Villers-Bretonneux to the Somme. It was an attack on a front of just over three miles, and was to be carried to a depth of a mile and a half. Not only were all the objectives reached, but each was reached by the time fixed in the plan of attack. The number of prisoners taken, 1500, was more than double the total casualties of the Australians, while only five of the tanks were hit, and the casualties of their crews were only sixteen wounded.<br>
The co-operation between tanks and infantry came as near perfection as could be, and the Australians were finally convinced of the advantage of working with tanks. The full value of that conviction appeared in the greater battles that were to come.<br>
In this attack Mark 5 tanks went into action for the first time, and more than justified all expectations of them. They all reached the starting-point in time. That, in itself, was an achievement. It showed the mechanical superiority of the Mark 5s over the earlier types. Their greater sureness and speed in manoeuvre were shown by the large number of German machine-guns that were crushed. Once a tank had passed over a machine-gun crew there was no fear that it would come to life again behind the attacking infantry.<br>
Since the action was on a small scale, there had been no need to have an extended system of supply dumps. Each fighting tank carried with it ammunition and water for the infantry, and four supply tanks brought up the supplies for the engineers. The four brought up a load of 12,500 lbs. and had delivered it within 500 yards of the final objective within half an hour of its capture. Four tanks and the twenty-four men in them had done the work of a carrying party of 1250 men.<br>
The same month for the first time British tanks went into action with French infantry. This was near Moreuil, some miles north of Montdidier.<br>
Three French divisions attacked on a front of two miles. The tanks engaged were the 9th Battalion of the 3rd Brigade, seventy-five tanks in all, and they worked with the 3rd Division. After the battle they were inspected by General Debeney, commanding the First French Army, were thanked by him for the fine way in which they had fought, and as a sign of their comradeship in battle with the 3rd Division were presented with its divisional badge. From that day the men of the 9th Battalion have worn it on their left arms.<br>
On July 15th the last big German attack was launched against Château Thierry and failed. It left the Germans holding a dangerous salient. Three days later Marshal Foch made his great counter-attack against the western flank of this salient, striking the first of those Allied blows which were to continue up and down the whole front without intermission, until four months later the German Army could fight no more. In this first victory the French Renault tanks played a conspicuous part.<br>
Two days before the German attack was made the commander of the 4th British Army, which was holding the line before Amiens, was asked by G.H.Q. to submit a plan of attack. On August 8th, the attack was made on a front of ten miles. The attacking troops were the Canadian and Australian Corps, the 3rd Corps, three divisions of cavalry and the whole of the Tank Corps, except one brigade, which was still armed with Mark 4 machines, and was training its men on the Mark 5.<br>
As at Cambrai, the tanks led the attack without any preliminary bombardment, but with an artillery barrage and a special noise barrage to cover their approach. The battle began at a quarter to five, when 430 tanks out of the 435 that had been assembled went forward.<br>
Two of the brigades of fighting tanks were armed with Whippets, ninety in all, and worked with the cavalry, and besides the 430 fighting tanks there were numbers of others for supply and signalling.<br>
The attack came on the German infantry as a complete surprise. The tanks appeared above it out of the morning mist, and the line, strongly held though it was, broke before them at once. It was noticed that the German machine-gunners, who had learnt already, in the smaller actions of June and July, that we had a new and faster tank, were much less tenacious than in any previous battle. They did not wait to be crushed beneath these great machines of thirty tons weight each, which came searching for them among the standing corn.<br>
By the end of the day the attack had been pressed to a distance of over seven miles, but when in the evening the tanks rallied, it was found that 100 of them had been temporarily put out of action, while the crews of the rest were exhausted with the long distance covered and the August heat. Composite companies were hastily arranged, for there were few reserves.
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