On the morning of September 15 1916, the first tank had rolled across a battled when the British forces had attacked the positions of the German 28th Reserve Infantry Regiment at Flers-Courcelette together with 32 tanks to destroy the stalemate on the Somme.
In order to honour the 100th anniversary of the memorable event, Claire Apthorp recalls over the evolution of tanks in the U.K.The tanks which had traversed to no man’s land in the German territory on September 15, 1916 morning had developed from an experimental modeleestablished the previous year by Fosters of Lincoln called `Little Willie’.
This vehicle consisted of components created and built by various industrialists which drew on advanced technologies under the earlier projects.It had been constructed on unsuspended track frame, fitted with non-rotatable dummy turret having a machine gun mount which was 8 m long and needed two men to drive it.
One was for steering, clutch, gear box together with throttle operation while the other was for the brakes and four to control the armament. It has been protected with boiler plate which could travel no quicker than two miles per hour. An upgraded model to be known as Big Willie and thereafter, Mother used a rhomboid track frame which enabled the tracks to travel around the vehicle.
Turret Substituted with ArmamentThe turret had been substituted with armament placed inside sponsons and neither models saw combat. However they were invaluable in the progress of the technology which would reach the battlefield the subsequent year.Mother had shaped the design for the first tank for battle with the British armed forces which was called the British Mark I and this vehicle was in service in August 1916 in two alternates namely `male’ armed with two six pounder guns and three 8mm Hotchkiss machine guns.
It weighted 28 tons while `female’ had four 0.303 Vickers machine guns with a single Hotchkiss weighing 27 tons. Sufficient tanks had been ordered by Fosters and Metropolitan to raise six tank companies having 25 vehicles each. With the unavailability of six pounder guns, half had been equipped with only machine guns and each vehicle had a crew of eight.
About a third of the 32 British tanks which had been set up on 15 September at the Somme thrived in breaking through to German line while 17 of the 49 vehicles shipped to France seemed unfit to enter the battle. From those that did, some broke down while others were disabled due to direct hits of artillery as well as mortar shells. .
British Tanks Used - WWIHowever, the tanks which did not clear no man’s land set claim to a revolution in present warfare. In spite of their inadequacies they were capable of crossing trenches of 9 ft. and pass through the barbed wire.
They portrayed the capability for extreme mobility which secured them an important role in the land force tool kit for the subsequent century. By the time the Mark IV tank had entered production in May 1917, substantial developments had taken place in armament, armour, logistics as well as recovery systems for the vehicle.
The British tanks had been used the most during WWI with 420 males together with 595 females and 202 supply variants built. An additional modified variant with innovative engine together with transmission system came into production from December 2016 with 200 each of male and female built, the first `hermaphrodite’ variants having a male and a female sponson developing.