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Tanks introduced into warfare at the Somme

Tanks introduced into warfare at the Somme

During the Battle of the Somme, the British launch a major offensive against the Germans, employing tanks for the first time in history. At Flers Courcelette, some of the 40 or so primitive tanks advanced over a mile into enemy lines but were too slow to hold their positions during the German counterattack and subject to mechanical breakdown. However, General Douglas Haig, commander of Allied forces at the Somme, saw the promise of this new instrument of war and ordered the war department to produce hundreds more.

On July 1, the British launched a massive offensive against German forces in the Somme River region of France. During the preceding week, 250,000 Allied shells had pounded German positions near the Somme, and 100,000 British soldiers poured out of their trenches and into no-man’s-land on July 1, expecting to find the way cleared for them. However, scores of heavy German machine guns had survived the artillery onslaught, and the infantry were massacred. By the end of the day, 20,000 British soldiers were dead and 40,000 wounded. It was the single heaviest day of casualties in British military history.

After the initial disaster, Haig resigned himself to smaller but equally ineffectual advances, and more than 1,000 Allied lives were extinguished for every 100 yards gained on the Germans. Even Britain’s September 15 introduction of tanks into warfare for the first time in history failed to break the deadlock in the Battle of the Somme. In October, heavy rains turned the battlefield into a sea of mud, and on November 18 Haig called off the Somme offensive after more than four months of mass slaughter.

Except for its effect of diverting German troops from the Battle of Verdun, the offensive was a miserable disaster. It amounted to a total advance of just five miles for the Allies, with more than 600,000 British and French soldiers killed, wounded, or missing in action. German casualties were more than 650,000. Although Haig was severely criticized for the costly battle, his willingness to commit massive amounts of men and resources to the stalemate along the western front did eventually contribute to the collapse of an exhausted Germany in 1918.

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History of the tank

The history of the tank begins with World War I, when armoured all-terrain fighting vehicles were introduced as a response to the problems of trench warfare, ushering in a new era of mechanized warfare. Though initially crude and unreliable, tanks eventually became a mainstay of ground armies. By World War II, tank design had advanced significantly, and tanks were used in quantity in all land theatres of the war. The Cold War saw the rise of modern tank doctrine and the rise of the general-purpose main battle tank. The tank still provides the backbone to land combat operations in the 21st century.

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WI: Initial mass use of tanks at the Somme by the British.

I recently completed a short story set during the battle of the Somme showing the first use of tanks in history (Shameless plug) and it got me thinking. Yes nearly fifty tanks was quite alot of a completely new type of vehicle to commit to a battle. But when they were finally used in 1916 only 32 were in fighting condition, the rest having broken down along the way.

But what if rather than committing what vehicles they had to that battle and forgetting the vehicles undergoing repairs the British field commanders had instead waited a week or two for the tanks to be all repaired before sending them out. Lets say by this point that forty to forty five are operational and all of them are committed to the attack.

What would the affects be? I would imagine they would be better, if we follow the logic that more means better. In which case forty five is far superior to thirty two. But could the British, given a few extra tanks and some more time to work out a strategy, achieve the hoped for breakthrough of the German lines? Perhaps bringing in more tanks for further pushes into Germany proper? Or is this all outlandish and borderline ASB?

Caspian

I recently completed a short story set during the battle of the Somme showing the first use of tanks in history (Shameless plug) and it got me thinking. Yes nearly fifty tanks was quite alot of a completely new type of vehicle to commit to a battle. But when they were finally used in 1916 only 32 were in fighting condition, the rest having broken down along the way.

But what if rather than committing what vehicles they had to that battle and forgetting the vehicles undergoing repairs the British field commanders had instead waited a week or two for the tanks to be all repaired before sending them out. Lets say by this point that forty to forty five are operational and all of them are committed to the attack.

What would the affects be? I would imagine they would be better, if we follow the logic that more means better. In which case forty five is far superior to thirty two. But could the British, given a few extra tanks and some more time to work out a strategy, achieve the hoped for breakthrough of the German lines? Perhaps bringing in more tanks for further pushes into Germany proper? Or is this all outlandish and borderline ASB?

Count of Crisco

Cryhavoc101

There was a number of deficiencies in the BEFs abilities during the Somme in 1916 - Very Poor Op Sec (basically the Germans knew about virtually every op before it happened), poor Mission command (specifically the use of reserves in a timely fashion), insufficient artillery and incorrect type of artillery, poor quality ammo (60+% duds in some sectors) and many of the battalions where not yet fully trained and this against a plan that was to grand to accomplish

Perhaps if a 'multiple', limited objective bite and hold strategy had been used from the outset then certainly I can see groups of Tanks supporting attacks would have been very successful.

The problem is that the best lessons were learned by the survivors!

NOMISYRRUC

Although this isn't my province I'll hazard a guess that the best possible result (rather than the most likely one) was a mini-Cambrai.

IIRC 324 gun tanks in 9 battalions were employed at the real Cambrai plus reserves and other Mk I, II, II and IV tanks converted into supply, radio and recovery tanks. The force you propose is about one-seventh of the force employed at Cambrai so a temporary breakthrough one-seventh the scale of Cambrai might be possible.

IIRC the original establishment of the Machine Gun Corps (Heavy Section) was 6 companies of 24 tanks each = 144 tanks for which 100 Mk I, 25 Mk II and 25 Mk III tanks were ordered and AFAIK all were delivered in 1916. That is the equivalent of 4 Tank Corps battalions at their Cambrai establishment. Therefore if the Top Brass had waited until all 150 tanks had been delivered to the front and put in working order then a short-term victory on 4/9 the scale of Cambrai might have been possible.

IIRC another problem with the first tank action was that the men on the spot ignored the advice that Colonel Elles (IIRC) gave in a paper he wrote about the employment of tanks and followed their own ideas, which later experience proved to be inferior to what Elles had suggested.

I doubt that there would have been a significant effect on the result of the Battle of the Somme. However, if the generals had waited until all the tanks had reached the front, put them all in working order and then employed all 150 in one attack using the methods Elles had suggested then it would have given Haig and London a better idea of what tanks could do if used properly. That might have been sufficient for 4,000 tanks to be produced in 1917 as IIRC was originally proposed instead of it being cut back to 1,350 tanks. Then it would have been possible to employ 972 tanks in 27 Tank Corps battalions at Cambrai plus a trebled reserve of gun tanks and 3 times as many supply, radio and gun carrier tanks. Tank production in 1918 would also have been trebled so that the German offensives of 1918 might not have got so far and the BEF might have advanced further during the Hundred Days.

However, to produce 3 times as many tanks in 1917 and 1918 British industry would have had to produce less of something else.


Early Ideas

Early incarnations included a steam-powered land ram in 1855, and a series of tractors on which engineer David Roberts from Hornsby & Sons used his patented ‘chain-track’ between 1904-1909. These were tested by the British Army, who wanted to evaluate artillery tractors.

When Major Donohue remarked to David Roberts that he should design a new machine with armour that could carry its own gun, Roberts declined, disheartened by his previous rejected attempts to aid the army.

Other plausible proposals sent to the British War Office came from Lancelot De Mole in South Australia between 1912-1916. His designs even included the climbing face typical of later World War One tanks, but these were overlooked at the time, despite later being recognised as superior to the machines actually developed. (De Mole had been urged by friends to approach the Germans with his design before the war, but had declined to do so for patriotic reasons).

Before World War One, motorised vehicles were still relatively uncommon, and their use on the battlefield was initially limited. Armored cars were not good in challenging terrain and were limited by their wheels, which gave a high ground pressure for the vehicle’s weight. Switching to the use of caterpillar tracks offered a way round this problem.

Hornsby tractor (Image Credit: From David Fletcher, The British Tanks 1915-19, Ramsbury 2001 / Public Domain).


A Retrospective of the Somme 1916

Although further attacks were planned, the weather again intervened and on 19 November it unexpectedly turned milder, which heralded a rapid thaw that soon turned the entire battlefield into an impenetrable quagmire. It was beyond the abilities of man, animal or machine to cross the battlefield, as trenches collapsed wholesale and troops were forced from their meagre shelters into the open. So appalling were the ground conditions that even the British Official History – not noted for its emotive use of hyperbole – was moved to comment: ‘Our vocabulary is not adapted to describe such an existence, because it is outside experience for which words are normally required.’ Private W. Wells, who went on to serve in the Passchendaele battles of the following year, commented of that Somme winter:

‘The conditions were impossible – no one could live in it. We couldn’t get hot drinks as the ration parties couldn’t get up. Most of us were soaked through and it was too wet to light fires even if we had something to cook. We heard that some men had shot themselves rather than go through anymore of it. Passchendaele was bad, but by then they [GHQ] knew how much a man could stand of those conditions. I think the Somme was worse, much worse.’

So what had all the sacrifice achieved? In total the battle had advanced the British lines a little over 6 miles (9.6km) and in the course of the fighting some important objectives had been captured, such as Beaucourt, Beaumont Hamel, Eaucourt L’Abbaye, Lesboeufs, Le Sars, St Pierre Divion, and Thiepval Ridge. But at what human cost? Obtaining accurate figures for the casualties of the campaign is easier for the Allied forces, as the gathering of statistical information was generally more organized. The number of casualties from 1 July to 19 November was officially quoted as 498,000 with an additional 20,000 estimated to have subsequently died of wounds. A particularly sobering statistic is that during the battle, British losses averaged 2,943 men a day, the equivalent of about three line battalions. For each division it was 8,026 men over the entire battle. The Commonwealth Divisional losses were proportionately greater, bearing in mind the far smaller number of troops employed: the Australians 8,960, the New Zealanders losing 8,133, and the Canadians 6,329.

German figures are harder to estimate, as they did not include in their casualty returns heavy losses sustained through shelling prior to the 1 July attack. However, all indications are that they suffered considerably both before and during the battle. The figure for losses from June–November is now thought to be probably somewhere between 460,000 and 600,000 men. This should be compared with the casualties at Verdun of some 336,000 men, which at the time the German High Command regarded as unacceptably high. This was only a part of the overall picture, however, for the total losses for Germany in 1916 was over 1 million men, as the fighting on the Eastern Front had also been raging unabated. France did not come out unscathed either, losing some 210,000 men. By any standards, this meant the rate of British, French, and German casualties on the Somme was unsustainable. Like so many men of the old Regular BEF, most of the Germans who were killed or wounded on the Somme were tough, experienced soldiers who could not be readily replaced. Ludendorff was being candid when he stated that after the Somme: ‘The army had been fought to a standstill and was utterly worn out.’ After the campaign there was considerable analysis in Germany about why their superior army had not comprehensively defeated the British at the outset, but the reasons were many and complex. The amateur soldiers of the new BEF proved a far tougher proposition than anyone had expected, and British tactics had improved considerably during the campaign’s five months of fighting. After the Somme, Ludendorff was under no illusions about the ability of Germany to win a decisive victory on the Western Front, and he feared the constantly aggressive behaviour shown by the British High Command would simply prove beyond the ability of even the German Army to contain: ‘even our troops would not be able to withstand such attacks indefinitely, especially if the enemy gave us no time for rest.’

For the British, the campaign had highlighted some serious shortcomings in both tactics and planning, as well as underlining the fact that, like Germany, the country was unable to absorb the levels of casualties sustained on the Somme. To attempt to do so would not only put an unbearable strain on the country to provide sufficient men, but would also stretch the ability of industry to produce sufficient war matériel. As it was, conscription had been introduced in January 1916, and by the latter months of that year, it was becoming obvious the standard of men entering the ranks was not the same as it had been in 1915. The ceaseless demand for manpower also meant there was no longer the luxury of retaining men at home until their training was complete. Private Clarrie Jarman had enlisted on the outbreak of war in 1914 and spent almost a year and a half in England training, before embarking for France. While this was exceptional, a year for training was considered normal. By mid-1916 this had dropped to six months, and by 1917 this had further been reduced to four months. In 1918, men were being sent to the front with under three weeks training, some never even having fired their rifles. It was clearly a situation no country could support indefinitely, and embarrassing questions were being asked in Parliament about exactly what General Haig’s long-term strategy was? Some suggested wryly that is was to wait until we had two men left and the Germans one, then declare a British victory.

Whether the Somme was the ‘ghastly failure’ that David Lloyd George had declared it to be is a moot point, for it had undoubtedly sharpened the High Command’s perception of how to wage efficient warfare on a massive scale. The tactics of early 1916 were essentially the same as had been used at the start of the war and were about as effective. Sending masses of men into machine-guns, uncut wire, and shellfire was not a recipe for military success. But the lessons of the Somme meant even those most remotely situated from the fighting had seen graphic examples of how well-planned attacks could work (as evidenced by the 27 July assaults): yet these lessons were not applied wholesale: some of the more traditional commanders remaining unconvinced. So the question must be asked, by what methods could things have been improved?

Communications

If there was one area in which technology could have radically altered the course of not just of the battle, but the entire war, it was communications. The methods employed had not materially improved since the days of the Greeks. Runners were still used by commanders to carry messages to units in the field: but by 1916 the chances of them reaching their destinations unscathed were slim indeed. During the battle for High Wood, one commanding officer sent six runners simultaneously to take a vital message back to GHQ and not one arrived. Not for nothing were runners among the most frequently decorated soldiers in the field. Wireless telegraphy was employed, but relied on a network of cables that were vulnerable to shellfire and passing traffic. Wires could even be snapped unwary infantrymen moving to and fro. Thus repairs were a constant nightmare for the linesmen of the Royal Engineers. The invention of the short wave radio came too late for the war. It would revolutionize battlefield communications, enabling instant decisions to be made and passed to combat units. Until then, semaphore and signalling lamps were the most commonly used means of communicating. Not unfairly has it been said that the availability of just one pair of walkie-talkies could well have altered the course of the war.

There is also little doubt the properly coordinated use of tanks and infantry, over suitable ground, could have achieved major success. But hindsight, while interesting, does not alter the facts of history, and it must be appreciated that no one in 1916 – not Haig, his generals, line commanders, or even the enthusiastic officers and men of the Heavy Branch, Motor Machine Gun Corps – had any real idea of what the tanks could do in battle. It is to Haig’s credit that he believed in this new technology, and was prepared to use it: though there was doubtless an element of desperation behind the decision. However, the tactical knowledge of the tank officers was minimal. Sent prematurely into battle over poor ground, with half-trained crews, it was remarkable the Heavy Branch achieved anything worthwhile at all. When tanks were used properly the results spoke for themselves, but it would be some time before they were trusted by the infantry. By 1917 annual tank production was almost 1,300, and it was the adoption of coordinated tank and infantry attacks, with proper artillery backup, which achieved success in the latter part of the war. The Battle of Messines Ridge in 1917 was a textbook example of how to plan and wage a successful campaign. There were treble the number of artillery pieces compared to the Somme, and high priority was given to silencing enemy artillery and demolishing strongpoints. In a remarkable break with tradition, attacking troops were even shown scale models of the ground over which they were to attack, and the result was the capture of the ridge with minimal casualties.

The Artillery

The Royal Artillery too, were to benefit from the lessons learned on the Somme. The increased use of Forward Observation Officers (FOOs) in the front line, who were in direct contact with their batteries quickly enabled corrections to be made for inaccurate shellfire, and drastically cut the number of casualties caused by ‘friendly fire’. Initially, artillery units had done exactly as they were ordered, plastering German lines with shells and using ineffective shrapnel to try to clear the wire. The increased awareness of the necessity for using the correct fuzes to destroy wire was a small but significant step forward in assisting attacks. These had not only to be manufactured in vast numbers, but sent to shell factories, fitted to shells, and then shipped to the front. Needless to say, this took time to organize. Gas and smoke shells were also to become much more widely used, assisting infantry assaults of the future. The same may be said of more effective counter-battery work, aided by the watchful eyes of the Royal Flying Corps. In fact, the RFC lost 782 aircraft and 578 pilots during the Somme campaign: testimony to the high level of involvement they had in the progress of the battle. The use of the creeping barrage was effective when executed correctly, but difficult to coordinate in an era when speedy battlefield communications were virtually non-existent. This meant that precise staff work – often sadly lacking – could make the difference between success and failure. The broader tactical use of machine-guns to lay down barrage fire, would also become commonplace after 1916.

For the infantry, the Somme was to prove that pre-war tactics had become not only outmoded but downright dangerous. By 1916 most of the old Regular Army soldiers were dead or wounded. The men who replaced them – mostly Territorials – were of a different breed: better educated, less willing to accept an order unquestioningly, and not wedded to the ethics of a pre-war army. They were mindful of the need to adapt their tactics to the situation. And by late 1916 new training manuals were being developed, which owed much to lessons learned by Allied forces on the Somme and at Verdun. Marching forward in line abreast, with rifles at the port, was a recipe for disaster and troops were trained to move in short rushes, using the far more effective ‘diamond’ formation. The old infantry section was deemed too clumsy and was split into four units: riflemen, grenade men, rifle bombers (using rifle propelled grenades), and Lewis gunners. These men had specific tasks to perform and it is from this period that the concept of the infantryman as a battlefield specialist began to emerge.

As to Kitchener’s men, what impact did the Somme battles have on their strength and morale? Of those who entered the Somme campaign in July 1916, few remained to see in the new year of 1917 who had not suffered during those traumatic months. Many were simply worn-out with the fighting, the incessant mud, the monotonous diet, and the constant loss of comrades. They became fatalistic, often outwardly callous and uncaring, in an attempt to provide themselves with an emotional shield that would enable them to continue to function as soldiers. For some this façade was to last a lifetime. Most simply gritted their teeth and tried to survive as best they could. Some sixty years later, one infantryman from a Pals Regiment said that after the Somme, he just concentrated on one day at a time, avoiding anything that involved extra risk:

‘I was going to bloody well get home, all my chums were dead or in Blighty wounded and there were only four of us originals left in the whole battalion. I’d done nearly three years, with only thirteen days leave and I felt it was the turn of those who had been sitting out the war to do their bit. I didn’t care if some other poor sod copped it, if it kept me out of trouble.’

Others proved unable to withstand the stress and they resorted to self-inflicted wounds or faking sickness. Few of their friends blamed them. It was to the great credit of the amateur army that despite the casualties and the appalling fighting conditions, morale generally remained good and a grim determination to ‘see the job through’ pervaded all ranks. So much had been lost, the men believed the sacrifice of the dead could not go unrewarded, and they would continue to fight the Germans until they had been defeated.

For their part, the Germans were also exhausted by the fighting and their spirit of optimism and defiance began to weaken after 1916. Lieutenant Gustav Sack, who survived the Somme campaign to be killed in December 1916, wrote: ‘We, the “good soldiers”, fight because we are here to save our skins and want to survive at all costs. We are not fighting for an aim, not for the Fatherland, nor for a united Germany – that is all stuff and nonsense.’ It is a fact the Somme battles, while they did not become the graveyard of the German Army, were to witness the start of its sickening: an unravelling of a hitherto tightly knit military machine. If Haig’s battle could not be claimed as a heroic victory, neither can its critics justifiably claim it to have been an utter failure, although the price paid was unacceptably high. After the Somme, battles began to be fought on a far more professional footing.

It cannot be disputed that Haig and his generals had initially been found wanting. No one could accuse Haig of being a visionary. Perhaps if generals of the stature of Allenby or Plumer had been given an opportunity to command, things might have been different: but ‘perhaps’ is not a very useful word in history. Haig and his staff, like the unbloodied soldiers under their command, had learned a great deal from the campaign and this was to help the Allies defeat Germany eventually. It surprises many people to learn the level of Allied casualties sustained in the final 100 days of the war was far higher, proportionately, than during the Somme, being some 3,645 men a day. Ironically, the ground fought over was almost the same as that where the war had begun, five years and 11 million casualties earlier.


Secret Weapon: The Tank

The First World War tank developed from the interest of some military officers in the marriage of tractors with caterpillar tracks as a means of crossing trench obstacles and breaking through barbed wire. After a successful field demonstration in 1915, Britain established a secret “Landships Committee” to study the military prospects of the vehicle, at first seen more like a warship than a land weapon, hence the name “landship.” The initiative was codenamed the “tank” because its hull resembled that of a water carrier. The first prototypes were completed in early 1916, and the first several dozen machines were at the front by mid-1916.


World War 1 Tanks 1914-1918

There is a gathering consensus among historians that the introduction of the "landship" on World War 1 battlefields was an answer to the trench warfare stalemate. This meant adding greater mobility on the battlefield. Troops could rise out of their trenches and follow behind the metal giants that would lead the way through enemy barbed wire and shield the infantry from withering machine gun fire.

However, ten years prior to the war there were inventive minds that envisioned a motorized, armoured vehicle as an assault weapon, a mobile artillery platform,  and not only as a tool for the infantry. In 1904, motorized cars were still a rarity, but engineers in Britain envisioned a larger engine to power a vehicle with mounted guns that could traverse inhospitable terrain. Essentially, a moving fort. The farm tractor was an ideal starting point. Their tracks operated against their built-in climbing face. The earliest tractor models were steam driven and useful in agriculture for threshing.

Converting the tractor for military use had a bumpy start. There were several demonstrations in 1907, 1908 and 1910 presented to the British Mechanical Transport Committee. King Edward attended one such event in 1908 and viewed a tractor in operation with a mock-up of a mounted gun. There was some interest in the concept, but the Royal Artillery officers were unimpressed and their negative appraisal won the day. 

By 1915, a year into the war and the forces of both sides were so static that there were conversations between the opposing trenches. The battlefields were severely cratered by opposing bombardments from the large guns, but those guns could not be moved to forward positions because of the deep depressions and  muddy ground conditions. That would rule out wheeled vehicles. The British sought tractors to pull the guns. However, the British owner of the patent, discouraged, had sold his rights to the American Holt Company---predecessor of the current, giant Caterpillar Inc. whose named was first coined by British soldiers. The British ordered the tractors from the Americans and this engendered a second look at the possibilities of the tank.

The Holt tractor in its original military use as transportation for big cannon at Vosges, France in 1915.

The advantages of the Holt tractor would be incorporated in all British Mark tank designs and almost simultaneously in the French version.

Winston Churchill, first Lord of the Admiralty, surprisingly presenting a war plan for the army, formed the Landship Committee to conduct trials for the development of "Little Willie". This was a line of Mark vehicles l through V that were forerunners of the tank. The "Little Willie" was ready for tests in 1915 with emphasis on its ability to pull loads on the scarred battle fields. The major setback was its poor ability to cross trenches. Engineers would solve that problem with the next generations of "Big Willies" and ultimately in the Mark IV line.

The secrecy around the trials led to calling the vehicle a "tank" a term never before used. The first order rolled off the assembly line of Foster & Company, an agricultural equipment manufacturer, in February 1916.The Mark I was built low to the ground, and the 28 ton, armoured body was spread over a 26 foot length. There was a female (no side cannon) model that carried a crew of eight that manned 4 Vickers machine guns and one 8 mm Hotchkiss machine gun. The male model (side cannon) had a compartment on each side of the tank . Each housed a 6 pounder cannon. The fire power also included 3 additional Hotchkiss guns.

The Mark I appeared for the first time in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme in the northern part of France---the central part of the infamous western front. Only 9 of some 40 tanks reached enemy lines. Their attack was moderately successful, but their dispersion over a wide front blunted the strategy.

The rear wheels were attached for navigating the tank.

The vehicle was plagued with mechanical difficulties. It became stuck in large bomb craters, ventilation was lacking and called for further refinements.

Although Great Britain and France were closely allied, and operated with integrated forces, there does not appear to have been cooperation between them in the development of the tank. However, France also was proceeding with tank development. Their vision was to use the tank as "assault artillery" to clear the field ahead as the infantry would advance behind its bulk.

The French referred to the tank as a "land battleship" (cuirrasse terreste). They and their allies made every effort to produce a viable armored weapon to support their infantry. Not so for the Germans and their Triple Alliance allies. The Germans built some tanks, but their focus was on anti-tank guns.

France was conducting experiments to create their "Land Battleship". In 1914, a farsighted Colonel Jean Baptiste Estienne noted: 

"Victory in this war will belong to the belligerent who is the first to put a cannon on a vehicle capable of moving on all kinds of terrain".

The French understood the need for mobility in a modern war. They had drafted 10,000 conscripts with transport for about 4,000 men. Problem solved: Six thousand were sent to the front in Parisian taxis made by Renault. That company would introduce the best tank of the war.

By the spring of 1915, they produced a battleship. The Frot-Laffley was a giant armoured vehicle that was so immobile that it had no battle field utility except as  a barbed wire cutter. In the same year, they had to abandon their electrically powered vehicle that required  an electric supply cable. This led them to an internal powers supply and a tractor base.

The French had finally understood that the tank required continuous tracks--tank treads.  Late in December 1915, they began using the Holt tractor base concept. Within months they ordered the production of 400 tanks from their domestic Schneider & Co. factories. They produced the CA1 and in quick succession the quite modern St.Chamont. Ultimately. they would outproduce the British.

The Germans were on the cutting edge of military technology but  made a poor  attempt  to produce a workable battle tank . Their efforts were aimed at anti tank warfare and a trench weapon capable of penetrating the enemy tank. ( Mauser guns)

Their singular effort in 1918 was the A7V with a speed of 3 mph. The behemoth carried a complement of 18 and a 57mm cannon. The Germans built only 20 and added to that small force some 50 tanks captured from the British. In contrast, the British Mark IV was manned by an 8 man crew.


Vision

In addition to the fumes, the cramped conditions and the deafening noise, it was virtually pitch black inside the Mark I when going into action. Every door, flap and hatch was shut tight against bullets, shrapnel and bullet 'splash' yet the crew had to be able to see outside both to drive and fight.

At the front, the commander and his driver had large flaps that could be opened in layered stages as required, and slim periscopes which poked up through holes in the cab roof. Elsewhere in the tank were narrow vision slits with crude periscopes which used shatterproof strips of shiny steel rather than glass blocks.

German troops soon learned to fire at the tank's vision devices, which the crews tried to camouflage with paint. Other apertures, covered by teardrop-shaped flaps, were designed not for vision but to allow crew members to use their revolvers.

If conditions inside the Mark I were appalling - deafening noise, roasting heat, suffocating fumes from the engine and the choking smell of cordite when in action - the men learned to live with it and still function as a team. Given that they were often in extreme danger and working in near-total darkness, their commitment was remarkable. Although the tanks were originally regarded as expendable, their crews took much pride in them, christening each one with an individual name, and repairing and recovering them after an action where possible. The Mark I crew comprised eight men.


2. There were over a million casualties

As an attritional offensive, the Battle of the Somme involved heavy casualties on both sides. By the end of the first day on 1 July 1916, British forces had suffered 57,470 casualties, of whom 19,240 were killed. This represented the largest losses suffered by the British Army in a single day.

While casualty rates were not as high as that for the remainder of the offensive, they were consistently heavy as both sides fought intensively for every yard of ground within a relatively small geographical area.

In total over a million men from both sides – including Britain and her Empire forces, France and Germany – became casualties during the battle.


Flamethrowers Remain in Many Modern Military Arsenals

Less recognizable designs from World War II included the British “Ack Pack,” a doughnut-shaped fuel tank with a small spherical pressurized gas tank in the middle. As a result of its appearance, British troops nicknamed it “the life buoy.” Russian Army flamethrowers had three backpack-mounted tanks sitting side by side. Some descriptions seem to indicate that the user could fire only three shots, each emptying one of the tanks in turn.

The M2 series of flamethrowers saw action again in the Korean War, but eventually it was superceded by the M9A1 in 1956. The lighter-weight M9A1 was similar to the M2 but had a redesigned squeeze trigger to replace the forward pistol grip and a holster for the flame gun mounted on a harness. The flamethrower continued to be used in Vietnam, where Viet Cong tunnels created the same tactical problems that Japanese caves and bunkers had posed in World War II. The flamethrower was also effective in offensive operations against Vietnamese villages and buildings, which were largely made of dried materials. The M9A1 flamethrower was eventually replaced in U.S. service in 1974 by a wholly new technology, the M202A1 incendiary rocket launcher. This weapon allowed greater range and protection for its user, better accuracy, and more effectiveness against vehicles, which conventional flamethrowers could not attack except in the rarest of circumstances, since it required the operator to get uncomfortably close to a mobile target.

As the mobility of infantry increased, and with it the development of more effective ordnance for destroying fortifications, the use of the flamethrower waned significantly after its heyday in World War I and the Pacific campaigns of World War II. Flamethrowers still remain in the arsenals of many armies today, however, and will never be entirely replaced as one of the most notorious terror weapons in the annals of modern combat.

Comments

My father, Dr Gordon M. Kibler(Major US Army) developed the later model of the flamethrower when he was a member of the US Army’s chemical warfare division during WWII


Watch the video: LEGO WW1 battle of the Somme Tank attack lego stop motion. Part 2. (January 2022).