BRITISH USE MECHANICAL MONSTERS ON WESTERN FRONT
The Western Front, France (JFK+50) One hundred years ago today, September 15, 1916, the British army sent into battle against the Germans thirty-five tanks*, described by signal officer Bert Chaney as "mechanical monsters."
Chaney describes the scene for Eye Witness to History...
"My first impression was that they looked ready to topple on their noses (but) it was most heartening to watch their advance."
Two of the three tanks in Chaney's sector soon met with problems. One got caught on a tree stump while a second had its rear steering wheels shot off. A third, however, continued on and "flattened everything."
The idea of "combing the caterpillar track of an American tractor with an iron-clad machine that could straddle enemy trenches" was envisioned one year earlier. With the war bogged down on the Western Front, the tank, it was hoped, would give the British the capability of breaking through German lines.
Winston Churchill created the Landship Committee in February 1915 but by June the project was shared by the War Office and Admiralty. The term landship, thought to be too descriptive, was replaced by tank (as in water tank) and the factory workers were told that what they were producing.
In its premier outing, however, while the tank demonstrated promise, it mostly performed poorly due to mechanical failures and ineffective battlefield tactics.
*50 tanks were available but the British employed only 35 at the Battle of the Somme on Sept 15, 1916. Each of the 30 ton tanks had a four-man crew & two cannons mounted on their sides.
"Tank 100," The Tank Museum, www.tankmuseum.org/
"The Battlefield Debut of the Tank, 1916," Eyewitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/