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Title: Tanks in the Great War 1914-1918
Author: Fuller, J. F. C.
Language: English
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TANKS IN THE GREAT WAR

[Illustration: BIG WILLIE, MOTHER OF CENTIPEDE, ORIGINAL MARK I TANK.]



  TANKS
  IN THE GREAT WAR

  1914-1918

  BY

  Brevet-Colonel J. F. C. FULLER, D.S.O.
  (Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry)


  NEW YORK
  E. P. DUTTON AND COMPANY
  1920



_DEDICATIONS_


I

_I dedicate this book to the modern military scientists, that small
company of gentlemen who, imbued with a great idea, were willing to set
all personal interest aside in order to design a machine destined to
revolutionise the science of war._


II

_I dedicate this book to the modern armourers of the British factories,
those men and women whose untiring patriotism and indomitable endurance
in the workshops produced a weapon whereby the lives of many of their
comrades were saved._


III

_I dedicate this book to the modern knights in armour, the fighting
crews of the Tank Corps; those Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and
Men, who, through their own high courage and noble determination on the
battlefield, maintained Liberty and accomplished Victory._



INTRODUCTION


The following work is the story of a great and unique adventure as
heroic as the exploits of the Argonauts of old, and, though the time
perhaps has not yet arrived wherein to judge the part played by tanks
in the Great War, I feel that, whatever may be the insight and judgment
of the eventual historian of the British Tank Corps, he will probably
lack that essential ingredient of all true history--the witnessing of
the events concerning which he relates.

I, the writer of this book, first set eyes on a tank towards the end of
August 1916. At this time I little thought that I should eventually be
honoured by becoming the Chief General Staff Officer of the Tank Corps,
for a period extending from December 1916 to August 1918. The time
spent during this long connection with the greatest military invention
of the Great War, it is hoped, has not been altogether wasted, and the
story here set forth represents my appreciation of having been selected
to fill so intensely interesting an appointment.

Besides having witnessed and partaken in many of the events related,
those who have assisted me in this book have all been either closely
connected with the Tank Corps or in the Corps itself, they one and
all were partakers in either the creation of the Corps or in the many
actions in which it fought.

So much assistance have I received that I can at most but consider
myself as editor to a mass of information provided for me by others.
Those I more especially wish to thank amongst this goodly company are
the following:

Captain the Hon. Evan Charteris, G.S.O.3, Tank Corps, for the accurate
and careful records of the Corps which he compiled from the earliest
days of the tank movement in 1914, to the close of the battle of
Cambrai. Many of these were written under, shall I say, far from
luxurious circumstances, for Captain Charteris, I feel, must have often
found himself, in his shell-blasted estaminet, less well cared for than
the rats of Albert and as much out of place as Alcibiades in a Peckham
parlour.

When Captain Charteris forsook the “cabaret sans nom,” for some
ill-disposed shell had removed half the signboard, Captain O. A.
Archdale, A.D.C. to General Elles, took up the difficult task and, from
March 1918 onwards, kept the Tank Corps Diary upon which Chapters XXIX,
XXXIII, XXXV, and XXXVII are founded.

Taking now the chapters seriatim, I have to thank Major G. W. G. Allen,
M.C., G.S.O.2, War Office,[1] for parts of Chapter I, and also the
editors of _The American Machinist_ and _The Engineer_ for allowing
me to quote respectively from the following admirable articles: “The
Forerunner of the Tank,” by H. H. Manchester, and “The Evolution of
the Chain Track Tractor”; Sir Eustace Tennyson D’Eyncourt, K.C.B.,
Director of Naval Construction, the Admiralty, and Major-General E. D.
Swinton, C.B., D.S.O., both pioneers of the tanks, and indefatigable
workers in the cause, for much of the information in Chapters II
and IV; Major H. S. Sayer, G.S.0.2, War Office,[2] for Chapter III;
Major O. A. Forsyth-Major, Second in Command of the Palestine Tank
Detachment, for the reports relative to the second and third battles
of Gaza, upon which Chapters XI and XVII are based; Major S. H. Foot,
D.S.O., G.S.O.2, War Office,[3] my close friend and fearless assistant,
for suggestions generally, and particularly in Chapter XVI. My thanks
are also due to some unknown but far-sighted benefactor of the Tank
Corps for Chapter XX; to Lieutenant-Colonel D. W. Bradley, D.S.O., and
Brigadier-General E. B. Mathew-Lannowe, C.M.G., D.S.O., G.O.C. Tank
Corps Training Centre, Wool, for information regarding the Depot in
Chapter XXI; to the relentlessly inventive Lieutenant-Colonel L. C. A.
de B. Doucet, O.C. Tank Carrier Units, and so commander of the first
supply fleet which ever “set sail” on land, for information to be
found in Chapter XXII; to Lieutenant-Colonel J. D. M. Molesworth,
M.C., A.D.A.S., Tank Corps, who in spite of the scholastics gave the
lie to the tag _Ex nihilo nihil fit_, for parts of Chapter XXIV; to
Major R. Spencer, M.C., Liaison Officer, Tank Corps, whose unfailing
charm and insight always succeeded in extracting from our brave Allies
not only the glamour of great adventures but the detail of truthful
occurrences, for the events described in Chapters XXV and XXXVI;
to Major F. E. Hotblack, D.S.O., M.C., G.S.O.2, War Office,[4] my
friend and companion, who unfailingly would guide _any one_ over wire
and shell-hole immune and unscathed, for Chapters XXVIII, XXXI, and
XXXIV; to Lieutenant C. B. Arnold, D.S.O., Commander of Whippet Tank
“Musical Box,” for the simple and heroic exploit related in Chapter
XXX; to Major T. L. Leigh Mallory, D.S.O., O.C. 8th Squadron, R.A.F.,
whose energy resulted not only in the cementing of a close comradeship
between the two supreme mechanical weapons of the age but of a close
co-operation which saved many lives in battle, for much of Chapter
XXXII; to Lieutenant-Colonel E. J. Carter, O.C. 17th Tank Armoured Car
Battalion, who was as great a terror to the German Corps Commanders as
Paul Jones was to the Manchester merchantmen and who had the supreme
honour to break over the Rhine the first British flag--the colours of
the Tank Corps--for Chapter XXXVIII.

It was a great brotherhood, the Tank Corps, and if there were “duds” in
it there certainly were not old ones, for the Commander of the Corps,
Major-General H. J. Elles, C.B., D.S.O., was under forty, and most of
his staff and subordinate commanders were younger than himself. Youth
is apt, rightly, to be enthusiastic, and General Elles must frequently
have had a trying time in regulating this enthusiasm, canalising it
forward against the enemy and backward diplomatically towards our
friends.

We of the Tank Corps Headquarters Staff knew what we wanted. Realising
the power of the machine which the brains of England had created, we
never hesitated over a “No” when we knew that hundreds if not thousands
of lives depended on a “Yes.”

Modestly, looking back on the war from a comfortable armchair in
London, I see clearly, quite clearly, that we were right. The war
has proved it, and our endeavours were not in vain. We were right,
and youth generally is right, for it possesses mental elasticity,
its brains are plastic and not polarised. The mental athlete is the
young man: the Great War, like all other wars, has proved this again
and again. We have heard much of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, but they
scoffed at the tank just as Wurmser and Alvinzi scoffed at the ragged
voltigeurs of the Army of Italy with which the Little Corporal was,
in 1796, about to astonish Europe. We have also astonished Europe, we
who wandered over the Somme battlefield with dimmed eyes, and over the
Flanders swamps with a lump in our throats.

There was Colonel F. Searle, C.B.E., D.S.O., Chief Engineer of the
Corps, a true civilian with a well-cut khaki jacket and lion-tamer’s
boots. He could not understand the military ritual, and we soldiers
seemed never to be able to explain it to him. Throughout the war, in
spite of his immense mechanical labours, I verily believe he had only
one wish, and this was to erect a guillotine outside a certain holy
place. There was Major G. A. Green, M.C., Colonel Searle’s deputy,
the father of terrible propositions, the visitor of battlefields,
the searcher after shell-holes, the breather of profane words. The
Corps owed a lot to Green; a firm believer in seeing things before
criticising them, he was a very great asset.

The “King of Grocers,” this was Colonel T.J. Uzielli, D.S.O., M.C.,
D.A. and Q.M.G. of the Corps, business-like, and an administrator from
boot to crown. Suave yet fearless, tactful yet truthful, the Corps owed
much to his ability. It was never left in want, his decision gave it
what it asked for, his prevision cut down this asking to a minimum.
Ably seconded by Major H. C. Atkin-Berry, D.S.O., M.C., and Major R. W.
Dundas, M.C., the “A” and “Q” branches of the Tank Corps Staff formed
the foundation of the Corps’ efficiency.

On the “G” side there was myself. Under me came Major G. le Q. Martel,
D.S.O., M.C., very much R.E. and still more tanks, the man who
“sloshed” friend or foe. One day, in March 1918, I was at Fricourt,
then none too healthy. Martel walked down the road: “Where are you
going?” I shouted. “To Montauban,” he answered. “I hear it is full of
Boche,” I replied. “Well, I will go and see,” said Martel, and off he
moved eastwards. There was Major F. E. Hotblack, D.S.O., M.C., lover of
beauty and battles, a mixture of Abelard and Marshal Ney. Were Ninon
de l’Enclos alive he would have been at her elbow; as she is dust,
he, instead, collected “troddels”[5] off dead Germans--a somewhat
remarkable character. As G.S.O.2 Training, Major H. Boyd-Rochfort,
D.S.O., M.C., from West Meath, his enthusiasm for tanks nearly wrecked
a famous corps; yet Boyd only smiled, and his smile somehow always
reminded one of Peter Kelly’s whisky, there was a handshake or a
fight in it. The two G.S.O.s3 were Captain the Hon. E. Charteris and
Captain I. M. Stewart, M.C. Charteris was the “_Arbiter Elegantiarum_”
of our Headquarters. He kept the Corps’ records, as already stated,
and without these it would scarcely have been possible to write this
history. He was our _maître d’hôtel_; he gave us beach nut bacon and
honey for breakfast, kept his weather eye open for a one-armed man,
elaborated menus which rivalled those of Trimalchio, and gave sparkle
to us all by the ripple of his wit. Lastly, Ian Stewart of the Argyll
and Sutherland Highlanders. In kilts, no girl between Hekla and Erebus
has ever been known to resist him; but his efforts, whilst in the Tank
Corps, did not lie in conquering hearts but in perpetually worrying my
unfortunate self to become party to his own suicide--for nothing would
keep him from the battlefield.

The first three brigadiers of the Corps were all remarkable men.
Brigadier-General C. D’A. B. S. Baker-Carr, C.M.G., D.S.O., commanding
the 1st Tank Brigade, started the war as a gentleman chauffeur, a most
cheery companion, the Murat of the Corps, ever ready for a battle or
a game. I remember him at Montenescourt, during the battle of Arras
1917, fighting with the telephone, at Ypres fighting with the mud, at
Cambrai fighting with a comfortable, vacant, rotund little man, but
ever cheerful and prepared to meet you with a smile and a glass of
old brandy. Commanding the 2nd Tank Brigade was Brigadier-General A.
Courage, D.S.O., M.C. He possessed only half a jaw, having lost the
rest at Ypres; yet at conferences he was a host in himself, and what
a “pow-wow” must have been like before the Boche bullet hit him is
not even to be found in the works of the great Munchausen. No detail
escaped his eye, no trouble was too great, and no fatigue sufficient
to suggest a pause. The successes of Hamel and Moreuil in 1918 were
due to his energy, and on these successes was the battle of Amiens
founded. The last of the original Brigadiers was Brigadier-General J.
Hardress-Lloyd, D.S.O., commanding the 3rd Tank Brigade. He started the
war as a stowaway. This resulted in no one ever discovering what his
substantive rank was; by degrees a myth as to his origin was cultivated
by innumerable “A” clerks both in France and England; these lived
and throve on this mystery, which no doubt will at a distant date be
elucidated by some future Lemprière. Hardress-Lloyd was one of the main
causes of the battle of Cambrai. He, I believe, introduced the idea to
General Sir Julian Byng, this away back in August 1917. Hardress-Lloyd
was a man of big ideas and always kept a good table and a fine
stable--in fact, a _beau sabreur_. I will leave Hardress at that.

Above are to be sought the real foundations of the Corps’ efficiency
under its gallant Commander, Major-General H. J. Elles, C.B., D.S.O.,
who endowed it with that high moral, that fine _esprit de corps_ and
jaunty _esprit de cocarde_ which impelled it from one success to
another. These foundations no future historian is likely to be so
intimately acquainted with as I--and now for the story.[6]

The history itself is purposely uncritical, because any criticism which
might have been included is so similar to that directed against the
introducers of the locomotive and the motor-car that it would be but a
repetition, tedious enough to the reader, were it here repeated.

Human opinion is conservative by instinct, and what to mankind is most
heterodox is that which is most novel: this is a truism in war as it is
in politics or religion. It took 1000 years for gunpowder to transform
war. In 1590, a certain Sir John Smythe wrote a learned work: “Certain
discourses concerning the forms and effects of divers sorts of weapons,
and other very important matters militarie, greatlie mistaken by divers
of our men of warre in these daies; and chiefly, of the Mosquet,
the Caliver, and the Long-bow; as also of the great sufficiencie,
excellencie and wonderful effects of Archers,” in which he extols an
obsolete weapon and decries a more modern one--the arquebus. “For the
reactionaries of his time George Stephenson with his locomotive was the
original villan of the piece; he was received with unbridled abuse and
persecution. Most of Stephenson’s time was spent in fighting fools.”[7]
At the beginning of the present century nearly every English country
gentleman swore that nothing would ever induce him to exchange his
carriage for a motor-car--yet the locomotive and the motor-car have
triumphed, and triumphed so completely that all that their inventors
claimed for them appears to-day as hostile criticism against their
accomplishments.

So with the tank, it has come not only to stay but to revolutionise,
and I for one, enthusiastic as I am, do not for a minute doubt that
my wildest dreams about its future will not only be realised but
surpassed, and that from its clumsy endeavours in the Great War will
arise a completely new direction in the art of warfare itself.

That the Tank had, and still has, many doubters, many open critics,
is true enough; but there is no disparagement in this, rather is it a
compliment, for the masses of mankind are myopic, and had they accepted
it with acclaim how difficult would it have been for it even to come,
let alone stay and grow.

The criticism directed against this greatest military invention of
the war was the stone upon which its progress was whetted. Without
criticism we might still have Big Willie, but we enthusiasts determined
that not only would we break down this criticism by means of the
machine itself, but that we would render our very machine ridiculous
by machines of a better type, and it is ridicule which kills. So we
proceeded, and as type followed type, victory followed victory. Then
our critics tacked and veered: it was not the tank they objected to but
our opinions regarding it; they were overstatements; why, we should
soon be claiming for it powers to boil their morning tea and shave them
whilst still in bed. Why not? If such acts are required, a tank can be
built to accomplish them, because the tank possesses power and energy,
and energy is the motive force of all things.

It is just this point that the critics missed; their minds being
controlled by the conventions of the day. They could not see that
if the horse-power in a man is _x_, that the circumference of his
activities is a circle with _x_ as its radius. They could not see that
if the horse-power of a machine is 100_x_; its circumference will
be vastly greater than that of man’s; neither could they see that
whilst in man _x_ is constant, provided the man is supplied regularly
with beef, bread and beer, in a machine _x_ may be increased almost
indefinitely, and that if a circle with _n_ as its circumference will
not embrace the problem, probably all that is necessary is to add more
_x_’s to its radius. Indeed, the science of mechanics is simplicity
itself when compared with that of psychology, and as in war mechanics
grow so will psychology, in comparison, dwindle, until perhaps we may
see in armies as complete a change from hand-weapons to machine-weapons
as we have seen in our workshops from hand-tools to machine-tools, and
the economy will be as proportionate.

Before the Great War I was a believer in conscription and in the Nation
in Arms; I was an 1870 soldier. My sojourn in the Tank Corps has
dissipated these ideas. Today I am a believer in war mechanics, that
is, in a mechanical army which requires few men and powerful machines.
Equally am I a disbeliever in what a venerable acquaintance, old in
ideas rather than years, said to me on the afternoon of November 11th,
1918. These are his words, and I repeat them as he exclaimed them:
“Thank God we can now get back to real soldiering!”

            J. F. C. F.

  LANGHAM HOTEL, LONDON, W.1.
      _November 20, 1919._



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                                         PAGE
        I. THE ORIGINS OF THE TANK                                     1
       II. THE INVENTION OF THE LANDSHIP                              18
      III. MECHANICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF TANKS                        35
       IV. THE MARK I TANK AND ITS TACTICS                            49
        V. THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME AND ANCRE                         54
       VI. THE GROWTH OF THE TANK CORPS ORGANISATION                  60
      VII. TANK “ESPRIT DE CORPS”                                     68
     VIII. TANK TACTICS                                               73
       IX. THE BATTLE OF ARRAS                                        81
        X. TANK BATTLE RECORDS                                        90
       XI. THE SECOND BATTLE OF GAZA                                  98
      XII. STAFF WORK AND BATTLE PREPARATION                         103
     XIII. THE BATTLE OF MESSINES                                    108
      XIV. A TACTICAL APPRECIATION                                   113
       XV. THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES                                 117
      XVI. TANK MECHANICAL ENGINEERING                               125
     XVII. THE THIRD BATTLE OF GAZA                                  130
    XVIII. ORIGINS OF THE BATTLE OF CAMBRAI                          135
      XIX. THE BATTLE OF CAMBRAI                                     140
       XX. AN INFANTRY APPRECIATION OF TANKS                         154
      XXI. THE TANK CORPS TRAINING CENTRE                            159
     XXII. THE TANK SUPPLY COMPANIES                                 166
    XXIII. THE SECOND BATTLE OF THE SOMME                            172
     XXIV. TANK SIGNALLING ORGANISATION                              178
      XXV. THE FRENCH TANK CORPS                                     184
     XXVI. PREPARATIONS FOR THE GREAT OFFENSIVE                      199
    XXVII. THE BATTLES OF HAMEL AND MOREUIL                          204
   XXVIII. GERMAN TANK OPERATIONS                                    212
     XXIX. THE BATTLE OF AMIENS                                      217
      XXX. THE FIGHT OF A WHIPPET TANK                               230
     XXXI. GERMAN APPRECIATION OF BRITISH TANKS                      236
    XXXII. AEROPLANE CO-OPERATION WITH TANKS                         242
   XXXIII. THE BATTLE OF BAPAUME AND THE SECOND BATTLE OF ARRAS      250
    XXXIV. GERMAN ANTI-TANK TACTICS                                  260
     XXXV. THE BATTLES OF EPEHY AND CAMBRAI--ST. QUENTIN             266
    XXXVI. THE U.S.A. TANK CORPS                                     277
   XXXVII. THE BATTLES OF THE SELLE AND MAUBEUGE                     283
  XXXVIII. THE 17TH TANK ARMOURED CAR BATTALION                      289
    XXXIX. A RETROSPECT OF WHAT TANKS HAVE ACCOMPLISHED              297
       XL. A FORECAST OF WHAT TANKS MAY DO                           308
           INDEX                                                     323



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                 PLATES

  BIG WILLIE, MOTHER OR CENTIPEDE, ORIGINAL MARK I TANK   _Frontispiece_

  PLATE                                                      FACING PAGE
    I. LITTLE WILLIE AND MARK IV TANK (FEMALE)                        26
   II. GROUND OPERATED OVER BY TANKS DURING THE BATTLE OF MESSINES,
          SHOWING PRELIMINARY BOMBARDMENT ON JUNE 5, 1917: AND
          GROUND OPERATED OVER BY TANKS IN AUGUST 1917, DURING
          THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES                                  122
  III. MEDIUM MARK “A” TANK (WHIPPET)                                176
   IV. FRENCH SCHNEIDER TANK AND FRENCH ST. CHAMOND TANK             186
    V. MARK V TANK (MALE)                                            204
   VI. FRENCH RENAULT TANK AND GERMAN TANK                           214
  VII. GUN CARRIER AND MARK V STAR TANK (FEMALE)                     220


                                DIAGRAMS

   1. SCOTTISH WAR CART, 1456                                          3
   2. VALTURIO’S WAR CHARIOT, 1472                                     5
   3. HOLZSCHUHER’S BATTLE CAR, 1558                                   6
   4. SIMON STEVIN’S LANDSHIP, 1599                                    7
   5. THE APPLEGARTH TRACTOR, 1886                                    10
   6 and 6A. THE BATTER TRACTOR, 1888                          12 and 13
   7 to 15. TANK TACTICS                                       75 and 77
  16. GERMAN ARTILLERY TACTICS                                       115


                                  MAPS

     I. THE BATTLE OF ARRAS, APRIL 9, 1917                            84
    II. THE SECOND BATTLE OF GAZA, APRIL 17, 1917                    100
   III. THE BATTLE OF MESSINES, JUNE 7, 1917                         110
    IV. THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES, JULY 31, 1917                     120
     V. THE BATTLE OF CAMBRAI, NOVEMBER 20, 1917                     146
    VI. THE BATTLE OF SOISSONS, JULY 18, 1918                        192
   VII. THE BATTLE OF HAMEL, JULY 4, 1918                            206
  VIII. THE BATTLE OF MOREUIL, JULY 23, 1918                         208
    IX. THE BATTLE OF AMIENS, AUGUST 8, 1918                         222
     X. GENERAL MAP                                        End of Volume



TANKS IN THE GREAT WAR



CHAPTER I

THE ORIGINS OF THE TANK


In war the main problem to solve is--“How to give blows without
receiving them”; it has always been so and is likely always to remain
so, for battles are two-act tragedies: the first act consisting in
hitting and the second in securing oneself against being hit.

If we look back on the 4,000 years of the known history of war, we
shall find that its problems are always the same: thus in battle the
soldier has to think of four main acts:

    (i) How to strike his opponent when at a distance from him;

   (ii) How to move forward towards him;

  (iii) How to strike him at close quarters;

   (iv) How to prevent himself being struck throughout the whole of
          this engagement.

In these four acts must be sought the origins of the tank, the idea of
which is, therefore, much older than the Trojan horse; indeed, it dates
back to some unknown period when aboriginal man raised his arm to ward
off the blow of an infuriated beast or neighbour.

To ward off a blow with the bare skin is sometimes a painful operation;
why not then cover the arm with leather or iron, why not carry a
shield, why not encase the whole body in steel so that both arms
instead of one may be used to hit with, for then man’s offensive power
will be doubled?

If we look back on the Middle Ages, we find that such a condition
of fighting was actually possible and that knights clad in armour
cap-à-pie were practically invulnerable. As regards these times there
is an authentic record concerning twenty-five knights in armour who
rode out one day and met a great mob of insurgent peasants which they
charged and routed, killing and wounding no fewer than 1,200 of them,
without sustaining a single casualty themselves. To all intents and
purposes, these knights were living tanks--a combination of muscular
energy, protective armour, and offensive weapons.

Knights in armour remained practically invulnerable as long as the
propellant for missile weapons was limited to the bow-string and as
long as the knights fought within the limitations which their armour
imposed upon them. At Crécy and similar battles, the chivalry of France
suffered defeat more through the condition of ground they attempted
to negotiate, than through the arrows of the English archers. They,
in fact, became “ditched” like a tank in the mud, and being rendered
immobile, fell an easy prey to the enemy’s men-at-arms. A fact which
proves that it was not the arrow which generally destroyed the knight
is that the archers were equipped with maces or leaden hammers[8] by
means of which the knight could, when once bogged or “bellied,” be
stunned, rendered innocuous, his armour opened, and he himself taken
prisoner for ransom.

[Illustration: DIAGRAM 1. SCOTTISH WAR CART, 1456.]

The true banisher of armour was gunpowder, for when once the thickest
armour, which human energy would permit of being worn, could be
penetrated, it became but an encumbrance to its wearer. Though
gunpowder was introduced as a missile propellant on the battlefield
as early as the twelfth century, it was not until the close of the
fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth centuries that its influence
began to be felt, and it is interesting to note that directly it
became apparent that the hand gun would beat armour carried by men,
other means of carrying it were introduced. These means took the form
of battle cars or mobile fortresses.[9] Conrad Kyeser,[10] in his
military manuscript, written between 1395 and 1405, pictures several
“battle cars.” Some of these are equipped with lances, whilst others
are armed with cannon. A few years later, in 1420, Fontana designed
a large “battle car,” and the following year Archinger another, to
enclose no fewer than 100 men. All these cars were moved by means of
muscle power, _i.e._ men or animals harnessed inside them. A picture of
one of these is to be found in Francis Grose’s _Military Antiquities_,
vol. I, p. 388 (see Diagram 1). Its crew consisted of eight men, the
same as the Mark I Tank. The following extract concerning these carts
is of interest:

  “Another species of artillery were the war carts, each carrying
  two Peteraros or chamber’d pieces; several of these carts are
  represented in the Cowdry picture of the siege of Bullogne, one of
  which is given in this work; these carts seem to have been borrowed
  from the Scotch; Henry, in his History of England, mentions them
  as peculiar to that nation, and quotes the two following acts of
  parliament respecting them; one A.D. 1456 wherein they are thus
  described: ‘it is tocht speidfull that the King mak requiest to
  certain of the great burrows of the land that are of ony myght, to
  mak carts of weir, and in elk cart twa gunnis and ilk one to have
  twa chalmers, with the remnant of the graith that effeirs thereto,
  and an cunnard man to shute thame.’ By another Act, A.D. 1471, the
  prelates and barons are commanded to provide such carts of war
  against their old enemies the English (Black Acts, James II, Act
  52, James III, Act 55).”

With all these war carts the limitations imposed upon them by muscular
motive force must have been considerable on any save perfectly firm and
level ground, consequently other means of movement were attempted, and
during the last quarter of the fifteenth century the battle car enters
its second phase. In a work of Valturio’s dated 1472, a design is to
be found of one of these vehicles propelled by means of wind wheels
(see Diagram 2). Ten years later we find Leonardo da Vinci engaged in
the design of another type of self-moving machine. Writing to Ludovico
Sforza he says:

  “I am building secure and covered chariots which are invulnerable,
  and when they advance with their guns into the midst of the foe,
  even the largest enemy masses must retreat; and behind them the
  infantry can follow in safety and without opposition.”

[Illustration: DIAGRAM 2. VALTURIO’S WAR CHARIOT, 1472.]

What the motive force of this engine of war was is unknown, but the
above description is that of the tank of today, in fact so accurate is
this description that Leonardo da Vinci, nearly 350 years ago, had a
clearer idea of a tank operation than many a British soldier had prior
to the battle of Cambrai, fourteen months after the first tank had
taken the field.

[Illustration: DIAGRAM 3. HOLZSCHUHER’S BATTLE CAR, 1558.]

A somewhat similar self-moving wagon was designed for Maximilian I and
in 1558 Holzschuher describes a battle car a picture of which shows it
in action preceded by infantry and flanked by cavalry (see Diagram 3).

In 1599 Simon Stevin is supposed to have constructed for the Prince of
Orange two veritable landships; these consisted in small battleships
fully rigged, mounted upon wheels (see Diagram 4).

[Illustration: DIAGRAM 4. SIMON STEVIN’S LANDSHIP, 1599.]

  “The earliest English patent for a self-moving wagon which could,
  if desired, be used in war, was probably that taken out by David
  Ramsey in 1634. In 1658 Caspar Schott designed one to inclose 100
  men and to be employed against the Turks.”[11]

All the users of these inventions were destined to disappointment,
for the science of mechanics was not sufficiently advanced to render
self-movement practical and it was not until the middle of the
eighteenth century that a fresh attempt was made to reintroduce so
essential a weapon as the war cart. The following account of this
reintroduction is quoted from Mr. Manchester’s most interesting article:

  “After the practical application of steam by Watt in 1765 we find
  an early attempt to apply it to land transportation in what must be
  considered the first steam automobile. As early as 1769 Cugnot in
  France set a steam boiler upon the frame of a wagon and succeeded
  in making the wagon go. His idea was that this invention could be
  used in war, and on this presumption he was the next year assisted
  by the government to construct an improvement. The speed, however,
  was scarcely more than 2½ miles an hour, and the machine would run
  only twenty minutes before it had to stop for fifteen minutes to
  get up more steam. In his first public trial he had the ill-luck to
  run into and knock down part of a stone wall. This led to his being
  temporarily cast into jail, and his experiments were abandoned.
  Napoleon must have visualised the possibilities of Cugnot’s machine
  for military purposes, for when the great general was selected a
  member of the French Institute, the subject of his paper was ‘The
  Automobile in War.’”

The “battle car” had now, at least experimentally, evolved into the
steam wagon which could run on roads; the next step was to invent one
which would move in any direction across country, in other words to
replace the wheels by tracks. The evolution of the caterpillar tractor
brings us to the fourth phase in the evolution of the “battle car.”

The idea of distributing the weight of a vehicle over a greater area
than that provided by its own wheels is by no means a novel one; one
year after Cugnot produced the first steam automobile Richard Lovell
Edgeworth patented a device whereby a portable railway could be
attached to a wheeled carriage; it consisted of several pieces of wood
which moved in regular succession in such a manner that a sufficient
length of railing was constantly at rest for the wheels to roll upon.
The principle of this device was but a modification of that upon which
the tracks of tanks now depend, and all subsequent ideas were founded
on this basis.[12]

The endless chain track passed through various early patents. In
1801 Thomas German produced “a means of facilitating the transit of
carriages by substituting endless chains or a series of rollers for the
ordinary wheels.” This definitely cut adrift from the idea of wheels
and replaced it by that of tracks. In 1812 William Palmer produced a
somewhat similar invention, and in 1821 John Richard Barry patented a
contrivance consisting of two endless pitched chains, stretched out and
passing round two chain wheels at the end of the carriage, one on each
side, which formed the rails or bearing surface of the vehicle.

Footed wheels were not, however, abandoned, and in 1846 a picture of
the Boydell engine shows the wheels of this machine fitted with feet.
In 1861 an improved wheel-foot was patented by Andrew Dunlop which was
modified by other inventors and by degrees evolved into the pedrail,
trials of which were carried out at Aldershot under the War Office in
1905.

In 1882 Guillaume Fender of Buenos Aires suggested and John Newburn
patented certain improvements to endless tracks. Fender realised that
the attempts to produce endless travelling railways had not met with
great success owing to the shortness of the rails or tracks employed;
he, therefore, proposed that their length should be the same as the
distance between the vehicle’s axles. If it were desired to have short
links the number of wheels must be increased; furthermore, should the
tractor be used for hauling a train of wagons, the endless track should
be long enough to embrace all the wheels. This is the original idea of
the all-round track.

[Illustration: DIAGRAM 5. THE APPLEGARTH TRACTOR, 1886.]

Among the many interesting patents of about this date were the
Applegarth tractor of 1886 (see Diagram 5) and the Batter tractor of
1888. In the former the forward portion of the track was inclined and
suggests the contour of the track as applied to the front of tanks. The
track being raised in front gives an initial elevation when an obstacle
is met with and very greatly assists in surmounting banks and other
irregularities.

Diagram 6 depicts the Batter tractor and it clearly shows the basic
ideas which have been employed in tank transmission and tank design.
This tractor was patented in the U.S.A., it was furnished with two
tracks, their contour very closely resembling those of the Medium Mark
“A” (Whippet) and gun-carrier machines (see Plates III and VII) The
motive power was steam, and two separate engines, fed by one boiler,
were used, one to drive each track; apparently provision was made, if
desired, for the crankshafts of these engines to be clutched together.
Each track consisted of two endless belts, an inner and an outer; the
outer belt, that which impinges on the ground, was composed of shoes
arranged transversely and coupled together. Between the outer belt and
the rollers ran the inner belt. The inner belt or link was of much
less width than the outer and thus allowed the latter to swivel and
adapt itself to irregularities of the ground, whilst the working of the
rollers was not interfered with. A system almost identical with this
one has recently been adopted for tank tracks.

The rollers were alternately flanged and plain, as on tanks. Two tails
for steering and balancing the machine were fitted; a similar idea was
adopted on Mark I machines and gun carriers, but subsequently discarded.

The general introduction of the internal-combustion engine and petrol
as a fuel gave a further impetus to the tracked machine. In 1900 Frank
Bramond patented a track which could be applied to pneumatic-tyred
vehicles, either to single wheels or to two pairs of wheels. In 1907
a Rochet-Schneider was fitted with a track by Roberts and tested at
Aldershot. This car was exhibited together with a 70 h.p. Hornsby
chain-track tractor and took part in the Royal Review at Aldershot in
May 1908. This same year Hornsby fitted up a 75 h.p. Mercedes motor-car
with a track to demonstrate its advantages for high-speed work on sand.
“This car was run daily for five months at Skegness, on loose sand, and
it is understood that a speed of twenty miles an hour was obtained.”[13]

Of later years, American inventors and manufacturers have made great
progress in chain-track tractors, but practically all the principles of
design were originally applied in Great Britain. The Holt caterpillar
is the outstanding American design for tractors which has been adopted
during the war.

[Illustration:_The Engineer._]  DIAGRAM 6. THE BATTER TRACTOR, 1888.]

[Illustration:_The Engineer._]  DIAGRAM 6A. THE BATTER TRACTOR, 1888.]

It is interesting to note with reference to the above inventions that
neither Germany nor Austria ever appears to have contributed any basic
suggestion relating to track-driven machines.

To return now to the military aspect of our subject, gunpowder did
away with armour, for if armour can be pierced its defensive value
is lost and it only becomes an encumbrance to the wearer by reducing
his mobility and exhausting his muscular energy. Did this change the
main problem in the art of war? Not at all, for “the giving of blows
without receiving them” remains the unchangeable object of battle
irrespective of the change of weapons, and all that happened was, that
the soldier, no longer being able to seek protection by body-armour,
sought it elsewhere--by manœuvring, by covering fire and entrenchments
as typified in the drill of Frederick the Great, the cannonades and
sharpshooters’ fire of Napoleon, the fortifications of Vauban, and
later on the use of ground by Wellington as cover from fire.

The opening of the war in 1914 saw all sides equipped with similar
weapons and in comparatively similar proportions. The great sweep of
the Germans through Belgium was followed by the battle of the Marne,
a generic term for a series of bloody engagements which raged from
Lorraine to Paris. Then came the great reaction--the German retreat
to the Aisne, the heights along which had been hastily prepared for
defence. The battle swayed whilst vigour lasted and then stabilised as
exhaustion intervened. At first cautiously, then rapidly, did the right
flank of the German Armies and the left flank of those of the French
and British seek to out-manœuvre each other. This led to the race for
the coast. Meanwhile came the landing of the British 7th Division at
Zeebrugge and then the First Battle of Ypres, which closed the German
offensive on the British front for three years and four months.

The quick-firing field-gun and the machine-gun, used defensively,
proved too strong for the endurance of the attackers, who were forced
to seek safety by means of their spades, rather than through their
rifles. Whole fronts were entrenched, and before the end of 1914,
except for a few small breaks, a man could have walked by trench, had
he wished to, from Nieuport almost into Switzerland.

With the trench came wire entanglements--the horror of the attack,
and the trinity of trench, machine-gun, and wire, made the defence
so strong that each offensive operation in turn was brought to a
standstill.

The problem which then confronted us was a twofold one:

Firstly, how could the soldier in the attack be protected against
shrapnel, shell-splinters, and bullets? Helmets were reintroduced,
armour was tried, shields were invented, but all to no great purpose.

Secondly, even if bullet-proof armour could be invented, which it
certainly could, how were men laden down with it going to get through
the wire entanglements which protected every position?

Three definite solutions were attempted--the first, artillery; the
second, gas; and the third, tanks--each of which is a definite answer
to our problem if the conditions are favourable for its use. Thus
at the battle of the Dunajec, in the spring of 1915, the fire of
Mackensen’s massed artillery smashed the Russian front; this success
being due as much to the fewness of the Russian guns as to the skill of
that great soldier. At the Second Battle of Ypres the German surprise
gas attack succeeded because the British and French possessed no
antidote. At the First Battle of Cambrai, the use of tanks on good firm
ground proved an overwhelming success, whilst at the Third Battle of
Ypres, on account of the mud, they were an all but complete failure.

All armies attempted the first method by increasing the number of their
guns, the size of their guns, and the quantity of their ammunition.
So thoroughly was this done that whole sectors of an enemy’s front
were blasted out of recognition. This, however, was only accomplished
after all surprise had been sacrificed by obvious preparation during
which notice and time were given to the enemy to mass his reserves
in order to meet the attack. Further than this, though the enemy’s
wire and trenches were destroyed all communications on his side of “No
Man’s Land” were obliterated, with the result that a new obstacle,
“the crumped area,” proved as formidable an antagonist to a continuous
advance, by hampering supply, as uncut wire had done to a successful
assault, by forbidding infantry movement.

Instead of solving the problem: “How could mobility be reintroduced
on the Western Front?” the great increase in artillery, during 1915
and 1916, only complicated it, for, though the preliminary bombardment
cut the wire and blew in the enemy’s trenches and the creeping barrage
protected the infantry in a high degree, every artillery attack during
two years ended in failure due to want of surprise at its initiation
and the impossibility of adequate supply during its progress.

The Germans attempted the second method--gas, and from the Second
Battle of Ypres the chemist fell in alongside the soldier. That gas
might have won the war is to-day too obvious to need accentuation.
Two conditions were alone requisite--sufficient gas and a favourable
wind. Fortunately for us the German did not wait long enough to
manufacture gas in quantity; unfortunately for them the prevailing wind
on the Western Front is westerly, consequently when we and the French
retaliated they got more than they ever gave us.

The introduction of gas still further complicated the problem, for,
whilst it is easy for the defender to launch gas clouds, it is
difficult for an attacker to do so, consequently once soldiers had been
equipped with respirators the defence gained by this method of fighting
and warfare became still more immobile.

As regards the British front the opening day of the First Battle of the
Somme, July 1, 1916, showed, through the terrible casualty lists which
followed, how far the defence had become the stronger form of war. At
no date in the whole history of the war was a stalemate termination
to all our endeavours more certain. The hopes of nearly two years
were shattered in a few hours before the ruins of Thiepval, Serre,
and Gommecourt, where our men fell in thousands before the deadly
machine-gun fire of the enemy. Eleven weeks later, on September 15, a
solution to the problem became apparent, a solution due to the efforts
of a small band of men, of whose energy and endeavours the next chapter
will relate.



CHAPTER II

THE INVENTION OF THE LANDSHIP


It is not proposed in this chapter to give an answer to the question:
“Who first thought of the tank?” The idea of combining mobility with
offensive power and armour, as the previous chapter has shown, is a
very old one, so old and so universal throughout history that, when the
Great War broke out in 1914, many soldiers and civilians alike must
have considered ways and means of reintroducing the knight in armour
and the battle car by replacing muscular energy by mechanical force--in
other words, by applying petrol to the needs of the battlefield.

During August and September 1914, armoured cars had been employed with
considerable success in Belgium and north-western France. This no doubt
brought with it the revival of the idea. Be this as it may, in October
of this year Lieutenant-Colonel (now Major-General) E. D. Swinton put
forward a suggestion for the construction of an armoured car on the
Holt tractor or a similar caterpillar system, capable of crushing down
wire entanglements and crossing trenches.

At the same time, Captain T. G. Tulloch, manager of the Chilworth
Powder Company, was also devoting his attention to the possibility
of constructing a land cruiser sufficiently armoured to enable it
to penetrate right up to the enemy’s gun and howitzer positions.
In November the idea was communicated by Captain Tulloch to
Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton and to Lieutenant-Colonel (now Colonel Sir
Maurice) Hankey, Secretary to the “Committee of Imperial Defence,” and
later on to Mr. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, who, in
January 1915, wrote his now historic letter to Mr. Asquith:

  “MY DEAR PRIME MINISTER,

  “I entirely agree with Colonel Hankey’s remarks on the subject of
  special mechanical devices for taking trenches. It is extraordinary
  that the Army in the field and the War Office should have allowed
  nearly three months of warfare to progress without addressing their
  minds to its special problems.

  “The present war has revolutionised all military theories about
  the field of fire. The power of the rifle is so great that 100
  yards is held sufficient to stop any rush, and in order to avoid
  the severity of the artillery fire, trenches are often dug on
  the reverse slope of positions, or a short distance in the rear
  of villages, woods, or other obstacles. The consequence is that
  the war has become a short-range instead of a long-range war as
  was expected, and opposing trenches get ever closer together, for
  mutual safety from each other’s artillery fire.

  “The question to be solved is not, therefore, the long attack over
  a carefully prepared glacis of former times, but the actual getting
  across 100 or 200 yards of open space and wire entanglements. All
  this was apparent more than two months ago, but no steps have been
  taken and no preparations made.

  “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
  machine-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 system would enable trenches to be crossed quite
  easily, and the weight of the machine would destroy all wire
  entanglements.

  “Forty or fifty of these engines, prepared secretly and brought
  into positions at nightfall, could advance quite certainly into the
  enemy’s trenches, smashing away all the obstructions and sweeping
  the trenches with their machine-gun fire, and with grenades thrown
  out of the top. They would then make so many _points d’appui_ for
  the British supporting infantry to rush forward and rally on them.
  They can then move forward to attack the second line of trenches.

  “The cost would be small. If the experiment did not answer, what
  harm would be done? An obvious measure of prudence would have been
  to have started something like this two months ago. It should
  certainly be done now.

  “The shield is another obvious experiment which should have been
  made on a considerable scale. What does it matter which is the best
  pattern? A large number should have been made of various patterns;
  some to carry, some to wear, some to wheel. If the mud now prevents
  the working of shields or traction engines, the first frost would
  render them fully effective. With a view to this I ordered a month
  ago twenty shields on wheels, to be made on the best design the
  Naval Air Service could devise. These will be ready shortly, and
  can, if need be, be used for experimental purposes.

  “A third device, which should be used systematically and on a
  large scale, is smoke artificially produced. It is possible to
  make small smoke barrels which, on being lighted, generate a great
  volume of dense black smoke, which could be turned off or on at
  will. There are other matters closely connected with this to which
  I have already drawn your attention, but which are of so secret a
  character, that I do not put them down on paper.

  “One of the most serious dangers that we are exposed to is the
  possibility that the Germans are acting and preparing all these
  surprises, and that we may at any time find ourselves exposed
  to some entirely new form of attack. A committee of engineering
  officers and other experts ought to be sitting continually at the
  War Office to formulate schemes and examine suggestions, and I
  would repeat that it is not possible in most cases to have lengthy
  experiments beforehand.

  “If the devices are to be ready by the time they are required it
  is indispensable that manufacture should proceed simultaneously
  with experiments. The worst that can happen is that a comparatively
  small sum of money is wasted.

            “Yours, etc.”

At about the time that the above letter was written, Lieutenant-Colonel
Swinton again brought the matter forward and urged the desirability of
action being taken, but as it was stated that the design and building
of Captain Tulloch’s machine would take a year to complete it appears
that this led to the proposals being shelved for the time being.

On June 1, 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton, who had then
returned to France, submitted an official memorandum on the above
subject to G.H.Q., which was passed to Major-General G. H. Fowke,
Engineer-in-Chief, for his expert opinion. This memorandum may be
summarised as follows:

The main German offensive was taking place in Russia; consequently, in
order to attain a maximum strength in the east, it was incumbent on
the Germans to maintain a minimum one in the west; and, in order to
meet the shortage of men on the Western Front, the Germans were mainly
basing their defence on the machine-gun.

The problem, consequently, was one of how to overcome the German
machine-gunners. There were two solutions to this problem:

(i) Sufficient artillery to blast a way through the enemy’s lines.

(ii) The introduction of armoured machine-gun destroyers.

As regards the second solution Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton laid down
the following requirements: Speed, 4 miles per hour; climbing power, 5
ft.; spanning power, 5 ft.; radius of action, 20 miles; weight, about
8 tons; crew, 10 men; armament, 2 machine-guns and one light Q.F. gun.
Further, he suggested that these machines should be used in a surprise
assault having first been concealed behind our own front line in
specially constructed pits about 100 yards apart. In this paper it was
also pointed out that these destroyers would be of great value in a gas
attack, as they would enable the most scientific means of overcoming
gas to be carried.

The above memorandum was favourably considered by Sir John French, then
Commander-in-Chief in France, and, on June 22, was submitted by him to
the War Office with a suggestion that Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton should
visit England and explain his scheme more fully.

While Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton and Captain Tulloch were urging their
proposals, a third scheme was brought forward by Admiral Sir Reginald
Bacon in connection with which the Secretary of State, in January
1915, ordered trials to be carried out with a 105 h.p. Foster-Daimler
tractor fitted with a bridging apparatus for crossing trenches. At
about the same time similar trials were made with a 120 h.p. Holt
caterpillar tractor at Shoeburyness in connection with Captain
Tulloch’s scheme. Both experiments proved a failure.

The position, therefore, in June, so far as the Army was concerned,
was as follows: Proposals had been put forward by Lieutenant-Colonel
Swinton, Admiral Bacon, and Captain Tulloch, and submitted to the
War Office. Certain trials had been made, the result of which, in
the view of the authorities, was to emphasise the engineering and
other difficulties to be overcome. It was only in June 1915 that
Major-General Sir George Scott-Moncrieff, Director of Fortifications
and Works, War Office, who, throughout the initial period, had
shown a strong interest in the development of the idea, ascertained
that investigations on similar lines were being carried out by the
Admiralty; he at once proposed that a “Joint Naval and Military
Committee” should be formed for the purpose of dealing with the subject
generally. This Committee was constituted on June 15.

The work done by the Admiralty had so far been independent. In February
1915, Mr. Churchill sent to Mr. E. H. T. (now Sir Eustace) D’Eyncourt,
Director of Naval Construction, a copy of the notes embodying the
proposals set forth by Major T. G. Hetherington (18th Hussars),
R.N.A.S., for a new type of war machine. This machine may be described
as a veritable Juggernaut, heavily armoured, highly offensive, and
capable of moving across country.

It consisted of a platform mounted on three wheels, two driving wheels
in front and the steering wheel behind. It was to be equipped with
three turrets each containing two 4-in. guns and its motive power was
to be derived from a 800 h.p. Sunbeam Diesel set of engines.

The problem of design was examined by the Air Department engineers and
the following rough data, worked out at the time, are of interest:

  Armament                  3 twin 4 in. turrets with 300 rounds per gun.
  Horse power               800 h.p. with fuel for 24 hours.
  Total weight              300 tons.
  Armour                    3 in.
  Diameter of wheels        40 ft.
  Tread of main wheels      13 ft. 4 in.
  Tread of steering wheels  5 ft. O in.
  Overall length            100 ft.
  Overall width             80 ft.
  Overall height            46 ft.
  Clearance                 17 ft.
  Top speed on good going   8 miles per hour.
  Top speed on bad going    4 miles per hour.

The cross-country qualities of the machine it was considered would
prove good. It could not be bogged in any ground passable by cavalry;
it could pass over water obstacles having good banks and from 20 ft.
to 30 ft. width of waterway; it could ford waterways 15 ft. deep if
the bottoms were good, and negotiate isolated obstacles up to 20 ft.
high. Small obstacles such as banks, ditches, bridges, trenches, wire
entanglements, and ordinary woodland it could roll over easily.

Mr. D’Eyncourt considered this proposal, but coming to the conclusion
that the machine would weigh more than 1,000 tons, it became apparent
to him that its construction was not a practical proposition.

Mr. D’Eyncourt pointed this out to Mr. Churchill and suggested that
Major Hetherington’s machine should be replaced by one of a smaller and
less ambitious type. To this Mr. Churchill agreed, and to deal with
this question a “Landships Committee” was formed consisting of the
following gentlemen:

                              _Chairman._
                            Mr. D’EYNCOURT.

                               _Members._
              Major HETHERINGTON, Colonel DUMBLE, Mr. DALE
                       BUSSELL (appointed later).

                             _Consultant._
                        Colonel R. E. CROMPTON.

                     _Secretary_ (appointed later).
                           Lieutenant STERN.

Prior to the formation of this Committee another proposal had been set
on foot. About November 14, 1914, Mr. Diplock of the Pedrail Company
had put forward certain suggestions for the use of the pedrail for the
transportation of heavy guns and war material over rough ground. After
interviewing Lord Kitchener, who saw no utility in the suggestion, Mr.
Diplock was referred to the Admiralty and there saw Mr. Churchill, who,
taking up the matter with interest, suggested that a one-ton truck
should be brought to the Horse Guards Parade for his inspection. Major
Hetherington undertook to arrange this, and on February 12, 1915, a
demonstration of the Pedrail machine took place.

This so impressed Mr. Churchill that he decided that a pedrail armoured
car should be built.

The “Landships Committee” communicated with Messrs. William Foster,
Ltd., of Lincoln, who were already making heavy tractors for the
Admiralty, and Mr. (now Sir William) Tritton, their manager, was asked
to collaborate in evolving two designs:

The first of the wheel tractor type.

The second of the pedrail type--

the latter being the alternative recommended by the chairman and the
Pedrail Company.

Both these designs seemed to have some promising features. The First
Lord, on March 26, approved of an order being placed for twelve of the
pedrail type and six of the wheel type.

The design of the pedrail machine was produced by the Pedrail Company;
its length was 38 ft., its width 12 ft. 6 in., and height 10 ft. 6 in.
The most interesting feature connected with this machine was that it
was mounted on two bogies one behind the other, steering being rendered
possible by articulating these bogies in the same horizontal plane,
which gave an extreme turning radius of 65ft.

After Mr. Churchill’s resignation from the Admiralty the production of
the twelve pedrail cars was abandoned in spite of the fact that the
engines and most of the material had been provided.

The design work was, however, continued under the direction of the
“Landships Committee,” and, a little later on, caterpillar tractors
for experimental purposes were obtained from America. In the meantime
the question of design was discussed with Mr. Tritton, and at the same
time Lieutenant (now Major) W. G. Wilson, an experienced engineer, was
brought in as consultant, and a design was evolved which eventually
embodied the form finally adopted and adhered to for tanks. Thus it
was through the “Landships Committee,” at a moment when the military
authorities were inclined to regard the difficulties connected with the
problem as likely to prove insuperable, that the landship or “tank,” as
it was later on called, was first brought into being.

After the formation of the “Joint Naval and Military Committee” on
June 15, it was agreed, as the result of correspondence between the
Admiralty and War Office, that the experimental work on the landship
should be taken over as a definite military service in the department
of the Master-General of Ordnance. It was further agreed that the
Director of Fortifications and Works should be president of the
Committee, that the chairman and members of the existing “Landships
Committee” should continue to serve as long as their assistance was
required, and that the late First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. Churchill,
should remain in touch with the design and construction of the machines
during their experimental stage. The members nominated for the
Committee by the War Office were Colonel Bird of the General Staff,
Colonel Holden, A.D.T., and Major Wheeler of the M.G.O.’s Department.

Early in July, Mr. Lloyd George, Minister of Munitions, discussed with
Mr. Balfour, now First Lord of the Admiralty, the transference of
the production of the machines from the Admiralty to the Ministry of
Munitions. It was, however, subsequently decided that the Admiralty
should be responsible for the production of the first trial machine,
the Director of Naval Construction being responsible for the completion
of the machine. This was strongly urged by Sir George Scott-Moncrieff.

In July 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton returned to England to take
over the duties of assistant secretary to the “Committee of Imperial
Defence.” He at once took in hand the co-ordination of the various
private and official efforts which were being made at this time in
relation to the design of caterpillar tractors. Early in September
he visited Lincoln and inspected a machine known as Little Willie,
and on the 10th of this month wrote to Major Guest, Secretary of the
“Experiments Committee” at G.H.Q., as follows:

  “The naval people are pressing on with the first sample caterpillar
  ... they have succeeded in making an animal that will cross 4 ft. 6
  in. and turn on its own axis like a dog with a flea in its tail....”

In spite of its agility this machine was rejected in favour of Big
Willie, a model of which was being constructed under the direction
of the “Joint Committee” on the lines of the machine designed by Mr.
Tritton and Lieutenant Wilson and the requirements of which had been
outlined by Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton in his memorandum of June 1.

As regards these requirements, on the day following the above letter
the “Experiments Committee” G.H.Q. sent the following tactical
suggestions, arising out of Colonel Swinton’s original proposal, to
the secretary of the “Committee of Imperial Defence.” They are worth
quoting as they embody several of the characteristics which were
introduced in the Mark I tank.

(1) The object for which the caterpillar cruiser or armoured fort is
required is for employment in considerable numbers in conjunction with
or as an incident in a larger and general attack by infantry against an
extended front.

(2) As a general principle, it is desirable to have a large number of
small cruisers rather than a smaller number of large ones.

(3) The armour of the cruiser must be proof against concentrated rifle
and machine-gun fire, but not proof against artillery fire. The whole
cruiser should be enclosed in armour.

[Illustration: PLATE I

LITTLE WILLIE.]

[Illustration: MARK IV TANK (FEMALE).]

(4) The tactical object of the cruiser is attack, its armament should
include a gun with reasonable accuracy up to 1,000 yards, and at least
two Lewis guns, which can be fired from loopholes to flank and to rear.

(5) The crew to consist of six men--two for the gun, one for each Lewis
gun, and two drivers.

(6) The caterpillar must be capable of crossing craters produced by
the explosion of high-explosive shell, such craters being of 12 ft.
diameter, 6 ft. deep, with sloping sides; of crossing an extended width
of barbed-wire entanglements; and of spanning hostile trenches with
perpendicular sides and of 4 ft. in breadth.

(7) The cruiser should be capable of moving at a rate of not less than
2½ miles per hour over broken ground, and should have a range of action
of not less than six hours consecutive movement.

(8) The wheels of the cruiser should be on either the “Pedrail” system
or the “Caterpillar” system; whichever is the most suitable for
crossing marshy and slippery ground.

Most of these requirements had already been embodied in the wooden
model of Big Willie, which, when completed, was inspected at Wembley on
September 28. This model was accepted as a basis on which construction
was to proceed, it was in fact the first “mock up” of the eventual Mark
I machine.

Big Willie was about 8 ft. high, 26 ft. long, and 11 ft. wide without
sponsons, and 3 ft. wider when these were added. His armament consisted
in two 6-pounder guns and two machine-guns, and the crew suggested was
1 officer and 9 other ranks.

On the following day the “Joint Committee” assembled at the Admiralty
and decided that the following specifications should be worked to:
weight 22 tons, speed 3½ miles per hour, spanning power 8 ft., and
climbing power 4½ ft.

On December 3, Mr. Churchill addressed a paper to G.H.Q., entitled
“Variants of the Offensive,” in which he accentuated the necessity of
concentrating more than we had done on “the attack by armour,” the
chief purpose of armour being to preserve mobility. He suggested
the combined use of the caterpillar tractor and the shield. The
caterpillars were to breach the enemy’s line and then turn right and
left, the infantry following under cover of bullet-proof shields. It
was further suggested that the attack might be carried out at night
under the guidance of searchlights. The rest of this paper dealt with
“Attack by Trench Mortars, Attack by the Spade, and The Attack on the
First Line.”

On Christmas Day 1915, Sir Douglas Haig, who had recently taken
over command of the Expeditionary Force in France, read this
paper, and wishing to know more about the caterpillars mentioned,
Lieutenant-Colonel H. J. Elles (later on G.O.C. Tank Corps) was sent
to England to ascertain the exact position. On January 8 this officer
reported in writing to G.H.Q., as follows:

“There are two producers of landships:

“(_a_) Trench Warfare working alone.[14]

“(_b_) The Admiralty Landship Committee working with the War Office.

“The first have not yet made a machine, but its proposed size is 10 ft.
high, 14 ft. 6 in. wide, and 36 ft. long; the second was in process of
being made” (_i.e._ Big Willie).

Up to December 20, 1915, the whole cost of the experimental work had
been defrayed by the Admiralty, which had also provided the personnel
in the shape of No. 20 Squadron, R.N.A.S., for carrying out the work.
The Admiralty had in fact fathered and been responsible for the
landship since its first inception.

On December 24 the following recommendations were formulated at a
Conference held at the offices of the “Committee of Imperial Defence”:

  “SUPPLY OF MACHINES

  “(1) That if and when the Army Council, after inspection of the
  final experimental land cruiser, decide that such machines shall
  be entrusted to a small ‘Executive Supply Committee,’ which, for
  secrecy, shall be called the ‘Tank[15] Supply Committee,’ and shall
  come into existence as soon as the decision of the Army Council is
  made.

  “(2) That this Committee shall be responsible for the supply of
  caterpillar machine-gun destroyers or land cruisers of the approved
  type; complete in every respect for action, including both primary
  and secondary armament. That it shall receive instructions as to
  supply and design direct from the General Staff, War Office, the
  necessary financial arrangements being made by the Accounting
  Officer, War Office.

  “(3) That, in order to enable the committee to carry out its work
  with the maximum of despatch and minimum of reference, it shall
  have full power to place orders, and to correspond direct with any
  Government department concerned. To be in a position to do this, it
  should have placed to its credit, as soon as its work commences,
  a sum equivalent to the estimated cost of fifty machines, which
  sum should be increased later if necessary by any further amount
  required to carry out the programme of construction approved by the
  General Staff. The committee should also be authorised to incur
  any necessary expenditure in connection with experimental work,
  engagement of staff, travelling and other incidental expenses
  during the progress of the work.

  “(4) That as the machines are turned out and equipped they shall
  be handed over to the War Office for the purpose of training the
  personnel to man them.

  “(5) That the Committee be reconstituted with Lieutenant A. G.
  Stern as chairman.

  “(6) That since the officers of the R.N.A.S. will cease to
  belong to that service as soon as the ‘Tank Supply Committee’ is
  constituted, arrangements shall be made now for their payment from
  the same source that will bear the cost of constructing the land
  cruisers and for their appointment as military officers with rank
  suitable to the importance of their duties.”

The experimental machine was completed towards the end of 1915 and its
preliminary trials gave most promising results.

On January 30, 1916, Mr. D’Eyncourt, as head of the “Admiralty
Committee,” entrusted with the design and manufacture of the trial
machine, wrote to Lord Kitchener and informed him that the machine
was ready for his inspection and that it fulfilled all the conditions
laid down by the War Office, viz.--that it could carry guns, destroy
machine-guns, break through wire entanglements, and cross the enemy’s
trenches, whilst giving protection to its own crew. Mr. D’Eyncourt
also recommended that a number should be ordered immediately to this
model, without serious alteration, and that whilst these were being
manufactured the design of a more formidable machine could be developed.

On February 2 the first official trial of the new machine was held at
Hatfield and was witnessed by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty,
Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. McKenna, and various representatives of the War
Office and Ministry of Munitions. Following this trial G.H.Q., France,
on February 8 signified their approval of the machine and asked that
the Army might be supplied with a certain number.

Arising out of the Hatfield trial it was decided to form a small
unit of the Machine-Gun Corps, to be called the “Heavy Section,”
and Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton was appointed to command it with his
Headquarters in London, a training camp being first opened at Bisley
and later on moved to Elveden near Thetford.

As the “Admiralty Committee,” with the Director of Naval Construction
as chairman, had finished their work and produced an actual machine
complete in all respects and fulfilling all requirements, it was then
decided that the Ministry of Munitions should take over the production
of the machines. On February 10 the Army Council consequently addressed
a letter to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty requesting them
to convey “the very warm thanks of the Army Council to Mr. E. H. T.
D’Eyncourt, C.B., Director of Naval Construction, and his Committee,
for their work in evolving a machine for the use of the Army, and to
Mr. W. A. Tritton and Lieutenant W. G. Wilson, R.N.A.S., for their work
in design and construction.”

Two days later, on February 12, the “Joint Committee” was dissolved
and a new committee, closely following the lines laid down at the
Conference held in the offices of the “Committee of Imperial Defence,”
was formed under the Ministry of Munitions, and known as the “Tank
Supply Committee.”

  _Chairman._

  Lieutenant A. G. STERN, R.N.A.S., Director of Naval Constructions
    Committee.


  _Members._

  E. H. T. D’EYNCOURT, Esq., C.B., Director of Naval Construction.

  Lieutenant-Colonel E. D. SWINTON, D.S.O., R.E., Assistant
    Secretary, Committee of Imperial Defence.

  Major G. L. WHEELER, R.A., Director of Artillery’s Branch, War
    Office.

  Lieutenant W. G. WILSON, R.N.A.S., Director of Naval Constructions
    Committee.

  Lieutenant K. P. SYMES, R.N.A.S., Director of Naval Constructions
    Committee.

  P. DALE-BUSSELL, Esq., Director of Naval Constructions Committee,
    Contract Department, Admiralty.


  _Consultant._

  Captain T. G. TULLOCH, Ministry of Munitions.

On February 14, 1916, Mr. D’Eyncourt wrote the following letter, which
we quote in full, to Lieutenant-Colonel W. S. Churchill, commanding 6th
Royal Scots Fusiliers, B.E.F., France, whose initiative and foresight
were the true parents of the tank as a war machine:

  “DEAR COLONEL CHURCHILL,

  “It is with great pleasure that I am now able to report to you that
  the War Office have at last ordered 100 landships to the pattern
  which underwent most successful trials recently. Sir D. Haig sent
  some of his staff from the front.

  “Lord Kitchener and Robertson also came, and members of the
  Admiralty Board. The machine was complete in almost every detail
  and fulfils all the requirements finally given me by the War
  Office. The official tests of trenches, etc., were nothing to
  it, and finally we showed them how it could cross a 9 ft. gap
  after climbing a 4 ft. 6 in. high perpendicular parapet. Wire
  entanglements it goes through like a rhinoceros through a field
  of corn. It carries two 6-pounder guns in sponsons (a _naval_
  touch), and about 300 rounds; also smaller machine-guns, and is
  proof against machine-gun fire. It can be conveyed by rail (the
  sponsons and guns take off, making it lighter) and be ready for
  action very quickly. The King came[16] and saw it and was greatly
  struck by its performance, as was every one else; in fact, they
  were all astonished. It is capable of great development, but to get
  a sufficient number in time, I strongly urge ordering immediately a
  good many to the pattern which we know all about. As you are aware,
  it has taken much time and trouble to get the thing perfect, and
  a practical machine simple to make; we tried various types and
  did much experimental work. I am sorry it has taken so long, but
  pioneer work always takes time and no avoidable delay has taken
  place, though I begged them to order ten for training purposes two
  months ago. I have also had some difficulty in steering the scheme
  past the rocks of opposition and the more insidious shoals of
  apathy which are frequented by red herrings, which cross the main
  line of progress at frequent intervals.

  “The great thing now is to keep the whole matter secret and produce
  the machines altogether as a complete surprise. I have already
  put the manufacture in hand, under the ægis of the Minister of
  Munitions, who is very keen; the Admiralty is also allowing me to
  continue to carry on with the same Committee, but Stern is now
  Chairman.

  “I enclose photo. In appearance, it looks rather like a great
  antediluvian monster, especially when it comes out of boggy ground,
  which it traverses easily. The wheels behind form a rudder for
  steering a curve, and also ease the shock over banks, etc., but
  are not absolutely necessary, as it can steer and turn in its own
  length with the independent tracks.

            “E. H. T. D’EYNCOURT.”

Between its institution in February and the following August the “Tank
Supply Committee” underwent certain slight changes of organisation,
the distribution of its duties rightly tending more and more towards
centralisation. Shortly after its formation a “Tank Supply Department”
was created in the Ministry of Munitions to work with the “Tank
Supply Committee.” This Supply Department was concerned with and was
responsible for the initial output of the tanks which figured in the
Battle of the Somme.

On August 1, 1916, the following resolutions were come to by the “Tank
Supply Committee,” and agreed to by the Minister of Munitions:

“That the ‘Tank Supply Committee’ should in future be named the
‘Advisory Committee of the Tank Supply Department.’

“That a Sub-Committee consisting of Mr. D’Eyncourt, Mr. Bussell, and
the Chairman, should be appointed to decide in questions of design and
policy.”

On August 22, the Committee was dissolved on the ground that the
organisation for Tank Supply must be assimilated to that of the other
Departments of the Ministry of Munitions, and the outcome of this was
the formation of the “Mechanical Warfare Supply Department,” with
Lieutenant Stern as Chairman. This department continued in existence
from now on until the end of the war. Its powers were wide, embracing
production, design, inspection and the supply of tanks, and its energy
was unlimited.

Whilst all these changes were in progress the tanks were being
produced, and the personnel assembled and trained, and on August 13,
1916, the first detachment of thirteen tanks, being the right half of
“C” Company, left Thetford for France, to be followed on August 22 by
twelve tanks to complete the complement of “C” Company. On August 25
the right half of “D” Company entrained at Thetford for France, and on
August 30 the remainder of the company followed. Tanks on arrival in
France were transported to Yvrench, near Abbeville, where a training
centre had been established under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel
Brough, who had proceeded to France on August 3, to make the necessary
arrangements. On September 4, Colonel Brough, having organised the
training, returned to England, and Lieutenant-Colonel Bradley took over
command of the Heavy Section.

It was now decided by G.H.Q. that tanks should take part in the next
great attack in the Somme battle on September 15, so, on the 7th, 8th,
and 9th of this month, “C” and “D” Companies moved to the forward area,
and established their headquarters at the Loop, a railway centre not
far from the village of Bray-sur-Somme.



CHAPTER III

MECHANICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF TANKS


The following very brief account of the mechanical characteristics of
tanks, it is hoped, will prove sufficiently simple and complete to give
to the non-mechanical reader some idea of the tank as a machine.


THE MARK I TANK (see Frontispiece)

The first British tank made, and to be used, was the heavy machine,
already described in the previous chapter, the Mark I tank, the general
outline of which remained the standard design for the hulls of all
British heavy machines up to the end of the war. As will be shown
later, many mechanical improvements, making for higher efficiency and
greater simplicity of control, were introduced from time to time, but
the fact remains that the profile of the Mark V tank of 1918 was to
all intents and purposes that of the Mark I of 1916, and surely this
is a striking tribute to the genius of the designers who, without much
previous data upon which to base their work, produced the parent weapon.

It is not proposed here to enter upon the general arrangement of the
Mark I tank, but reference to two important points in design is of
interest. The first is that this machine was fitted with a “tail,”
consisting of a pair of heavy large-diameter wheels, mounted at the
rear of the machine upon a carriage, which was pivoted to the hull in
such a manner that the wheels were free to follow the varying contours
of the ground. A number of strong springs normally kept the wheels
bearing heavily upon the ground, whilst a hydraulic ram, operated by an
oil pump driven from the engine, was intended to enable the carriage to
be rocked upon its axis, in order to raise the wheels well clear of
the ground on occasions when it was necessary to “swing” the tank.

The object of this “tail” device was to provide means of steering the
machine and, to this end, the driver was provided with a steering
wheel which, operating a wire cable over a bobbin or drum, altered the
path of the “tail” wheels, and allowed the tank to be steered, under
favourable conditions, through a circle having a diameter of about
sixty yards. The disadvantages of this fitting far outweighed any
virtues it may have possessed. Countless troubles were experienced with
the ram and its pump; the wire steering cable was constantly stretching
or slipping through the bobbin, thus affecting the “lock” of the tail
wheels; the driver was subjected to great physical strain in overcoming
the tremendous resistance offered by the road wheels; the whole device
was very prone to be damaged by shell-fire in action. Against these
indictments should be recorded the fact that the possession of a
“tail” enabled the Mark I tank successfully to span and cross a wider
trench than the later “tailless” machines of the same dimensions could
negotiate, owing to the fact that as the wheels supported the rear
of the tank over the point of balance, the risk of “tail dive” was
considerably reduced. However, at the close of the operations of 1916,
all tanks were shorn of their tails, and no subsequent models were
fitted with them.

The second point of interest regarding this early machine relates to
its sponsons. These, on both the male and female machines (armed with
full length 6-pounder and Vickers machine-guns respectively) were
planted upon and bolted to the walls of the hull and, for entraining
purposes, these had to be removed and carried upon special trolleys
which could be towed behind the tanks. It will readily be seen that
this arrangement involved a considerable amount of labour, and rendered
the process of entraining an extremely lengthy one; this led to an
improved form of sponson being produced for the Mark IV machine.

The chief outstanding weaknesses of the Mark I machine, disclosed
during the first appearance in action, were:

That the engine was provided with no silencer, consequently the noise,
sparks, and even flames, which proceeded from the open exhaust pipes,
passing through the roof of the tank, constituted a grave danger during
the latter stages of an approach march. Many ingenious tank crews
fitted to their machines crude types of silencers made out of oil
drums, or adopted the plan of damping out the sparks by using wet sacks
in relays, or covering the exhaust pipe with clay and mud.

That the observation from the inside of the machine was bad, and
efficient fire control was, therefore, impossible.

That the means provided for entering and leaving the tank were
unsatisfactory, and, in the case of the female machine, speedy
evacuation in the event of fire was difficult.

That the whole of the petrol supply was carried inside the machine, and
in a vulnerable position--a circumstance which added to the risk of
fire in the event of a hit in the petrol tank by armour-piercing bullet
or shell. Furthermore, gravity was the only means for transferring
petrol from the main petrol tanks in the front of the machine to
the carburetter, and, therefore, it frequently happened that when a
tank “ditched” nose downwards, the petrol supply was cut off, and
consequently the dangerous practice of “hand-feeding” had to be
resorted to.


THE MARK II AND MARK III TANKS

These machines were produced in small numbers, and their difference
from Mark I lay in various minor improvements, none of a radical nature.


THE MARK IV TANK (Plate I--see p. 26)

In 1917 this tank became the standard fighting machine of the Tank
Corps, and it was used in battle throughout this year and the
following. As already stated, in outline it corresponded so closely
with the Mark I machine that a study here of the main features of this
tank will serve generally as an illustration of what had taken place in
tank development up to this date.

The machine was 26 ft. 5 in. long over all, whilst the width of the
female over its sponsons was 10 ft. 6 in., and of the male, 13 ft.
6 in. The height of the machine was 8 ft. 2 in., and its weight,
equipped, was 28 tons. The armament consisted, in the case of the male,
of two 6-pounder guns and four machine-guns, and in that of the female
of six machine-guns; it was fitted with a 105 h.p. Daimler 6-cylinder
sleeve-valve engine which, at a later date, was replaced in a limited
number by one of 125 h.p. This increased power was obtained by the use
of aluminium pistons, twin carburetters, and by speeding up the engine.

Generally speaking, these engines gave very little trouble, although
somewhat under-powered for the work they had to perform. They were, it
may be added, particularly suitable from the maintenance point of view,
owing to their “fool-proof” nature, due chiefly to the absence of the
usual poppet-valve gear, with its attendant risk of maladjustment.

Power was transmitted from the engine flywheel, through a cone-type
clutch and a flexible coupling, to a two-speed and reverse gear-box,
known as the primary gear, this being under the direct control of the
driver, who could thus obtain first and second speeds, or reverse,
without other assistance.

The tail-shaft from the gear-box carried a worm which drove the
crown wheel of a large reduction gear, this gear also serving as a
differential to enable the track driving wheels to rotate at different
speeds, as when steering the tank on its track brakes. A device was
provided, under the driver’s control, for locking the differential
when it was desired to steer a dead-ahead course, or when negotiating
a trench or other obstacle. With the differential locked, the gear
became, so to speak, “solid” and obviated the risk of one of the tracks
slipping in bad ground, a condition very apt to cause a tank to slip
sideways into a trench and become ditched.

Some trouble was caused through breakages of this locking muff in the
earlier days, but latterly the arrangement was considerably improved
and strengthened.

The gear-box tail-shaft terminated in a brake drum, the band of which
was operated by means of a pedal at the driver’s foot. It may be of
interest to point out here that the whole of the items so far referred
to, _i.e._ engine, gear-box, and differential, formed the standard
power unit of the pre-war Foster-Daimler tractor, and thus provided a
known quantity around which the rest of the detail was designed. This
greatly facilitated production.

On either side of the differential case projected cross-shafts, the
outer ends of which were supported in bearings mounted upon the
outside wall of the tank, and, between the inner and outer walls of
the hull, two sliding pinions were carried on a splined portion of the
cross-shaft, one pair of pinions on each of the right and left hand
sides of the tank.

In describing the remainder of the transmission, it will suffice to
deal only with one side of the machine, the detail on either side being
identical.

The sliding pinions, already alluded to, were operated by means of
short levers by two gearsmen, whose sole duty it was to assist the
driver, who signalled to them his requirements from his seat in the
front of the tank, the two gearsmen being accommodated towards the rear
of the machine on seats placed over the primary gear-box. The sliding
pinions were of two sizes, known as the high-speed and low-speed
pinions, and immediately in their rear was mounted another pinion
assembly, also carrying two gear-wheels of different dimensions, with
which the sliding wheels could be engaged at will--in other words,
on each side of the tank there existed what were known as secondary
gear-boxes, each offering a choice of two speeds.

Thus it will be seen that the whole arrangement provided a range of
four speeds. Assuming the secondary gears to be at “low,” the driver
had the option of using either first or second speed by manipulating
the control to the primary gear-box, whilst in order to obtain third
or fourth (top) speed it was necessary for him to signal the gearsmen
to alter their gears to “high,” and to assist them in the process by
a great deal of intelligent clutch work. It need hardly be pointed
out that this arrangement was exceedingly clumsy, and often involved
much loss of time and temper. It might also be mentioned here that the
reverse gear, already alluded to, was considerably higher than the
lowest forward speed, so that there was little possibility of driving
backwards, clear of any obstruction which might have ditched the tank.

Hand-operated brakes, under the control of the tank commander in the
front of the tank, alongside the driver, were incorporated with the
secondary gear-box. These brakes, by checking one or other track,
enabled the tank to be steered in some measure with the differential
unlocked, whilst, by locking the differential and placing, say, the
right-hand secondary gear in “neutral,” the machine could be swung to
the right, practically upon its own axis, by applying the right-hand
brake. To swing to the left, the right-hand secondary gear was engaged,
the left-hand being placed in “neutral,” the differential locked and
the left-hand brake applied.

From the secondary gear-box a Coventry chain transmitted the power to
an assembly, at the rear of the hull, which carried, on either side of
the chain sprocket, two heavy pinion wheels, in constant mesh with the
final sprocket wheels, which in turn, engaging with the links of the
track plates, drove the hull along the track.

Each track was composed, normally, of ninety plates or road shoes,
the separate plates being coupled together by means of links (two per
plate) and link pins, the links themselves being recessed so as to
engage with the driving wheels as shown above.

The weight of the machine was carried upon the track by means of
rollers, whilst the track was supported on the top of the hull by skids
or rails.

Adjustment of track was effected by the movement of an “idler” wheel,
which guided the track over the nose of the hull.

Refinements to the transmission were introduced in the shape of guards
to protect the driving chains from mud, and also means were provided
to lubricate the secondary gear-wheels with oil. It is recalled that,
prior to the introduction of the chain-guard, the inside deck of the
tanks was often covered with a layer of liquid mud, several inches
deep, carried in by the chains, and delivered through the secondary
gears.

Petrol was supplied to the engine in the earlier days of the Mark IV
machine by a pressure-fed system which gave a great deal of trouble,
and, being also considered dangerous, was finally discarded in favour
of the Autovac system, which sucked the fuel from the main supply in
a tank outside of the machine and delivered it to the carburetter by
gravity.

Cooling of the engine was primarily effected by a copper envelope
radiator, which gave some trouble and was finally superseded by a
tubular type.

An efficient silencer, with a long exhaust pipe carried right to the
rear of the machine, considerably reduced engine noise and rendered the
approach march a far less hazardous undertaking than was the case with
the earlier models.

Sponsons were designed to collapse into the interior of the machine
when necessary, and the cumbersome practice of detaching them from the
hull came to an end. Short 6-pounder guns were introduced to render
this change possible.

Detachable “spuds,” to provide a grip for the tracks on difficult soil,
were first introduced for this machine, as also was a highly efficient
unditching gear. The latter consisted of a beam, rather longer than the
overall width of the tank hull, which was fastened by clips and chains
to each track, and, in passing round under the machine, actually took a
purchase from the obstruction under the belly of the tank.

Detail improvements to give easier entrance and more rapid egress in
case of emergency, as well as better and safer vision and fire control,
were also introduced.


THE MARK V TANK (Plate V--see p. 204)

With the introduction of the Mark V tank, which represents the standard
British heavy tank of to-day, great progress was made in all-round
speed, ease of manœuvre, radius of action, simplicity of control and
feasibility of observation.

The dimensions and weight of this tank were approximately the same
as those of the Mark IV, whilst the design of the hull still closely
followed the lines of the original Mark I. Equipped with the 150 h.p.
Ricardo 6-cylinder poppet-valved engine, specially designed for tank
work, the advent of the Mark V machine called for the introduction of
new courses of instruction for the personnel of the Corps, very few of
either officers or other ranks having, at this time, any experience of
the care and adjustment of the valve gear.

This Ricardo engine, of somewhat unorthodox design, was highly
efficient and, with proper care and attention, gave very little
trouble. From the engine, power was transmitted through a plate clutch
in the flywheel to a four-speed gear-box, immediately in rear of
which was the reverse gear, providing “reverse” _on all speeds_. The
cross-shaft, incorporated with the reverse gear, carried at either end
(in the same relative position as the secondary gears, explained in
dealing with the Mark IV machine) an epicyclic gear. It is not within
the scope of this chapter to describe this gear in detail, but it may
be regarded as serving the double purpose of a reduction gear and
clutch, combined in one unit.

From these epicyclic gears, the transmission of the drive through to
the tracks followed the principle of the Mark IV machine, except that
there was no second-line pinion assembly as in the secondary gear of
the earlier tank, the Coventry chain on the Mark V passing direct from
the single-unit epicyclic gear to the pinion assembly operating the
track driving wheels.

All the items enumerated above were under the direct control of the
driver, who was therefore enabled to perform, single-handed, all the
operations which previously required the work of four men. Hand levers
controlled the epicyclic gears, primary gear-box, and reverse gear,
whilst the clutch and gear were foot-operated.

To steer the tank at any speed, the driver had merely to raise the
epicyclic gear lever on the side on which he wished to turn. This had
the effect of interrupting the drive to that track, so that, being
driven by the remaining track, the machine would turn upon the “idle”
side.

Where a sharp “swing” was necessary, application of the foot brake
would automatically check the “idle” track, this being allowed for by
means of a single compensating link motion with which the controls were
interconnected.

The engine was petrol-fed by the autovac system, as fitted to the
later Mark IV machines. Cooling of the engine was effected by means
of a tubular type radiator, the water therein being itself cooled by
air drawn from outside the tank, through louvres in the left-hand
wall of the hull, and finally expelled through similar louvres in the
right-hand wall.

Further, the engine was completely enclosed in a sheet-iron casing,
from which the hot foul air was exhausted through the roof of the tank
by means of a Keith fan.

The Mark V armament corresponded with that of the Mark IV, whilst the
sponsons were of similar design to those fitted to the latter type.

The absence of the large differential gear, as fitted on the earlier
models, gave accommodation for a machine-gun in the rear wall of the
tank, and also allowed for large entrance doors in the back portion of
the roof.

A greatly improved type of rear cab was fitted, and thus provided
excellent all-round vision, and also rendered possible the fitting of
the unditching beam to the tracks from the inside of the machine. This
was accomplished through the side flaps of the rear cab of the Mark V,
whereas on previous models it had been necessary for members of the
crew to expose themselves to hostile fire, in the event of the tank
becoming ditched in action, as the beam could only be attached and
detached from outside.


CHARACTERISTICS OF BRITISH TANKS USED DURING THE GREAT WAR

  --------------------+-------------------+-------------------+
                      |      Mark I.      |      Mark IV.     |
    Characteristics.  +---------+---------+---------+---------+
                      |  Male.  | Female. |  Male.  | Female. |
  --------------------+---------+---------+---------+---------+
  Length with Tail    | 32′ 6″  | 32′ 6″  |         |         |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Length without Tail | 26′ 5″  | 26′ 5″  | 26′5″   | 26′5″   |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Width               | 13′ 9″  | 13′ 9″  | 13′6″   | 10′6″   |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Height              |  8′05″  |  8′05″  |  8′2″   |  8′2″   |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Weight, equipped    | 28 tons | 27 tons | 28 tons | 27 tons |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Crew                |1 officer|1 officer|1 officer|1 officer|
                      | 7 O.R.  | 7 O.R.  | 7 O.R.  | 7 O.R.  |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Armament            |2 6-pdrs.| 5 M.G.s |2 6-pdrs.| 6 Lewis |
                      | and 4   |  and 1  | and 4   |  guns   |
                      |Hotchkiss|Hotchkiss| Lewis   |         |
                      |  guns   |   gun   | guns    |         |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Engine              |105 h.p. |105 h.p. |105 h.p. |105 h.p. |
                      | Daimler | Daimler | Daimler | Daimler |
                      |         |         |         |         |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Maximum Speed       |   3.7   |   3.7   |   3.7   |   3.7   |
                      |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Average Speed       |   2.0   |   2.0   |   2.0   |   2.0   |
                      |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Radius of Action    |  Hours  |  Hours  |  Hours  |  Hours  |
                      |  6.2,   |  6.2,   |  7.5,   |  7.5,   |
                      |miles 12 |miles 12 |miles 15 |miles 15 |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Spanning Power      |  11′6″  |  11′6″  |  10′0″  |  10′0″  |
  --------------------+---------+---------+---------+---------+

  --------------------+-------------------+-------------------+
                      |       Mark V.     |    Mark V star.   |
    Characteristics.  +---------+---------+---------+---------+
                      |  Male.  | Female. |  Male.  | Female. |
  --------------------+---------+---------+---------+---------+
  Length with Tail    |         |         |         |         |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Length without Tail | 26′5″   | 26′5″   | 32′5″   | 32′5″   |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Width               | 13′6″   | 10′6″   | 13′6″   | 10′6″   |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Height              |  8′8″   |  8′8″   |  8′8″   |  8′8″   |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Weight, equipped    | 29 tons | 28 tons | 33 tons | 32 tons |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Crew                |1 officer|1 officer|1 officer|1 officer|
                      | 7 O.R.  | 7 O.R.  | 7 O.R.  | 7 O.R.  |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Armament            |2 6-pdrs.|    6    |2 6-pdrs.|    6    |
                      | and 4   |Hotchkiss|  and 4  |Hotchkiss|
                      |Hotchkiss|  guns   |Hotchkiss|  guns   |
                      |  guns   |         |  guns   |         |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Engine              |150 h.p. |150 h.p. |150 h.p. |150 h.p. |
                      | Ricardo | Ricardo | Ricardo | Ricardo |
                      |         |         |         |         |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Maximum Speed       |   4.6   |   4.8   |   4.0   |   4.0   |
                      |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Average Speed       |   3.0   |   3.0   |   2.5   |   2.5   |
                      |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h. |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Radius of Action    |  Hours  |  Hours  |  Hours  |  Hours  |
                      |  9.0,   |  9.0,   |  7.5,   |  7.5,   |
                      |miles 25 |miles 25 |miles 18 |miles 18 |
                      |         |         |         |         |
  Spanning Power      |  10′0″  |  10′0″  |  14′0″  |  14′0″  |
  --------------------+---------+---------+---------+---------+

  --------------------+---------+-----------
                      | Medium  |
    Characteristics.  | Mark A. |Guncarrier.
                      |         |
  --------------------+---------+-----------
  Length with Tail    |         | 43′0″
                      |         |
  Length without Tail | 20′0″   | 30′0″
                      |         |
  Width               |  8′7″   | 11′0″
                      |         |
  Height              |  9′0″   |  9′4″
                      |         |
  Weight, equipped    | 14 tons | 34 tons
                      |         |
  Crew                |1 officer|1 officer
                      | 2 O.R.  | 3 O.R.
                      |         |
  Armament            |    4    |  1
                      |Hotchkiss|Lewis
                      |  guns   | gun
                      |         |
                      |         |
  Engine              |2 Tyler, |105 h.p.
                      | 45 h.p. | Daimler
                      |  each   |
                      |         |
  Maximum Speed       |   8.3   |   3.0
                      |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h.
                      |         |
  Average Speed       |   5.0   |   1.75
                      |  m.p.h. |  m.p.h.
                      |         |
  Radius of Action    |  Hours  |  Hours
                      |  10.0,  |  7.5,
                      |miles 40 |miles 15
                      |         |
  Spanning Power      |  7′0″   |  11′6″
  --------------------+---------+-----------

  NOTE.--(i) The Mark V star tank could carry twenty men in addition to
                 its crew.
        (ii) The Gun-carrier could carry 10 tons weight of stores.
       (iii) Radii of Action are only approximate; they depend on the
                 nature of the ground, efficiency of the crew, etc.


THE MARK V ONE STAR TANK (Plate VII--see p. 220)

The Mark V star machine was 6 ft. longer than the Mark V, and the
weight of the male, equipped, was approximately 33 tons. There was no
change in the nature of the armament, or in the number of the crew,
which consisted of eight all told. In addition to the crew, the machine
was capable of carrying twenty to twenty-five other troops and would
cross a 14 ft. trench, as against 10 ft. for the Mark V.

The general mechanical arrangement of this tank corresponded with that
of the Mark V, the same engine and transmission system being adopted,
with the addition of a Cardan shaft between the flywheel and gear-box,
which was rendered necessary by the additional length of the machine.

The Mark V star was relatively slow to manœuvre, owing chiefly to the
amount of track-bearing surface on the ground.


THE MEDIUM MARK A OR “WHIPPET” TANK

(Plate III--see p. 176)

The Medium A tank, known also as the “Chaser” and “Whippet,” was the
British standard light-type machine, and it differed altogether from
its heavier relatives. Its weight, equipped, was about 14 tons, whilst
it was 20 ft. long, 9 ft. high, and 8 ft. 7 in. wide, carrying a crew
of three. It could attain a maximum speed of about 8·3 m.p.h., and
could span a trench approximately 7 ft. in width.

On this machine the tracks were not carried “overhead” as in the
case of the heavy tanks, but the two trackways existed as such only,
and formed the road members of what may be described as the chassis
upon which the engine-room and fighting cab were mounted. There were
no sponsons, and the tank was driven and fought from the cab at the
rear of the machine, provision being allowed for an armament of three
machine-guns.

Each machine was fitted with two 45 h.p. 4-cylinder Tyler engines with
an autovac petrol feed, and cooled by means of a tubular radiator
provided with two fans driven by chains from each crankshaft.

The power of each engine was transmitted through separate cone
clutches, leather flexible couplings, and four-speed and reverse
gear-boxes, to a casing, at the rear of the machine, containing two
worm gears.

The two worm-wheel shafts of these gears were in line, with their inner
ends nearly touching, and each carrying the keyed-on half of a jawed
coupling, one of which could be slid along at will, to engage with the
other, thus locking the two shafts together.

One of the shafts carried a friction-clutch arrangement, designed to
limit the power transmitted from one shaft to the other to about 12 h.p.

It will be seen, therefore, that either worm-wheel shaft could be
driven independently by its own engine, or the two could be locked
together so as to rotate at the same speed, driving the tank straight
ahead, provided that there was not more than 12 h.p. difference between
the developed powers of the engines. Extensions of each worm shaft
carried a band brake, as well as a fan for forcing air into the cab of
the machine.

Returning to the details of the transmission system, each cross-shaft
from the worm case terminated in a “driving chain pinion shaft,” the
outer ends of which were supported by ball bearings mounted upon
the sides of the track frames. The chain pinion carried by this
shaft transmitted the drive, through a roller chain, to the final
track-driving wheels, which, engaging with the slots in the track
links, drove the tank along the track. Each track consisted normally of
sixty-seven plates or shoes, and rollers served to support the weight
of the tank upon the track, as well as to carry the track over the top
of the trackway. Adjustment of the track was effected by movement of
the front “idler” wheel as in the case of the heavier machines.

The Whippet tank called for particular skill in driving, and a great
deal of practice was usually necessary to produce a really efficient
driver. “Stalling” of one or both engines was a common occurrence
during the earlier stages of training. Steering was effected by varying
the speed of either engine, and the radius of movement was proportional
to the difference in the speed of the two engines, this difference
being controlled by means of a steering wheel connected to the two
carburetter throttles, movement of the wheel producing acceleration of
one engine and deceleration of the other simultaneously.


THE GUN-CARRYING TANK (Plate VII--see p. 220)

Originally designed for carrying a 60-pounder gun or 6-in. howitzer and
ammunition into action, these machines during 1918 were chiefly used
for the transport of supplies across country. The engine, a 6-cylinder
105 h.p. Daimler, was placed right at the rear of the machine, and the
general lay-out of the transmission corresponded with that of the Mark
IV modified to suit the engine position, the primary and secondary
gears, etc., being mounted forward of the engine in the case of this
G.C. tank. The final drive to the track was at the rear, and exactly
followed the Mark IV practice, whilst the track itself was carried on
track frames, in this respect somewhat resembling the Medium A machine.

Four men were required to control the G.C. tank, the driver and
brakesman being separately housed in two small independent cabs mounted
one over each track towards the front of the machine, whilst the
secondary gearsmen travelled in the body of the machine.

A system of signalling by signs from driver to other members of the
crew was adopted.

Situated between the inner walls of the hull at the front of the tank
was a “skid” or platform which could be drawn out, and its front
lowered to the ground, forming an inclined runway up which the gun was
hauled, by means of a winding gear operated from the engine, to its
travelling position on the machine.

Drums for carrying ammunition for the guns were supported on platforms
over the tracks immediately in rear of the two control cabs.

The first G.C. tanks were fitted with “tails,” similar to those on the
Mark I machines, but these were later on discarded.

The above includes the brief mechanical summary of the various types of
British tanks used during the Great War, and though, undoubtedly, the
future will bring with it many improvements and may radically change
the whole form of the present-day tank, it is doubted if ever, in the
whole history of mechanics--let alone warfare, a novel machine has been
produced which has proved so efficient on first use and required in the
long run of two years of war so few changes.



CHAPTER IV

THE MARK I TANK AND ITS TACTICS


The Mark I tank was the direct produce of the experimental machine
which was officially tested on February 2, 1916. It may be defined as
“a mechanically-propelled cross-country armoured battery,” the maximum
thickness of its armour being 12 mm.[17]

The main tactical characteristics of all tanks may be placed under the
headings of--mobility, security, and offensive power, and as regards
the Mark I machine the following is a general description of these
characteristics:

(i) _Mobility._--The Mark I tank could move over flat ground at 100 to
120 yards a minute, over ground intersected by trenches at 30 to 40
yards a minute, and at night time at 15 yards a minute. It could cross
all forms of wire entanglements, crushing down two paths through them
which were passable by two single files of infantry. It could span a
trench 11 ft. 6 in. wide, surmount an obstacle 5 ft. high, and climb a
slope of 1 over 2.

(ii) _Security._--The Mark I tank was proof against ordinary bullets,
shrapnel, and most shell-splinters.

(iii) _Offensive Power._--Mark I tanks were divided into two
categories: male and female. The former carried an armament of two
6-pounder guns and four Hotchkiss machine-guns, the latter of five
Vickers and one Hotchkiss machine-guns. The normal amount of ammunition
carried was for males 200 rounds and 10,000 rounds S.A.A., and for
females 12,000 rounds S.A.A.

The chief limitations of the tank are connected with its mobility. For
the Mark I type these limitations were as follows:

Its circuit in action was about 12 miles, and the fighting endurance
of its crew 8 to 12 hours. It was not suited for traversing swamps,
thick woods, streams with marshy banks, or deep sunken roads. It could
be expected to cross shelled dry ground at a slow pace, but should this
ground become sodden with rain it would find difficulty in doing so,
and might frequently become ditched.

A tactical paper on the employment of this machine was put forward
officially in February 1916 by Colonel Swinton, entitled “Notes on the
Employment of ‘Tanks.’” This document is of special interest as it is
the first tactical note published on the use of tanks. The following
are certain extracts taken from it:

  “The use made by the Germans of machine-guns and wire
  entanglements--a combination which has such power to check the
  advance of infantry--has in reply brought about the evolution of
  the ‘caterpillar bullet-proof climbing motor, or tank,’ a machine
  designed for the express purpose of assisting attacking infantry
  by crossing the defences, breaking through the obstacles, and
  of disposing of the machine-guns. It is primarily a machine-gun
  destroyer, which can be employed as an auxiliary to an infantry
  assault....”

  “Hostile machine-guns which it is impossible to crush (_i.e._ by
  running over them) will be attacked by gunfire. It is specially
  for the purpose of dealing with these weapons ensconced in houses,
  cellars, amongst ruins, in haystacks, or in other concealed
  positions behind the enemy’s front line, where they may not
  be knocked out by our artillery, and whence they can stop our
  infantry advances, that the tanks carry guns. Being covered with
  bullet-proof protection, and therefore to a great extent immune
  from the hostile machine-guns, they can approach sufficiently close
  to locate the latter, and pour in shell at point-blank range....”

  “As ... it is proposed that the tanks should accompany the
  infantry,” they should carry forward the following signalling
  apparatus, “small wireless sets ... an apparatus for laying a field
  telephone cable either on the surface of the ground or possibly
  buried 12 in. deep ...” also visual signalling apparatus and smoke
  rockets.

  “The tanks will be destroyed by a direct hit of any type of
  howitzer shell. They will probably be put out of action by all
  except the most glancing hits of high-explosive shell fired by
  field-guns.... They may also be blown up by mines or land-mines....”

  “Since the chance of success of an attack by tanks lies almost
  entirely in its novelty, and in the element of surprise, it is
  obvious that no repetition of it will have the same opportunity of
  succeeding as the first unexpected effort. It follows, therefore,
  that these machines _should not be used in driblets_ (for instance,
  as they may be produced), but that the fact of their existence
  should be kept as secret as possible until the whole are ready
  to be launched, together with the infantry assault, in one great
  combined operation....”

  “The sector of front where the machines can best operate should be
  carefully chosen to comply with their limitations, _i.e._ their
  inability to cross canals, rivers, deep railway cuttings with steep
  sides, woods and orchards....”

  Tanks should remain at the position of assembly “sufficiently long
  for the crews to reconnoitre, ease and mark out the routes up to
  the points where they will actually cross the front defences,
  and to learn all that can be discovered of the German front-line
  trenches, and the defence zone behind it over which they have to
  advance....”

  “The tanks, it is thought, should move forward together, say,
  by rocket signal, sweeping the enemy’s first-line parapet with
  machine-gun fire; and after they have proceeded some three-quarters
  of the way across ‘No Man’s Land,’ and have succeeded in attracting
  to themselves the fire of the German infantry and machine-guns in
  the front line, the assaulting infantry should charge forward so as
  to reach the German defences soon after the tanks have climbed the
  parapet and begun to enfilade the trenches....”

  “... unless expectations are falsified, if the machines accompany
  the assaulting infantry, moving with it, or just ahead of it ...
  both will be across the enemy’s front line and on their way to the
  second before the curtain of fire descends, and the latter will be
  behind them. It is hoped similarly that, owing to the prevention of
  the usual checks to the advance, which the action of the tanks will
  ensure, by the time the German gunners shorten the range in order
  to provide a second curtain in front of their second line, our
  assault will have already swept beyond the line.

  “The above anticipations are admittedly sanguine; but if the
  tanks are employed and are successful, it is thought that they
  will enable the assault to maintain most of its starting momentum,
  and _break through the German position quickly_,” a condition
  which up to the present it has not been possible to attain, “even
  after immense sacrifice of life.”... “Not only, however, does it
  seem that the tanks will confer the power to force successive
  comparatively unbattered defensive lines, but ... the more speedy
  and uninterrupted their advance, the greater the chance of their
  surviving sufficiently long to do this. It is possible, therefore,
  that an effort to break right through the enemy’s defensive zone
  in one day may now be contemplated as a feasible proposition....
  This being the case, it appears that when the tanks are used the
  contingency of such an extended bound forward being made should be
  most carefully legislated for in the way of preparation to send
  forward reinforcements, guns, ammunition, and supplies....”

  “The necessity for the co-ordination of all arms to work together
  in the offensive generally requires no remarks here, but the
  desirability of the specially careful consideration of the subject
  in the case of an operation by tanks, requires some emphasis,
  since the orchestration of the attack will be complicated by the
  introduction of a new instrument and one which somewhat alters
  the chain of interdependence of all. A recapitulation of this
  chain will make the matter clear. The tanks cannot win battles by
  themselves. They are purely auxiliary to the infantry, and are
  intended to sweep away the obstructions which have hitherto stopped
  the advance of our infantry beyond the German first line, and
  cannot with certainty be disposed of by shell fire. It follows,
  therefore, that the progress of the attack, which depends on the
  advance of the infantry, depends on the activity and preservation
  in action of the tanks.

  “The weapons by which the tanks are most likely to be put out of
  action are the enemy guns. The only means by which we can at the
  earlier stages of an attack reduce the activity of the enemy’s
  guns, are by our own artillery fire or by dropping bombs on them
  from the air.

  “It follows, therefore, that in order to help our infantry in any
  operation in which tanks take part ... the principal object of our
  guns should not be to endeavour to damage the German machine-guns,
  earthworks, and wire, behind the enemy’s first line, a task
  they cannot with certainty carry out, and which the tanks are
  specially designed to perform. It should be to endeavour to help
  the infantry by helping the tanks, _i.e._ by concentrating as heavy
  a counter-fire as possible on the enemy’s main artillery position,
  and on any field or other light guns whose situation behind the
  first line is known....”

  “In order to increase the confusion which it is hoped will be
  caused amongst the enemy by an attack by tanks, and to assist in
  concealing the exact nature and the progress of these machines, it
  would be of advantage if their advance were heralded by clouds of
  smoke....”

The above quotations need no comment, and if comment is to be sought
for, the most suitable places to seek it are the battles in which tanks
eventually took part, for in these, and the great number of lesser
actions, some eighty-five in all, it will be found that not only were
Colonel Swinton’s speculations, made seven months before the first tank
crossed “No Man’s Land,” not mere “flights of imagination,” but “solid
facts,” the value of which these battles have proved again and again.



CHAPTER V

THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME AND ANCRE


On July 1, 1916, the battle of the Somme opened with a successful
advance on the British right between Maricourt and Ovillers, and a
check on the British left between Ovillers and Gommecourt. From that
day on to the commencement of the battle of the Ancre, in November,
no further attempt was made to push forward the British left, all
available troops being required to maintain the forward movement of the
right flank.

The ground which separates the rivers Somme and Ancre is split up
into valleys by pronounced ridges, most of which form natural lines
of defence for an enemy and could, in 1916, only be stormed after
having been subjected to a heavy artillery bombardment. The ground had
consequently become severely “crumped” in places; but as the weather,
up to September 15, had been fine and dry, it offered no insuperable
difficulty to the movement of the tanks, which were allotted to the
Fourth and Reserve Armies as follows:

  Fourth Army, XIVth Corps   “C” Company (less 1 Section)    17 tanks
    „     „    XVth    „     “D” Company (less 1 Section)    17   „
    „     „    IIIrd   „     1 Section “D” Company            8   „
  Reserve Army               1 Section “C” Company            7   „
  In G.H.Q. Reserve (all mechanically unfit)                 10   „

On September 11 operation orders were received from the Fourth Army,
and on the 13th a conference was held, at which Lieutenant-Colonel
Bradley attended, to discuss the forthcoming attack. During the 14th
“A” Company arrived at Yvrench, and at 4.30 p.m. on that day the
headquarters of “C” Company moved to the Briquetterie near Trones
Wood, and the headquarters of “D” Company to Green Dump.

The frontage of the Fourth Army attack extended between the Combles
ravine and Martinpuich, the intention being to break through the
enemy’s defensive system and occupy Morval, Les Bœufs, Gueudecourt,
and Flers. Simultaneously with this attack the Reserve Army was to
attack on the left of the IIIrd Corps, and the French on the right
of the XIVth Corps. The attack was to be pushed with the utmost
vigour, and was to be followed by the advance of the Cavalry Corps,
which was to seize the high ground about Rocquigny-Villers au
Flos-Riencourt-lez-Bapaume.

The general idea governing tank movements, on this the first occasion
of their use, was that they should be employed in sub-sections of two
or three machines against “strong points.” Considerable apprehension
existed as to the likelihood on the one hand of tanks, if they started
too soon, drawing prematurely the enemy’s fire, and on the other of
their reaching their objective too late to be an assistance to the
infantry. It was finally decided that they should start in sufficient
time to reach the first objective five minutes before the infantry got
there, and thus risk drawing hostile fire. Our own artillery barrages,
stationary and creeping, were to be brought down at zero, leaving lanes
free from fire through which the tanks were to advance.

The tanks moved up from their positions of assembly to their
starting-points during the night of September 14-15. Of the
forty-nine machines allotted for the attack, thirty-two reached their
starting-points in time for the battle, the remainder failing to
arrive through becoming ditched on the way, or breaking down through
mechanical trouble.

The tanks working with the Reserve Army and the IIIrd and XIVth Corps
were not a great success; the operations of those with the XVth Corps
were as follows:

The tanks allotted to this Corps assembled on the night of September
13-14 at the Green Dump, where the machines were tuned up for battle,
and where stores of petrol and oil had been collected. On the night of
the 14-15th the tanks moved up to their starting-points round Delville
Wood. Every tank was given the route it had to follow, and the time it
was to leave the starting-point; this was in most cases about half an
hour before zero (dawn), and was intended to be arranged so that the
tanks should reach the German trenches a few minutes ahead of our own
infantry. Briefly, the orders were for eight tanks to advance on the
west of Flers, and six on the east of that village, their destination
being Gueudecourt and the sunken road to the west of it. The tanks were
to attack all strong points on their routes, and to assist the infantry
whenever held up.

Of the seventeen tanks which moved off, twelve reached their
starting-points; eleven of these crossed the German trenches and
did useful work. One in particular gave great assistance where the
attacking infantry were held up in front of the Flers line by wire
and machine-gun fire; the tank commander placed his machine astride
the trench and enfiladed it; the tank then travelled along behind the
trench, and 300 Germans surrendered and were taken prisoners. Another
tank entered Gueudecourt, attacked a German battery and destroyed one
77 mm. field-gun with its 6-pounders; the tank was then hit by a shell
and caught fire; only two of its crew got back to our lines.

This attack on September 15, from the point of view of tank operations,
was not a great success. Of the forty-nine tanks employed, only
thirty-two reached their starting-points; nine pushed ahead of the
infantry and caused considerable loss to the enemy, and nine others,
though they never caught up with the infantry, did good work in
clearing up points where the enemy was still holding out. Of the
remaining fourteen, nine broke down from mechanical trouble, and five
became ditched.

The casualties amongst the tank personnel were insignificant. Of the
machines ten were hit in action and temporarily rendered useless, and
seven were slightly damaged, but not sufficiently so as to prevent them
returning in safety.

The next occasion upon which tanks were used was during the attacks of
September 25 and 26, five being allotted to the Fourth Army, and eight
to the Reserve Army. Of these thirteen tanks nine stuck in shell-holes,
two worked their way into Thiepval, and after rendering assistance to
the infantry met a similar fate, and one, working with the XVth Corps,
carried out the first “star” turn in the history of tank tactics, which
in the report of the XVth Corps is described as follows:

  “On September 25, the 64th Brigade, 21st Division, attack on Gird
  trench was hung up and unable to make any progress. A footing had
  been obtained in Gird trench at N.32 d.9.1,[18] and our troops
  held the trench from N.26 c.4.5, northwards. Between these two
  points there remained approximately 1,500 yards of trench, very
  strongly held by Germans, well wired, the wire not having been cut.
  Arrangements were made for a tank (female) to move up from here for
  an attack next morning. The tank arrived at 6.30 a.m. followed by
  bombers. It started moving south-eastwards along the Gird trench,
  firing its machine-guns. As the trench gradually fell into our
  hands, strong points were made in it by two companies of infantry,
  which were following in the rear for that purpose. No difficulty
  was experienced. The enemy surrendered freely as the tank moved
  down the trench. They were unable to escape owing to our holding
  the trench at the southern end at N.32 d.9.1. By 8.30 a.m. the
  whole length of the trench had been cleared, and the 15th Durham
  Light Infantry moved over the open and took over the captured
  trench. The infantry then advanced to their final objective, when
  the tank rendered very valuable assistance. The tank finally ran
  short of petrol south-east of Gueudecourt. In the capture of
  the Gird trench, eight officers and 362 other ranks were made
  prisoners, and a great many Germans were killed. Our casualties
  only amounted to five. Nearly 1,500 yards of trench were captured
  in less than an hour. What would have proved a very difficult
  operation, involving probably heavy losses, was taken with greatest
  ease entirely owing to the assistance rendered by the tank.”

The last occasion upon which tanks were used during 1916 was on
November 13 and 14, in the battle of the Ancre, which completed the
Somme operations for the year. Heavy rain had fallen, and the difficult
ground along the river Ancre had been converted into a morass of mud.
For this attack complete tank preparations were made, reconnaissances
were carried out, and a tankodrome (Tank Park) was established at
Acheux.

On account of the bad weather the original plan, namely, to use twenty
tanks, was abandoned, and a much more modest scheme was evolved. Three
tanks were to operate with the 39th Division opposite St. Pierre
Divion. On November 13 these moved forward, and eventually all three
stuck in the mud. North of the river Ancre two tanks were sent against
Beaumont Hamel; these also became ditched. Next morning three more
tanks were sent out to clear up a strong point just south of the
last-named village. One of these was hit by a shell, and the remaining
two, on reaching the German front line, became ditched. These two tanks
were, however, able to bring their 6-pounders and machine-guns to bear
on the strong point, and their fire proved so effective that after a
short time the Germans holding it surrendered, and 400 prisoners were
rounded up by the tank crews--2 officers and 14 other ranks.

From the point of view of the general observer it might be said that,
except for one or two small and brilliant operations, the tank during
the battle of the Somme had not proved its value. The general observer,
however, is seldom the best judge, and when the actual conditions under
which tanks were used, during the autumn of 1916, are weighed and the
lessons sorted, history’s verdict, it is thought, will be, that they
had so far proved their value that September 15, 1916, will in future
be noted not so much for the successes gained on that day, but as the
birthday of a new epoch in the history of war.

What were these lessons?

(i) That the machine in principle was absolutely sound, and that all it
required were certain mechanical improvements.

(ii) That it had not been given a fair trial. It had been constructed
for good going and fine weather; it had been, unavoidably, used on
pulverised soil, often converted by rain into a pudding of mud.

(iii) That, on account of the secrecy it was necessary to maintain,
commanders had little or no conception of the tactics to apply to its
use.

(iv) That sufficient time had not been obtainable wherein to give the
crews a thorough and careful training.

(v) That tank operations require the most careful preparation and
minute reconnaissances in order to render them successful.

(vi) That tanks require leading and controlling in battle, and
consequently that a complete system of communication is essential.

(vii) That tanks, like every other arm, require a separate supply
organisation to maintain them whilst fighting.

(viii) That tanks draw away much fire from the infantry, and have
as great an encouraging effect on our own troops as they have a
demoralising one on the enemy’s.

These are the main lessons which were learnt from the tank operations
which took place during the battles of the Somme and the Ancre, and
the mere fact of having learnt them justifies the employment of tanks
during these operations. Further it must be remembered that, whatever
tests are carried out under peace conditions, the only true test of
efficiency is war, consequently the final test a machine or weapon
should get is its first battle, and until this test has been undergone,
no guarantee can be given of its real worth, and no certain deductions
can be made as to its future improvement.



CHAPTER VI

THE GROWTH OF THE TANK CORPS ORGANISATION


The word “Reorganisation” is a word which will never be forgotten by
any member of the Tank Corps Headquarters Staff; it was their one
persistent companion for over two years. It dogged their steps through
all seasons, over training areas and battlefields in sleuth-hound
fashion from the earliest days; and its pace was never stronger or its
tongue more noisy than when, on November 11, 1918, it was temporarily
shaken off with the armistice. Depressing as this perpetual change
often was, reorganisation is, nevertheless, an extremely healthy sign,
for it shows that the Tank Corps, a young formation, was not afraid to
grow, and that it refused to stand still; and, when all is said and
done, should not every organisation be dynamic, should not it move with
the times, expand, grow, and absorb difficulties rather than push them
aside or ignore them? Whatever, in the eyes of others, the Tank Corps
may have been, throughout the Great War it was an intensely virile
formation.

In this chapter the organisation and reorganisation of the Tank Corps,
first known as the “Heavy Section,” and later as the “Heavy Branch” of
the Machine Gun Corps, will be dealt with in its entirety; for unless
we lay this spectre in a chapter of its own it will never leave us in
peace, but will haunt our steps right through this brief history, as
was its wont when the incidents now related were taking form in France
and England.

In June 1916 the Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps was organised in
six companies--A, B, C, D, E, and F. Each company consisted of four
sections, each of six tanks with one spare tank per company--in all
twenty-five machines, thus absorbing the 150 machines ordered.[19]
Each section consisted of 3 male and 3 female tanks, subdivided into
three sub-sections of 1 male and 1 female each.

The crew of a tank was 1 officer and 7 other ranks, the total personnel
of a section being 6 officers and 43 other ranks. For every two
companies was provided a Quartermaster’s establishment of 1 officer and
4 other ranks, and a workshop of 3 officers and 50 other ranks.

A few days after the Heavy Section had made its debut on the
battlefield of the Somme, a suggestion was put forward to organise
it on the lines of the Royal Flying Corps, which, eventually, in the
main was adopted. This was undoubtedly a sound suggestion, as every
new weapon requires an organisation of its own to nurse it through its
infancy.

On September 29, Lieutenant-Colonel H. J. Elles, D.S.O., who, as we
have seen, first came into contact with tanks in January 1916, was
appointed Colonel Commanding the Heavy Section in France, and on the
same day that his appointment was sanctioned it was decided that 1,000
tanks should be built, and that certain improvements in the existing
design of machine should be introduced. At this time the Headquarters
of the Heavy Section were located in one small hut in the centre of
the square of the village of Beauquesne, and as this village was not
considered suitable for a permanent Headquarters, Bermicourt was
selected instead--a small village just north of the Hesdin-St.-Pol
road. At this village the Headquarters remained until the end of the
war, expanding from three Nissen huts to many acres of buildings.

On October 8 a provisional establishment for the Headquarters was
approved. It consisted of--a Commander (Colonel), one Brigade Major,
one D.A.A. and Q.M.G., one Staff Captain, and one Intelligence Officer.
These appointments were filled by the following officers: Colonel H. J.
Elles, Captain G. le Q. Martel, Captain T. J. Uzielli, Captain H. J.
Tapper, and Captain F. E. Hotblack.

At about this time it was proposed to form the Heavy Section into
a Corps, giving it an Administrative Headquarters in England and a
Fighting Headquarters in France, and of converting the four companies
in France into four battalions, and raising five new battalions in
England on the nuclei of the two remaining companies. Though the
formation of the tank units into a Corps was not sanctioned at the time
the other proposals came into force on October 20, Brigadier-General
F. Gore Anley, D.S.O., being appointed Administrative Commander of the
Tank Training Centre, Bovington Camp, Wool, in the place of Colonel
Swinton, with Lieutenant-Colonel E. B. Mathew-Lannowe as his G.S.O.1.
Under this organisation the 9 battalions were eventually to be formed
into 3 brigades each of 3 battalions, a battalion consisting of 3
companies, each company of 4 fighting sections and a headquarters
section. A fighting section consisted of 5 tanks and the headquarters
section of 8. In all the battalion was, therefore, equipped with 72
machines.

On November 18, the day on which the approved establishments were
issued, the companies, which had continued in the area of operations,
were moved to the area round Bermicourt and, ceasing to exist as
companies, became A, B, C, and D Battalions Heavy Branch Machine Gun
Corps. They were located at the following villages:

  A Battalion        Humières, Eclimeux, Bermicourt.
  B     „            Sautrecourt, Pierremont, St. Martin-Eglise.
  C     „            Erin, Tilly-Capelle.
  D     „            Blangy.

These battalions were eventually formed into the 1st and 2nd Tank
Brigades: the 1st Brigade, consisting of C and D Battalions, on January
30, 1917, under the command of Colonel C. D’A. B. S. Baker Carr,
D.S.O.; and the 2nd Brigade, of A and B Battalions, on February 15,
under that of Colonel A. Courage, M.C. Later, on April 27, in view of
the expected arrival of two battalions from Wool, approval was given
to the formation of the 3rd Brigade Headquarters under the command of
Colonel J. Hardress Lloyd, D.S.O.

Meanwhile, in England, the whole question of future production was
being strenuously dealt with by Lieutenant-Colonel Stern, who, on
November 23, assembled a conference in London at which the future
production of tanks was explained as follows:

That at the time of the conference there were 70 Mark I machines in
France, and it was hoped to deliver improved types of this tank as
follows: 50 Mark II tanks by January; 50 Mark III tanks by February 7;
Mark IV tanks at the rate of 20 per week from February 7 to May 31.
Further, that Mark V tanks would be available in August and September
1917, and that a new light tank, called Mark VI, would be ready for
trial by Christmas 1917.

Unfortunately, on account of the difficulty of production and the
constant changes demanded in design, the above programme never
materialised, and though Mark II tanks were sent out to France, no Mark
IV machines arrived there until after the battle of Arras had been
fought and won.

Early in the new year the battalions of the Heavy Branch underwent a
further reorganisation: they were slightly reduced in size and the
number of their machines was cut down from 72 to 60; each company,
theoretically consisting of 20 tanks, was divided into 4 sections of
5 tanks each; for practical purposes, however, it was found that a
section could not deal with more than 4 tanks, so the number of tanks
was reduced to 48, of which 36 were earmarked as fighting and 12 as
training machines.

In March 1917 General Anley was appointed Administrative Commander
Heavy Branch Machine-Gun Corps with his headquarters in London,
Brigadier-General W. Glasgow taking over the command of the Training
Centre at Wool. In May he was succeeded by Major-General Sir John
Capper, K.C.B., and the Tank Committee under his chairmanship was
formed to systematise and strengthen co-operation between the Army and
the Ministry of Munitions. On the 1st of this month, Colonel Elles was
gazetted Brigadier-General Commanding the Heavy Branch in France.

The experiences gained during the battle of Arras, in April 1917,
resulted in proposals being put forward for the expansion of the Heavy
Branch from nine to eighteen battalions, nine to be equipped with
heavy, and a similar number with medium machines.[20] These proposals
mark an important stage in the development of the Heavy Branch and they
were destined to be the subject of many discussions.

On June 28, the above expansion was authorised, and the personnel for
new units was assembled at the Training Centre at Wool. A month later,
however, the call for manpower became so urgent that the expansion of
the Heavy Branch had to be suspended. It was on the 28th of this month
that the Heavy Branch became known as the Tank Corps.

During the following months, August and September, the question of
the Tank Corps expansion was held in abeyance. On October 6 it was
once again revived, and a revised establishment for the contemplated
expansion to eighteen battalions was submitted. The outstanding feature
of these establishments was the abolition of Battalion Workshops and
the substitution of Brigade Workshops in their place. This resulted in
a considerable economy of man-power, and was rendered possible by the
higher training of the tank crews; each tank with its crew thus tended
to become a self-contained unit.

On November 27 these establishments received official approval, and
exactly one week later, on December 4, arising out of the overwhelming
success gained by tanks at the battle of Cambrai (November 20), two
new organisations were put forward, the first known as the Lower, and
the second as the Higher Establishments. The Lower Establishments were
eventually decided upon, and they consisted in a revised edition of the
former establishments with various additions, which the experiences
gained at the battle of Cambrai had shown to be necessary. These
establishments, though made out, were never approved, and the German
offensive in March 1918 found the Tank Corps still organised on the
lines agreed upon in October.

In April, on account of the pressing needs for infantry reinforcements,
the Tank Corps expansion was temporarily suspended, two of the three
remaining battalions in England being reduced to cadre units, and the
third converted into an Armoured Car Battalion. In July and August the
astonishing successes gained by tanks on various sectors of the Western
Front once again brought forward the need of increasing the British
tank battalions, and the suspension was removed, the two remaining
battalions of the expansion of October 1917 proceeding to France in
September 1918.

In January 1918, from the experience gained by now in the time
necessary to carry through a reorganisation, proposals were put
forward for 1919. These were eventually discussed at the Inter-Allied
Tank Committee, an assembly of representatives of the various allied
Tank Corps, which first met at Versailles in April. The German spring
offensive, however, absorbed so much attention that it was not
possible at the time to do more than work out, as a basis, the number
of tanks required for a decisive tank attack the following year. As
the position of the Allies in France stabilised the question first
discussed at Versailles was in July retaken up, with the result that
an expansion to thirty-four battalions was decided on and completely
new establishments called for. In order to bring this work more
closely under the War Office it was also decided, at about this time,
to dissolve the Tank Directorate, first created in May 1917, and to
replace it by a new sub-branch of the Directorate of Staff Duties. This
change took place on August 1, when a new branch known as S.D.7 was
added to the Directorate of Staff Duties at the War Office to deal with
the administration of tanks generally, and the 1919 tank programme in
particular.

At the same time the Tank Committee was abolished, its place being
taken by the Tank Board, which was constituted as follows:

  Major-General the Right Honourable J. E. B. Seely, C.B., C.M.G.,
    D.S.O., M.P., President (Deputy Minister of Munitions).

  Sir Eustace Tennyson D’Eyncourt, K.C.B., Vice-President (Director
    of Naval Construction).

  Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, K.C.B., K.C.V.O., D.S.O. (Controller
    Munitions Inventions).

  Major-General Sir William Furse, K.C.B., D.S.O. (Master General of
    Ordnance, representing the Army Council).

  Major-General E. D. Swinton, C.B., D.S.O.

  Major-General H. J. Elles, C.B., D.S.O. (Commanding Tank Corps,
    France).

  Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Albert Stern, K.B.E., C.M.G. (Commissioner
    Mechanical Warfare, Overseas and Allies Department).

  Colonel J. F. C. Fuller, D.S.O. (D.D.S.D. Tanks: representing
    General Staff, War Office).

  Mr. J. B. Maclean (Controller of Mechanical Warfare).

  Sir Percival Perry (Inspector of Mechanical Traction).

  Captain A. Earle, Secretary.

The constitution of the Board is interesting as it enabled expert
naval, military, and industrial knowledge to be concentrated on the
one subject--the application of naval tactics to land warfare. The
work accomplished by this Board was considerable, it was carried out
in a high co-operative spirit and with great good-fellowship, and
it would, undoubtedly, have proved a factor of no small importance
in the complete destruction of the German armies in 1919, which was
practically fore-ordained by a tank programme of some 6,000 machines,
had the war continued.

September was a month of great activity at the Training Centre at Wool,
and an extensive building programme was commenced under the direction
of Brigadier-General E. B. Mathew-Lannowe, D.S.O., who had taken over
the command of the Training Centre on August 1 from Brigadier-General
W. Glasgow, C.M.G.

On October 22 the new establishments were received at the War
Office, and were approved of and returned to G.H.Q. four days later.
Considering that these establishments covered ninety-six pages of typed
foolscap it may be claimed that the last reorganisation the Tank Corps
experienced during the Great War was carried through in record time.



CHAPTER VII

TANK “ESPRIT DE CORPS”


The first “Instructions on Training” were issued to battalions of
the Heavy Branch towards the end of December 1916. They are of some
interest, as the _esprit de corps_ and the efficiency of the entire
formation was by degrees moulded on them.

  “The object of all training is to create a ‘corps d’élite,’ that
  is a body of men who are not only capable of helping to win this
  war, but are determined to do so. It cannot be emphasised too often
  that all training, at all times and in all places, must aim at the
  cultivation of the offensive spirit in all ranks. The requirements,
  therefore, are a high efficiency and a high moral.

  “Efficiency depends on mental alertness and bodily fitness; the
  first is produced by extensive knowledge and rapidity of thinking
  logically, the second by physical training, games, and the
  maintenance of health.

  “Moral depends on _esprit de corps_ and _esprit de cocarde_; the
  first is produced by discipline, organisation and skill, the second
  by pride, smartness and prestige.

  “Efficient instructors and leaders are essential; indifferent ones
  must be ruthlessly weeded out. Officers must not content themselves
  with the teaching and knowledge they gain, but must supplement
  these by personal study and effort. Further, they must exercise
  their ingenuity in adapting the knowledge they have gained so that
  it may interest and expand the ideas of those they teach. In mental
  superiority and bodily vigour they must be examples to their men.

  “As a general principle, officers and N.C.O.s, charged with the
  duty of instruction of troops, should adopt the following method:
  First the lesson is to be explained, secondly demonstrated, and
  finally carried out as an exercise.

  “Instruction _must_ be interesting. As interest soon flags,
  subjects will be changed at short intervals, though the same
  movements must be frequently practised on different occasions.

  “Changes should be based on a system; thus, work which has
  required brain power should be followed by work entailing physical
  exertion, and _vice versa_. As physical training develops muscle
  on a definite system, so should mental training develop mind. It
  will not be easy to accomplish this unless schemes are carefully
  organised and thought out, and training is carried out according to
  a progressive programme.

  “Much time is often wasted by attempting long unrealistic movements
  and by prolonged drill. Three to four hours a day, divided into
  hourly or half-hourly periods, should be sufficient. Ten minutes’
  rest intervals should succeed each hour’s work.

  “All work must be carried out at high pressure. Every exercise and
  movement should, if possible, be reduced to a precise drill.

  “Games will be organised as a definite part of training.

  “Order is best cultivated by carrying out all work on a fixed plan.
  Order is the foundation of discipline. Small things like marching
  men always at attention to and from work, making them stand to
  attention before dismissing them, assist in cultivating steadiness
  and discipline. Each day should commence with a careful inspection
  of the billets and the men, or some similar formal parade. Strict
  march discipline to and from the training grounds must be insisted
  upon.

  “It is an essential part of training for war that the men are
  taught to care for themselves, so as to maintain their physical
  fitness. To this end the necessity for taking the most scrupulous
  care of their clothing, equipment and accoutrements will be
  explained to them.

  “The importance of obedience to orders will be impressed on all
  ranks and prevention of waste rigorously enforced.

  “Both in the case of officers and N.C.O.s special attention should
  be paid to the training of understudies for all positions and
  appointments.

  “The men must be brought to understand that on the skill they gain
  during training will depend their lives as well as the result
  of the battle. Instruction is not a matter of getting through a
  definite time, but of employing that time to the fullest advantage.”

The training of the Heavy Branch was divided into the following
categories: Brigade Training, Battalion Training, Schools, Courses of
Instruction, Camps of Instruction, Lectures and Depot Training.

Brigade and battalion training were divided into two
periods--individual training and collective training. As time was very
limited, all individual training had to be completed by February 15,
1917.

  “The object of individual training” (to quote the “Instructions”)
  “is twofold: first, to impart technical knowledge and skill;
  secondly, to cultivate general knowledge so as to enable all ranks
  to obtain the highest benefit from the schemes set in collective
  training. These latter in their turn are for the purpose of
  training units for battle. Individual training is the keynote of
  efficiency. On the thoroughness with which it is carried out rests
  the efficiency of the whole training.”

The object of the collective training was:

  “To apply, in conditions as near as possible to those which will be
  met with in battle, the detail learnt during individual training.

  “This comprises:

  “(i) Close co-operation with the other arms.

  “(ii) Rapidity of movement across ground in fighting formations.

  “(iii) Selection of objectives with reference to the plan of
  operations.”

During January and February all officers took part in a long indoor
scheme which when completed formed a tactical and administrative basis
for future operations, and all ranks were lectured to on discipline,
_esprit de corps_, moral, and leadership.

Whilst the above work was in progress a Reinforcement Depot was formed,
first at Humerœuil, later on it was moved to Erin, and eventually to
Mers, near Le Treport. The Depot was the receiving station of all
drafts arriving for the Tank Corps, whether from the Training Centre in
England, or from units or hospitals in France. The duty of the Depot
was to hold on its strength all reinforcements until fully trained,
and when fully trained to continue refresher training until they were
required to fill vacancies in the battalions.

Besides the Depot and the schools attached to it, two main
schools--Gunnery and Tank Driving--were instituted in the Bermicourt
area. In the early summer of 1917 the first was moved to the sea
coast at Merlimont, and the second to Wailly, a village close to the
zone devastated by the Germans during their retreat in the preceding
February and March, which permitted of driving being carried out
without damage to crops. This school remained at Wailly until January
1918, when, on account of the threatening German attack, it was moved
to Aveluy near Albert. As it happened, Aveluy fell into the German
hands towards the end of March 1918, whilst Wailly remained in ours
until the end of the war.

Closely connected with the training of the men was the general
administration of the Heavy Branch. It was fully recognised that the
efficiency of all ranks depended to a great extent on the cheerfulness
and comfort of their surroundings, and nothing was left undone, or at
least unattempted, which could increase the men’s happiness and health.

On January 1, 1917, baths and laundries were opened at Blangy. The
arrangements first made enabled 450 men to bathe each day; this
permitted of every man getting a bath once a week. Cinema theatres were
also established at the Depot, and later on at Merlimont and elsewhere,
being bought out of funds provided by the canteens’ and supper bars.
While at Erin a Rest Camp was formed to which those men who were
temporarily incapacitated for work were sent to recuperate. This later
institution was found so useful that in the summer of 1917 a seaside
Rest Camp was established at Merlimont, the object of which was to
provide rest and change of surroundings to men who had been in action,
or whose health was impaired. This camp could accommodate 100 officers
and 900 other ranks, and the period of rest there was usually limited
to fourteen days.

An even more popular institution than the Merlimont Rest Camp was that
of the Mobile Canteens: these consisted in lorries fitted to carry
canteen stores; they formed the mechanical _vivandières_ of the Tank
Corps, following up units to within a mile or two of our front lines
or pushing forward across the battlefield when a success had been
gained. During the dark days of March and April 1918, they played a
notable part in maintaining the _esprit de corps_ of the battalions by
providing comforts which would otherwise have been unobtainable. They
also formed cheerful rallying-points where men could meet, eat, and
chat, and then return to battle refreshed and still more determined to
see it through for the honour of the Corps to which they belonged and
which, it may without boasting be said, always thought of their needs
first and generally supplied them.



CHAPTER VIII

TANK TACTICS


The training of the Heavy Branch having been laid down, it was next
necessary to discover and decide upon a common method of tactics,[21]
so that directly individual instruction had been completed collective
training might be based on it; further, rumours were already afloat
that the Heavy Branch might be called upon to take part in the spring
offensive, so there was no time to be lost in deciding upon suitable
methods and formations of attack. This was done early in February, when
“Training Note No. 16,” which will long be remembered by many in the
Tank Corps, was issued.

Though experience is the only true test of a system of tactics, the
foundations of the tactics suitable to any particular weapon are not
based on experiences, but on the limitations of the weapon, that is
on its powers, and on the fundamental principles of war. Further
than this, if the weapon concerned is to be employed in co-operation
with other weapons, the powers of these other weapons must also be
considered, so that all the weapons to be employed may, so to speak,
like a puzzle, be fitted together during battle to form one united
picture.

In thinking out a tactics for tanks, the first factors to bear in
mind are the powers of the machine, which may be summarised in three
words: “penetration with security.” Heretofore fronts had remained to
all intents and purposes inviolable to direct infantry attacks; the
tank was now going to break down this deadlock through its ability to
cross wire and trenches under fire with far less risk than infantry
could ever hope for. Mechanically, the machine was far from perfect,
consequently, it was laid down, as a general rule, that never fewer
than two tanks should operate together, and when possible not fewer
than four.

From a military point of view the penetration of a line of defence
does not simply mean passing straight through it, but cutting it in
half, and then by moving outwards as well as forwards to push back and
envelop the flanks thus created and so widen the base of operation to
admit the movement forwards of reserves and supplies, and the movement
backwards of casualties and tired troops. A man getting through a
hedge first selects a weak spot (point of attack), he then forces his
arms through the branches (penetration), and pushing them outwards
(envelopment), forms a sufficiently large gap (base of operations) to
permit of his body (army) passing easily through the hedge (enemy’s
defences).

The operation of penetration with tanks is just the same. Take a
half section, two machines; this half section first penetrates the
enemy’s defences by crossing them (see diagram 7), then by moving
outwards, say to the left, starts enlarging the base by driving the
enemy towards A, and so makes a gap between the point of penetration
and A, for the infantry to move through. As the enemy may, whilst the
tanks are working towards A, seek refuge in his dugouts and “come to
life” again after the tanks have passed by, it is necessary that the
tanks should be followed by an infantry “mopping up” party which will
bomb the dugouts and so render “coming to life” less frequent. As the
bombing party has to work up the trench with the tank, it cannot hold
the trench once it is cleared, consequently another party of infantry
should follow the bombers, whose duty it is to garrison the trench on
it being captured. We therefore find that even in the smallest tank
attack two parties of infantry are required: in trench warfare these
are known as “moppers up” and “support,” and in field warfare as
“firing line” and “supports.” Frequently it is as well to add another
party, a “reserve,” so that some definite force of men may be held in
hand to meet any unexpected event.

[Illustration: Diagrams 7-12]

If instead of two tanks we use four, a much more effective operation
may be carried out. The tanks can either penetrate at one place, and
wheel outwards by pairs (see diagram 8), or by pairs penetrate at
two separate points and wheel inwards, pinching on the centre (see
diagram 9), or two can wheel to a flank and two proceed straight ahead
(see diagram 10) and threaten the enemy’s line of retreat. When this
latter operation is contemplated it is as well to make use of at least
six machines, better twelve, _i.e._ a complete company of tanks. If
six machines are used they normally should strike the enemy’s line
at approximately the same place; from there one half section should
go straight forward and one to each flank, forming what has been
called the “Trident formation” (see diagram 11). If twelve machines
are employed, then each section of four tanks strikes the trench at
a separate point, the centre section forging straight ahead and the
flanking sections moving inwards and outwards as depicted in diagram 12.

Particular attention should be paid to the outward movements of the
flanks, for, as the flanks of our own penetrating or attacking force
are generally the most vulnerable points, if we can push forward
offensive wings on these flanks we shall not only be protecting our
own flanks from attack, by giving the enemy no time to attack in, but
we shall be protecting our central line of advance as well. The force
operating along this central line not only depends for its movement
forward on the security of its flanks, but also on the size of the
base of operations; the broader this base the more secure will it be,
for the one thing an attacking army wishes to avoid is getting into a
pocket on the interior of which all hostile fire is concentrated.

[Illustration: Diagrams 13-15]

From the above elementary movements can be worked out a whole series
of battle formations according to the various arms which are to be
employed. The following three were those generally used by tanks from
the battle of Cambrai onwards:

(1) _An attack against trenches with an artillery barrage_ (see diagram
13).--Three tanks in line at 100 to 200 yards’ interval, followed
by infantry in sections, each section forming an independent fighting
unit advancing in single file and attacking in line, the whole forming
one firing line. Behind this firing line should advance one tank and a
certain number of infantry sections as a support. Reserves can be added
as necessary.

(2) _An attack against trenches without an artillery barrage_ (see
diagram 14).--One tank in advance, followed at a distance of 100 to
150 yards by two others at 200 to 300 yards’ interval, and one tank in
support. The infantry should be disposed of as before. The advanced
tank to a certain extent replaces the artillery barrage and acts as a
scout to the two behind, which form part of the infantry firing line.

(3) _The field warfare attack_ (see diagram 15).--In the field attack
the action of the tanks must be adapted to circumstances. This action
falls under three headings:

(i) Moving in front of the infantry firing line.

(ii) Moving with the infantry firing line.

(iii) Moving behind the infantry firing line.

When moving with the infantry firing line, which will generally be the
most suitable formation to adopt, tank sections should form mobile
strong points or bastions, which will not only reduce the number of
infantry required for the firing line, but which will be able to bring
oblique and cross fire to bear in front of the advancing infantry. In
order to reduce the human target as much as possible without reducing
fire effect, Lewis-gun sections should freely be used to cover by fire
the intervals between tank sections. These Lewis-gun sections should be
followed by rifle sections which, directly opposition is broken down by
the tanks and the Lewis gunners, should move rapidly forward several
hundred yards in front of the tank and infantry firing line, forming
to it a protective screen of sharpshooters. This formation should then
be maintained until the rifle sections get hung up, when the tank and
Lewis-gun firing line should pass through them to renew the attack, the
rifle sections forming up in support in rear. Curiously enough this
formation resembles very closely that generally adopted by the Roman
Velites and Hastati (riflemen), Principes (Lewis gunners), Triarii
(tanks), and Napoleon’s Light Infantry (riflemen), Infantry of the Line
(Lewis gunners), Old Guard and Heavy Cavalry (tanks).

As an infantry attack depends on the following principles--the
objective, the offensive, security, mass, economy of force, surprise,
movement, and co-operation--so does a tank attack. The tank must
know what it is after, it must act vigorously, it must be protected
by artillery just like infantry, it must attack in mass, that is in
strength and numbers, but not, necessarily, all in one place; it must
surprise the enemy, move as rapidly as it can, and work hand in glove
with the other arms. On the application of these principles to the
conditions which will be met with will depend the success or failure of
the tank attack.

The first condition to inquire into is the position of the objective;
is the ground leading up to it suitable for tank movement, is the
country on the flank of such a nature as to permit of offensive wings
being formed? The second is the position and number of the enemy’s
guns; can these be controlled by counter-battery work or smoke; how
will they affect the lines of approach and their selection? The
third is the number of subsidiary objectives before the final one
is captured. The fourth is the “springing off” position of our own
infantry, and the fifth is, how can the enemy be surprised? These five
questions being satisfactorily answered, the normal procedure is to
divide the whole tank force into a main body and two wings; to take
these three forces and to divide each up into as many lines of tanks
as there are objectives to be attacked; to divide each objective up
into tank attack areas according to the number of tactical points
each contains. Provided the enemy does not possess tanks himself, or
a sure antidote to their use, which the Germans never did possess, a
well-considered and mounted tank, infantry, artillery, and aeroplane
attack is the nearest approach to _certainty of success_ that has ever
been devised in the history of war. No well-planned extensive tank
attack has in the past ever failed, and each one has resulted in
more prisoners having been captured than casualties suffered. These
are historic facts and not mere pæans of praise; they, consequently,
deserve our most careful consideration when eventually we plan and
prepare for the future.



CHAPTER IX

THE BATTLE OF ARRAS


The great battles which opened the Allies’ 1917 campaign on the Western
Front were the direct outcome of two main causes:

(i) The strategical positions of the opposing Armies resulting from the
battle of the Aisne in 1914.

(ii) The tactical position of the same Armies resulting from the battle
of the Somme in 1916.

The former placed nine-tenths of the German Army in the west, in a huge
salient Ostend-Noyon-Nancy; the latter a considerable portion of that
Army in a smaller one, Arras-Gommecourt-Morval. The former offered
possibilities for the Allies to get in a right and left hand blow on
two of the main centres of the German communications--Valenciennes and
Mézières; the latter a right and left hand blow in the direction of
Queant against the northern and southern flanks of the German Sixth and
First Armies.

Had it been possible to bring off these latter blows successfully, such
a debacle of the German forces would have resulted that not only would
the advance of the British First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Armies have
seriously threatened Valenciennes, but the rush of German reserves to
stop the gap would have withdrawn pressure from before the French about
Reims, and would probably have enabled them to advance on Mézières.

A plan for an attack in the vicinity of Arras had been considered
shortly before the opening of the battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916;
it was then dropped, only to be revived in October, when the plan
contemplated was to drive in the northern flank of the Gommecourt
salient. It was hoped to employ two battalions of forty-eight tanks
each in this operation; but, as the tanks promised in January did not
materialise until the end of April, this plan had to be continually
modified.

Meanwhile a hostile operation began to take place which bid fair to
filch from us the tactical advantage we had won during the preceding
summer. Towards the end of February it became apparent that the
Germans intended to evacuate the Gommecourt salient; and the recent
construction of the Hindenburg Line suggested a rounding off of the
right angle between Arras and Craonne.

The German retirement necessitated certain changes in the British plan
of operations. The Fourth Army relieved the French between the Somme
and Roye; the Third Army, consisting of five Corps and three Cavalry
Divisions, was now to penetrate the German defences, and by marching on
Cambrai turn the Hindenburg Line from Heninel to Marcoing; the First
and Fifth Armies were to operate on the left and right flanks of the
Third Army.

The success of the British plan of attack depended on penetrating not
only the German front-line system, but also the Drocourt-Queant line
within forty-eight hours of initiating the attack; for, by so doing, so
severe a wound would be inflicted that the Germans would be forced to
move their reserves towards Cambrai and Douai, and away from Soissons
and Reims, where the main blow was eventually to fall. Time, therefore,
was, as usual, the all-important factor--could the Drocourt-Queant line
be penetrated before the enemy was able to assemble his reserves?

Tanks, it was decided, should assist in gaining this time, yet on April
1, after denuding the training grounds of both England and France, only
60 Mark I and Mark II tanks could be reckoned on for the battle.

There were three ways in which these sixty tanks could be used,
either by concentrating the whole against one objective such as
Monchy-le-Preux, if a penetration of the centre were required, or
against Bullecourt, if an envelopment of the German left flank were
considered necessary, or to allot a proportion of machines to each Army
or Corps for minor “mopping up” operations.

The last-mentioned course was eventually adopted and the following
allotment of machines made:

(i) Eight tanks, to the First Army to operate against the Vimy Heights
and the village of Thelus.

(ii) Forty tanks to the Third Army, eight to operate with the XVIIth
Corps north of the river Scarpe, and thirty-two to operate with the
VIth and VIIth Corps south of the river Scarpe.

(iii) Twelve tanks to operate with the Fifth Army.

The Third Army plan of operations was as follows: The VIth and VIIth
Corps were to attack south of the river Scarpe between Arras and
Mercatel. Their objective ran from a point 2,000 yards south-east of
Henin-sur-Cojeul northwards to Guemappe, thence east of Monchy-le-Preux
to the Scarpe. This objective was 10,000 yards in length and 8,000 in
depth. It contained two formidable lines of defences:

(i) The Cojeul-Neuville Vitasse-Telegraph hill-Harp-Tilloy les
Mafflaines line, much of which had been fortified for over two years.

(ii) The Feuchy Chapel-Feuchy line.

South of these systems was the Hindenburg Line, and east of them
Monchy-le-Preux, which dominates the whole of the surrounding country.
Three valleys lie between this eminence and the city of Arras.

The XVIIth Corps was to continue the attack north of the river Scarpe
and occupy a line running from east of Fampoux to the Point du Jour,
and thence to a point 4,000 yards east of Roclincourt. The country
along the northern bank of the Scarpe was intricate, and in it many
excellent positions existed for hostile machine-guns. Further, the
railway running to Bailleul was in itself a formidable obstacle.

The First Army attack comprised the taking of the famous Vimy Heights,
Thelus and the hill north of Thelus, a position considered one of the
strongest in France.

The Fifth Army was to operate between Lagnicourt and the right of the
Third Army, driving northwards towards Vis-en-Artois. The operation to
be carried out by this Army was a most difficult one. The destruction
of the roads and the bad weather had rendered it impossible to move
forward sufficient artillery--a _sine qua non_ of all attacks of this
period.

The whole of the above operations were to be considered as the
preliminaries to the advance of two Cavalry Divisions and the XVIIIth
Corps south of the Scarpe, which force was to break through at Monchy
and advance eastwards on to the Drocourt-Queant line.

The general preparations required for a tank battle will be dealt with
in another chapter, suffice it here to state that they were divided
up as follows--preliminary reconnaissances, the formation of forward
supply dumps, the preparation of tankodromes and places of assembly,
the programme of rail movements and the fixing and preparing of the
tank routes forward from the tankodromes.

Reconnaissances were started as early as January, and were most
thoroughly carried out. Supply dumps were formed at Beaurains,
Achicourt, near Roclincourt and Neuville St. Vaast. As no supply tanks
were in existence, supplies had to be carried forward by hand and, at
the time, it was reckoned that had these machines been forthcoming,
each one would have saved a carrying party of from 300 to 400 men.
The railheads for the Fifth, Third, and First Armies were selected at
Achiet le Grand, Montenescourt, and Acq respectively. The movements
of tanks and supplies to these stations were successfully carried out
after several minor hitches, such as trucks giving way, trains running
late, and, on March 22, 20,000 gallons of petrol being destroyed in
a railway accident. Incidents such as these are, however, of little
account if the plan has been worked out with foresight.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF ARRAS

9th April 1917.]

The only real mishap which occurred took place on the night of April
8-9, to a column of tanks which was moving up from Achicourt to
the starting-points. Achicourt lies in a valley through which runs
the Crinchon stream. The surface of the ground here is hard, but
under this superficial crust lies, in places, boggy soil which was
only discovered when six tanks broke through the top strata and
floundered in a morass of mud and water. Those who were present will
never forget the hours which followed this mishap. Eventually the tanks
were got out, but too late to take part in the initial attack on the
following day.

On April 7 and 8 the weather was fine, but, as ill-luck would have
it, heavy rain fell during the early morning of the 9th. At zero
hour (dawn) the tanks moved off behind the infantry, but the heavily
“crumped” area on the Vimy Ridge, soaked by rain as it now was, proved
too much for the tanks of the First Army, and all became ditched at a
point 500 yards east of the German front line, and never took part in
any actual fighting. The four which started from Roclincourt had but
little better luck, and though they advanced considerably further they
also ditched and went out of action.

The artillery barrage was magnificent and the Canadians went forward
under it and took the Vimy Heights almost at a rush, capturing several
thousand prisoners. The rapidity of this advance, due to the excellent
work of our artillery and the dash of the Canadians, rendered the
co-operation of tanks needless; it was, therefore, decided to withdraw
the eight machines with the First Army, and send them to the Fifth
Army. Those from Roclincourt were also withdrawn to reinforce those
operating immediately north of the Scarpe.

The four tanks which started just east of Arras had better luck, for
though one was knocked out by shell fire shortly after starting, the
remaining three worked eastwards down the Scarpe and rendered valuable
assistance to the infantry by “mopping up” hostile machine-guns.

South of the Scarpe the infantry attacked with equal élan. About Tilloy
les Mafflaines, the Harp, and Telegraph hill the tanks caught up with
the attack and accounted for a good many Germans, and then, pushing
on, helped in the reduction of the Blue line (Neuville Vitasse-Bois
des Bœufs-Hervin farm) and such parts of the Brown (Heninel-Feuchy
Chapel-Feuchy) as they were able to reach during daylight. The ground
on the Harp, an immensely strong earthwork, was much “crumped” and some
of the trenches had 2 ft. of water in them. A good many tanks bellied
here.

The operations of the tanks on the 9th can only be considered as
partially successful--due chiefly to the difficulty of the ground, wet
and heavily shelled, and the rapidity of the infantry advance.

On the following day only minor operations were undertaken, and salvage
was at once started, the ditched tanks being dug out and withdrawn to
refit.

On the 11th three important tank attacks were made, the first from
Feuchy Chapel on Monchy; the second from Neuville Vitasse down the
Hindenburg Line, and the third against the village of Bullecourt.

The first attack was eminently successful for, though only three of the
six tanks which started from Feuchy Chapel reached Monchy, it was due
to the gallant way in which they were fought more than to any other
cause that the infantry were able to occupy this extremely valuable
tactical position. Once Monchy was captured the cavalry moved forward.
From all accounts the Germans, at this period of the battle, were in a
high state of demoralisation, but notwithstanding this, as long as they
possessed a few stout-hearted machine-gunners, an effective cavalry
advance was impossible, and the only arm which could have rendered
its employment feasible was the tank--the machine-gun destroyer--and
as there were no longer any fit or capable of coming into action the
Germans found time to stiffen their defence and to consolidate their
position.

The second attack was made from Neuville Vitasse with four tanks. These
machines worked right down the Hindenburg Line to Heninel, driving the
Germans underground and killing great numbers of them. They then turned
north-east towards Wancourt, and for several hours engaged the Germans
in the vicinity of this village. All four eventually got back to our
lines after having fought a single-handed action for between eight and
nine hours. It was a memorable little action in spite of the fact that
its ultimate value was not great.

The third operation, the attack on and east of the village of
Bullecourt, is the most interesting of the three. All previous
operations in this battle had been based on the timing and strength
of the artillery barrage, the tanks taking a purely subordinate part.
In the present attack the position of the tanks, as compared with
the other arms, was reversed; for they took the leading part, and
though the attack was eventually a failure, they demonstrated clearly
the possibility of tanks carrying out duties which up to the present
had been definitely allotted to artillery--the two chief ones being
wire-cutting and the creeping barrage which, henceforth, could be
carried out by wire-crushing and the mobile barrage produced by the
tank 6-pounders and machine-guns.

The plan of attack was as follows: 11 tanks were to be drawn up in line
at 80 yards interval from each other, and at 800 yards distance from
the German line. Their task was to penetrate the Hindenburg Line east
of Bullecourt; 6 to wheel westwards (4 to attack Bullecourt and 2 the
Hindenburg Line north-west of Bullecourt), 3 to advance on Reincourt
and Hendecourt, and 2 to move eastwards down the Hindenburg trenches.
This operation was similar to the one already discussed in Chapter
VIII, “Tank Tactics,” and called the “Trident Formation.”

All 11 tanks started at zero, which was fixed at 4.30 a.m. Those
on the wings were rapidly put out of action by hostile artillery
fire; however, 2 out of the 3, ordered to advance on Reincourt
and Hendecourt, entered these villages and the infantry following
successfully occupied them.

In spite of the very heavy casualties suffered, the tanks in the
centre had carried out their work successfully, when a strong
converging German counter-attack, partly due to the impossibility of
creating offensive flanks to our central attack, retook the villages
of Reincourt and Hendecourt, captured the two tanks and several
hundred men of the 4th Australian Division. The loss of the two
tanks was unfortunate, for the Germans discovered that their latest
armour-piercing bullets would penetrate their sides and sponsons.
This discovery led to a German order being published that all infantry
should in future carry a certain number of these bullets.

The interest of the Bullecourt operation lies in the fact that it was
the first occasion on which tanks were used to replace artillery. It
failed for various reasons--the haste with which the operation was
prepared; the changes in the plan of attack on the night prior to the
attack; the unavoidable lack of artillery support; and above all the
insufficiency of tanks for such an operation and the lack of confidence
on the part of the infantry in the tanks themselves.

Between April 12 and 22 all tank operations were of a minor nature. By
the 20th of this month thirty of the original machines were refitted
and on the 23rd eleven of these were employed in operations around
Monchy, Gavrelle, and the Chemical Works at Rœux; excellent results
were obtained, but no fewer than five out of the eleven machines
sustained serious casualties from armour-piercing bullets, which had
now become the backbone of the enemy’s anti-tank defence.

The general result of the tank operations was favourable, though the
number of casualties sustained exceeded expectation. The value of the
work they accomplished was recognised by all the units with which they
worked. The casualties they inflicted on the enemy were undoubtedly
heavy; in most cases where they advanced the infantry attack succeeded,
and the highest compliment which was paid to their efficiency came
from the enemy himself, who took every possible step to counter their
activity.

The operations showed that the training of all ranks had been carried
out on sound and practical lines. The fighting spirit of the men was
high, the tanks being fought with great gallantry. One commanding
officer stated, in his report on the battle, that the behaviour of
his officers and men might be summed up as “a triumph of moral over
technical difficulties.”

This fine fighting spirit was undoubtedly due to the excellent
leadership all officers and N.C.O.s had exercised during individual
and collective training; and to the full recreational training given
to the battalions during these periods, games and sports as a fighting
basis having been sedulously cultivated.

The main tactical lessons learnt and accentuated were:--that tanks
should be used in mass, that is they should be concentrated and not
dispersed; that a separate force of tanks should be allotted to each
objective, and that a strong reserve should always be kept in hand;
that sections and, if possible, companies should be kept intact; that
the Mark I and Mark II machines were not suitable to use over wet
heavily-shelled ground; that the moral effect of tanks was very great;
that counter-battery work is essential to their security; and that
supply and signal tanks are an absolute necessity.

On the evening of April 10 the Colonel Commanding the Heavy Branch
received the following telegram from the Commander-in-Chief:

“My congratulations on the excellent work performed by the Heavy Branch
of the Machine Gun Corps during yesterday’s operations. Please convey
to those who took part my appreciation of the gallantry and skill shown
by them.”



CHAPTER X

TANK BATTLE RECORDS


In order to record the personal experiences of each tank Crew
Commander in battle, and to collect statistics as to the work of the
tanks themselves, shortly before the battle of Arras was fought, a
form was introduced known as a “Tank Battle History Sheet.” These
sheets were issued to Crew Commanders prior to an engagement, were
filled in by them after its completion and, eventually, forwarded
to Tank Corps Headquarters, where they were summarised by the Tank
Corps General Staff. By this means it was possible to collect many
valuable experiences from the soldiers themselves, information which
unfortunately so frequently is apt to evaporate when the final battle
report starts on its journey from one headquarters to the next.

Outside the material value of these reports they frequently possessed
a psychological value, and by reading them with a little insight it
was possible to gauge, with fair accuracy, the moral of the fighting
men, an “atmosphere” so difficult to breathe when in rear of the battle
line, so impossible to create, and yet so necessary to the mental
health of the General Staff and the Higher Command.

This system of record, initiated at the battle of Arras, was maintained
in the Tank Corps up to the conclusion of the war, many hundreds of
these brief histories being written. The following are taken, almost at
random, from those made out during the above-mentioned battle, and are
fair examples of early tank fighting.


BATTLE HISTORY OF CREW NO. D.6. TANK NO. 505. DATE 9/4/17.

COMMANDED BY LIEUTENANT A----

  Unit to which attached             14th Division.
  Hour the tank started for action   6.20 a.m., April 9, 1917.

  Hour of zero                       5.30 a.m. (14th Division attacking
                                       at 7.30 a.m.).

  Extent and nature of hostile       Increasing as tank worked
    shell fire                         along Hindenburg Line.

  Ammunition expended                3,500 rounds S.A.A.

  Casualties                         Nil.

  Position of tank after action      Caught in large tank trap
                                       and struck by shell fire.

  Condition of tank after action     Damaged by shell fire.

_Orders received._--To attack Telegraph hill with infantry of 14th
Division at 7.30 a.m. on April 9, 1917, then proceed along Hindenburg
Line to Neuville Vitasse. To wait at rallying-point N.E. of Neuville
Vitasse until infantry advanced again towards Wancourt. To proceed with
infantry to Wancourt and assist them wherever necessary.

_Report of action._--Tank left starting-point at Beaurains at
6.30 a.m., on April 9, 1917, crossed our front line at 7.27 a.m.,
attacking Telegraph hill with the infantry at 7.30 a.m.; then worked
towards Neuville Vitasse along the Hindenburg Line. At a point about
1,000 yards N.E. of Neuville Vitasse, the tank was caught in a trap
consisting of a large gun-pit carefully covered with turf. I and
Sergeant B---- immediately got out and went to guide other tanks clear
of the trap in spite of M.G. and shell fire.

      (Signed) A----, Lieut.,
                O.C. Tank D.6.


BATTLE HISTORY OF CREW NO. D.9. TANK NO. 770. DATE 9/4/17.

COMMANDED BY 2ND LIEUTENANT C----

  Unit to which attached             30th Division.

  Hour the tank started for action   4.45 a.m.

  Hour of zero                       5.30 a.m.

  Extent and nature of hostile       Very severe from the moment
    shell fire                         of entry into enemy lines.

  Ammunition expended                Unknown.

  Casualties                         Corporal wounded, since
                                       sent to hospital.

  Position of tank after action      Ditched in C.T. near Neuville
                                       Vitasse trench.

  Condition of tank after action     Ditched but sound.

_Orders received._--To proceed from Mercatel to the Zoo trench system
through the Cojeul switch to Nepal trench, from thence with the
infantry to Wancourt.

_Report of action._--Owing to mechanical trouble tank was delayed
in coming into action. Having rectified this, I proceeded to join
D.10--D.11 as ordered.

I eventually found these tanks out of action and proceeded alone to a
further line of trenches, where I met with decidedly severe hostile
machine-gun and shell fire. I consider we were successful in quelling
one of the many sniper posts, but on account of being ditched were
prevented from proceeding. It would appear, however, that the presence
of my tank--it being on the right flank of our infantry, which was
up in the air--was a deterrent to the enemy, of whom small bodies
were still in existence in the vicinity. I caused my 6-pounders to
be manned, and we held our position for three days, when the tank
was eventually got out of her position. As a whole, the crew worked
together well and cheerfully, but I would especially commend Corporal
D---- for unfailing cheerfulness and devotion to duty under very trying
and disappointing circumstances.

      (Signed) C----, 2nd Lieut.,
                O.C. Tank D.9.


BATTLE HISTORY OF CREW NO. D.4. TANK NO. 783. DATE 23/4/17.

COMMANDED BY LIEUTENANT E----

  Unit to which attached             50th Division (4th Battalion
                                       Yorks. Regt.).

  Hour the tank started for action   3.30 a.m.

  Hour of zero                       4.45 a.m.

  Extent and nature of hostile       Shell fire heavy, practically
    shell fire                         no shrapnel. Machine-gun
                                       fire not excessive.

  Ammunition expended                Approximately 40 rounds
                                       (6-pounder).

  Casualties                         Nil.

  Position of tank after action      0.19.b.05 (approx.).

  Condition of tank after action     Unserviceable: both tracks
                                       broken, probably other
                                       damage from direct hits;
                                       also on fire.

_Orders received._--To attack enemy strong point at 0.19.a.07 as
my first objective, then to proceed to banks in 0.19.b. and return
with the infantry until the Blue Line was consolidated, as my second
objective.

My third objective was to conform with an advance by the infantry at
zero plus seven hours, and to attack a tangle of trenches in 0.21.a.
& b. just in advance of the Red Line. It was eventually left to my
decision as to the possibility of attempting this third objective.

_Report of action._--Advanced with infantry, but owing to heavy mist
had great difficulty in following exact route. Reached first objective
at 5.20 a.m., having approached it from the river side. Successfully
dealt with several of the enemy on left bank of river, causing them
to retire. Cruised about until joined by tank No. 522, D. 3. Then
proceeded towards second objective. On the way I saw our infantry
retiring, went ahead to stop enemy advance. Whilst going forward I
saw Lieutenant F----’s tank, which was then off its route. Lieutenant
F---- came out of his tank and informed me that he had lost his way. I
redirected him, and he then rejoined his tank. Almost immediately after
this (approx. 6.30 a.m.) both tanks came under direct anti-tank gun and
machine-gun fire. The latter was silenced by my left 6-pounder gun.
I manœuvred to present as small a target as possible to the former.
The tank, however, received about six direct hits, which damaged both
tracks, set alight the spare petrol carried in box in rear of tank,
and possibly caused other serious damage. The whole crew succeeded in
escaping from the tank unhurt. Position of tank as stated.

I then returned to Coy. H.Q. and reported.

      (Signed) E----, Lieut.,
                O.C. Tank D.4.


BATTLE HISTORY OF CREW NO. D.10. TANK NO. 784. DATE 23/4/17.

COMMANDED BY 2ND LIEUTENANT G----

  Unit to which attached             98th Infantry Brigade.

  Hour the tank started for action   4.45 a.m.

  Hour of zero                       4.45 a.m.

  Extent and nature of hostile       First three hours artillery fire
    shell fire                         not very heavy, but from then
                                       very heavy fire until
                                       rallying-point was reached.
                                       No direct fire by anti-tank
                                       guns.

  Ammunition expended                290 rounds 6-pounder, remainder
                                       on tank could not be used
                                       owing to the shells sticking
                                       in shell casings on tank. Eight
                                       pans for Lewis-gun ammunition.

  Casualties                         Nil.

  Position of tank after action      Factory Croisilles, 12 noon.

  Condition of tank after action     Good--only required refilling
                                       and greasing.

_Orders received._--To advance from starting-point on British front
line at T.4.b.4.5 to Hindenburg Line at point T.6.a.0.5, from which
point infantry were to bomb along Hindenburg Line (front and support)
to river Sensée at U.7.a.4.4. Tank to assist infantry and after
objective at river taken to proceed to Croisilles.

_Report of action._--I started from starting-point at T.4.b.4.5 at
zero, and made for Hindenburg wire at T.6.a.0.5, crossing same and
getting into touch with our infantry, from whom I received report
that they were held up by machine-guns along the trench. I proceeded
to this point and cleared the obstacle. I then travelled parallel to
the trench, knocking out machine-gun emplacements and snipers’ posts
all the way down to point U.1.c.5.0. The infantry kept in touch all
the way down, moving slightly in rear of tank, and after emplacements
were knocked out they took the occupants prisoners. In two cases white
flags were hoisted as soon as the emplacement was hit. The shooting
was very good. Up to point U.1.c.5.0 the shelling had been casual, but
when we reached the N. bank of the sunken road at this point and were
firing into emplacements towards the river we were in full observation
from the village and the artillery fire became very heavy. The supply
of 6-pounder ammunition now became exhausted, and the ground on the
S. side of sunken road being very bad, I decided to move back along
the trench and then crossed the wire, and crossing sunken road at
about T.12.b.5.3, made for rallying-point at Factory at Croisilles,
where I arrived at 12 noon. I was shelled heavily all the way back to
the rallying-point, but no damage was done. I was of opinion that the
Hindenburg front line was too bad (wide) to cross, and so could not
deal with support line and was unable to observe this line from front
line. I sent two pigeon messages at 9.30 a.m. and 12 noon. I had only
one message clip, so had to fasten second message with cotton.

      (Signed) G----, 2nd Lieut.,
                O.C. Tank D. 10.


BATTLE HISTORY OF CREW NO. 9. TANK NO. 716. DATE 23/4/17.

COMMANDED BY 2ND LIEUTENANT H----

  Unit to which attached             51st Division.

  Hour the tank started for action   5.12 a.m.

  Hour of zero                       4.15 a.m.

  Extent and nature of hostile       Severe.
    shell fire

  Ammunition expended                About 220 6-pounder; 14
                                       drums L.G.

  Casualties                         Four.

  Position of tank after action      H.24.b.3.9. (Sheet 51B).

  Condition of tank after action     Bellied, right track very
                                       slack.

_Orders received._--To clear Mount Pleasant wood, Rœux, and northern
edge of village.

_Report of action._--Time allowed for tanks from deployment point to
starting-point proved to be insufficient, which delayed my start some
twenty minutes. Having learnt that the other car which was operating
with me was “out of action,” I made my way alone to the railway arch,
where I was held up some few minutes owing to a number of stretcher
cases which had to be removed, and a sand-bag barricade which I could
not push down.

I soon caught up the infantry, who were held up by machine-gun fire in
Mount Pleasant wood. At their request I altered my course and made for
the northern side of the wood running parallel with the trench which we
held at the south of the wood, and which the enemy held at the north.
I was told that a bombing party would follow me up the trench.

Having cleared this wood, I pushed on towards the village of Rœux,
where I again met the infantry who had come round the other side of
Mount Pleasant wood, where they were again held up by machine-gun fire
which came from the buildings.

Our barrage could only have been very slight, to judge from the
comparatively small amount of damage which was done to the buildings.
Here I used 200 rounds of 6-pounder ammunition.

It is difficult to estimate with any accuracy the number of
machine-guns actually “put out.” One of my best targets was a party of
some thirty men whom we drove out of a house with 6-pounders, and then
sprayed with Lewis-gun fire.

I am sure that at least one 6-pounder shell dropped amongst these--this
made a distinct impression.

Another target that presented itself was a party of men coming towards
us. I do not know whether they intended giving themselves up or whether
they were a bombing party--I took them for the latter.

Parties were frequently seen coming up from the rear, through gaps in
the buildings.

Twice an enemy officer rallied some dozen or so men and rushed a house
that we had already cleared. Here again a 6-pounder through the window
disposed of any of the enemy remaining in the buildings.

In regard to the machine-guns in the wood, we could only locate them
by little puffs of smoke at which we fired our 6-pounders. We did not
take our departure until these puffs had disappeared, and there was in
consequence reasonable ground to suppose that the guns had been knocked
out. Finally our infantry reached the village. Apparently there was no
officer commanding our infantry in this part of the line.

I then moved towards Rœux wood and learnt of a sniper still left in
Mount Pleasant wood and a machine-gun, which was causing great trouble,
on the railway embankment, and I then made my way back to the railway
arch with a view to running parallel with the embankment towards the
station, but unfortunately my car bellied in the very marshy ground by
the canal.

With regard to casualties, it is my opinion that I was in the district
sufficiently long enough, some three hours, to enable the enemy to send
for a supply of armour-piercing bullets. All four of my crew were hit
whilst in the car.

The Lewis-gun mountings were bad, many targets were lost owing to the
time it took to mount the gun, and finally we mounted the gun through
the front flaps. The flap of the present mounting does not rise high
enough to clear the foresight.

Both the 6-pounder guns worked splendidly, only giving one misfire
the whole time. There was no hostile shelling of any kind in the
village of Rœux or immediately in the district where I was operating,
but the enemy barrage falling round the railway was of a very severe
nature. When I found that it was impossible for me to proceed towards
the railway station, I sent off a pigeon message at the request of
an O.C. requesting that one of the cars operating in the Chemical
Works district should be detailed to deal with the machine-gun on the
embankment.

I cannot speak too highly of the efficiency and general work of the
crew.

I have handed two German diaries, which came into my possession, to the
Company Intelligence Officer.

      (Signed) H----, 2nd Lieut.,
                O.C. Tank No. 716.



CHAPTER XI

THE SECOND BATTLE OF GAZA


On account of the assistance rendered to the British infantry by tanks
during the battle of the Somme a decision was arrived at in England to
despatch a number of these machines to Egypt to assist our troops in
the Sinai peninsula, especially in the neighbourhood of El Arish, south
of the Turkish frontier. The number originally decided on was twelve,
but this was eventually cut down to eight, and, through an unfortunate
error, old experimental machines were sent out instead of new ones as
intended.

The detachment, under the command of Major N. Nutt, consisted of 22
officers and 226 other ranks drawn from the original E Company, and
together with its tanks, workshops, and transport, it embarked at
Devonport and Avonmouth in December 1916, arriving in Egypt during the
following month.

Demonstrations and schemes were at once arranged for so that the staffs
of the various fighting formations could witness what tanks were able
to accomplish. These schemes were carried out on the sand dunes near
Gilban, some ten miles north of Kantara on the Suez Canal.

In February,[22] orders were suddenly received one day for the
detachment to move with all possible speed to the fighting zone. This
was carried out, and within three hours of receiving the orders the
entire detachment, with tanks and accessories, had entrained at Gilban,
and was speeding northwards towards the area of operations. Next day a
delay occurred at El Arish, which the day previously had been captured
by the Australians; but, the same evening, the train proceeded to Rafa,
a frontier town, which had only just been evacuated by the Turks, and
early next morning reached Khan Yunus, some fifteen miles south-west
of Gaza, an old Crusader stronghold surrounded by vast fig groves and
other vegetation; here the detachment remained for ten days.

During this halt the First Battle of Gaza had come to an end, our
troops having been obliged to retire and take up a position to
the south of the town owing to the appearance of strong Turkish
reinforcements from the direction of Beersheba; these threatened the
British communications.

Hostilities now ceased and preparations were begun for the Second
Battle of Gaza, which was to prove one of the fiercest contests of the
war in its eastern theatre. For this battle, early in March, the Tank
Detachment moved from Khan Yunus to Deir el Belah.

The Turkish Army at this period, numbering some 30,000 men, was
disposed along a sixteen-mile front extending from Gaza south-eastwards
to Hareira and Shekia. The British plan of operations was as follows:

The G.O.C. Desert Column was entrusted with the operations against the
Hareira front, protecting the right flank, whilst the task of seizing
the important ridges of Sheikh Abbas and Mansara, both commanding Gaza
and situated to the south of this town, was assigned to the 52nd, 53rd,
and 54th Divisions; the 74th Division remaining in general reserve.

The tanks of the detachment, which had been held in G.H.Q. reserve,
were now allotted to divisions as follows:

(i) 53rd Division, operating from the sea to the Cairo road, running
through Romani trench: two tanks which were to be held in reserve until
the infantry had advanced to the line--Red House-Tel El Ajjul-Money
House-the coast.

(ii) 52nd Division, operating from Kurd valley to Wadi El Nukhabir:
four tanks to support the infantry attack on the Mansara ridge.

(iii) 54th Division, operating on a front extending from 500 yards west
of Abbas ridge to the Gaza-Beersheba road: two tanks to support the
infantry attack on the Sheikh Abbas ridge.

Z day was to be April 17. Two days prior to this the eight tanks left
Deir El Belah after dusk, two proceeding over the Druid ridge through
St. James’s Park, thence by Tel El Nujeid across the Wadi Ghuzze to
Money hill; four from Deir El Belah in an easterly direction through
Piccadilly Circus over the prominent ridge of In Seirat, then eastwards
to Sheikh Nebhan on the Wadi Ghuzze; two followed the same route as
far as In Seirat, and from there made for a point south-east of Sheikh
Nebhan.

All eight tanks reached their positions of assembly before dawn without
mishap and in good condition. Meanwhile ammunition and supply dumps had
been established at various spots close to the Wadi Ghuzze.

In the battle which now ensued the position of the tanks in relation
to the infantry varied according to the nature of the ground and the
resistance of the enemy. The attacks of the 53rd and 52nd Divisions
came as a complete surprise, the two tanks allotted to the former moved
to a position south of Money hill on the evening of the first day, and
the four with the latter reached a point south of the Mansara ridge.
None of these machines came into action as the Turks retired from their
trenches and strongholds in complete confusion. On the 54th Division’s
front both of the tanks allotted to this Division came into action;
one, however, received a direct hit and was destroyed, but the other
did good work in clearing the enemy’s trenches north-west of the Abbas
ridge, killing many Turks and enabling our infantry to occupy these
defences.

On the evening of April 17, the three attacking divisions entrenched
themselves on the line running approximately from Marine View, on
the coast, through Heart hill-Kurd hill-Mansara-Abbas, and thence
south-east to Atawineh ridge. A pause of forty-eight hours now took
place wherein to prepare for the second phase of the battle.

[Illustration: THE SECOND & THIRD BATTLES OF GAZA

17th April 1917 & 1st November 1917.]

On the morning of April 19, this second phase opened. The Australian
Corps, on the right flank, was to deliver an attack on the eastern
defences of Gaza, whilst the 52nd, 53rd, and 54th Divisions were to
constitute the main attack, and to advance on a line running from
the coast to the stronghold of Ali El Muntar. Battleships were to
co-operate in this attack.

Tanks were allotted to Divisions as follows:

(i) 53rd Division, objective--Mazar trench to Sheikh Redwam; one
tank to assist in the capture of Sampson ridge, El Arish and Sheikh
Redwam redoubts, and one tank to operate against Sheikh Ajlin,
Belah-Yunus-Rafa-Zowaiid-El Burs trenches and to await further orders
at El Arish trench.

(ii) 52nd Division, objective--the enemy’s trenches from Queen’s hill
to Ali El Muntar. For this operation four tanks were allotted, and
their objectives, which were Outpost hill, the Labyrinth, the Warren
and Ali El Muntar, were changed during the night of the 18th-19th. This
resulted in considerable confusion. According to the change one tank
was to precede the assault on Green hill, one to clear Lees hill and
Outpost hill, and the remaining two to be kept in reserve at Kurd hill.

(iii) 54th Division, objective--Kirbet El Sihan and El Sire-Ali El
Muntar ridge as far as Australia hill; one tank to seize the redoubt
west of Kirbet El Sihan.

From the above it will be seen a good deal was expected of the tanks,
in fact these seven machines were to tackle a problem which in France
would have been considered distinctly formidable for two complete
battalions.

Of the two tanks with the 53rd Division one broke its track,
consequently the other--the Tiger--led the advance alone and drove the
enemy from Sampson ridge, which was then occupied by our infantry; it
then proceeded to El Arish redoubt, but, the infantry being unable to
follow, after six hours’ action, during which it fired 27,000 rounds of
S.A.A., it withdrew to Regent’s Park, all its crew having been wounded.
On the front of the 52nd Division a desperate battle took place: the
tank operating against Lees hill and Outpost hill fell into a gully,
the sides of which unexpectedly collapsed. Its place was taken by the
tank detailed for Green hill; Outpost hill was reached and cleared,
when this machine received a direct hit.

The enemy’s machine-gun fire was now intense, so one of the reserve
tanks was ordered up. After desperate losses the infantry eventually
captured the hill, only to be driven off it by a counter-attack; they
then withdrew to a line passing east and west through Queen’s hill,
the reserve tank withdrawing at the same time to Kurd hill. In the
attack delivered by the remaining division, the 54th, no better luck
was experienced. The one machine working with this division moved on
the great redoubt north-west of Kirbet El Sihan, and reaching this
work the Turkish garrison surrendered. The infantry then took over the
position. Shortly after this a direct hit broke one of the tracks of
this tank, and a counter-attack eventually resulted in its capture with
the infantry who had occupied the redoubt.

In spite of the fact that this battle was unsuccessful, the work
carried out by the Tank Detachment constitutes a remarkable feat of
arms. The tanks engaged were Mark I’s and II’s, which, by the time
the battle was ended, had each covered on an average some 40 miles
of country. Reconnaissance, due to want of time, was practically
non-existent, and the limitations of the tank were not understood
by the infantry commanders, who expected miracles from a far from
perfect machine. The objectives allotted were not only difficult, but
too numerous, yet in spite of this the protection which these eight
tanks afforded the attacking infantry on a five-mile frontage was
considerable and fully appreciated; it was, however, quite inadequate
on account of the hundreds of ingeniously hidden machine-guns, to which
the Turks mainly owed their victory.



CHAPTER XII

STAFF WORK AND BATTLE PREPARATION


The foundations of the success or non-success of a battle rest on its
organisation, that is, on the preparations made for it. This is the
duty of the General and Administrative Staffs of an Army or Formation
and usually entails an immense amount of careful work. The fact that
success depends as much, if not more, on organisation (brain power)
as on valour (nerve power) is not generally recognised, and many an
officer and man in the firing line is, through ignorance of the causes
and effects which are operating behind, only too prone to forget what
the staff is doing, and, never more so, what the staff has done than
after a really great victory has been gained.

The more scientific weapons become the more will good staff work decide
whether their use is going to lead to victory or defeat. This was very
early realised in the Tank Corps, and every endeavour was made by its
commander and his subordinate leaders to select only the most capable
officers for their respective staffs; this resulted in ability more
often than seniority deciding the filling of an appointment.

The work of the Staff of the Tank Corps was often considerably
complicated by the fact that, the tank being a novel weapon of war,
it was little understood, not only by the other arms, but by many
members of the Tank Corps itself. This resulted in a great deal of
educational work being required before many measures, very obvious to
the Staff itself, were accepted by others. In the early days of the
Corps the tank was generally placed by the other arms under one of two
categories--a miracle or a joke, and this did not tend to facilitate or
expedite preparations.

The main duty of the General Staff is to foresee by thinking ahead, of
the Administrative Staff to prepare, of the Commander to decide, and
of his troops to act. These four links go to build up a battle, and if
any one of them is defective, the whole chain is weak. On the power
of thinking ahead, that is, foreseeing conditions and events, will
depend all preparations. Decisions cannot with safety be simply based
on former experiences, codified and printed rules and regulations; if
this were possible every intelligent subaltern with a good memory or
a big pocket could become a Napoleon[23] in six weeks. Decisions must
be based on weapons and men moved in accordance with the principles
of war as governed by conditions existing and possible. Possible
conditions cannot be guessed at; if they could the planchet board and
not the baton would be the emblem of a field-marshal’s worth. Possible
conditions can only be guarded against or converted into allies by
being prepared to meet all eventualities, and these preparations in a
formation such as the Tank Corps were at first prodigious. Little by
little, however, the knack of mechanical warfare was cultivated, and
then what had at first appeared a mountain eventually turned out to be
a molehill--a good sprinkling of molehills, and not a few mountains,
however, remained over even to the last.

In the training schemes carried out before the battle of Arras, as
mentioned in Chapter VII, no fewer than 132 headings of various
measures, all relative to the preparations requisite for an offensive
with tanks, were laid down. After this battle this number was
considerably increased and continued to grow as each engagement added
new experiences to the old ones.

The main preparations required for an offensive are the following:
(1) Movements, (2) Reconnaissances, (3) Secrecy, (4) Supply, (5)
Communication, (6) Assembly, (7) Tactics, (8) Reorganisation.

Tank movements generally fall under the headings of rail movements and
cross-country movements. As regards the former it must be remembered
that the tank cannot at present move over lengthy distances under its
own power. A Mark I tank on good going could not be relied on to run
more than 12 miles on a fill of petrol, and after it had completed
about 70 miles it had to be overhauled and many of its parts renewed.
Rail movements require special trucks, and, in the early days of the
Corps, special sidings and entraining ramps. As regards the latter,
cross-country routes should be reconnoitred beforehand. It will be
remembered how on the night of April 8-9, the night previous to the
first day of the battle of Arras, six tanks became ditched at Achicourt
on account of a bog existing under the hard surface of the ground. Had
the officer reconnoitring this route tested the ground along the valley
by pushing a stick into it, this accident would not have occurred,
for the stick would have penetrated the crust and informed him of the
nature of the soil below it.

Before any move takes place from the position of assembly, near
railhead, to the starting-points, the points whence the tanks will
proceed into battle, the following are a few of the subjects that a
Tank Unit Commander will have to consider:--Objectives; strong-points;
machine-gun emplacements; batteries; trenches; wire; infantry lines
of advance; minimum number of tanks required for the main objectives;
minimum of tanks required for subsidiary objectives; nature of ground
and its probable condition at zero hour; where ground, soil, natural
features and hostile batteries will chiefly impede tank movements; the
lines of least resistance for tanks through the enemy’s lines to the
main objectives and the points of greatest resistance to the infantry
advance; landmarks; starting points with reference to lines of least
resistance; positions of deployment with reference to starting-points;
tank routes from positions of assembly to the positions of deployment
and thence to the starting-points; any places on these tank routes
where delays are likely to occur; rallying points; supply dumps;
communication, etc., etc.

So in turn must each move or preparatory measure be dealt with,
reconnaissance playing an all-important part, not only before the
battle, but during it, and immediately after it, and if the system
of communication during the battle is not efficient the work of the
reconnaissance officer will frequently be wasted, so we find one
preparation depending for its worth on another until the whole forms a
complete and somewhat intricate chain.

Imagine now, when this chain is nearing completion what it means to it
if some new plan be evolved, or a change be introduced or forced on to
a scheme of operations--its effect will frequently have to be carried
right down the chain, and this will not only mean new work being
done, but old work being undone. Take the following as an example: a
battalion of tanks is to detrain at A, a few days later it is ordered
to detrain at B instead; this will probably entail shifting 20,000
gallons of petrol, 12,000 6-pounder shells, 300,000 rounds of S.A.A.,
and countless other stores. It is these changes in operations which a
good Staff guards its troops against by foresight; this being so, the
efficiency of a Staff may usually be gauged by the number of amendments
a Commander issues to his orders.

Another important duty of the Staff is to assist the troops when
the period of preparation ends and action begins, and further still
to watch closely every action so that changes may be foreseen and
preparations may be improved on the next occasion. These duties are
called “Battle Liaison,” a duty which was impressed upon every General
Staff Officer in the Tank Corps as the most important he would be
called upon to carry out. At every battle from that of the Ancre
onwards, the majority of the headquarters’ General Staff Officers were
present on the battlefield itself, not after the fight had swept on but
before it opened and whilst it lasted. Each night these officers would
report to their headquarters not only what they had heard but what
they had seen, a much more reliable source of evidence. The result of
this system was that when the crash came on March 21, 1918, though the
Tank Corps was split up over a front of 60 miles, and in many places
complete confusion followed the German attack, not once from that day
on to the end of the battle did the headquarters of the Tank Corps
lack information regarding the position of all its units. This may be
chronicled as a notable “feat of staff work,” and certainly as useful
as many a much more spectacular “feat of arms.” It is for this type of
staff work that Staff Officers are sometimes rewarded.



CHAPTER XIII

THE BATTLE OF MESSINES


The situation at the end of April 1917 was a difficult one for the
Allies. The failure to penetrate the Drocourt-Queant line had rendered
the whole plan of the British attack east of Arras abortive; this was
bad enough, but indeed a minor incident when compared with the failure
of the great French attack in Champagne. It was towards making good
this failure that the rest of the year’s operations had to be directed.

The ambitious plan of cutting off the Arras-Soissons-Reims salient
having failed, the next blow was to be directed against the German
right flank. The object of this attack was to drive this flank back
sufficiently far to deprive the Germans of the coast line between
Nieuport and the Dutch frontier, and to render their position about
Lille sufficiently insecure to force them to evacuate it and so open
the road to Antwerp and Brussels.

The possibility of such an operation as this had long been
contemplated, and, as early as the summer of 1916, preparations for it
had been taken in hand by the British Second Army. By May 1917 these
were completed, including the construction of an extensive system of
railways in the Ypres area and the mining of most of the western flank
of the Messines-Wytschaete ridge.

The operation was to be divided into two main phases, firstly the
taking of the Messines-Wytschaete ridge so as to secure the right
flank of the second phase and to deny the enemy important points of
observation, and secondly the attack north of this ridge with the
object of occupying the coast line and of pushing forward towards
Ghent. The first phase constituted the battle of Messines, the subject
of this chapter, and the second the Third Battle of Ypres.

It had been foreseen early in the year that such an attack was
possible, and that in all probability tanks would be called upon to
take part in it, consequently, as early as March 1917, reconnaissances
of the whole of the Ypres area had been taken in hand by the Heavy
Branch. In April this surmise proved correct, and the 2nd Brigade,
consisting of A and B Battalions, was selected for this operation. In
May these two battalions were equipped with thirty-six Mark IV tanks
each.

Railheads were selected at Ouderdom and at Clapham Junction (one mile
south of Dranoutre), and though they were within the shelled area,
they fulfilled most of the requirements demanded of a tank railhead.
Advanced parties began arriving at these stations on May 14, and
between May 23 and 27, A and B Battalions followed them. Supply dumps
were then formed, and arrangements were made to carry forward one
complete fill for all tanks operating by means of Supply Tanks, which
were first used in this battle. These tanks consisted of discarded Mark
I machines with specially made supply sponsons fitted to them.

The positions of assembly were selected quite close to railheads, B
Battalion tanks being hidden away in a wood, and A Battalion’s in
specially built shelters representing huts. The spoor left by the
tanks, as they moved to these positions, was obliterated by means of
harrows so that no enemy’s aeroplane happening to cross over our lines
this way would notice anything suspicious on the ground.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF MESSINES

June 7th 1917.]

The object of the Second Army’s operations was firstly to capture the
Messines-Wytschaete ridge and secondly to capture the Oosttaverne line,
a line of trenches running north and south a mile to a mile and a half
east of the ridge. Three Corps were to participate in this attack--the
Xth and IXth Corps, and the IInd Anzac Corps. To these Corps tanks were
allotted as follows: 12 tanks to the Xth Corps, 28 tanks to the IXth
Corps, 16 for the ridge, and 12 for the Oosttaverne line, and 32 tanks
to the IInd Anzac Corps, 20 for the ridge and 12 for the Oosttaverne
line. Each battalion had two spare tanks and 6 supply tanks. The
total number of tanks used was, therefore, 76 Mark IV tanks and 12 Mark
I and II Supply Tanks.

The tank operations were planned to be entirely subsidiary to the
infantry attack, in fact the whole attack, being limited to a very
short advance, was based on the power of our artillery and the moral
effect produced by exploding some twenty mines simultaneously at zero
hour.

For three weeks the weather had been dry and fine, and had this not
been the case, there would have been little hope of ever being able
to move the tanks forward over the pulverised ground. The artillery
bombardment opened on May 28, June 7 being fixed for the attack. It was
a terrific cannonade, watching it from Kemmel hill or the Scherpenberg,
to-day almost blasted out of recognition themselves, one could see the
Grand bois, Wytschaete wood, and the green fields along the valleys
of the Steenbeek and Wytschaetebeek being slowly converted into a
dun-coloured area which the first heavy fall of rain would convert into
a porridge of mud. Some shells as they exploded would throw up great
fan-shaped masses of debris and smoke, others would burst into vortex
rings, whilst others again shot up into the air great feathers of fine
brown dust. Day and night the bombardment continued except for a short
pause now and then to mislead the enemy as to the hour the infantry
would “top the parapet.”

At zero hour (dawn) 40 tanks were launched; of these 27 reached the
first infantry objective, known as the Blue Line, and, of these 27, 26
went on to the second objective, the Black Line, and 25 reached it.

The artillery bombardment and creeping barrage proved so effective
that few of these tanks were ever called upon to come into action
except round the ruins of Wytschaete village, where some snipers
and machine-guns were silenced by them, and at Fanny's farm, near
Messines, where our infantry were held up by machine-gun fire. One
tank operating with the Anzac Corps got across the enemy's trenches
at a very rapid rate and reached its objective on the Black Line, a
distance of about 3,000 yards, in 1 hour and 40 minutes, having engaged
an enemy’s machine-gun on the way. Another tank, rather aptly named the
“Wytschaete Express,” led the infantry into the village of Wytschaete
and helped to persuade the Germans defending it to surrender, which
they did in large numbers.

At 10.30 a.m. the 24 reserve tanks were moved up to points behind our
original front line, and 22 of these started with the infantry at 3.10
p.m. in the attack on the Oosttaverne line, which constituted the final
objective. During this phase of the battle the tanks rendered very
great assistance to the infantry by occupying the ground beyond the
Oosttaverne line before the infantry arrived, and so disorganising the
enemy’s defence.

At a place named Joye farm an interesting incident occurred. Two tanks
became ditched here, but, in spite of this and approaching darkness,
these machines were in a position to repel any hostile counter-attack
coming up the Wambeke valley, so it was decided to stand by in the
tanks and resume unditching work at daybreak.

At about 4 a.m. unditching was started again, and one tank was got
out successfully, but unfortunately broke its track soon afterwards
in trying to cross the railway to advance against an enemy’s
counter-attack which was developing. An hour later the enemy was
observed to be massing in the Wambeke valley. The position of the tanks
only allowed of a pair of 6-pounders being trained in the direction
of the enemy, so the remainder of the crews, under their officers,
took up positions in shell-holes with their Lewis guns. Word was sent
to the infantry to warn them and ask for co-operation, and on a reply
being received that they were short of Lewis-gun ammunition, some was
supplied to them from the tanks.

From 6.30 a.m. onwards the enemy made repeated attempts to advance,
shooting at the tanks with a large number of armour-piercing bullets
which failed to penetrate. They were driven off in every case with
heavy casualties, until at 11.30 a.m. our artillery barrage opened and
dispersed them.

The battle of Messines, one of the shortest and best mounted limited
operations of the war, was in no sense a tank battle. Tanks took but
a small part in it, except in its final stages, nevertheless many
useful lessons were learnt, the chief of which were: the necessity of
some special form of unditching gear; the advisability of selecting
starting-points well behind our front line (in this battle they were
chosen too close behind it, with the result that as it was still
dark at zero hour several tanks got ditched in “No Man’s Land”); the
advisability of selecting rallying-points well behind objectives, so
that when tanks have finished their work their crews may gain as much
rest as possible.



CHAPTER XIV

A TACTICAL APPRECIATION


The battle of Messines may be looked upon as the high-water mark of
the artillery attack, which was first developed by the British Army
during the battle of the Somme. The time, however, was approaching when
a change of tactics became imperative on account of the enemy having
learnt his lesson. To appreciate what this question involves is of some
interest, especially so, as in the tank was eventually discovered a
means of overcoming the counter-measures now adopted by the enemy.[24]

The main characteristic which differentiates the German defensive
tactics of 1917 from those of 1916 would appear to lie in the grouping
of their men rather than in the siting of their trenches.

In 1916 the major portion of the German Army was placed in the frontal
defensive belt because security was sought for in the maintenance of an
unbroken front. In 1917, however, this security was more economically
guaranteed by holding behind this front, instead of in it, a large
reserve which could strike at any opponent who broke through.

This reversion to the “big idea” and the abandonment of the smaller
one, namely, that war is a “series of local emergency measures,” placed
a further difficulty in the way of the attacker. In 1917 it was no
longer a question of breaking through a defensive line as in 1914, or
a zone of defences as in 1915 and 1916, but of exhausting the enemy’s
reserves before undertaking either of these operations with decisive
effect.

This could now only be accomplished by hitting the enemy at a point
which he must hold on to because of its importance or of surprising him
at points where he did not expect to be attacked. If such points were
not selected all he need do was to fall back as he had already done in
March, and so dislocate our operations, by temporarily denying us the
use of our guns.

As hitherto, the change we have always most carefully to watch for is
any change the enemy is likely to carry out in his artillery tactics,
and the following is apparently what the German was now doing.

Having learnt in 1916 and the first half of 1917 that if the attacker
makes up his mind to do it, he can carry, by means of artillery and
infantry alone, several lines of trenches in one bound, it stood to
reason that the German General Staff would not continue to jeopardise
its artillery by so placing it that it could be pounded to pieces
during our preliminary bombardment.

If now the Germans withdrew their guns further back to a position from
which, though they cannot cover their front-line system, they can cover
their second or third lines and simultaneously be immune, or to a great
extent immune from our counter-battery fire, by accepting the loss of a
small belt of ground they would place our attacking infantry in such a
position that whilst it feels the full effect of their artillery, it is
receiving next to no protection from its own.

The construction of their defensive systems in 1917 did not altogether
lend itself to these tactics, the systems were too close together; but
should these distances be enlarged the disadvantage to the attacker
becomes apparent; and there were already signs that the Germans were
fully aware of the advantage of this enlargement. At Arras they had
been surprised in spite of the lengthy bombardment and they lost over
200 guns, at Messines they lost 67, and later on at Ypres only 25, on
the first day of each attack. They were, in fact, countering by gun
fire the exploitation of a penetration. This system of tactics can be
graphically illustrated as follows (see Diagram 16).

[Illustration: DIAGRAM 16.--GERMAN ARTILLERY TACTICS.]

Suppose that AB be the German front-line system, and that CD, their
second line, be so placed that the German guns at E can heavily shell
the whole of CD, and yet, on account of the distance away, remain
practically immune from our guns at F. Suppose also that the area ABCD
is strongly wired and well sprinkled with machine guns, who is going to
suffer most--the attackers from GH, who will not only be perpetually
worried by the machine guns and sharpshooters in ABCD, but who will
come more and more under the enemy’s gun fire as they proceed towards
CD, or the enemy’s machine gunners occupying ABCD, and his infantry
in dug-outs along CD? Undoubtedly the former, for they present the
largest target, and against them is being thrown the greater number of
projectiles. Suppose now the attackers capture CD, then at best they
will only be able to remain there as impassive spectators to their
own destruction until such time as the guns at F move forward, which,
on account of the “crumped area,” ABCD, will take many days. This is
probably what would have happened had the Second Army been required to
push the attack from the Oosttaverne line towards Wervicq.

Except for an attack on an objective of very limited depth the
artillery attack was almost doomed to fail on account of slowness of
moving forward the guns, due to the destruction of roads and terrain
during the initial bombardment. Bearing the above possibilities in
mind, it was with some apprehension that the Heavy Branch watched the
approach of the next great battle, for though the “crumped” area could,
if dry, be crossed by tanks, whatever service they might afford would
be rendered useless on account of the impossibility of keeping the
attacking infantry supplied; to do so, fleets of supply tanks would be
required, and these did not exist.



CHAPTER XV

THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES


Towards the middle of May it was decided that all three Brigades
of Tanks, that is, the whole Heavy Branch, should take part in the
forthcoming operations of the Fifth Army east of Ypres, and that two
of these brigades should assemble in Oosthoek wood and the third at
Ouderdom. To initiate preparations an advanced headquarters was opened
at Poperinghe early in June, and on the 22nd of this month the brigade
advanced parties moved to the Ypres area.

After the battle of Messines, the 2nd Brigade (A and B Battalions)
had assembled at Ouderdom, so the present concentration only involved
moving the 1st Brigade (D and G Battalions), and the 3rd Brigade (F and
C Battalions) to Oosthoek. Seven trains were required for each of these
Brigades.

At about this time it was decided that the 1st Brigade should be
allotted to the XVIIIth Corps, the 3rd Brigade to the XIXth Corps, and
the 2nd Brigade to the IInd Corps; brigade commanders were, therefore,
instructed to place themselves in touch with these corps and commence
preparations.

The preparations required varied considerably from those for former
battles. The Ypres-Comines canal, running parallel to the front of
attack, formed a considerable obstacle to tank movement; consequently,
causeways had to be built over the canal as well as over the Kemmelbeek
and the Lombartbeek. This work was carried out by the 184th Tunnelling
Company, which was attached to the Heavy Branch for the purpose. The
work this unit carried out, normally under severe shell fire, was most
efficient and praiseworthy. Besides the building of these causeways
and the usual supply preparations, thoroughly efficient signalling
communication was arranged for, including the use of a certain number
of tanks fitted with wireless installations.

The reconnaissance work of the battalions was greatly facilitated
by that already carried out by the advanced headquarters party.
Oblique aerial photographs were provided for each tank commander,
and plasticine models of every part of the eventual battle area were
carefully prepared, the shelled zone being stencilled on them as the
bombardment proceeded. To facilitate the movement of tanks over the
battlefield a new system was made use of by which a list of compass
bearings from well-defined points to a number of features in the
enemy’s territory was prepared, thus enabling direction to be picked up
easily. The distribution of information was more rapid than it had been
on previous occasions. Constant discussions between the Brigade and
Battalion Reconnaissance officers led to a complete liaison; in fact,
everything possible was done to make the tank operations a success;
further, there was ample time to do it in.

The Fifth Army attack was to be carried out on well recognised lines;
namely, a lengthy artillery preparation followed by an infantry attack
on a large scale and infantry exploitation until resistance became
severe, when the advance would be halted and a further organised attack
prepared on the same scale. This methodical progression was to be
continued until the exhaustion of the German reserves[25] and moral
created a situation which would enable a complete break-through to be
effected.

The number of tanks allotted to the three attacking Corps was as
follows: seventy-two to each of the IInd and XIXth Corps, thirty-six
to the XVIIIth, and thirty-six to be held in Army reserve. These were
subdivided according to objectives, namely:

                     IInd Corps.  XIXth Corps.  XVIIIth Corps.
  Black Line         16 tanks     24 tanks      12 tanks
  Green Line         24   „       24   „        12   „
  East of Green Line  8   „
  Corps Reserve      24   „       24   „        12   „

The Corps objectives and the allotment of tanks to Divisions
were as follows:

In the IInd Corps the 24th and 30th Divisions supported by the 18th
Division were to attack on the right, and the 8th Division, supported
by the 25th Division, on the left. The general objective of the
operations was the capture of the Broodseinde ridge, and the protection
of the right flank of the Fifth Army. The allotment of tanks to
Divisions was: twelve to the 30th Division, eight to the 18th Division,
twenty-four to the 8th Division, and four to the 24th Division.

In the XIXth Corps the 15th Division was on the right and the 55th
Division on the left, with the 16th and 36th Divisions in reserve.
The objective of this Corps was to capture and hold a section of the
enemy’s third-line system known as the Gheluvelt-Langemarck line.
Twenty-four tanks were allotted to each of the attacking divisions.

In the XVIIIth Corps the 39th Division was on the right and the 51st
Division on the left, with the 11th and 48th Division in reserve. The
main objective was the Green Line; but should this be successfully
occupied the 51st Division was to seize the crossings of the river
Steenbeek at Mon du Rasta and the Military Road, and establish a line
beyond that river from which a further advance could be made on to the
Gheluvelt-Langemarck line; the 39th Division on the left conforming by
throwing out posts beyond the Green Line. Eight tanks were allotted to
the 51st Division and sixteen to the 39th Division.

The dead level of Northern Flanders is broken by one solitary chain
of hills, a crescent in shape, with its cusps as Cassel and Dixmude.
From Cassel to Kemmel hill had been ours since 1914; to this the
Messines-Wytschaete ridge was added, as we have seen in June 1917;
now all that remained was the extension of this ridge northwards from
about Hooge to Dixmude. The territory lying within the crescent was
practically all reclaimed swamp land, including Ypres and reaching back
as far as to St. Omer, both of which, a few hundred years ago, were
seaports. All agriculture in this area depended on careful drainage,
the water being carried away by innumerable dikes. So important was the
maintenance of this drainage system considered that in normal times a
Belgian farmer who allowed his dikes to fall into disrepair was heavily
fined.

The frontage of attack of the Fifth Army extended from the
Ypres-Comines canal to Wiltje cabaret. On the left the French were
co-operating, attacking towards Houthulst forest, and on the right
the Second Army was restricted to an all but passive artillery rôle.
This frontage was flanked by two strong positions, the Polygonveld and
Houthulst forest, which formed two bastions with a semicircular ridge
of ground as a curtain between them; in front of this low curtain ran a
broad moat--the valley of the Steenbeek and its small tributaries.

From the tank point of view the Third Battle of Ypres is a complete
study of how to move thirty tons of metal through a morass of mud and
water. The area east of the canal had, through neglect and daily shell
fire, been getting steadily worse since 1914, but as late as June 1917
it was still sufficiently well drained to be negotiable throughout, by
the end of July it had practically reverted to its primal condition of
a vast swamp; this was due to the intensity of our artillery fire.

It must be remembered at this time the only means accepted whereby to
initiate a battle was a prolonged artillery bombardment; sufficient
reliance not as yet being placed in tanks on account of their
liability to break down.[26] The present battle was preceded by the
longest bombardment ever carried out by the British Army, eight
days counter-battery work being followed by sixteen days intense
bombardment. The effect of this cannonade was to destroy the drainage
system and to produce water in the shell-holes formed even before the
rain fell. Slight showers fell on the 29th and 30th, and a heavy storm
of rain on July 31.

[Illustration: THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES

July to November 1917.]

A study of the ground on the fronts of the three attacking corps
is interesting. On the IInd Corps front the ground was broken by
swamps and woods, only three approaches were possible for tanks, and
these formed dangerous defiles. On the XIXth Corps front the valley
of the Steenbeek was in a terrible condition, innumerable shell-holes
and puddles of water existed, the drainage of the Steenbeek having
been seriously affected by the shelling. On that of the XVIIIth Corps
front the ground between our front line and the Steenbeek was cut up
and sodden. The Steenbeek itself was a difficult obstacle, and could
scarcely have been negotiated without the new unditching gear which had
been produced since the battle of Messines. The only good crossing was
at St. Julien, and this formed a dangerous defile.

Zero hour was at 3.50 a.m., and it was still dark when the tanks, which
had by July 31 assembled east of the canal, moved forward behind the
attacking infantry.

Briefly, the attack on July 31, in spite of the fact that there are
fifty-one recorded occasions upon which individual tanks assisted the
infantry, may be classed as a failure. On the IInd Corps front, because
of the bad going, the tanks arrived late, and owing to the infantry
being hung up, they were caught in the defiles by hostile artillery
fire and suffered considerable casualties in the neighbourhood of
Hooge. They undoubtedly drew heavy shell fire away from the infantry,
but the enemy appeared to be ready to deal with them as soon as
they reached certain localities and knocked them out one by one. On
the XIXth Corps front they were more successful. At the assault on
the Frezenberg redoubt they rendered the greatest assistance to the
infantry, who would have suffered severely had not tanks come to their
rescue. Several enemy’s counter-attacks were broken by the tanks, and
Spree farm, Capricorn keep, and Bank farm were reduced with their
assistance. On the XVIIIth Corps front at English trees and Macdonald’s
wood several machine guns were silenced; the arrival of a tank at
Ferdinand’s farm caused the enemy to evacuate the right bank of the
Steenbeek in this neighbourhood. The attack on St. Julien and Alberta
would have cost the infantry heavy casualties had not two tanks come
up at the critical moment and rendered assistance. At Alberta strong
wire still existed, and this farm was defended by concrete machine-gun
emplacements with good dug-outs. The two tanks which arrived here went
forward through our own protective barrage, rolled flat the wire and
attacked the ruins by opening fire at very close range, with the result
that the enemy was driven into his dug-outs and was a little later on
taken prisoner by our infantry.

The main lessons learnt from this day’s fighting were--the
unsuitability of the Mark IV tank to swamp warfare; the danger of
attempting to move tanks through defiles which are swept by hostile
artillery fire; the necessity for immediate infantry co-operation
whenever the presence of a tank forced an opening, and the continued
moral effect of the tank on both the enemy and our own troops.

The next attack in which tanks took part was on August 19, and in
spite of the appalling condition of the ground, for it had now been
steadily raining for three weeks, a very memorable feat of arms was
accomplished. The 48th Division of the XVIIIth Corps had been ordered
to execute an attack against certain strongly defended works, and, as
it was reckoned that this attack might cost in casualties from 600 to
1,000 men, it was decided to make it a tank operation in spite of the
fact that the tanks would have to work along the remains of the roads
in place of over the open country. Four tanks were detailed to operate
against Hillock farm, Triangle farm, Mon du Hibou, and the Cockcroft;
four against Winnipeg cemetery, Springfield, and Vancouver, and four
to be kept in reserve at California trench. The operation was to be
covered by a smoke barrage, and the infantry were to follow the tanks
and make good the strong points captured.

[Illustration: PLATE II

GROUND OPERATED OVER BY TANKS DURING THE BATTLE OF MESSINES, SHOWING
PRELIMINARY BOMBARDMENT ON JUNE 5, 1917.]

[Illustration: GROUND OPERATED OVER BY TANKS IN AUGUST 1917, DURING THE
THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES.]

Eleven tanks entered St. Julien at 4.45 a.m., three ditched, and eight
emerged on the St. Julien-Poelcappelle road, when down came the smoke
barrage, throwing a complete cloud on the far side of the objectives;
at 6 a.m. Hillock farm was occupied, at 6.15 a.m. Mon du Hibou was
reduced, and five minutes later the garrison of Triangle farm,
putting up a fight, were bayoneted. Thus one point after another was
captured, the tanks driving the garrisons underground or away, and the
infantry following and making good what the tanks had made possible. In
this action the most remarkable results were obtained at very little
cost, for instead of 600 casualties the infantry following the tanks
only sustained fifteen!

From this date on to October 9 tanks took part in eleven further
actions, the majority being fought on the XVIIIth Corps front by the
1st Tank Brigade. On August 22 a particularly plucky fight was put
up by a single tank. This machine became ditched in the vicinity of
a strong point called Gallipoli, and, for sixty-eight hours on end,
fought the enemy, breaking up several counter-attacks; eventually the
crew, running short of ammunition, withdrew to our own lines on the
night of August 24-25.

Of the attacks which were made with tanks in the latter half of
September and the beginning of October, the majority took place along
the Poelcappelle road, the most successful being fought on October 4.
Of this attack the XVIIIth Corps Commander reported that “the tanks
in Poelcappelle were a decisive factor in our success on the left
flank”; and their moral effect on the enemy was illustrated by the
statement of a captured German officer who gave as the reason of his
surrender--“There were tanks--so my company surrendered--I also.”

It is almost impossible to give any idea of the difficulty of these
latter operations or of the “grit” required to carry them out. Roads,
if they could be called by such a name at all, were few and far between
in the salient caused by the repeated attacks during the battle. This
salient had a base of some 20,000 yards and was only 8,000 deep at
the beginning of October, at which date the enemy could still obtain
extensive observation over it from the Passchendaele ridge. The ground
in between these roads being impassable swamps, all movement had to
proceed along them, consequently they formed standing targets for the
German gunners to direct their fire on. One night, at about this
period of the battle, a tank engineer officer was instructed to proceed
to Poelcappelle to superintend the demolition of some tanks which
were blocking the road near the western entrance to the village. His
description of it at night-time is worth recording.

  “I left St. Julien in the dark, having been informed that our guns
  were not going to fire. I waded up the road, which was swimming
  in a foot or two of slush, frequently I would stumble into a
  shell-hole hidden by the mud. The road was a complete shambles and
  strewn with debris, broken vehicles, dead and dying horses and
  men. I must have passed hundreds of them as well as bits of men
  and animals littered everywhere. As I neared Poelcappelle our guns
  started to fire: at once the Germans replied, pouring shells on and
  around the road, the flashes of the bursting shells were all round
  me. I cannot describe what it felt like, the nearest approach of
  a picture I can give is that it was like standing in the centre
  of the flame of a gigantic Primus stove. As I neared the derelict
  tanks, the scene became truly appalling: wounded men lay drowned
  in the mud, others were stumbling and falling through exhaustion,
  others crawled and rested themselves up against the dead to raise
  themselves a little above the slush. On reaching the tanks I found
  them surrounded by the dead and dying; men had crawled to them for
  what shelter they would afford. The nearest tank was a female, her
  left sponson doors were open, out of these protruded four pairs of
  legs, exhausted and wounded men had sought refuge in this machine,
  and dead and dying lay in a jumbled heap inside.”

Whatever history may record of the Third Battle of Ypres, one fact
certainly will not be overlooked or forgotten, namely: that men who
could continue for three months to attack under the conditions which
characterised this most terrible battle of the war must indeed belong
to an invincible stock.



CHAPTER XVI

TANK MECHANICAL ENGINEERING


The organisation of the “mechanical engineering” side of the Tank
Corps constituted the backbone of the whole formation, for on its
efficiency depended the efficiency of the fighting units in as high a
degree as the fighting efficiency of a cavalry regiment depends on its
horse-mastership.

In this chapter it is not intended to follow the growth of this
organisation in detail, but rather to look back on its evolution
as a whole, and then to enter upon a few particulars of the work
accomplished by it. Before doing so it must be clearly understood that
the mechanical engineering side of the Tank Corps was as much a product
of this Corps as the fighting organisation itself, as there was in the
Army no definite Mechanical Engineering Department to draw inspirations
from. The nearest was the R.A.S.C., but a very wide gap separated the
R.A.S.C. system from that adopted in the Tank Corps; both indeed dealt
with petrol engines, but the tank and its requirements are as distinct
from the lorry as the lorry is from the aeroplane--another mechanical
weapon.

Generally speaking, the experience of the engineering side of the Tank
Corps, during the two years following its inception in August 1916, has
been that the most efficient organisation depends upon the maintenance
of two simple principles, namely:

(i) No repairs to be carried out in the field--_i.e._ by fighting units.

(ii) All maintenance to be carried out by the crews of the machines
themselves.

When the Tank Corps was first formed, each Company of Tanks was
provided with its own workshops. At the end of 1916 Company Workshops
were abolished and Battalion Workshops were formed. Towards the end
of 1917, after much consideration had been given to the question,
Battalion Workshops were abolished and merged into Brigade Workshops,
while a small number of skilled workshop men were left with each
Company. In 1918 it was realised that the gradual withdrawal of special
workshop facilities from the Company organisation to the Brigade had
resulted in a considerable improvement in the skill and ability of
the tank crews themselves in the maintenance of their tanks. It was
decided, therefore, to go one step further, and not only withdraw all
Brigade Workshops into a central organisation known as the Central
Workshops, but also to withdraw the special workshop men from the
Companies, while tank crews themselves were made entirely responsible
for the maintenance of their machines.

In this way it was possible to draw a clear line between maintenance
(_i.e._ the replacing of damaged parts, which was done entirely by
the crews) and repairs (_i.e._ the mending of broken parts, which was
done entirely by the Central Workshops). At this time the argument was
frequently heard that a man who uses a machine should be able to repair
it, and that, if all repair work is done by a different organisation
from the one which actually fights the machine, there will be a serious
loss of mechanical efficiency. This idea was based upon a misconception
of the difference between the functions of repairs and maintenance. On
the contrary, it was found that the efficiency of the crews increased
several hundred per cent. after the crews themselves were made
responsible for the maintenance of their machines. To carry out this
system it is, however, necessary that stores and spare parts should be
readily available in the field; this entails an intelligent system of
Advanced Stores.

One very great advantage of this centralisation of repair work is the
considerable saving in man-power effected by employing all skilled men
exclusively on one particular job. As an example, broken unions of
petrol pipes commonly occur in all petrol engines, and if a small unit
workshop exist, the brazing out and repair of such broken unions can
be carried out there. In order to do this a coppersmith must be kept
at the unit workshop, and only part of his time will be employed in
this work of brazing petrol unions. If now, however, the unit workshops
are abolished, and all broken unions, from every unit, are sent back
to a Central Workshop for repair, there is a sufficient amount of
work of this description to keep one man, or possibly two or three,
fully employed all their time. These men become absolute experts in
brazing broken unions, and before very long can do in a few minutes a
job of this sort which would take a coppersmith with the unit workshop
considerably longer.

The complete organisation for the maintenance and repair of tanks can
be briefly described by tracing the itinerary of a tank from the day
it left the manufacturer until the day it was received at the Central
Workshops for repair.

From the manufacturer the tank was first sent to the tank testing
ground at Newbury, which was manned and administered by No. 20
Squadron, R.N.A.S. From here it was sent to Richborough and shipped
across the channel by channel ferry and received by another detachment
of No. 20 Squadron at Havre. From Havre it was sent to the Bermicourt
area, and after being put through further tests was handed over to the
Central Stores. The Central Stores were situated at the village of
Erin on the Hesdin-St.-Pol railway, and consisted of some seven acres
of railway sidings and some six acres of buildings. These stores were
built in 1917, and at first included the Central Workshops; in 1918,
however, these workshops were installed at Teneur, about a mile and a
half away, and covered some twenty acres of ground.

From the Central Stores tanks were issued to battalions, and after
repair at the Central Workshops were received again at these stores for
reissue as they were required.

As the battalions carried out all their own mechanical maintenance,
Advanced Stores were instituted, these being sent out from the Central
Stores into the forward area immediately behind the front to be
attacked by the tanks. These stores were organised on a very mobile
footing and proved invaluable in all battles since October 1917.

Besides the moving forward of these Advanced Stores, Tank Field
Companies, originally known as Salvage Companies, were despatched from
the Central Workshops to the battle areas. The duty of these companies
was to take over from the fighting units all damaged tanks, such as
those knocked out by the enemy’s artillery fire; they were, in fact,
the clearers of the battlefield so far as tanks were concerned. Apart
from salving complete tanks an immense quantity of other material was
reclaimed, such as 6-pounder guns, machine guns, ammunition, tools,
track plates, gears, transmissions, and engine parts, etc., which in
the two years of the existence of these companies totalled in value
several millions of pounds.

The work carried out by the Tank Field Companies was particularly
dangerous, and many casualties amongst their personnel occurred. In
the actual reclaiming of machines or parts they were constantly under
shell fire, and the actual carrying to and fro of the material made use
of required great physical strength, since the ground to be traversed
was frequently a mass of shell-holes; incidentally a great deal of work
had to be done at night since many of the machines to be salved were
frequently situated in full view of the enemy.

From the Tank Field Companies the salved machines were sent to the
Central Workshops at Teneur. Here they were repaired, and this work
entailed considerably more skill and labour than the initial assembly
of the machines in the home factories on account of the shattered and
burnt-out condition many of these machines were reduced to. Much of
this repair work was carried out by Chinese labour and at these shops
over 1,000 Chinese were quartered for work, schools being instituted
for them so that mechanics, fitters, etc., could be trained.

Besides testing and repairing machines much other work was carried
out at the Central Workshops--“gagget” making, experiments, making
good minor deficiencies of manufacture and generally improving the
machines. This work frequently consisted in “panic” orders, such as the
sledge and fascine making for the battle of Cambrai. One hundred and
ten tank sledges and 400 tank fascines, bundles of wood which will be
mentioned later, when dealing with the battle of Cambrai, were ordered
on October 24, 1917. The former required some 3,000 cubic feet of wood,
weighing 70 tons, and the latter 21,500 ordinary fascines, representing
some 400 tons of brushwood and over 2,000 fathoms of chain to hold them
together. This order came on the top of a particularly strenuous period
following the tank operations round Ypres. At the same time another
order for the overhaul and repair of 127 machines was made.

Owing to the limited amount of time allowed for the transport of
material from the base ports to the Central Workshops and from the
Central Workshops to the forward area, extensive use was made of
lorries. From November 10 to the 25th, twenty-eight lorries engaged
on this work covered a total of 19,334 miles, averaging 690 miles per
lorry, while three box cars averaged 1,242 miles each.

The part played by the 51st Chinese Labour Company, attached to the
Workshops, materially contributed to the work being duly completed in
time for the battle. Owing to the necessity for secrecy the personnel
of the Workshops were without knowledge of the immediate urgency of
the work they were engaged on. In spite of this all ranks worked with
the utmost enthusiasm, accomplishing the task in the required time.
During these three weeks the Central Workshops were working 22½ hours
out of every 24 without a break, and had it not been for the “grit”
displayed by all ranks the battle of Cambrai could not have been
fought, and without this battle the whole course of the war might have
been changed; for it was the battle of Cambrai, as we shall shortly
see, which demonstrated the full power of the tank and which placed it
henceforth in the van of every battle.



CHAPTER XVII

THE THIRD BATTLE OF GAZA


As a result of the repulse sustained by the British forces at the
Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917, the troops operating were
withdrawn from their exposed position and the Tank Detachment was
concentrated in a fig grove some 2,000 yards west of Sheikh Nebhan, at
which place it was later on reinforced by three Mark IV machines.

A new plan of operations was drawn up in which the Turkish defences
from Outpost hill to Ali El Muntar, which had resisted the combined
onslaught of several divisions, was to be turned by an extensive
flanking movement west of Gaza. This operation was to take place in
conjunction with an attack on Beersheba.

The general plan of attack was as follows:

(i) The Australian Corps and Desert Column were to operate from
Beersheba north-westwards to Hareira.

(ii) Several mounted and dismounted divisions were to operate around
Hareira and Gaza.

(iii) A composite force of French, Italians and West Indian troops was
to demonstrate by raids in the vicinity of Outpost hill.

(iv) The XXIst Corps was to attack the enemy’s defences between
Umbrella hill and the sea.

It is with the last of these four operations that this chapter is
concerned. For this attack the force detailed consisted of the 54th
Division, the Indian Cavalry Division, and the Tank Detachment--eight
machines.

The attack of the 54th Division was divided into four phases--Blue,
Red, Green, and Yellow.

The Tank Detachment left Deir El Belah on the night of October
22-23, 1917, for the beach near Sheikh Ajlin. From here a thorough
reconnaissance of the area of operations was carried out on horseback
and by drifter, after which this area was divided into tank sectors. To
these tanks were distributed as follows:

(i) _156th Infantry Brigade._--Objective--Umbrella hill north-westwards
to the eastern portion of El Arish redoubt. No. 1 tank was to support
the infantry in their attack on El Arish redoubt, deposit R.E. stores,
attack Magdhaba trench and cover the infantry consolidation.

(ii) _163rd Infantry Brigade._--Objective--El Arish redoubt northwards
to south of Zowaiid trench. No. 2 tank was to attack El Arish redoubt,
then Island wood, deposit R.E. stores, and on the arrival of the
infantry take a southerly route and capture Crested rock.

(iii) _161st and 162nd Infantry Brigades._--Objectives--Zowaiid trench
to Sea Post and the Cricket valley northwards to Sheikh Hasan and 500
yards beyond. For this operation four tanks were allotted.

No. 3 tank to attack Zowaiid trench, move north and capture Rafa
redoubt, rally, then proceed along Rafa trench, deposit R.E. material,
capture Yunus trench, attack Belah trench until the arrival of
infantry, thence proceed to Sheikh Hasan, deposit more R.E. stores, and
return to Sheikh Ajlin.

No. 4 tank to attack Rafa redoubt, co-operate with No. 3 tank against
Belah trench, make for Sheikh Hasan, deposit R.E. material, attack A.6
(an isolated Turkish trench to the north-east), and hold this until the
infantry had consolidated it.

No. 5 tank to capture Beach Post, co-operate in the assault on Cricket
redoubt, attack Sheikh Hasan in advance of the infantry, and deposit
R.E. material.

No. 6 tank to capture Sea Post, crush down the wire as far as Beach
Post, assault Gun hill, proceed to Sheikh Hasan, then deposit R.E.
stores and capture the Turkish post A.5.

(iv) _Reserve Tanks._--Nos. 7 and 8 tanks were to be held in reserve
north-east of Sheikh Ajlin; from there they were to follow up the
attack and replace any disabled machine.

In all, the above six first-line machines had twenty-nine objectives
to attack! That this could have been accomplished successfully would
have demanded a miracle; it was consequently foredoomed to failure.

The first phase of the attack was to consist in an infantry assault
protected by a creeping barrage; during this phase the tanks were to
move to their starting-points and be ready to advance at 3 o’clock on
the morning of November 2.

In order to ensure complete co-operation between the Tank Detachment
and the infantry, tank officers and other ranks were attached to
infantry brigades for ten days prior to the battle. As in France, this
system resulted in the greatest benefit to both infantry and tank
personnel alike.

The first phase of the battle opened at 11 o’clock on the night of
November 1-2, the 156th Infantry Brigade assaulting Umbrella hill. To
this attack the enemy did not respond immediately, but when he did he
opened a heavy artillery fire all down his front which endangered the
forward movement of the tanks to their starting-points, which, in spite
of this, they reached half an hour before the second zero hour.

It had been hoped to make every use of the full moon which rose in
the early evening, but the smoke, resulting from the battle, and a
dense haze restricted vision so completely that the tanks had to move
forward on compass bearings. At 3 a.m. a heavy barrage was opened on
the enemy’s front-line system, behind which the tanks, followed by
the infantry, moved forward. No difficulty was experienced in dealing
with the first objective, as the Turks were evidently taken quite by
surprise. Under cover of the barrage our troops pushed on till they
approached their second objective, when the enemy’s fire began to make
itself felt. Along the coastline the attack proceeded according to
programme, all objectives, including Sheikh Hasan, being taken. The
161st and 163rd Brigades encountered considerable opposition at Rafa
trench, Island wood, Crested rock, Gibraltar, and north of El Arish
redoubt. Briefly the operations carried out by the eight tanks of the
detachment were as follows:

No. 1 tank successfully attacked El Arish redoubt and was penetrating
the maze of trenches beyond, when owing to the darkness it was ditched;
its crew then joined the infantry.

No. 2 tank assaulted El Arish redoubt and met a similar fate;
eventually it received a direct hit which broke its right track; its
crew also joined the infantry.

No. 3 tank attacked Rafa redoubt, and later on, losing direction in the
mist, rallied.

No. 4 tank assaulted Rafa Junior, Yunus and Belah trenches, and after
depositing its R.E. material rallied.

No. 6 tank captured Sea Post, moved along the enemy’s trench, crushing
down the wire as far as Beach Post, attacked Cricket redoubt, Gun hill,
and Tortoise hill, and reaching Sheikh Hasan deposited its R.E. stores.
Shortly after this it moved forward to attack A.5, but breaking a track
it had to be abandoned.

Nos. 7 and 8 tanks received instructions at 4 a.m. to support the
infantry attack on El Arish redoubt, and to proceed in this direction
with R.E. material. These machines were loaded up with empty sandbags
on the roof, these caught fire, probably through the heat of the
exhaust pipe, both tanks went out of action.

On the whole the tank operations during the Third Battle of Gaza were
of assistance to the infantry. All tanks, except one, reached their
first objectives; four reached their second, third, and fourth, and one
reached its fifth objective. Of the eight machines operating five were
temporarily disabled. Casualties in personnel were very light--only one
man being killed and two wounded.

The Third Battle of Gaza closed the tank operations with the Army
of Palestine, and though the damaged machines were repaired and put
into fighting trim they were not used again. In order to overcome the
great difficulty in rounding up, by means of cavalry, the rearguard
detachments of the retiring Turkish Army, a mission was sent to France
to obtain, if possible, a number of Whippet machines. This mission
reached Tank Corps Headquarters in France on March 21, the day the
German offensive was launched. All hope of procuring these machines
consequently vanished. The Tank Detachment, therefore, handed over
their machines to the Ordnance Department at Alexandria and returned to
England.

The tank operations in Sinai and Palestine conclusively proved that
tanks could be employed almost anywhere in desert regions, and all that
they required were certain improvements in mechanism and changes in
design.

What success the Tank Detachment won during its two years in the East
was due to the determination and fine fighting spirit displayed by its
officers and men, who laboured under the greatest difficulties, not the
least being the entire lack of knowledge displayed by the other arms
in the limitations of tanks and their tactical employment. When all is
said and done and every criticism rounded off, success with tanks in
battle is as much a matter of co-operation, that is, unity of action
of all arms combined, as it is of mechanical fitness. This can only be
attained by constant practice in combined exercises on the training
area long prior to the battle even being thought of.



CHAPTER XVIII

ORIGINS OF THE BATTLE OF CAMBRAI


The battles of 1914 were primarily infantry battles based on the power
of the rifle, and it was not until 1915 that the quick-firing gun
and the heavy howitzer began to replace the rifle as the reducers of
resistance to the infantry attack.

In 1915, as far as the British Army is concerned, it may be said that
artillery was generally looked upon as an adjunct to the infantry. This
idea died hard, and it was not until the battle of the Somme was half
way through that it became apparent that it was no longer a question
of guns co-operating in the infantry advance, but of the infantry
itself co-operating with the artillery bombardments. In other words
the limit of the infantry advance was the limit of the range of the
guns, particularly the 18-pounders. This meant that no penetration of a
greater depth than about 4,000 yards could be effected unless a second
echelon of guns and infantry was launched and brought into action
simultaneously with or just before the first assault had reached the
range limit of the guns which were supporting it.

Two factors prohibited this from being done; the first was the heavily
shelled area which usually extends over the whole 4,000 yards of the
initial advance; the second, the great difficulty of keeping the second
echelon of guns supplied with sufficient ammunition to maintain the
second barrage. The shelled area not only prohibited the movement of
guns for days, but produced such exhaustion on the second echelon of
infantry crossing it, that by the time it caught up with the first
echelon its men were too fatigued to continue the attack.

By some it was hoped that the tank would partially overcome this
difficulty if it were brought into action on the area over which the
18-pounder barrage was beginning to fail, and by producing a local
barrage of its own, by means of its machine guns, that it would cover
any advance from 4,000 yards onwards.

This idea, though perfectly sound in itself, was doomed to failure as
long as the conditions of ground produced by artillery fire rendered it
impossible to support these tanks by infantry in fighting condition.

The first solution to this problem was to cease using heavy artillery
on ground to be traversed by the infantry attackers. This, however, is
at best but a half measure, for though, in the present phase of the
war, co-operation between infantry and tanks was of vital importance,
this co-operation could not be maintained for long if one arm has to
rely on its muscular power, whilst the other relies on petrol as its
motive force. At best, the advance of 4,000 to 6,000 yards will be
extended to 8,000 or 12,000 yards, when the endurance of the infantry
will reach its limit and the advance automatically cease. This is not
sufficient, for in a war such as was being waged in 1917 (a trench
war), in order to beat an enemy, the first necessity was to prevent him
using his spade. This can only be done by maintaining a continuous, if
comparatively slow advance, that is, by replacing muscle by petrol as
the motive force. This means the creation of a mechanical army.

In August 1917 the Tank Corps fully realised that the creation of
such an army, even on a very small scale, would take at least a year;
further, that its creation depended on the value of the tank being
fully recognised by those who could create such an army, and upon this
army being used in a suitable area of operations. Consequently the
first thing to do was to discover a suitable tank area; the second, to
hold a tactical demonstration on it with tanks so as to convince the
General Staff of their power and value. These steps it was felt would
have to be taken before the petrol engine would be accepted as the
motive force of the modern battle.

The selection of a theatre of operations depends on the objective to
be gained; the gaining of the objective on the breaking down of the
enemy’s resistance. Consequently the weapon which will most speedily
overcome this resistance must be considered first, and the area of
attack in the theatre of operations chosen must be selected as far as
possible with reference to its powers.

In the present instance we find that the chief resistance to our
infantry advance comes from the enemy’s machine guns. We dare not
concentrate all our artillery on these, for if we do, we shall release
his guns, which, free, can put up a stronger resistance than his
machine guns on account of their superior range. Further, whilst by
sound and flash ranging and aeroplane observation we can discover his
main gun positions, no means have yet been discovered whereby his
machine guns can be located other than by advancing on them and risking
casualties. Tanks must, therefore, be employed to do this in order to
clear the way for the infantry advance. Consequently, if sufficient
tanks are forthcoming, in order to guarantee a decisive success, it is
no longer a question of the tank as a spare wheel to the car, in case
of an unforeseen puncture in our operations, but as the motive force of
the car itself, the infantry being merely its armed occupants; without
which the car is valueless.

The area of operations selected must firstly be suitable to the rapid
movement of tanks, and secondly, unsuitable to hostile anti-tank
defences. Further, it should be chosen with reference to the tactical
characteristics of this arm. Once chosen, all other weapons should be
deployed and employed to facilitate the advance of the tank, because
it is to be used as the chief maintainer of infantry endurance, and it
is the infantry man with his machine gun and bayonet who is going, for
some time to come, to decide the battle.

Such were the views held in the Tank Corps at the opening of the Third
Battle of Ypres, and the following extract taken from a paper written
on June 11, 1917, is not only of interest but prophetic of future
events:

  “If we look at a layered map of France we can at once put our
  finger on the area to select. It lies between the Scarpe and the
  Oise, the Flanders swamps in the north and the Ardennes in the
  south-east. It was down this funnel of undulating country that
  the Germans advanced in 1914, and it is up it that they will most
  likely be driven if strategy is governed by ground and tactics by
  weapons.”

The main area suitable for tank operations having been fixed upon
by the Tank Corps, the next requirement was to select a definite
objective, the attack against which would draw the enemy’s reserves
towards it and so relieve the pressure which was being exerted against
the Fifth Army at Ypres. Two localities were considered, St. Quentin
and Cambrai. The first was opposite the French area, the second
opposite the British.

The suggestion put forward as regards the St. Quentin operation was
abandoned on account of difficulties arising out of a British force
operating in the French area; it must be remembered that at this time
no real unity of command existed in France.

The Cambrai project consisted in a surprise raid, the duration of which
would be about twenty-four hours. The whole operation may be summed up
in three words, “Advance, Hit, Retire.” Its object was to destroy the
enemy’s personnel and guns, to demoralise and disorganise his fighting
troops and reserves, and not to capture ground or to hold trenches.
It was further considered that such an operation would interrupt his
_roulement_ of reserves and make the enemy think twice as to replacing
fresh divisions by exhausted and demoralised units in those parts of
his line which were not included in his battle front. Further, it would
confuse him as to the decisive point of attack; for any day one of
these raids might be followed by a strong offensive.

The actual area of operations selected was the re-entrant formed by
the L’Escaut or St. Quentin Canal between the villages of Ribecourt,
Crèvecœur, and Banteux. The going in this area was excellent; further,
the area to be raided contained several fair-sized villages and
important ground, and was well limited by the canal, which not only
made a rapid reinforcing of the area in the bend difficult, but
completely limited the tank objectives.

The plan of attack was a threefold one:

(i) To scour the country between Marcoing, Masnières, Crèvecœur, Le
Bosquet, Banteux.

(ii) To form an offensive flank between Le Bosquet and Ribecourt.

(iii) To form an offensive flank against Banteux.

The attack was to be launched at dawn, the first line of tanks
making straight for the enemy’s guns, which before, and as the tanks
approached them, were to be bombed by our aeroplanes. The second and
third lines of tanks were to follow, whilst our heavy guns commenced
counter-battery work and the shelling of the villages and bridges along
the canal. The essence of the entire operation was to be surprise
coupled with rapidity of movement. The spirit of such an enterprise is
audacity, which was to take the place of undisguised preparation.

It must be realised that both the St. Quentin and Cambrai projects
were the home product of the Tank Corps, and they did not emanate
from higher authority, which, when approached, was unable to sanction
either. In spite of this, steps were taken to reconnoitre the Cambrai
area, and for this purpose both the Brigadier-General commanding the
Tank Corps and the 3rd Tank Brigade Commander visited Sir Julian Byng,
the Third Army Commander, at his Headquarters in Albert. Though it is
not known whether the Third Army Commander had already considered the
possibilities of an offensive on the front of his Army, in September it
would appear that he approached G.H.Q. on the subject, with the result
that still no action outside the Ypres area could be considered, anyhow
for the present.



CHAPTER XIX

THE BATTLE OF CAMBRAI


On October 20, the project, which had been constantly in the mind of
the General Staff of the Tank Corps for nearly three months and in
anticipation of which preparations had already been undertaken, was
approved of, and its date fixed for November 20.

The battle was to be based on tanks and led by them. There was to be no
preliminary artillery bombardment; the day the Tank Corps had prayed
for, for nearly a year, was at last fixed, and its success depended on
the following three factors:

(i) That the attack was a surprise.

(ii) That the tanks were able to cross the great trenches
of the Hindenburg system.

(iii) That the infantry possessed sufficient confidence in
the tanks to follow them.

The following difficulties had to be overcome before these requirements
could be met. The tanks, on October 20, were scattered over a
considerable area: some were at Ypres, others near Lens, and others
at Bermicourt. These would all have to be assembled not at suitable
entraining stations, as is usually the case, but at various training
areas so that co-operative training with the infantry could take
place. This was of first importance, for success depended as much on
the confidence of the infantry in the tanks as on the surprise of the
attack. At these training centres, tanks would have to be completely
overhauled and fitted with a special device to assist them in crossing
the Hindenburg trenches, which were known, in many places, to be
over 12 ft. wide, and the span of the Mark IV machine was only 10
ft. This device consisted in binding together by means of chains
some seventy-five ordinary fascines, thus making one tank fascine, a
great bundle of brushwood 4½ ft. in diameter and 10 ft. long; this
bundle was carried on the nose of the tank and, when a large trench
was encountered, was cast into it by pulling a quick release inside
the tank. As already described these tank fascines and the “fitments”
necessary to fix and release them were made by the Tank Corps Central
Workshops.

Before the infantry assembled for training a new tactics had to be
devised, not only to meet the conditions which would be encountered
but to fit the limitations imposed upon the tank by it being able to
carry only one tank fascine. Once this fascine was cast it could not be
picked up again without considerable difficulty.

Briefly, the tactics decided on were worked out to meet the following
requirements: “To effect a penetration of four systems of trenches in
a few hours without any type of artillery preparation.” They were as
follows:

Each objective was divided up into tank section attack areas, according
to the number of tactical points in the objective, and a separate
echelon, or line, of tanks was allotted to each objective. Each section
was to consist of three machines--one Advanced Guard tank and two
Infantry tanks (also called Main Body tanks); this was agreed to on
account of there not being sufficient tanks in France to bring sections
up to four machines apiece.

The duty of the Advanced Guard tank was to keep down the enemy’s fire
and to protect the Infantry tanks as they led the infantry through the
enemy’s wire and over his trenches. The allotment of the infantry to
tanks depended on the strength of the objective to be attacked, and
the nature of the approaches; their formation was that of sections in
single file with a leader to each file. They were organised in three
forces: trench clearers to operate with the tanks; trench stops to
block the trenches at various points, and trench supports to garrison
the captured trench and form an advanced guard to the next echelon of
tanks and infantry passing through.

The whole operation was divided into three phases: the Assembly, the
Approach, and the Attack. The first was carried out at night time
and was a parade drill, the infantry falling in behind the tanks on
tape lines, connected with their starting-points by taped routes. The
Approach was slow and orderly, the infantry holding themselves in
readiness to act on their own initiative. The Attack was regulated
so as to economise tank fascines; it was carried out as follows. The
Advanced Guard tank went straight forward through the enemy’s wire
and, turning to the left, without crossing the trench in front of it,
opened right sponson broadsides. The Infantry tanks then made for the
same spot: the left-hand one, crossing the wire, approached the trench
and cast its fascine, then crossed over the fascine and, turning to the
left, worked down the fire trench and round its allotted objective;
the second Infantry tank crossed over the fascine of the first and
made for the enemy’s support trench, cast its fascine, and, crossing,
did likewise. Meanwhile the Advanced Guard tank had swung round, and
crossing over the fascines of the two Infantry tanks moved forward with
its own fascine still in position. When the two Infantry tanks met they
formed up behind the Advanced Guard tank and awaited orders.

In training the infantry the following exercises were carried out:

(i) Assembly of infantry behind tanks.

(ii) Advance to attack behind tanks.

(iii) Passing through wire crushed down by tanks.

(iv) Clearing up a trench sector under protection of tanks.

To enable them to work quickly in section single files and to form from
these into section lines, a simple platoon drill was issued, and it is
interesting to note that this drill was based on a very similar one
described by Xenophon in his “Cyropædia” and attributed to King Cyrus
(_circa_ 500 B.C.).

Whilst training was being arranged by the Tank Corps General Staff the
Administrative Staff was preparing for the railway concentration, which
was by no means an easy problem.

The difficulties of concentrating a large number of tanks in the area
of operations was accentuated by the dispersion of the Tank Corps and
the shortage of trucks; this shortage was made good by collecting a
number of old French heavy trucks; these, however, did not prove at all
satisfactory as they were too light. In spite of these difficulties
the whole of the units of the Tank Corps were concentrated in their
training areas by November 5.

In order to make the most of the available truckage and the time
attainable for infantry training, it was decided to concentrate
three-quarters of the whole number of tanks to be used, _i.e._
twenty-seven train loads, at the Plateau station by November 14 (Z-6
days); to move these to their final detraining stations on Z-4, Z-3,
and Z-2 days; and to move the remaining quarter, _i.e._ nine train
loads, from the training areas to the detraining stations on Z-5 day.
The detraining stations selected were Ruyaulcourt and Bertincourt for
the 1st Brigade, Sorel and Ytres for the 2nd Brigade, and Old and New
Heudicourt for the 3rd Brigade. At all these stations detraining ramps
and sidings were built or improved. In all, thirty-six tank trains were
run, and except for two or three minor accidents the move was carried
out to programme. This was chiefly due to the excellent work of the
Third Army Transportation Staff.

Supply arrangements were divided under two main headings: supply by
light railways and supply in the field by supply tanks. The main dumps
selected were at Havrincourt wood for the 1st Brigade, Dessart wood for
the 2nd, and Villers Guislain and Gouzeaucourt for the 3rd Brigade.
A few of the items dumped were 165,000 gallons of petrol, 55,000 lb.
of grease, 5,000,000 rounds of S.A.A., and 54,000 rounds of 6-pounder
ammunition. Without the assistance of the light railways this dumping
would hardly have been possible. On November 30 a S.O.S. call for
petrol was made on Ruyaulcourt. A train was loaded, despatched 3½
miles, and the petrol delivered in just under one hour. This is a fair
example of the magnificent work consistently carried out by the Third
Army light railways during the battle of Cambrai.

The Third Army plan of operations was as follows:

(i) To break the German defensive system between the canal St. Quentin
and the canal Du Nord.

(ii) To seize Cambrai, Bourlon wood, and the passages over the river
Sensée.

(iii) To cut off the Germans in the area south of the Sensée and west
of the canal Du Nord.

(iv) To exploit the success towards Valenciennes.

This operation, for its initial success, depended on the penetration of
all lines of defences, including the Masnières-Beaurevoir line, which
in its turn depended on the seizing of the bridges at Masnières and
Marcoing.

The force allotted for this attack was--two corps of three infantry
divisions each; the Tank Corps of nine battalions--378 fighting tanks
and 98 administrative machines; a cavalry corps, and 1,000 guns.

The attack was to be carried out in three phases. In the first the
infantry were to occupy the line Crèvecœur, Masnières, Marcoing,
Flesquières, canal Du Nord; the leading cavalry division was then to
push through at Masnières and Marcoing, capture Cambrai, Paillencourt,
and Pailluel (crossing over the river Sensée), and move with its right
on Valenciennes; whilst this was in progress the IIIrd Corps, which
formed the right wing of the Third Army, was to form a defensive flank
on the line Crèvecœur, La Belle Etoile, Iwuy; the cavalry were then
to cut the Valenciennes-Douai line and so facilitate the advance of
the IIIrd Corps in a north-easterly direction. The second and third
phases were to be carried out by the IVth Corps, which formed the left
wing of the Third Army, and were to consist firstly in opening the
Bapaume-Cambrai road and occupying Bourlon and Inchy, and secondly, in
opening the Arras-Cambrai road and advancing on the Sensée canal and so
to cut off the German forces west of the canal Du Nord.

The ground to be fought over consisted chiefly in open, rolling
downland, very lightly shelled, and consequently most suitable to
tank movement. The main tactical features were the two canals which
practically prohibited the formation of tank offensive flanks and
so strategically were a distinct disadvantage to what was meant to
be a decisive battle. Between these two canals were two important
features--the Flesquières-Havrincourt ridge and Bourlon hill. A third
very important feature, known as the Rumilly-Seranvillers ridge, ran
parallel to and north of the St. Quentin canal between Crèvecœur and
Marcoing; without the occupation of this ridge a direct attack from
the south on Bourlon hill could only take place under the greatest
disadvantage.

The German defences consisted of three main lines of resistance and
an outpost line: these lines were the Hindenburg Line, the Hindenburg
Support Line, and the Beaurevoir-Masnières-Bourlon line, the last being
very incomplete. The trenches for the most part were sited on the
reverse slopes of the main ridges, and consequently direct artillery
observation on them from the British area was impossible. They were
protected by immensely thick bands and fields of wire arranged in
salients so as to render their destruction most difficult. To have
cut these bands by artillery fire would have required several weeks
bombardment and scores of thousands of tons of ammunition.

The weather had been throughout November fine and foggy, so much so
that aeroplane observation had been next to impossible. This foggy
weather greatly assisted preparatory arrangements by securing them from
observation.

The artillery preparations were as follows:--Over 1,000 guns of various
calibres were concentrated in the Third Army area for the attack. None
of these, however, were permitted to register before zero hour. Briefly
the following was the artillery programme from zero hour on.

At zero the barrage was to open on the enemy’s outpost line; it was to
consist of shrapnel and H.E. mixed with smoke shells. It was to move
forward by jumps of approximately 250 yards at a time, standing on
certain objectives for stated periods. Simultaneously with this jumping
barrage smoke screens were to be thrown up on selected localities,
notably on the right flank of the IIIrd Corps and on the Flesquières
ridge; counter-battery work was to open and special bombardments on
prearranged localities such as bridgeheads, centres of communication,
and roads likely to be used by the German reserves were to take place.

Tank Corps reconnaissances were started as early as secrecy would
permit, but it was not until a few days before November 20 that
commanders were allowed to reconnoitre the ground from our front-trench
system. Meanwhile at the Plateau station tanks were tuned up and tank
fascines fixed. All detrainments were carried out by night, the tanks
being moved up to their position of assembly under cover of darkness.
These positions were: Villers Guislain and Gouzeaucourt for the 3rd
Brigade, Dessart wood for the 2nd Brigade, and Havrincourt wood for the
1st Brigade. At these places tanks were carefully camouflaged.


DISTRIBUTION OF FIGHTING TANKS

  ----+----+------+-----+-----+------+-----------+----------+------------
  Tank|Tank|Corps.|Divn.|Bde. |No. of|Objective. | Exploit  |  Remarks.
  Bde.| Bn.|      |     |     |Tanks.|           |towards-- |
  ----+----+------+-----+-----+------+-----------+----------+------------
  3rd | C  |  IV  |12th |35th | 24   |   Blue    |Crèvecœur |Number of
  Bde.|    |      |     |     |  4[A]|           |          |tanks used
   „  | „  |   „  |  „  |37th | 12   |   Brown   |          |for
      |    |      |     |     |  2[A]|           |          |exploitation
   „  | F  |   „  |  „  |36th | 24   |   Blue    |Masnières |varied
      |    |      |     |     |  4[A]|           |          |according to
   „  | „  |   „  |  „  |36th | 12   |   Brown   |          |condition of
      |    |      |     |     |  2[A]|           |          |units after
   „  | I  |   „  |20th |61st | 18   |Vacquerie  |Crèvecœur |gaining Blue
      |    |      |     |     |  3[A]|           |          |and Brown
   „  | „  |   „  |  „  | „   | 12   |   Blue    |          |Lines.
      |    |      |     |     |  2[A]|           |          |
   „  | „  |   „  |  „  |62nd |  6   |   Brown   |          |
      |    |      |     |     |  1[A]|           |          |
   „  | A  |   „  |  „  |60th | 18   |   Blue    |Canal,    |
      |    |      |     |     |  3[A]|           |Masnières |
      |    |      |     |     |      |           |to        |
      |    |      |     |     |  3[A]|           |Marcoing. |
   „  | „  |   „  |  „  | „   |  6   |   Brown   |          |
      |    |      |     |     |  1[A]|           |          |
   „  | „  |   „  |29th | „   | 12   |Rumilly to |          |
      |    |      |     |     |  2[A]|Nine wood  |          |
  2nd | B  |   „  | 6th |16th | 24   |   Blue    |Marcoing. |
  Bde.|    |      |     |     |  4[A]|           |          |
   „  | „  |   „  |  „  | „   | 12   |   Brown   |          |
      |    |      |     |     |  2[A]|           |          |
   „  | H  |   „  |  „  |71st | 24   |   Blue    |Nine wood |
      |    |      |     |     |  4[A]|           |          |
   „  | „  |   „  |  „  | „   | 12   |   Brown   |          |
      |    |      |     |     |  2[A]|           |          |
  1st | D  |  III |51st |152nd| 42   |   Blue    |Fontaine  |1st Bde.
  Bde.| E  |   „  |  „  |153rd| 28   |Flesquières|Bourlon   |used all
      |    |      |     |     |      |           | wood,    |tanks in
      |    |      |     |     |      |           |Bapaume-  |mechanical
      |    |      |     |     |      |           |Cambrai   |reserve.
      |    |      |     |     |      |           |road      |
   „  | „  |   „  |62nd |186th| 14   |   Brown   |          |
   „  | G  |   „  |  „  |185th| 42   |Havrincourt|Bourlon   |
      |    |      |     |     |      |           |village,  |
      |    |      |     |     |      |           |Graincourt|
  ----+----+------+-----+-----+------+-----------+----------+------------

  [A] In mechanical reserve, to replace breakdowns.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF CAMBRAI

November 20th 1917.]

The allotment of tanks to infantry units is given in the table on page
146. Besides these, each Brigade had eighteen supply tanks or gun
carriers and three wireless-signal tanks. Thirty-two machines were
specially fitted with towing gear and grapnels to clear the wire along
the cavalry lines of advance; two for carrying bridging material for
the cavalry and one to carry forward telephone cable for the Third Army
Signal Service. The total number of tanks employed was 476 machines.

On the night of November 17-18 the enemy raided our trenches in the
vicinity of Havrincourt wood and captured some of our men, and, from
the documents captured during the battle, it appears that these men
informed the enemy that an operation was impending; time wherein the
Germans could make use of this was, however, so limited that the
warning of a possible attack only reached the German firing line a few
minutes before it took place.

The following night, that of the 19th-20th, was broken by a sharp
burst of artillery and trench-mortar fire which died away in the early
morning, and at 6 a.m. all was still save for the occasional rattle of
a machine gun. A thick mist covered the ground when at 6.10 a.m., ten
minutes before zero hour, the tanks, which had deployed on a line some
1,000 yards from the enemy’s outpost trenches, began to move forward,
infantry in section columns advancing slowly behind them. Ten minutes
later, at 6.20 a.m., zero hour, the 1,000 British guns opened fire, the
barrage coming down with a terrific crash about 200 yards in front of
the tanks which were now proceeding slowly across “No Man’s Land,” led
by Brigadier-General H. J. Elles, the Commander of the Tank Corps, who
flew the Tank Corps colours from his tank and who on the evening before
the battle had issued the following inspiring Special Order to his men:


_Special Order No. 6_[27]

  1. To-morrow the Tank Corps will have the chance for which it has
  been waiting for many months--to operate on good going in the van
  of the battle.

  2. All that hard work and ingenuity can achieve has been done in
  the way of preparation.

  3. It remains for unit commanders and for tank crews to complete
  the work by judgment and pluck in the battle itself.

  4. In the light of past experience I leave the good name of the
  Corps with great confidence in their hands.

  5. I propose leading the attack of the centre division.

            HUGH ELLES,
      _B.G. Commanding Tank Corps_.

  _November 19, 1917._

The attack was a stupendous success; as the tanks moved forward
with the infantry following close behind, the enemy completely lost
his balance and those who did not fly panic-stricken from the field
surrendered with little or no resistance. Only at the tactical points
was opposition met with. At Lateau wood on the right of the attack
heavy fighting took place, including a duel between a tank and a 5·9
in. howitzer. Turning on the tank the howitzer fired, shattering and
tearing off most of the right-hand sponson of the approaching machine,
but fortunately not injuring its vitals; before the gunners could
reload the tank was upon them and in a few seconds the great gun was
crushed in a jumbled mass amongst the brushwood surrounding it. A
little to the west of this wood the tanks of F Battalion, which had
topped the ridge, were speeding down on Masnières. One approached the
bridge, the key to the Rumilly-Seranvillers position, upon the capture
of which so much depended. On arriving at the bridge it was found that
the enemy had already blown it up, nevertheless the tank attempted to
cross it; creeping down the broken girders it entered the water but
failed to climb the opposite side. Other tanks arriving and not being
able to cross assisted the infantry in doing so by opening a heavy
covering fire. Westwards again La Vacquerie was stormed and Marcoing
was occupied. This latter village had been carefully studied beforehand
and a definite scheme worked out as to where tanks should proceed
after entering it. Difficult though this operation was, each position
was taken up and the German engineers shot just as they were connecting
up the demolition charges on the main bridge to the electric batteries.

In the Grand Ravin, which runs from Havrincourt to Marcoing, all was
panic, and from Ribecourt northwards the flight of the German soldiers
could be traced by the equipment they had cast off in order to speed
their withdrawal. Nine wood (Bois des Neuf) was stormed, and Premy
Chapel occupied. At the village of Flesquières the 51st Division,
which had devised an attack formation of its own, was held up; it
appears that the tanks out-distanced the infantry or that the tactics
adopted did not permit of the infantry keeping close enough up to the
tanks. As the tanks topped the crest they came under direct artillery
fire at short range and suffered heavy casualties. This loss would
have mattered little had the infantry been close up, but, being some
distance off, directly the tanks were knocked out the German machine
gunners, ensconced amongst the ruins of the houses, came to life
and delayed their advance until nightfall; thus Flesquières was not
actually occupied until November 21.

In the village of Havrincourt some stiff fighting took place. All
objectives were, however, rapidly captured, and the 62nd Division had
the honour of occupying Graincourt before nightfall, thus effecting
the deepest penetration attained during the attack on this day. From
Graincourt several tanks pushed on towards Bourlon wood and the Cambrai
road, but by this time the infantry were too exhausted to make good any
further ground gained.

Meanwhile No. 3 Company of A Battalion had assisted the 29th Division
on the Premy Chapel-Rumilly line, one section of tanks working towards
Masnières and another co-operating with the infantry in the attack
on Marcoing and the high ground beyond. The third section attacked
Nine wood, destroying many machine guns there and at the village of
Noyelles, which was then occupied by our infantry.

Whilst these operations were in progress the supply tanks had moved
forward to their “rendezvous,” the wireless-signal tanks had taken
up their allotted position, one sending back the information of the
capture of Marcoing within ten minutes of our infantry entering this
village; and the wire-pullers cleared three broad tracks of all wire so
that the cavalry could move forward. This they did, and they assembled
in the Grand Ravin and in the area adjoining the village of Masnières.

By 4 p.m. on November 20, one of the most astonishing battles in all
history had been won and, as far as the Tank Corps was concerned,
tactically finished, for, no reserves existing, it was not possible to
do more than rally the now very weary and exhausted crews, select the
fittest, and patch up composite companies to continue the attack on
the morrow. This was done, and on the 21st the 1st Brigade supported
the 62nd Division with twenty-five tanks in its attack on Anneux and
Bourlon wood and the 2nd Brigade sent twenty-four machines against
Cantaing and Fontaine-Notre-Dame, both of which villages were captured.

November 21 saw, generally speaking, the end of any co-operative action
between tanks and infantry; henceforth, new infantry being employed,
loss of touch and action between them and the tanks constantly
resulted. Nevertheless on the 23rd a brilliant attack was executed by
the 40th Division, assisted by thirty-four tanks of the 1st Brigade;
this resulted in the capture of Bourlon wood. The tanks then pressed
on towards the village; the infantry, however, who had suffered severe
casualties in the capture of the wood, were not strong enough to secure
a firm footing in it.

This day also saw desperate fighting in the village of
Fontaine-Notre-Dame. Twenty-three tanks entered this village in advance
of our own infantry; there they met with severe resistance, the enemy
retiring to the top stories of the houses and raining bombs and
bullets down on the roofs of our machines. Our infantry, who were very
exhausted, were unable to make good the ground gained, consequently,
all tanks which were able to do so withdrew under cover of darkness at
about 7 p.m.

On November 25 and 27 further attacks were made by tanks and infantry
on Bourlon and Fontaine-Notre-Dame with varying success, but eventually
both these villages remained in the hands of the enemy. So ends the
first phase of the battle of Cambrai.

During the attacks which had taken place since November 21, tank units
had become terribly disorganised, and by the 27th had been reduced to
such a state of exhaustion that it was determined to withdraw the 1st
and 2nd Brigades. This withdrawal was nearing completion when the great
German counter-attack was launched early on the morning of November 30.

To appreciate this attack, it must be remembered that at this time the
IIIrd and IVth Corps were occupying a very pronounced salient, and that
all fighting had, during the last few days, concentrated in the Bourlon
area and had undoubtedly drawn our attention away from our right flank
east of Gouzeaucourt. The plan of General von der Marwitz, the German
Army Commander, was a bold one, it was none other than to capture the
entire IIIrd and IVth British Corps by pinching off the salient by
a dual attack, his right wing operating from Bourlon southwards and
his left from Honnecourt westwards, the two attacks converging on
Trescault. Between these two wings a holding attack was to be made from
Masnières to La Folie wood.

The attack was launched shortly after daylight on November 30,
and failed completely on the right against Bourlon wood. Here the
enemy was caught by our artillery and machine guns and mown down by
hundreds. On the left, however, the attack succeeded: firstly, it
came as a surprise; secondly, the Germans heralded their assault by
lines of low-flying aeroplanes which caused our men to keep well
down in their trenches and so lose observation. Under the protection
of this aeroplane barrage and a very heavy mortar bombardment the
German infantry advanced and speedily captured Villers Guislain and
Gouzeaucourt.

At 9.55 a.m. a telephone message from the IIIrd Corps warned the 2nd
Brigade of the attack, but, in spite of the fact that many of the
machines were in a non-fighting condition, by 12.40 p.m. twenty-two
tanks of B Battalion moved off towards Gouzeaucourt, rapidly followed
by fourteen of A Battalion. Meanwhile the Guards Division recaptured
Gouzeaucourt, so, when the tanks arrived, they were pushed out as a
screen to cover the defence of this village. By 2 p.m. twenty tanks of
H Battalion were ready, these moved up in support.

Early on the morning of December 1, in conjunction with the Guards
Division and 4th and 5th Cavalry Divisions, the 2nd Brigade delivered
a counter-attack against Villers Guislain and Gauche wood. The western
edge of the wood was cleared of the enemy; the tanks then proceeded
through the wood, where very heavy fighting took place. From the
reports received as to the large number of dead in the wood and the
numerous machine guns found in position, it is clear that the enemy had
intended to hold it at all costs. Once the wood was cleared the tanks
proceeded on to Villers Guislain, but being subjected to direct gun
fire eventually withdrew.

The counter-attack carried out by the 2nd Brigade greatly assisted
in restoring a very dangerous situation; it was a bold measure
well executed, all ranks behaving with the greatest courage and
determination under difficult and unexpected circumstances and amidst
the greatest confusion caused by the success of the German attack;
every tank crew of every movable machine had but one thought, namely,
to move eastward and attack the enemy. This they did, and it is a
remarkable fact that, though at 8 a.m. on November 30 not one machine
of the Brigade was in a fit state or fully equipped for action, by 6
a.m. on the following day no fewer than seventy-three tanks had been
launched against the enemy with decisive effect.

Thus ended the first great tank battle in the whole history of warfare,
and, whatever may be the future historian’s dictum as to its value, it
must ever rank as one of the most remarkable battles ever fought. On
November 20, from a base of some 13,000 yards in width, a penetration
of no less than 10,000 yards was effected in twelve hours; at the
Third Battle of Ypres a similar penetration took three months. Eight
thousand prisoners and 100 guns were captured, and these prisoners
alone were nearly double the casualties suffered by the IIIrd and IVth
Corps during the first day of the battle. It is an interesting point
to remember that in this battle the attacking infantry were assisted
by 690 officers and 3,500 other ranks of the Tank Corps, a little over
4,000 men, or the strength of a strong infantry brigade, and that
these men replaced artillery wire-cutting and rendered unnecessary the
old preliminary bombardment. More than this, by keeping close to the
infantry they effected a much higher co-operation than had ever before
been attainable with artillery. When on November 21 the bells of London
pealed forth in celebration of the victory of Cambrai, consciously or
unconsciously to their listeners they tolled out an old tactics and
rang in a new--Cambrai had become the Valmy of a new epoch in war, the
epoch of the mechanical engineer.



CHAPTER XX

AN INFANTRY APPRECIATION OF TANKS


During the many battles and engagements in which the Tank Corps took
part many appreciative special orders and letters were received from
the Higher Commanders under whose orders the Corps worked. These
kindly words, always appreciated, are apt sometimes to be regarded
as the inevitable “good chits” which courtesy demands should be
addressed to good, indifferent, and bad alike after an operation has
been successfully completed. Unsolicited testimonials, and especially
such as are not meant for the eyes of those praised, when they do, by
chance, come under these eyes, are regarded as more than mere “pats
on the back,” especially when they come from those who have fought
alongside the commended.

The following letter was written by an infantry officer who took part
in the battle of Cambrai, and addressed to a personal friend neither in
nor connected with the Tank Corps, who, months later on, showed it to
one who was. Not only did this letter come as a pleasant and gratifying
surprise to all ranks of the Corps, for it was published as a “Battle
Note,”[28] but it shows such an exceptionally clear insight into the
value and possibilities of the tanks that, even for this reason alone,
it is worth publishing. Who the writer was the Tank Corps never knew,
but his sound judgment and kindly appreciation stimulated amongst
his readers that high form of personal and collective pride which to
soldiers is known as “esprit de corps.” It is on human documents such
as these, rather than on orders and instructions, that the moral of
an individual or a unit grows strong, and by growing strong places the
entire Army one step nearer victory.

The letter reads as follows:

  “I will first give you the opinion of one of my colonels. In three
  years of fighting on this front, I have met no battalion commander
  to equal him in power of leadership, rapidity of decision in an
  emergency, and personal magnetism. I have met no man who would
  judge so justly what an infantry soldier _can_ and _cannot_ do.

  “He considers the tanks _invaluable_ if properly handled, either
  for the attack or in defence--but he realises, as I think we all
  do, that until Cambrai, the tactical knowledge shown in their
  employment was of the meanest order.

  “One other valuable opinion I’ve obtained. We have now with the
  Battalion a subaltern, a man of about thirty--a very good soldier,
  a resolute, determined kind of fellow who has seen a good deal
  of fighting. He commanded a platoon in our --th Battalion in
  the big tank attack at Cambrai and was in the first wave of the
  attack throughout. He tells me that the tanks covering the advance
  of his battalion functioning under ideal weather and ground
  conditions, were handled with marked skill and enterprise in the
  capture of the first two objectives covering an advance of about
  3,500 yards. The moral effect of the support given by tanks on
  the attacking infantry is _very great_. He says his men felt the
  utmost confidence in the tanks and were prepared to follow them
  anywhere. The effect of the advancing line of tanks on the enemy
  infantry was extraordinary. They made no attempt whatever to hold
  their trenches, and either bolted in mad panic or, abandoning their
  arms, rushed forward with hands uplifted to surrender. As long as
  the advance of the tanks continued, _i.e._, over the enemy trench
  system to a depth of from two to three miles, the total casualties
  incurred by our --th Battalion (attacking in the first wave) were
  four killed and five wounded, all by shell fire.

  “After the fall of the second objective, the advance ceased
  for some unexplained reason--(they were told some hitch about
  Flesquières)--the attack seemed to lose purpose and direction.
  Tanks on the flanks began coming back. The battalion was ordered
  to attack five different objectives, and before the necessary
  plans could be communicated to subordinate commanders, orders were
  received cancelling the previous instructions. In a word, chaos
  prevailed. The afore-mentioned subaltern cannot speak too highly of
  the work of the tank commanders--nothing could exceed their daring
  and enterprise. He says he is absolutely convinced that infantry,
  unsupported by artillery, are absolutely powerless against tanks
  and that no belt of wire can be built through which they cannot
  break an admirable passage for infantry.

  “Lastly, he makes no secret of the fact that it would demand the
  utmost exercise of his determination and resolution to stand fast
  and hold his ground in the face of an attack by enemy tanks,
  carried out on the same scale as ours. I may add that he is a big
  upstanding fellow, a fine athlete, and afraid of nothing on two
  legs.

  “I give you his opinion at some length, because they are the
  _ipsissima verba_ of a man qualified to speak from personal
  practical experience. Personally, I believe the tanks may yet play
  the biggest rôle in the war, if only the Higher Command will employ
  them in situations where common-sense and past experience alike
  demand their use. Two days before the Hun attacked us at Bourlon
  wood we lost three officers and some seventy gallant fellows trying
  to mop up a couple of enemy M.G. nests--a bit of work a couple of
  tanks could have done _with certainty_ without the loss of a man.

  “In the situation described after the capture of the second
  objective, why should there not have been a responsible staff
  officer--G.S.O.1 say--right forward in a tank to size up the
  situation and seize opportunity, the very essence of which is rapid
  decision? In the early days of the war, forgetful of the lessons of
  South Africa, we put our senior officers in the forefront of the
  battle--of late, the pendulum has swung the other way--surely the
  employment of a tank for the purpose outlined would enable us now
  to strike the happy mean?

  “In defence, as a mobile ‘pill-box,’ the possibilities of the tank
  are great--any man who has led infantry ‘over the top’ knows the
  demoralising and disorganising effect of the ‘surprise packet’
  machine-gun nest--what more admirable type of nest can be devised?
  Continually changing position, hidden from enemy aircraft by smoke
  and the dust of battle, offering no target for aimed artillery fire.

  “Half the casualties we suffer in heavy fighting after the initial
  attack come from the carrying parties winding slowly in and out
  through barrage fire, bringing up ammunition to the infantry, the
  Lewis and Vickers guns--all this could be done much more rapidly,
  surely, with a minimum of loss, by tanks--for the future the tank
  should relieve the artillery of all responsibility as regards
  wire-cutting. You _know_ you can cross a belt of wire over which
  a tank has passed, you _hope_ you can pass through a wire belt on
  which the artillery has played for a couple of days. As a business
  proposition a tank at £5,000 will cut more wire in one journey,
  even assuming it does nothing else, than 2,000 shells at £5 each,
  blazing away for a day--add the wear on the life of the gun.

  “In attack, one of the most difficult problems of the infantry
  is to get the Stokes guns far enough forward, with sufficient
  ammunition, to come into action against machine guns or strong
  points holding up the advance unexpectedly--all this could be done
  by means of a tank with ease--whilst not only could the small
  Stokes gun with a range of 500-600 yards be brought forward, but
  also the 6 in. Stokes with a range of 1,200-1,600 yards by the same
  means, and be brought into action firing from the tank.

  “The tank has only one enemy to fear--the high-velocity tank gun,
  firing aimed shots from forward positions. I believe this danger
  can be minimised by means of escort aeroplanes attached during an
  action to every tank, and provided with smoke bombs to blind the
  gun position, if unable to silence the gun by machine-gun fire or
  by means of ordinary bombs heavily charged.

  “I have tried to outline some of the more obvious uses for which
  the tank is so admirably suitable. There is a well of this
  information yet untapped, not in staff offices, but in the minds
  of the platoon and company commanders who have fought in the first
  waves of the attack with the tank, who have seen the difficulties
  it has to overcome and how it has met them or failed, and why.
  Nothing has yet been produced in this war to equal the tank for
  doing by _machinery_ what has hitherto been done by _men_; nothing
  so well fitted to economise our man-power and reduce the appalling
  wastage which has hitherto characterised our efforts in attack, and
  with gain instead of loss in efficiency.

  “We want thousands of tanks, both light and heavy, ranging from
  two miles to eight miles per hour, armed with M.G.s, armed with
  Stokes guns, unarmed and fast-travelling for transport of gun teams
  to emergency tactical positions, and lastly, a staff of trained
  minds to define the tactics of the tank--to refute criticism based
  on ignorance, to collect, classify and investigate all available
  information and suggestions, so that like an aeroplane--every ‘new
  edition’ of the tank is an improvement on the last.

  “I have written at some length, but the subject is big and
  attractive enough to be my excuse.”



CHAPTER XXI

THE TANK CORPS TRAINING CENTRE


Early in February 1916 a Conference was held at the War Office, to
decide as to the training of the personnel for the tank units it was
now decided to raise. At this Conference, Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton
and Lieutenant-Colonel R. W. Bradley, D.S.O., were ordered to be
present.

At this time, Lieutenant-Colonel Bradley was Commandant of the Motor
Machine Gun Training Centre at Bisley, and was in the position to
select suitable men for the new arm.

The number of men required for the first 150 tanks was estimated at
1,500, or ten men for each machine, and 150 junior officers. This
personnel was obtained as follows: 600 men were transferred from the
reserves in training at the Motor Machine Gun Training Centre and 900
were obtained by special enlistment. Thirty officers were transferred
from the Motor Machine Gun Section, fifteen were detailed by G.H.Q.,
France, and the remainder were obtained by calling for volunteers from
units in England and by special selection from Cadet units.

For purposes of secrecy the new formation was “tacked on” to the
Machine Gun Corps and was christened with the terrific name of:
“Special Armoured Car Section Motor Machine Gun Section.” A month later
it became known as the Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps.

The recruiting was very successful, and this was largely due to the
untiring energy of Mr. Geoffrey Smith, editor of _The Motor Cycle_, who
spared neither time, trouble, nor money in getting the men.

Towards the end of March the training camp was moved from Bisley to
Bullhouse farm, and at this camp all elementary training was carried
out, recruits being taught drill, the ways of military life, and the
Vickers and Hotchkiss machine guns as well as the Hotchkiss 6-pounder.

The first establishment issued by the War Office provided for 10
companies of 10 tanks each, but within a fortnight this was changed
to 15 companies of 10 tanks each, the companies being grouped in 3
battalions. A little later this organisation, at the request of G.H.Q.,
France, was again changed to one of 6 companies of 25 tanks each.

With a further view of ensuring secrecy it was arranged by
Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton that no tanks should be sent to Bisley,
but that a training ground, far removed from prying eyes, should be
secured. Steps were at once taken to find such a ground, and eventually
Thetford in Norfolk was visited and Lord Iveagh’s estate at Elveden
selected. The necessary training ground here was taken over and was
known as “the Elveden Explosives Area”; and round it at 200 yards
intervals were posted groups of sentries of the Royal Defence Corps.

During the early part of April a certain amount of grumbling on the
part of specially enlisted men occurred at Bisley. They had been
induced to join an Armoured Car Service, and for six weeks they had
not even seen the wheel of a car. They were asked to exercise a little
patience and were promised a surprise. At Elveden the surprise was
revealed to them, and when they had got over their astonishment on
seeing the first Mark I tank approach them they set down to work with
a will, which, it is an honour to record, was never abandoned by all
ranks of the Tank Corps from this day on to the conclusion of the war.

The camp at Elveden was placed just outside the “Explosives Area”
and no one was allowed to enter the area without a special permit.
Companies, before they proceeded overseas, however, spent their last
three weeks within the area. As soon as this necessary ground had been
taken over, three pioneer battalions were brought to Elveden Camp and a
complete series of trenches was dug on a front of a mile and a quarter,
and to the depth of two miles. The plan of this work was laid out by
Major Tandy and Captain Martel, both R.E. officers.

Unfortunately, on account of delay in delivery of tanks, constructional
defects and repeated requests from G.H.Q., France, that all available
tanks and crews should be sent out to France for the September
operations on the Somme, little use was made of these trenches, for
tactical training. Machine-gun firing from tanks with ball ammunition
was, however, freely carried out, and also 6-pounder practice which,
unfortunately, was much hampered by danger restrictions.

The tank drivers were all drawn from the A.S.C., and the 711th Company
A.S.C. was formed to include these men, the workshops, and the M.T.
personnel of the Heavy Section. The officer in command of this company
and in charge of all mechanical instruction and driving was Major H.
Knothe, D.S.O., M.C.

By the end of May the last company had completed its training at Bisley
and had moved to Elveden; the headquarters, having some time prior to
this, moved to this place and established itself in the stables of Lord
Iveagh’s mansion and in the new almshouses in Elveden village.

By the beginning of July training was sufficiently advanced to give
the first tank demonstration ever held. Twenty tanks took part in it
and advanced in line followed by infantry against a section of the
instructional trench system. The demonstration was a great success and
many notable persons witnessed it, including Mr. Lloyd George and Sir
William Robertson.

This demonstration was shortly afterwards followed by a second at which
the King attended. His Majesty was most anxious that his projected
visit should be kept secret, but as it was nevertheless necessary
to make certain preparations it was given out at the camp that a
very distinguished Russian general was about to visit the tanks. The
identity of the Russian general was, however, discovered by the bulk of
the men before the demonstration was concluded, much to their pleasure
and amusement.

At the beginning of August Lieutenant-Colonel Brough, C.M.G.,
visited G.H.Q., France, to ascertain the tactics it was proposed to
employ as regards tanks. Unfortunately his visit was fruitless, for
no ideas apparently existed on the subject. Shortly after his return
instructions were received to dispatch the tank companies to France,
and to decide on this a conference was held at which the following
officers were present: Major-General Butler, Brigadier-General
Burnett-Stuart, both from G.H.Q., France; Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton,
Lieutenant-Colonel Bradley, and Lieutenant-Colonel Brough. At this
Conference it was decided to mobilise the companies at Elveden and to
dispatch them overseas by half companies. The first to leave was C
Company and the second D Company, which, respectively, were under the
commands of Majors Holdford-Walker and Summers.

Towards the end of August Colonel Swinton was instructed to send over
to France a staff officer, but as the establishments only allowed of a
commander and one staff captain, and as the latter was a very junior
officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Brough was sent over. Shortly after his
arrival he found it necessary to wire home for motor-cars, clerks,
etc., for he had been ordered to take over command of the units in
France. Captain Kingdon was thereupon sent out to assist him, and
two clerks and a motor-car were also dispatched. By these means were
extemporised an advanced headquarters, the original headquarters of the
Heavy Branch remaining in England and never proceeding overseas.

In October 1916, as already related in Chapter VI, Bovington Camp,
Wool, was selected as the new training centre. Here E, F, G, H, and I
Battalions were raised and trained during 1916-1917, and J, K, L, M, N,
O, P, Q, and R during 1917-1918, the last battalion, the 18th, sailing
for France in September 1918.

In 1917, to cope with the steadily increasing number of tank units of
all descriptions, Worgret Camp, Wareham, and Lulworth were taken over,
the Depot Reserve Unit being established at the former and the Gunnery
Camp at the latter place.

The first schools to be formed were the Tank Drivers’ School, the
6-Pounder School, and the Lewis Gun School, but by degrees, as the Tank
Corps grew, these developed until at the close of the war the following
schools had been established:

  Tank Drivers and Maintenance School.
  Tank Gunnery School (6-Pounder and Machine Gun).
  Tank Reconnaissance School.
  Tank Signal and Pigeon School.
  Camouflage School.
  Revolver School.
  Gas School.
  Tank Compass School.

In July 1918 the preparations set on foot to double the Tank Corps for
1919 threw a great deal of work on to the Training Centre. Thirteen
British, three Canadian, and one New Zealand Battalion were to be
raised, as well as a number of subsidiary units. In August, in spite
of shortage of infantry reinforcements, an allotment, given precedence
over all the other arms, of 4,500 men, was made to the Tank Corps
Training Centre, so that the raising of the above new units might
forthwith begin; besides this, nearly half a million pounds worth
of buildings were sanctioned without estimates being called for, so
important was it now considered that not a day should be lost in the
Tank Corps preparations for 1919.

By the date of the armistice about half the building programme was
finished, and eight British and one Canadian battalion had been raised.

The following is a summary of the total number of tank units and
reinforcements raised and trained at the Training Centre between
November 1916 and November 1918.

  British Tank Battalions          22  (5th to 26th).
  Canadian Tank Battalions          1  (1st Canadian Tank Battalion).
  American Tank Battalions          3  (301st, 302nd, and 303rd).
  Gun Carrier Companies             2  (1st and 2nd).
  Tank Supply Companies             5  (1st to 5th).
  Tank Advanced Workshops           2  (Nos. 4 and 5).
  Tank Salvage Companies            1  (No. 3).
  American Tank Salvage Companies   2  (306th and 317th).
  Various Headquarters              3
                                  ---
      Total Tank Units raised      41

The whole of the above units, with the exception of eight British and
one Canadian Battalion, were sent out to France prior to the armistice.

In all, some 21,000 officers and men passed through the Training
Centre, 14,000 in formed units, and 7,000 as reinforcements; besides
these, 950 cadets were trained. In October 1918 the Training Centre,
which from one camp at Bovington had grown to include Worgret,
Lulworth, and Swanage Camps, had on its strength in all ranks and
service approximately 16,000 men.

The time required wherein to raise and train a new Tank Battalion
averaged four months. The system of instruction adopted from November
1916 onwards was to start with a very thorough individual training
and then to pass the recruits through the various schools, leaving
collective and tactical training to be carried out in France.

Recreational training played an important part in the above
instruction, and the Training Centre gained a considerable reputation
in the Southern Command for efficiency in sports and games.

In the expansion which commenced on September 1, 1918, 30 per cent. of
the personnel for each new unit was sent to the Training Centre from
the trained Tank Corps personnel in France, and this trained personnel,
together with the increased numbers of training tanks and other
improved facilities, would have gone far to effect a more efficient
and rapid training of the units, before their departure overseas, than
heretofore.

Besides raising and training new units and reinforcements the Tank
Corps Training Centre was intimately connected with much of the
experimental work, armament design, and the fittings of all types of
tanks from the introduction of the Mark V and Medium “A” tanks onwards.
The following were the main improvements initiated.

The adaptation of the Hotchkiss machine gun to the tank.

The invention of the Palmer machine-gun battle-sight.

The invention of fire-control instruments.

During the spring and summer of 1917 various experiments were carried
out at Wool to arrive at the best method of demolishing and removing
wire entanglements. Eventually grapnels were decided upon and were used
with great success in November at the battle of Cambrai.

The use of cloud smoke from tanks was also originated at the Training
Centre, and with the aid of an invention of the late Commander Brock
was eventually adopted for all tanks, and was used on several occasions
with effect during the summer and autumn operations of 1918.

For purposes of general interest and education as well as for the
conversion of the mechanical heathen, a considerable number of
demonstrations, showing the power of tanks and their co-operation
with infantry, were given to officers of the War Office, Commands and
Schools throughout 1918. On October 25 this year, His Majesty the King
visited Wool to witness one of these, and paid the Tank Corps Training
Centre the great honour of inspecting the various battalions, and
welcomed many of the men of the British and American units assembled by
walking amongst them and conversing freely with them.



CHAPTER XXII

THE TANK SUPPLY COMPANIES


Tanks, like every other arm of the Army, require a highly organised
supply service, and being cross-country machines they must be served by
machines of similar powers of locomotion. This was probably realised
before tanks were originally dispatched to France in 1916, but, during
the battles of the Somme, Ancre, and Arras, it was not possible to
organise any system of cross-country supply on account of every machine
being required for either fighting or training purposes. In February
1917 the first organisation for cross-country supply was formulated.
This consisted in allotting two supply tanks to each company, but the
delay in the arrival of Mark IV machines prevented this organisation
taking form until May 1917.

Supply tanks were first employed at the battle of Messines, the Mark I
tanks, which had now been discarded as fighting machines, being used
for this purpose. These machines were fitted with large soft steel
sponsons made at the Tank Corps Central Workshops. During this battle
they were not much used owing to the limited scope of the operations.

Between June 1917 and the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres each
tank battalion received six supply tanks, two for each company, but
during this battle they did not prove a success on account of the
appalling conditions of the ground, the sponsons continually becoming
wedged in the shell-holes, which necessitated much digging out to
relieve them.

Just prior to the opening of this battle the first of the gun-carrier
tanks arrived in France, and was dispatched to Flanders and attached to
the XVIIIth Corps for experiment. Later on others followed, until by
the end of the year forty-four of these machines had been received.

The idea of the gun-carrier was that of mechanical artillery, the
machine being really a mechanical gun mounting capable of carrying a
60-pounder or 6 in. howitzer. Its total shell capacity without the gun
was 200 6 in. shells, weighing approximately 10 tons.

Considering the difficulties of the ground very good work was done by
the gun-carriers during the Ypres operations, several hundreds of tons
of ammunition being carried forward as well as a few 60-pounders.

In September a new method of supply was experimented with; this
consisted in towing behind any type of tank three sledges connected
with the roof of the machine by a cable. At the battle of Cambrai this
method proved a great success, and not only were tank supplies hauled
forward but also telegraph cable and bridging material.

During the autumn and winter of 1917 much careful thought had been
devoted both in France and England to the question not only of tank
supply but of being able to carry forward infantry, particularly
machine-gunners, in armoured carrier tanks; the result of this was the
design of a large carrier tank known as the Mark IX and the raising of
a new unit known as an “Infantry Carrier Company.”

These carrier units were first formed on February 1, 1918. The first
two companies consisted mostly of Royal Engineer personnel, and the
next three of infantry. The standard of the personnel was very good,
about 60 per cent. having already seen service overseas. The 1st
and 2nd Companies proceeded to France about the middle of May, the
remaining three arriving in June and July.

The organisation of each of these companies was as follows:

  A company headquarters and four sections, each section consisting
  of six Mark IV supply tanks, or tenders, as they were sometimes
  called. The object of these companies was laid down in Tank Corps
  Standing Orders as follows:

  “The Tank Supply Company is a unit of Brigade Troops for the
  carriage of supplies, from the point where wheeled vehicles cease,
  to battalions. The responsibility for maintaining battalion
  supplies rests with Brigade Headquarters. The duties of the Brigade
  Supply Officer will in no way be shared by the O.C. Tank Supply
  Company. The Tank Supply Company will be used as a mobile reserve
  of supplies under the immediate control of Brigade Headquarters.”

These supply companies were never used for carrying forward infantry,
as the Mark IX tank did not materialise until October 1918; they
proved, however, of the greatest use during all the tank operations of
the last year of the war.

During June the two Gun Carrier Companies were definitely converted
into Supply Companies and were attached to the 3rd and 5th Brigades. At
the battle of Hamel, on July 4, four of these machines did excellent
work, carrying forward between twenty and twenty-five tons of R.E.
material and dumping this a few hundred yards behind the final
objective within half an hour of this objective being captured. These
machines were driven by four officers and sixteen men, and had the
material they transported been brought up by carrier parties at least
1,200 men would have been required; in man-power alone these four
machines thus saved 1,184 soldiers, or approximately two infantry
battalions at battle strength.

On arrival in France the 1st and 2nd Supply Companies were posted to
the 1st and 4th Tank Brigades, and the 3rd, 4th, and 5th were sent to
Blingel Camp, in the Bermicourt area, where good facilities existed for
tank driving and maintenance. At about the end of July the 3rd and 5th
Companies were equipped with Mark IV supply tanks, and female Mark IV
machines fitted with a sledge equipment.

At the beginning of August the distribution of the various supply units
was as follows:

  No. 1 Gun Carrier Company      5th Tank Brigade.
  No. 2 Gun Carrier Company      3rd Tank Brigade.
  No. 1 Tank Supply Company      1st Tank Brigade.
  No. 2 Tank Supply Company      4th Tank Brigade.
  No. 3 Tank Supply Company      Blingel Camp.
  No. 4 Tank Supply Company      2nd Tank Brigade.
  No. 5 Tank Supply Company      Blingel Camp.

All these companies, less No. 1 Tank Supply Company and No. 2 Gun
Carrier Company, took part in the battle of Amiens.

No. 1 Gun Carrier Company suffered an unfortunate experience on August
7. It had moved forward to an orchard on the western side of Villers
Bretonneux, each of its machines being loaded up with explosives of
various kinds. A shell fired from a German battery in the vicinity of
Chipilly set fire to one of the camouflage nets, and the result of
this was that though six out of the twenty-two machines got away the
remaining sixteen were blown up, the explosion being terrific.

The 3rd Tank Supply Company was allotted to the Canadian Corps to carry
forward infantry supplies such as grenades, S.A.A., and drinking water.
The female Mark IV. tanks equipped with sledges were attached to the
Canadian Engineers for the purpose of bringing forward material in
order to repair the bridges over the Luce river. Owing to weak cables
this operation proved a failure, most of these machines breaking down
before they had covered a mile.

The policy which was first adopted of attaching a section of six supply
tanks to each battalion did not work well, the Company Headquarters
was usually left in the air, and soon lost touch with its sections. In
order to remedy this defect from August 9 onwards company commanders
were instructed to establish “report centres” well in advance of the
battlefield. These centres were “baited” by sending the mails there;
to obtain news from home it was consequently necessary for section
commanders to send runners in to fetch them; by this means touch with
the Company Headquarters was automatically maintained.[29]

In the battles north of the Somme, commencing on August 21, much
useful work was carried out, the tank-drivers having by now become
thoroughly expert in driving and maintenance. The sections were now
properly brigaded, each company being looked upon as a unit and not
as a mere headquarters for four separate units. Proper telephonic
communication was now established between the sections and the company,
and consequently much time was saved not only within the company itself
but by the various units it was supplying.

During all the battles onwards from August 8 to the capture of
Landrecies the work carried out by the Tank Supply Companies and the
Gun Carrier Companies was not only useful but of great importance, as
in many places the roads were too bad for mechanical transport. When
they were not required to bring forward tank supplies they were engaged
in carrying every sort of ammunition and engineer stores, especially
through zones which were harassed by machine-gun fire and in which, had
infantry carrying parties been used, many lives would have been lost.

When the possibilities of these companies became realised, infantry
commanders were continually asking for their assistance, preference
being given to the gun-carriers on account of their greater capacity
for light stores.

The Gun Carrier Companies, besides doing excellent work as infantry
supply companies, kept both field and heavy artillery well supplied.
No. 2 Gun Carrier Company carried out some very successful heavy
sniping by carrying forward a 6 in. howitzer, and by moving it from
place to place during the night it both harassed and puzzled the
enemy. Besides this, several successful gas attacks were carried out
with the aid of the gun-carriers, which transported the projectors and
bombs to positions over country which wheeled transport could not have
negotiated. By using these machines it was possible to get in three or
more “shoots” in one night and to retire out of the danger zone before
dawn.

If in the days of the great Napoleon, when a soldier went into action
with frequently less than twenty balls in his pouch and a couple of
spare flints, an Army “crawled on its stomach,” how much more does
it crawl to-day! When the lessons of the war are sorted and tabulated
in order of importance, very near the top, if not at the top itself,
will be found that of “road capacity,” in other words, that victory
rests with the side which can maintain the broadest communications.
To widen existing roads directly by enlarging them or to construct
new roads are both works of great labour; they absorb not only time
and men but also transport of every kind, especially in a country
like north-eastern France, where suitable stone for road-metalling is
practically non-existent. To do so indirectly is best accomplished by
a cross-country tractor, that is, by a machine which can move on or
off a road. With such a machine roads can be indefinitely widened;
paradoxically they cease to exist, for they are no longer necessary.

The tank is, first of all, a cross-country tractor, and it is curious
that none of the contending nations appear to have appreciated this
until well towards the end of the war, in spite of the fact that the
reason for the general slowness of the advances which followed any
initial success was nearly always due to inadequacy of supply.

By the end of March 1918 the German attack “petered out” for want
of supplies; by the end of May it again did likewise for a similar
reason. Had the Germans possessed on March 21 and May 27 5,000 to 6,000
efficient cross-country tractors, each of which could have carried five
tons of supplies, all the hosts of brave men, which the United States
of America could have poured into France, could not have prevented a
separation of the British and French Armies from being effected. Had
such a separation taken place it is impossible to say what the result
might not have been; but what is possible to say is that had the
Germans “scrapped” half their guns and replaced them by cross-country
tractors they would have gone nearer winning the war than they did.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE SECOND BATTLE OF THE SOMME


With the close of the battle of Cambrai the British Army abandoned
the offensive, which had been initiated on April 9, and a period of
passive defence was developed. At this time all three Tank Brigades
had assembled at or near Bray-sur-Somme, where extensive hutments
existed and where the old devastated area offered excellent facilities
for training. Towards the end of December a request was made by the
Tank Corps to establish at Bray a large tank and infantry school, so
that co-operation between these two arms might be secured; further, as
artillery ranges were near at hand it was felt that a complete tactical
unity of action between tanks, infantry, artillery, and aeroplanes
could now be established: besides this, Bray formed an excellent
strategical centre to the Somme area should the Germans at any time
launch an attack between the Oise and the Scarpe.

Early in January 1918 orders were, however, received that in place of
remaining assembled at one spot the Tank Corps was to form a defensive
cordon stretching from about Roisel to a little south of Bethune--a
frontage of some sixty miles. In February this line was taken up, tank
units being distributed as follows:

  Fifth Army, 4th Tank Brigade            1st Bn. Doingt wood.
    „    „    H.Q. Templeux La Fosse      4th Bn. Buire wood.
    „    „                                5th Bn. Buire wood.
  Third Army, 2nd Tank Brigade            2nd Bn. Velu wood.
    „    „    H.Q. Thilloy                8th Bn. Fremicourt.
    „    „                                10th Bn. Fremicourt.
    „    „    3rd Tank Brigade            6th Bn. Wailly.
  G.H.Q. Reserve, H.Q. Henincourt         3rd Bn. Bray.
    „    „                                9th Bn. Bray.
    „    „        5th Tank Brigade        13th Bn. Bray (unequipped).
    „    „        H.Q. Bray.
  First Army, 1st Tank Brigade            7th Bn. Boyeffles.
    „    „    H.Q. Bois d’Olhain          11th Bn. Bois des Alleux.
    „    „                                12th Bn. Bois de Verdrel.

It will be seen that by this date the Tank Corps had grown from three
to five brigades, in all thirteen battalions; machines, however, were
short, and the total fighting strength in tanks at this time was only
320 Mark IV and 50 Medium A Tanks (Whippets) fit for action.

The general plan was that tank units should co-operate with Army and
Corps reserves in the deliberate counter-attack against tactical
points in what was known as the battle zone, a belt of ground running
several miles in rear of and parallel to the forward or outpost zone;
no retirement from this zone was to be contemplated. Prior to March
20 the weather had been fine, the ground was good and a thorough
reconnaissance had been made of some 1,500 square miles of country;
supply dumps had been formed and communication by wireless, cable,
dispatch rider and runner established throughout the units of the Tank
Corps.

On March 21 at 5 a.m. the German bombardment opened on a front roughly
running from La Fère to the river Scarpe, with a break round the old
Cambrai battlefield. The first tanks to be engaged were three forward
sections of the 4th Battalion north-west of St. Emilie, north-west of
Peizière, and at Geninwell copse. These came into action about noon and
fought most gallantly against heavy odds. The first section, supported
by two companies of the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers, recaptured a
battery of guns near Esclairvillers wood; later on in the day this
section assisted in the counter-attack of the Connaught Rangers on
Ronssoy wood; meanwhile the second section cleared the bridge and
cutting north-east of Peizière. Whilst these actions were being fought
in the Fifth Army area, on the Third Army front one company of the
8th Tank Battalion co-operated with the 57th Infantry Brigade in a
counter-attack on the village of Doignies. Zero hour was fixed at 6.40
p.m., but the attack was delayed and it was almost dark before the
objective was reached. The village was cleared of the enemy, but on
account of the darkness it was never completely occupied by our own men
and eventually passed back into German hands.

On the following day, March 22, an Advanced Tank Corps Headquarters
was opened at Hamencourt, a mile east of Doullens, in order to
facilitate the battle liaison duties of the staff. On this day a most
successful and gallant action was fought by the 2nd Tank Battalion in
the neighbourhood of Vaux Vraucourt and Morchies. At 2.45 p.m. orders
were issued for the 2nd Tank Battalion to advance and counter-attack
the enemy, who had broken through the line Vaux Vraucourt-Morchies and
was pushing forward towards Beugny. Two companies of infantry were
detailed to support the tanks, but as eventually these could not be
spared the tanks went into action alone. The counter-attack began to
develop around Beugny at about 4.30 p.m. Concentrated artillery fire
was brought to bear on the tanks, but in spite of this they advanced
amongst the enemy, put a field battery out of action, and by enfilading
several trenches full of Germans inflicted heavy casualties on them.
The enemy was eventually driven back behind the Vaux Vraucourt-Morchies
position, which was then reoccupied by our infantry. Thirty tanks took
part in this action; seventeen of these were hit and 70 per cent. of
casualties suffered by their crews. Heavy though these losses were
the enemy had suffered severely, and more important still his plan of
action was upset.

On the Fifth Army front the penetration effected by the enemy caused
a rapid withdrawal of our troops, and to cover this the 4th and 5th
Tank Battalions moved eastwards on either side of the Cologne river,
which joins the Somme at Peronne; the village of Epehy was cleared of
the enemy and much valuable time was gained at Roisel and Hervilly by
tank counter-attacks. The German infantry would not face the tanks, and
broke whenever they saw them advancing.

On March 23 no tank action was fought on the Third Army front. On
the Fifth Army front, the 1st Tank Battalion, which had not yet been
engaged, took up a position on the reverse slope west of Moislains with
machine-gun posts pushed out on the forward slope. The enemy, however,
would not attack the line of tanks but worked round their flanks--the
1st Tank Battalion eventually withdrew towards Maricourt. The 4th and
5th Tank Battalions covered the withdrawal of our infantry on either
side of the Cologne river, and by the evening ten tanks of the 4th
Battalion had concentrated at Cléry and those of the 5th Battalion at
Brie bridge, three miles south of Peronne. Shortly after their arrival
here this bridge was blown up and the whole of the 5th Battalion tanks,
except three, had to be destroyed for lack of petrol. Of these three,
one succeeded in crossing the bridge after the explosion and the
remaining two effected their escape _via_ Peronne. All three were lost
on the next day.

The following day, the 8th Tank Battalion was engaged in a most
successful action south-east of Bapaume. Two companies advanced against
Bus and Barastre, while a third covered the 6th Infantry Brigade’s
consolidation of a line of trenches. All tanks came into action and
inflicted heavy casualties at close range, the enemy was checked for a
considerable time and the 2nd Division was thus enabled to extricate
itself from a most difficult position with little loss. The enemy was
in force, but as was always the case, he would not face the tanks, and
if he could not work round their flanks his advance halted until his
guns could be brought up to deal with them.

It was on March 24 that a considerable number of Lewis-gun sections
were first formed during this battle out of tank crews who had lost
their machines. The 9th Tank Battalion handed its machines over to
the 3rd Battalion and moved out as a Lewis-gun Battalion from Bray to
assist the 35th Division and the 9th Cavalry Brigade in the defence of
Montauban and Maricourt. The instructional staff of the Tank Driving
School which, in February, had moved from Wailly to Aveluy, was rapidly
formed into Lewis-gun sections, and with such tanks as were fit for
action held a defensive line from Fricourt to Bazentin, covering the
Albert-Bapaume road. The 5th Tank Battalion, south of the Somme, now
without machines, was also formed into a Lewis-gun Battalion as crews
were collected. This battalion in particular carried out most gallant
and useful work, forty-five Lewis-gun groups being kept continuously in
action. Several of these groups lost touch with their headquarters, but
continued fighting with any troops in their vicinity until March 31.

On March 25 two companies of the 10th Tank Battalion came into action
at Achiet-le-Grand and Achiet-le-Petit. At the first-named village,
with the 42nd Division, one of these companies attacked the enemy, who,
in large numbers, had broken through near Bapaume, and delayed his
advance for several hours. By this date no fewer than 113 Lewis-gun
groups had been posted in the La Maisonette--Chaulnes, Bray and
Pozières--Contalmaison--Montauban--Maricourt areas, and during the
night twenty more were sent out to hold the crossings over the river
Ancre between Aveluy and Beaucourt. At this time Grandecourt and
Miraumont were already in the enemy’s hands and the position was most
precarious. These groups held these crossings for several days and
inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy each time he attempted to force
a passage.

March 26 is an interesting date in the history of the Tank Corps, for,
on the afternoon of this day, the Whippet Tanks made their debut.
Twelve of these machines, belonging to the 3rd Tank Battalion, moving
northwards from Bray were ordered to advance through the village of
Colincamps to clear up the situation, which was very obscure. About 300
of the enemy were met with advancing on the village in several groups;
these were taken completely by surprise, and on seeing the rapidly
moving tanks fled in disorder, making no attempt at resistance. The
Whippets then patrolled towards Serre and after dispersing several
strong enemy patrols withdrew, having suffered no losses in tanks or
personnel. This action was particularly opportune, as it checked an
enveloping movement directed against Hebuterne at a time when there was
a gap in our line.

[Illustration: PLATE III

MEDIUM MARK “A” TANK (WHIPPET).]

Save for a few minor tank engagements on March 27, 28, 29, 30, and
31, so far as the Tank Corps was concerned, the Second Battle of
the Somme had come to an end, and, before closing this chapter, it is
of interest to deduce the main lessons learnt from these the first
defensive operations the Tank Corps had ever taken part in.

On March 21, tanks were too scattered ever to pull their full weight.
To hit with them as they then were distributed was like hitting out
with an open hand in place of a clenched fist, and when the blow fell
there was no time to hit and simultaneously close the fingers. Out of
a total of some 370 tanks only 180 came into action. The continual
withdrawal of tanks by infantry formations in place of moving them
forwards amongst the enemy resulted in many machines being worn out
before they had fired a shot; this was a faulty use of an offensive
weapon.

The two main lessons learnt were: firstly, that speed and circuit are
the two essentials for an open-warfare machine; and secondly, one
which has already been mentioned but which is so important that it
is worth mentioning again, namely, that no great Army, such as the
Germans massed against us on March 21, can depend on road and rail
supply only. Consequently unless these means of supply are supplemented
by cross-country mechanical transport, that is, transport which is
independent of road and rail, the greatest success will always be
limited by the endurance of the horses’ legs. Men without supplies are
an incumbrance, and guns and machine guns without ammunition are mere
scrap iron. Had the Germans after March 26 been able to supply their
troops mechanically across country, there can be little doubt that
their advance would have been continued, for we could not have stopped
it, and they might well have won the war. Fatigue may stop an advance
gradually, but lack of supplies will stop it absolutely--this is the
second and greatest lesson of the Second Battle of the Somme, if not of
the entire war.



CHAPTER XXIV

TANK SIGNALLING ORGANISATION


In battle, co-operation between the commander and his troops, and
between the troops themselves, depends very largely on the efficiency
of the signal organisation. In a formation such as the Tank Corps,
the chief duty of which was close co-operation with the infantry,
the necessity for a simple though efficient communication was fully
realised by Colonel Swinton as far back as February 1916, when he wrote
his tactical instructions for the use of tanks, extracts from which
have been given in Chapter IV. Though time for instruction was limited,
special wireless apparatus was prepared and men trained in its use, but
as orders were received not to equip the tanks with this apparatus they
were dispatched to France in August 1916 without it.

On September 11 the first instructions relative to tank signals were
published with the Fourth Army operation orders; they read as follows:

  “From tanks to infantry and aircraft:

  Flag Signals

  Red flag           Out of action.
  Green flag         Am on objective.
  Other flags        Are inter-tank signals.

  Lamp Signals

  Series of T’s      Out of Action.
  Series of H’s      Am on objective.

  A proportion of the tanks will carry pigeons.”

The use made of these signals is not recorded, and no time was
available, until after operations were concluded in November, wherein
to organise more efficient methods.

In January 1917 steps were taken to introduce into the Heavy Branch
some system of signalling in spite of the many difficulties, the chief
of which were:

(i) No personnel other than the tank crews could be obtained.

(ii) At most only two months were available for training.

(iii) Neither the Morse nor semaphore codes could be read by infantry.

The whole question, after careful consideration, was fully dealt with
in “Training Note No. 16,” already mentioned.

The entire system of field signalling was divided under three main
headings:

(i) _Local._--Between tanks and tanks and tanks and the attacking
infantry; also between the Section commander and the transmitting
station, should one be employed.

(ii) _Distant._--Between tanks and Company Headquarters, selected
infantry and artillery observation posts, balloons, and possibly
aeroplanes.

(iii) _Telephonic._--Between the various tank headquarters and those of
the units with which they were co-operating.

The means of signalling adopted were as follows:

For local signalling coloured discs--red, green, and white. One to
three of these signals in varying combinations could be hoisted on
a steel pole. In all thirty-nine code signals could thus be sent,
_e.g._ white = “Forward”; red and white = “Enemy in small numbers”;
red, white, green = “Enemy is retiring.” These codes were printed on
cards and distributed to tank crews and to the infantry. Besides these
“shutter signals” were also issued, but as they entailed both the
sender and reader understanding the Morse code they were seldom used.
The chief local system of communication was by runner, and it remained
so until the end of the war.

Distant signalling was carried out by means of the Aldis daylight lamp,
and as message-sending was too complicated a letter code was used,
thus--a series of D.D.D. ... D’s meant “Broken down,” Q.Q.Q. ... Q’s
“Require supplies.” Generally speaking, until November 1917, distant
signalling was carried out by pigeons, which, on the whole, proved
most reliable as long as the birds were released before sunset; at
a later hour than this they were apt to break their journey home by
roosting on the way.

In February 1917 Captain J. D. N. Molesworth, M.C., was attached to
the Heavy Branch to supervise the training in signalling. This officer
remained with the Tank Corps until the end of the war, and in 1918 was
promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and appointed Assistant
Director of Army Signals in 1918. Under his direction classes in
signalling were at once started and considerable progress was made in
the short time available before the battle of Arras was fought.

In this battle the various means of communication laid down were put to
the test of practical experience. The telephone system was described
by the 1st Tank Brigade Commander as “heart-breaking.” “Many times it
was totally impossible to hear or to be heard when speaking to Corps
Headquarters at a distance of five to six miles.” Pigeons were most
useful, the Aldis lamp was found difficult, and many messages were sent
from tank to tank, and in some cases to infantry with good results, by
means of the coloured discs.

The experiences gained pointed to the absolute necessity of allotting
sufficient personnel to battalions for purposes of signalling and
telephonic communication.

The result of these experiences was that in May the first Tank Signal
Company was formed, the personnel being provided from those already
trained in the tank battalions, to which a few trained Signal Service
men were added. The formation of this company was shortly followed by
that of the 2nd and 3rd Companies, the 2nd Company taking part in the
battle of Messines.

In May the first experiments in using wireless signalling from and
to tanks were carried out at the Central Workshops at Erin, various
types of aerials being tested. In July a wireless-signal officer was
appointed to the Tank Corps and he at once set to work to get ready
six tanks fitted with wireless apparatus for the impending Ypres
operations.

These signal tanks, when completed, were allotted to the Brigade
Signal Companies, and in isolated cases, during the battle, came into
operation, but in the main they did not prove a great success on
account of the extreme difficulty of the ground. Eventually these tanks
were placed at different points along the battle front and were used as
observation posts by the Royal Flying Corps, wireless being employed to
inform the anti-aircraft batteries in rear whenever enemy’s aeroplanes
were seen approaching our lines. Many wireless messages were sent and
much experience was gained by means of this work.

By the end of September, on account of signalling equipment being
obtained, it was possible to carry out training on much better
lines than heretofore. This was fortunate, for it enabled intensive
signalling training to be carried out prior to the battle of Cambrai.
During this battle a much more complete system of signals was
attempted, and wireless signalling proved invaluable in keeping in
touch with rear headquarters and also in sending orders forward. On the
first day of this battle a successful experiment in laying telegraph
cable from a tank was carried out, five tons of cable being towed
forward by means of sledges, the tank carrying 120 poles, exchanges,
telephones, and sundry apparatus from our front line to the town of
Marcoing.

The signalling experiences gained during the battle of Cambrai proved
of great value, the most important being that it became apparent that
it was next to useless to attempt to collect information from the
front of the battle line. Even if this information could be collected,
and it was most difficult to do so, it was so local and ephemeral in
importance as to confuse rather than to illuminate those who received
it. Collecting points about 600 yards behind the fighting tanks were
found to be generally the most suitable places for establishing
wireless and visual signalling stations.

At these stations officers were posted to receive messages and to
compile them into general reports, which from time to time were
transmitted by wireless to the headquarters concerned.

After the battle of Cambrai the 4th Brigade Signal Company was formed.
This Company was the first one to have a complete complement of
trained Signal Service officers and men allotted to it. It carried out
exceptionally good work during the operations in March 1918.

At this time the complete organisation of signals in the Tank Corps may
be shown graphically as follows:


A. D. SIGNALS

(Technical Instructions, Posting of Officers and Men, Control of all
Signal Stores)

  ----------------------+------+------+------------+--------------+-----
                        |      |      |            |              |
  1st Tank Brigade     2nd    3rd    4th   Wireless Repair  Headquarters
  Signal Company  (Tank Bde. Signals Coys).    Section.       Section.
  (administration,
  discipline,
  stores, erection
  and maintenance
  of lines,
  W.T. Stations).
         |
  ---+---+-----+-----------+--------------+-------------+----------+
     |         |           |              |             |          |
    Pool   Occupation   Section        Section        Section  Transport.
  Dispatch   Party.    Battalion      Battalion      Battalion
   Riders.           Headquarters.  Headquarters.  Headquarters.

Early in 1918 the type of wireless apparatus as used in the signal
tanks was changed to C.W. (continuous wave) sets, these being more
compact, and greater range of action being possible with the small
aerials the tanks had to use.

Eight of these C.W. sets were issued to each Brigade Signal Company,
and training in their use was carried out up to the commencement of the
August operations. On the whole they proved a success and justified
their adoption, but as experience was gained it became evident that
something better and stronger was wanted.

In September a scheme was devised whereby the entire signal
organisation of the Tank Corps was to be recast so as to fit in with
the new tank group system, which was then being worked out for 1919.
This organisation included Group Signal Companies and much larger
Brigade Signal Companies than had hitherto been used, and the main type
of apparatus that this organisation was to use was wireless. Only one
set of wireless to each tank company was to be employed actually in
tanks, the other stations being carried forward in box cars so as to
render them more mobile.

The importance of signalling in a formation such as the Tank Corps
cannot be over-estimated, and this importance will increase as more
rapid-moving machines are introduced, for, unless messages can be
transmitted backwards and forwards without delay, many favourable
opportunities for action, especially the action of reserves, will be
lost. Making the most of time is the basis of all success, and this
cannot be accomplished unless the commander is in the closest touch
with his fighting and administrative troops and departments.



CHAPTER XXV

THE FRENCH TANK CORPS


The existence of the French Tank Corps was due to the untiring energy
of one man--Colonel (now General) Estienne. On December 1, 1915, this
officer, then commanding the 6th French Divisional Artillery, addressed
a letter to the Commander-in-Chief of the French Armies in which he
expressed his firm belief that an engine of war, mechanically propelled
and protected by armour, capable of transporting infantry and guns,
was the solution to the deadlock on the Western Front. The idea of
the machine in Colonel Estienne’s mind was the result of his work
throughout the year 1915, during which period he had seen Holt tractors
in use with British artillery units.

On December 12, 1915, Colonel Estienne was given an interview at
G.Q.G., the French General Headquarters, where he set forth his theory
of mechanical warfare. On the 20th of this month he visited Paris to
discuss the details of his machine with the engineers of the Schneider
firm; but it was not until February 25, 1916, that the Department for
Artillery and Munitions decided to place with this firm an order for
400 of these armoured vehicles.

Meanwhile, Colonel Estienne returned to his command, the 3rd Corps
Artillery, before Verdun, but still kept in unofficial touch with the
manufacturers. Two months later he learned that a similar number of
cars, but of a different pattern, were to be made by the St. Chamond
works. These machines were of a heavier type with a petrol-electric
drive.

In June 1916 the French Ministry of Munitions, which had meanwhile
been created, decided on an experimental and instructional area
at Marly-le-Roi. Later on, a depot for the reception of stores
was established at Cercottes. On September 30, Colonel Estienne
was promoted to the rank of General and gazetted “Commandant
de l’Artillerie d’Assaut aux Armées” and was appointed the
Commander-in-Chief’s delegate to the Ministry of Munitions in matters
connected with tanks; he thus became the official connecting link
between the armies in the field and the constructional organisation of
the Ministry.

In October a training centre was established at Champlieu on the
southern edge of the forest of Compiègne, and it was here that the
first tank units were assembled on December 1, 1916. During the
succeeding months, Schneider (see Plate IV) and St. Chamond (see Plate
IV) machines continued to arrive, and training was carried out at this
camp until the German offensive of 1918.

On June 20 a tank establishment was sent to the Ministry of Munitions
and was approved of a month later. This establishment comprised four
Schneider battalions and four St. Chamond battalions, and the creation
of two tank training centres besides Champlieu, namely, Martigny and
Mailly Poivres.

Meanwhile, General Estienne in June visited England, and having seen
the British Mark I machine was convinced of the necessity of a lighter
tank. This tank was the result of an idea he had in mind, namely, of
producing on the battlefield waves of skirmishers in open order; each
skirmisher to be clad in armour, and to be armed with a machine gun
which could be used with uninterrupted vision in all directions. The
weight of armour necessitated an auxiliary means of motion; this, in
its turn, gave rise to the necessity for another man to drive the
machine. These views General Estienne laid before the Renault firm
in July 1916, and at the same time he urged the Ministry to accept
his proposed light tank, but without success. Complete designs were,
however, prepared and on November 27 General Estienne was able to
propose to Marshal Joffre the construction of a large number of light
tanks for future operations and to inform him of the existence of the
design of such a machine; in fact, 150 had already been ordered as
“Command” tanks for the heavy battalions (see Plate VI). Still the
Ministry was not convinced, and it was not until further trials had
taken place that, in May 1917, an order for 1,150 was authorised. This
number was increased in June to 3,500, when a new sub-department of the
Ministry of Munitions known as “Le Sous-Direction d’Artillerie” was
formed to deal with the production and design of tanks.

In spite of all General Estienne’s endeavours, he was still
experiencing from certain adherents of the old school, the thinkers in
“bayonets and sabres,” that unbending opposition which had proved so
formidable an antagonist to the progress and expansion of the British
Tank Corps, and it was not until the battle of Cambrai had been fought,
in November 1917, that the French Ministry of Munitions was finally
convinced of the value of the tank. Opposition now ceased, and in order
to accelerate the output, the firms of Renault, Schneider, and Berliet
were all engaged in the manufacture of light _chars d’assauts_.

In December 1917 it was decided to form 30 light tank battalions of 72
fighting and 3 wireless signal machines each. Of these 30 battalions
27 were in the field and the remaining 3 undergoing their preliminary
training at Cercottes on the date of the signing of the armistice.

The operations of the French Tank Corps may be divided into three
well-defined periods:

(i) First period, 1917, birth and infancy of the Schneider and St.
Chamond types.

(ii) Second period, first half of 1918, adolescence and maturity of the
Schneider and St. Chamond, and the infancy of the Renault type.

(iii) Third period, second half of 1918, adolescence and maturity of
the Renault machine.

During the first period three battles were fought:

On April 16, 1917, the French tanks fought their first engagement,
taking part in the operations of the Fifth French Army in the attempted
penetration on the Chemin des Dames. Eight Schneider companies were
employed. Three of these were to operate between the Craonne Plateau
and the Miette, and five between the Miette and the Aisne. The former
companies failed to get into action and suffered heavy losses from
the enemy’s artillery, which from the heights of the Craonne plateau
commanded their advance. The latter companies succeeded in crossing
the second and third lines of the enemy’s defences, but in spite of
their remaining for a considerable time in front of the infantry
these troops could not follow owing to the enemy’s heavy machine-gun
fire. At nightfall the tank companies were rallied, having sustained
serious losses in personnel and _matériel_. Bodies of infantry had been
specially detailed to escort the tanks and prepare paths for their
advance, but their training had been limited and their efforts were
ineffectual.

[Illustration: PLATE IV

FRENCH SCHNEIDER TANK.]

[Illustration: FRENCH ST. CHAMOND TANK.]

On May 5 one St. Chamond and two Schneider companies took part in
a hurriedly prepared operation with the Sixth Army. The Schneider
companies led the infantry in a successful attack on Laffaux hill,
and of the sixteen St. Chamond tanks detailed for the action only one
crossed the German trenches.

Between May and October preparations were made by the Sixth French
Army for an attack on the west of the Chemin des Dames, and for this
attack infantry were trained with the tanks at Champlieu and special
detachments, known as _troupes d’accompagnement_, were instructed in
the ways and means of assisting the tanks over the trenches.

The attack, which became known as the battle of Malmaison, was fought
on October 23. Five companies of tanks took part in it under the
orders of Colonel Wahl, who had recently been appointed to command the
Artillerie d’Assaut with the Sixth Army. This command was the origin
of what later became a Tank Brigade Headquarters, which corresponded
with a Group Headquarters in the final organisation of the British Tank
Corps.

In this battle the Schneider company operated with success, but the St.
Chamond machines were a failure, only one or two reaching the plateau.
On the 25th the St. Chamonds were used again.

Generally speaking, it was considered that the French heavy tanks had
justified their construction, nevertheless many still doubted their
utility when the victory of Cambrai, on the British front, dispelled
all doubts in the French mind.

The second period now opened and defensive reconnaissances were
undertaken along the French front in view of the expected German
offensive.

In March 1918 all available tanks were concentrated behind the front of
the Third French Army as counter-attack troops, and in this capacity
took part in the following minor operations, which were chiefly
undertaken to recapture features of local tactical importance: on April
5 at Sauvillers; on April 7 at Grivesnes; on April 8 at Sénécat wood,
and on May 28 at Cantigny in co-operation with American troops.

Following the great blow struck at the junction of the British and
French Armies in March the German General Staff decided to attack
the French on May 27. It would appear that this attack was at first
intended only to secure the heights south of the river Vesle, but that
by the 29th, owing to its astonishing initial success, it was decided
to push it forward with the ultimate intention of capturing Paris and
so ending the war before America could develop her full strength. In
support of this intention there is evidence that a council of war
was held in the recaptured area at which the Kaiser, Crown Prince,
Hindenburg and Ludendorff were present and at which it was decided to
exploit the success gained to its utmost, not, however, losing sight
of the original plan, which was to include the capture of Reims. This
offensive may be considered to have worn itself out by June 4, on which
date the Germans had developed a salient forty kilometres deep on a
forty kilometres front. The old capital of France, however, remained in
French hands and its occupation denied to the German forces holding the
salient a most needed line of supply.

On June 9 the attack was extended, being directed against the Third
French Army between Noyon and Montdidier. Behind this Army four heavy
tank battalions had been assembled. The first and second lines soon
fell into the enemy’s hands, and the French troops, which had been
detailed for counter-attack, were rapidly absorbed in the defence. On
the 10th reinforcements were hurried forward, and on the 11th General
Mangin launched his tank and infantry counter-attack. This battle
continued until the 13th, and in spite of the many difficulties 111 out
of the 144 tanks assembled started at zero hour. Losses in machines
were heavy and about 50 per cent. of their crews became casualties,
but in spite of this and the fact that the tanks rapidly outdistanced
the infantry, a heavy blow was inflicted on the enemy, whose offensive
definitely broke down.

In the action of June 11 the Schneider and St. Chamond tanks reached
the zenith of their career. From now onwards, though they continued to
be fought, they gradually ceased to be used as units, becoming mixed
with Renault machines until finally, in October 1918, the two remaining
mixed battalions were armed with British Mark V star tanks; these two
battalions, however, never took the field.

In order to stop the enemy’s onrush on May 27, two battalions of
Renault tanks were hurried up by road to the north-eastern fringes of
the forest of Villers-Cotterets, and on May 31 they made their debut,
two companies co-operating with colonial infantry on the plateau east
of Cravançon farm. From this date on to June 15, these two battalions
continued to act on the defensive with tired troops; nevertheless they
succeeded in preventing a further advance of the German Armies. This
closes the second period.

During the first fortnight of July the 3rd and 5th Renault Battalions
were moved to the battle area, the former being attached to the Fifth
French Army, south of Dormans, and the latter to the Tenth. These
machines came into action on the 15th, 16th, and 17th of the month.

On July 15 the Germans launched their final great attack of the war,
the blow falling between Château-Thierry and Reims. The French Armies
involved in this battle were holding the following sectors:

(i) The Tenth Army, between the Aisne and the Ourcq.

(ii) The Sixth Army, between the Ourcq and the Marne.

(iii) The Fifth Army, between the Marne and Reims.

(iv) The Fourth Army, east of Reims.

The warning order to concentrate his units was received by the G.O.C.,
French Tank Corps, on July 14. At that time the G.O.C. Tenth French
Army had at his disposal five heavy battalions and three light, and the
Fifth and Sixth French Army respectively now received one heavy and
three light battalions. The total number of tank battalions available
was, therefore, seven heavy battalions and nine light ones.

The main attack was to be made by the Tenth French Army, whilst the
Sixth and Fifth Armies were to intervene, when the time was ripe, in
order to harry the enemy in a retirement which would be inevitable if
the attack of the Tenth Army was successful. The entire operation was
to be based on tanks, which were to be engaged to the last machine. As
this was the greatest French tank battle fought during the war it is
interesting to enter, in some detail, into the operations of the tanks
allotted to the French Tenth Army.

On July 14, when orders were issued for the concentration of tanks on
the Tenth French Army front, Colonel Chedeville, commanding the 2nd
Tank Brigade, was with the Third French Army. He had at his disposal
three St. Chamond battalions, the 10th, 11th, and 12th, two Schneider
battalions, the 3rd and 4th, and one complete Light Brigade comprising
the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Renault battalions, and the 1st Schneider
battalion. Of these the first five were in the First and Third French
Army areas, and had suffered severely in the counter-attack of June 11.
Having received his orders, Colonel Chedeville at once assembled his
battalion commanders and explained to them the situation. At 6 p.m. a
further conference was held at which the proposed sectors of attack
were allotted for reconnaissance. These reconnaissances were completed
by 6 p.m. on the following day, and on them was based “Army Operation
Order No. 243,” in which tank units were allotted as follows:

  _1st Corps_

  3rd Heavy Tank Battalion      Allotted to 153rd Division.
    (27 tanks).

  _XXth Corps_

  12th Heavy Tank Battalion      Allotted to 2nd American Division,
    (30 tanks)

  11th Heavy Tank Battalion        „     „   2nd American Division.
    (30 tanks)

  4th Heavy Tank Battalion         „     „   Moroccan Division.
    (48 tanks)

  1st Heavy Tank Battalion         „     „   1st American Division.
    (48 tanks)

  _XXXth Corps_

  10th Heavy Tank Battalion      Allotted to 38th Division.
    (24 tanks)

  _In Army Reserve in the region of Villers-Cotterets--Fleury_

  1st Light Tank Battalion (45 tanks)

  2nd Light Tank Battalion (40 tanks)

  3rd Light Tank Battalion (45 tanks)

The assembly positions from north to south of the various units were as
follows:

  3rd Heavy Tank Battalion      Ravine south-west of Montigny-Lengrain.

  12th Heavy Tank Battalion     Ravine north of Mortefontaine.

  11th Heavy Tank Battalion     Two Companies Ravine Longavesne and
                                  Lepine farm, 1 Company ravine 1
                                  kilometre north of Soucy.

  4th Heavy Tank Battalion      Northern fringes of the forest of
                                  Villers-Cotterets south-east of
                                  Vivières.

  1st Heavy Tank Battalion      Maison Forestière, 200 metres north of
                                  the railway on the road from Villers
                                  to Soissons.

  10th Heavy Tank Battalion     Cross-roads south-east of the Cordeliers
                                  cross in Villers-Cotterets forest.

  1st Light Tank Battalion      Northern edge of Villers-Cotterets
                                  south-west of Vivières, ready to
                                  attack in the wake of the Moroccan
                                  Division.

  2nd Light Tank Battalion      Northern edge of forest south-west of
                                  Vivières ready to follow 2nd American
                                  Division.

  3rd Light Tank Battalion      St. George’s cross, ready to support
                                  either the 48th Division or the XIth
                                  Corps.

Owing to the failure of the Military Transportation Authorities great
delay was occasioned in the arrival of several units, and in some cases
tanks had to be left behind. Generally speaking, detraining stations
were not far enough forward; this resulted in the 1st and 3rd Light
Battalions arriving late at their destinations.

During the night of July 17-18, the various units proceeded to their
starting-points in rear of their respective lines of attack.

  3rd Heavy Tank Battalion }
  153rd Division           }St. Bandry--Saconin et Breuil--Vauxbuin.

  11th Heavy Tank Battalion}
  12th Heavy Tank Battalion}Cutry--Missy aux Bois Ploisy.
  1st American Division    }

  4th Heavy Tank Battalion }
  Moroccan Division        }St. Pierre Aigle--Chaudun--Villemontoire.

  1st Heavy Tank Battalion }
  2nd American Division    }Chavigny--Beaurepaire Forest--Vierzy--Tigny.

  10th Heavy Tank Battalion}
  38th and 48th Divisions  }Longpont--Villers Helon--Le Plessier Huleu.

The attack was launched at 4.35 a.m. in a slight fog which accentuated
its surprise. There was no artillery bombardment. At 7.30 a.m., owing
to the difficulties in communication and the rapidity of the advance,
the Light Tank Battalions in Army reserve were placed at the disposal
of the XXth and XXXth Corps in order to support the Divisions which had
penetrated the deepest.

In this attack the enemy’s resistance was not unusually stubborn
and the tanks and infantry advanced to a considerable depth without
difficulty. Several tanks of the 12th Heavy Battalion fell out by the
way, but those of the 10th succeeded beyond expectation in negotiating
the difficult ground in the neighbourhood of Longpont. Of the Renault
battalions only the first came into action, being launched at 7 p.m. in
an attack on Vauxcastille ravin in which it succeeded in leading the
infantry forward to a depth of three to four kilometres.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF SOISSONS

July 18th 1918.]

Of the 324 tanks which were concentrated in the Tenth French Army
Sector, 225 were engaged on July 18. Of these 102 became casualties,
62 being put out of action by artillery fire. In personnel the losses
were about 25 per cent. of the effectives engaged.

On July 19, composite units were formed and 105 machines took part in
this day’s fighting, which consisted in divisional attacks on limited
objectives launched at various hours during the day. By now the enemy’s
resistance had increased so much that several of the tank battalions
suffered heavily. The 3rd Heavy Battalion had, by the end of the
day, lost all its remaining tanks save two, but in sustaining these
casualties it had pushed the line forward to the Chaussée Brunehaut. In
the 12th Heavy Battalion only one machine reached its final objective.
In spite of this severe resistance the attack was a great success. Of
the 105 tanks operating fifty were hit by shell fire, and casualties
amongst crews totalled up to 22 per cent. of the personnel engaged.

On the following day only small local counter-attacks were carried out;
in these thirty-two tanks took part, of which seventeen were hit and no
less than 52 per cent. of their crews became casualties.

On July 21 the XXth Corps carried out a prepared attack, the
first objective being the line Buzancy--eastern edge of Concrois
wood--Hartennes wood, and the second the line of Chacrise. The attack
was launched without artillery preparation and the villages of Tigny
and Villemontoire were captured, but later on retaken by the enemy.
During this day’s fighting 100 tanks were engaged, of which thirty-six
were hit; losses in personnel amounted to 27 per cent. of effectives.

On the evening of the 21st it was decided to withdraw all tanks into
Army reserve so that they might refit for a projected attack on the
23rd. This attack was launched at 5 a.m., the XXth and XXXth Corps
taking part. The chief characteristic of this day’s fighting was that
the attack was made against an enemy occupying a defensive position
supported by a very strong force of artillery. The result of this was
that no fewer than forty-eight tanks out of eighty-two were hit. It,
however, must be remembered that during the six succeeding days of
battle the tank units, attached to the Tenth French Army, had exhausted
themselves, having practically fought to the last machine and last man.
On the evening of the 23rd they were withdrawn in Army reserve, and
three days later were placed in G.H.Q., reserve.

Meanwhile the Sixth French Army had conformed to the requirements of
the main attack. The tank units of this Army were, on the evening of
July 14, placed under the orders of Commandant Michel; they comprised
the following battalions:

503rd Renault Regiment: 7th, 8th, and 9th Battalions.

13th St. Chamond Battalion.

On July 15, company commanders reconnoitred the front of attack,
the tanks meanwhile being got ready for entrainment. On July 18 all
units were in position with the infantry units to which they had been
allotted, as follows:

  7th Light Battalion.      2 Companies to the 2nd Division.
  8th   „      „            3      „      „    47th    „
  9th   „      „            1      „      „   164th    „
                            2      „      „    63rd    „
  13th Heavy Battalion      1      „      „    47th    „
                            2 Companies in Army reserve.

The 2nd and 47th Divisions were in the IInd Corps, whilst the 63rd and
164th Divisions were in the VIIth Corps.

At zero hour plus thirty minutes the tanks left their starting-points.
The 7th and 8th Light Battalions operated effectively in the capture
of the heights west of Neuilly St. Front and hill 167. The attack of
No. 325 Company of the 9th Light Battalion, operating with the 47th
Division, was brilliantly executed north of Courchamps.

In the evening the tanks rallied, the attack being continued with all
available machines on the following morning.

As a general rule a section of five tanks was affiliated to each
attacking battalion. This policy continued to the end of the operations
on July 26, when the regiment was withdrawn to rest, worn out more
by “trekking” than by fighting. The casualties in this sector were
extremely light.

When the front of the attack, launched by the Germans, on July 15,
became known to the French Higher Command, a Light Regiment of tanks,
consisting of the 4th and 6th Battalions, was hurriedly dispatched from
the Sixth French Army area to the Fourth Army east of Reims. The 5th
Battalion engaged one company with the 73rd Infantry Division of the
Sixth French Army in the recapture of Janvier wood, south of Dormans,
on July 15, and two companies on July 16 and 17, in “mopping up” in the
direction of Bois de Conde, east of Château-Thierry.

When it was realised that the German attack east of Reims had failed,
the 4th and 6th Battalions were hurriedly transported by road, between
July 16 and 19, south of the Marne, south-west of Reims, to take part
in local counter-attacks. These attacks were entrusted to the Ninth
French Army, which had taken over command of all French troops south
of the Marne, and had at its disposal the 4th, 5th, and 6th Light Tank
Battalions, and two companies of heavy tanks, which had been rapidly
sent up by train from St. Germaine between Epernay and Reims.

Two sections of the 4th Light Battalion were engaged on July 18
with two battalions of the 7th Infantry Regiment; two on July 20,
with the 97th and 159th Regiments; and one on the 19th, with the
131st Division--all in the neighbourhood of the Bois de Leuvrigny
south of the Marne. Later, on July 23, sections of the 4th Battalion
were employed with British troops--the 186th Infantry Brigade in
the attack on Marfaux and with the 56th and 60th Battalions of the
chasseurs-à-pied at Connetreuil, whilst, on the same date, two sections
of the 6th Battalion attacked with units of the 15th British Division
between Espilly and Marfaux, and two more were employed unsuccessfully
with the 37th Infantry Regiment against Fauants farm.

So ends the account of the tank actions in the battle of Soissons.

This great victory, from a tank point of view, had a stupendous
influence on succeeding operations, owing to:

(i) The eagerness with which Infantry Commanders now clamoured for
tanks.

(ii) The speeding up of the formation and training of new tank
battalions.

From this date on, battalions of Renault tanks became available at the
rate of one a week; this resulted in tired battalions being speedily
replaced by fresh ones, consequently they were never so completely worn
out as was the case in the British Tank Corps, which only received two
fresh battalions between August and November 1918, one of which arrived
too untrained ever to go into action.

The operations from now on will be very briefly described, as space
does not permit of elaboration. It is, however, of interest that these
tank actions should be enumerated, for they show that, without the
assistance of the tank, a deadlock would have re-occurred.

On August 1, 45 French tanks took part in an engagement at Grand
Rozoy. Then came the great British tank attack of August 8, in which
the First and Tenth French Armies co-operated, 110 French tanks taking
part on this day and the following, 80 advancing with the infantry a
distance of 18 kilometres on the south of the Roye-Amiens road, whilst
30 made a 5-kilometre advance near Montdidier. Between August 16 and
18 the attack developed west of Roye; here 60 Renault and 32 Schneider
machines were engaged; co-operation with the infantry was, however,
difficult on account of the broken nature of the old battlefield across
which the attack was now being pushed.

The next operation was a continuation of the Tenth Army’s offensive; it
took place between the Oise and the Aisne, beginning on August 20, and
being continued intermittently up to and including September 3. On the
20th and 22nd, 12 Schneider, 28 St. Chamond, and 30 Renault tanks were
engaged north of Soissons.

During the week commencing August 28, three Light Battalions advanced
five kilometres between the Aisne and the Aillette, 305 machines being
employed at different times during these operations.

The next operation in which tanks were engaged was the cutting off of
the St. Mihiel salient, French tanks being used with the Second French
and American Armies. During the two days’ fighting, September 12 and
13, some 140 tanks took part in the battle.

On September 14, the Tenth French Army resumed its offensive east of
Soissons, eighty-five Renault tanks co-operating between the 14th and
the 16th. Ten days later an extensive joint attack was made by the
Fifth and Second French Armies in conjunction with the American Army
commencing on the 26th; this attack continued until October 9.

The Fourth Army attacked on a 15-kilometre front in the Champagne, and
in all 630 Renault and 24 Schneider actions were fought. Meanwhile the
Second French Army and the American Armies attacked on a 12-kilometre
front between the Argonne and the Meuse, and advanced during the seven
battle days some 15 kilometres; 350 Renault, 34 Schneider, and 27 St.
Chamond actions were fought in connection with this advance.

At the urgent request of the Sixth French Army Commander, whose
command had joined the “Grand Army of Flanders” after its work in the
Soissons area had been concluded in July, a Renault battalion, less one
company, and some heavy tank units were entrained for Dunkerque, the
third company of this battalion having already been sent on detachment
to Salonika at the urgent request of General Franchet d’Esperey. On
September 30 and October 3 and 4, 55 tanks were employed north-west
of Roulers, and from the 14th to the 19th, 178 tank engagements were
fought, in which the enemy was driven back some 15 kilometres. This
advance was continued on the 31st of this month in the direction of
Thielt, and on this and the two following days 75 tank engagements took
place.

From the end of September onwards, operations generally had consisted
in following up the enemy all along the line and pressing back his
rearguards. On September 30, a minor tank action was fought between
the Aisne and the Vesle; on October 16 another on the eastern bank of
the Meuse, and between October 17 and 19 yet another north-east of
St. Quentin, in co-operation with the British attack further north.
In this last attack the French Army advanced ten kilometres on a
three-kilometre front. The last actions fought by French tanks took
place between October 25 and 31, the first south of the Oise and in the
direction of Guise, when, on a front of five kilometres, an advance of
no fewer than fifteen was made, the second north-west of Rethel, and
the third north of Cruyshantem in Flanders.

In conclusion, it is interesting to summarise the statistics available
and compare them with those of the British Tank Corps given at the end
of Chapter XXXVII.

In August the strength of the French Tank Corps was 14,649 all ranks,
approximately the strength of an infantry division. During 1918,
3,988 individual tank engagements were fought: 3,140 by Renault, 473
by Schneider, and 375 by St. Chamond tanks. Tanks were employed on
45 of the 120 days which elapsed between July 15 and November 11. In
personnel the casualties between these dates were approximately 300
officers and 2,300 other ranks.

Finally it may be stated that as there can be no doubt that July 18
was the second greatest turning-point in the war on the Western Front,
the first being the battle of the Marne in 1914, so can there be no
doubt that the battle of Soissons would never have been won had not the
French possessed a powerful force of tanks whereby to initiate success.
The German General Staff, which should be the best judge of this
question, candidly admit that the French victory was due to the use of
“masses of tanks.” Neither was the General Commanding-in-Chief of the
French Armies reticent, for on July 30 he issued the following special
order of the day to the French Tank Corps: “Vous avez bien mérité la
patrie,” whilst General Estienne, to whom so much was due, received the
Cravat of the Légion d’Honneur and was promoted to the rank of General
of Division for the great services he had rendered to his country.



CHAPTER XXVI

PREPARATIONS FOR THE GREAT OFFENSIVE


As soon as the position resulting from the great German attack of
March 21 began to stabilise steps were taken by the Headquarters of
the Tank Corps to reorganise and refit its battalions. This work was
most difficult on account of the reopening of the German offensive in
the Lys area, which necessitated converting the 4th Tank Brigade into
a Lewis-gun unit and dispatching it north to assist in stemming the
German advance. Besides this, towards the middle of April instructions
were received that on account of the difficulty of finding the required
number of infantry reinforcements the number of tank brigades was to
be reduced from six to four; this meant the disbanding of the 5th
Brigade in France and the breaking up of the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th
Tank Battalions in England. Yet another difficulty was the question
of re-arming, many machines had been lost during the retirement,
nevertheless, on account of insufficient transport, it was not found
possible to ship out to France the new Mark V tanks, the production of
which in England was now in full swing.

All these difficulties were eventually overcome, with the result that
during June and July four brigades of the Tank Corps were re-armed; but
before this question is dealt with it will be necessary to hark back
to the various operations which bridge the period between April 4, the
date upon which the Second Battle of the Somme ended, and August 8,
when our own great offensive was begun.

On April 9 the Germans launched their second great attack
between Festubert and Fleurbaix against the British front. It
succeeded, so it is thought, even beyond their expectations, and
by the 11th the enemy’s line roughly ran as follows: East of
Ploegsteert--Armentières--Steenwerck--Estaires--Lestren--Vieille
Capelle, through Festubert to Givenchy, with the apex of the salient
near Nieppe. This attack in all probability was meant as a feint
directed against a weak spot in our line in order to threaten the
coalfield round Bruay and so cause Marshal Foch to weaken his reserves
in Champagne and on the Somme. Succeeding as it did at first, it
appears that the German command attempted to develop it from a feint to
a decisive attack, with the result that their own reserves, of which
they had none too many, were involved as well as those of the Allies.

In order to meet the requirements of the new situation on April 11
detachments of the 7th and 11th Battalions of the 1st Tank Brigade were
dispatched to hold a line west of Merville. Two days later the 4th
Tank Brigade, now consisting of the 4th, 5th, and 13th Battalions, was
turned into a Lewis-gun Brigade. On the 13th the 5th Battalion moved to
Berthen, on the 16th the 13th Battalion to Boescheppe, and on the 17th
the 4th Battalion to the same place.

By April 17 the distribution of the Tank Corps was as follows:

  _1st Tank Brigade_     11th   Battalion   N.E. of Busnes.
   H.Q. Bois D’Ohlain     7th       „       Molinghem.
                         12th       „       Simencourt.

  _2nd Tank Brigade_      6th   Battalion   Bailleulval.
   H.Q. Saulty           10th       „       La Cauchie.

  _3rd Tank Brigade_      3rd   Battalion   Toutencourt.
   H.Q. Molliens-au-Bois  9th       „       Merlimont.

                          1st       „       Frechencourt.

  _4th Tank Brigade_      4th   Battalion   Boescheppe.
   H.Q. Godewaersvelde    5th       „       Berthen.
                         13th       „       Boescheppe.

  _5th Tank Brigade_      2nd   Battalion   Blangy.
   H.Q. Monchy Cayeux     8th       „       Humières.

The fighting carried out by the Lewis-gun units was of a severe
nature, so much so that the casualties sustained caused the greatest
anxiety at the Tank Corps headquarters, as reinforcements from England
were exceedingly limited; further, as it was still hoped to save the
battalions at home to the Corps, it was especially desirable not to
call upon them for drafts.

Early on April 24 the enemy attacked south of the river Somme on a
front from Villers-Bretonneux to the Bois de Hangard. This attack
is of special interest as it was the first occasion upon which the
Germans employed tanks of their own manufacture against us.[30] By
means of these tanks the enemy penetrated our front, captured most of
the extensive village of Villers-Bretonneux and advanced as far as the
Bois de l’Abbé. Prior to this attack, at 1 a.m., a section of tanks of
the 1st Battalion, hidden in the Bois de l’Abbé, moved east of the wood
owing to the excessive gas shelling. At 8.30 a.m. this section, under
the orders of the 23rd Infantry Brigade, moved forward to secure the
Cachy switch trench against the enemy’s threatening attack; exactly
an hour later two of our machines, both females, came into view of a
hostile tank and were put out of action by its gun fire--it should be
remembered here that female tanks are armed only with machine guns.
Shortly afterwards a British male Mark IV machine hove into sight, and
speeding into action there then took place the first tank _versus_
tank duel to be recorded in history. This male soon scored a direct
hit on its antagonist, whereupon the enemy evacuated their tank and
fled. By this time three more enemy tanks had appeared; these the Mark
IV machine engaged, and was in the process of driving off the field of
battle when it received a direct hit from a field-gun shell and was put
out of action.

South-west of Villers-Bretonneux, seven Whippet machines were sent
out at 10.30 a.m. to clear up the situation east of the village of
Cachy. Whilst proceeding round the north-east side of this village
they suddenly came upon two battalions of Germans massing in a hollow
preparatory to making an attack. Without a moment’s hesitation the
seven Whippets formed line and charged down the slope right on to
the closely formed infantry. Indescribable confusion resulted as the
Whippets tore through the German ranks, the enemy scattered in all
directions, some threw themselves on their knees before the machines,
shrieking for mercy, but only to be run over and crushed to death.
In a few minutes no fewer than 400 Germans were killed and wounded.
The Whippets, having now completed their task, viz. “clearing up the
situation,” returned, one machine being put out of action by artillery
fire on the journey home; in all only five casualties amongst the crews
were suffered during this action.

The two most remarkable features of this little engagement are:
firstly, the helplessness of some 1,200 infantry against seven tanks
manned by seven officers and fourteen other ranks; and, secondly, that
the tanks left their starting-point, which was 3½ miles from the scene
of action, at 10.30 a.m., covered ten miles of ground, fought a battle,
and were back home again at 2.30 p.m.

On April 25 further minor tank operations took place in the
Villers-Bretonneux area, chiefly east of the Bois d’Aquenne and the
Monument, and, on the next day, British tanks for the first time in
their history co-operated with the French Army, four tanks of the 1st
Battalion being ordered to assist the Moroccan Division in an attack
on the Bois de Hangard. This attack was not a success, due to two
quite exceptional reasons; two trees were cut down during the night,
which were to have acted as landmarks for the tanks, and the smoke
barrage was in error put down to the east instead of the west of the
German line; consequently the tanks not only lost their direction but
were subjected to an intense machine-gun fire when nearing the German
position; this prevented the French infantry co-operating with them.

The month of May was chiefly spent in re-sorting the tank battalions
and resting the men. The embargo on the importation of tanks from
England had now been removed, and Mark V tanks were arriving in France
at the rate of sixty a week. This machine, very similar in shape to
the Mark IV or Mark I, was a great improvement on all former types,
it being a much more mobile and handy weapon. A new system of tactics
was at once got out to cover its increase in power, and training was
started so as to accustom all ranks to its use.

At about this time a considerable number of French troops were
billeted in and around the Tank Corps area and it is a pleasure to
record their extreme keenness to learn all they could about tanks
and their tactics. General Maistre, commanding the Tenth French
Army, with its headquarters then at Beauval, particularly asked that
tank demonstrations should be held for the units of his command.
This was done, and right through May and June two or three of these
demonstrations were given weekly. Besides French troops, units from the
Ist, XIth, XIIIth, XVIIth, and XVIIIth English Corps and the Canadian
and Australian Corps also attended, the greatest benefit resulting to
all taking part.

From the beginning of June onwards preparations were set on foot
to have all tank units ready by August 1 for any eventuality. This
necessitated intensive training, re-arming and re-equipping. Sledges
for supply haulage were prepared, bridges for the passage of light
tanks over wide trenches were made, cribs were constructed for the
heavy tanks--these were large hexagonal crates which served the same
purpose as the tank fascines did at the battle of Cambrai; wire-pulling
apparatus was got ready, smoke apparatus ordered, and portable railway
ramps made. It was altogether an excessively busy time on the training
ground and in the workshops, and, as matters eventually turned out, it
was extremely fortunate that this work was taken up at this early date,
for, as a future chapter will show, when the Tank Corps was next called
upon to make ready for an extensive operation only eight days were
obtainable to prepare in.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE BATTLES OF HAMEL AND MOREUIL


During June and July three tank actions were fought: the first was a
night raid on June 22-23, the second the battle of Hamel, and the third
the battle of Moreuil or Sauvillers.

The night raid is interesting in that it was the first occasion in the
history of the Tank Corps in France upon which tanks were definitely
allotted to work at night. The raid was carried out against the
enemy’s defences near Bucquoy by five platoons of infantry and five
female tanks. Its object was to capture or kill the garrisons of a
series of posts. The raid took place at 11.25 p.m. A heavy barrage
of trench-mortar and machine-gun fire was met with at a place called
Dolls’ House in “No Man’s Land”: here the infantry were held up, and
though reinforced were unable to advance further. The tanks, thereupon,
pushed on and carried out the attack in accordance with their orders.
It is worthy of note that not a single tank was damaged by the
trench-mortar barrage, which was very heavy. The tanks encountered
several parties of the enemy and undoubtedly caused a number of
casualties. One tank was attacked by a party of the enemy who were shot
down by revolver fire; later on this tank rescued a wounded platoon
commander who had been captured by the Germans.

This raid is interesting in that it showed the possibility of
manœuvring tanks in the dark through the enemy’s lines, and also the
great security afforded to the tank by the darkness.

[Illustration: PLATE V

MARK V TANK (MALE).]

The battle of Hamel, which was fought on July 4, was the first occasion
upon which the Mark V machine went into action. Much was expected of
it, and it more than justified all expectations. The object of the
attack was a twofold one--firstly, to nip off a salient between the
river Somme and the Villers-Bretonneux--Warfusée road; secondly, to
restore the confidence of the Australian Corps in tanks, a confidence
which had been badly shaken by the Bullecourt reverse in 1917.

As soon as the attack was decided on the training of the Australians
with the tanks was commenced at Vaux en Amienois, the headquarters of
the 5th Tank Brigade. Tank units for this purpose were affiliated to
Australian units and by this means a close comradeship was cultivated.

The general plan of operations was for the 5th Tank Brigade to support
the advance of the 4th Australian Division in the attack against the
Hamel spur running from the main Villers-Bretonneux plateau to the
river Somme. The frontage was about 5,500 yards, extending to 7,500
yards on the final objective, the depth of which was 2,500 yards.
The main tactical features in the area were Vaire wood, Hamel wood,
Pear-Shape trench, and Hamel village. There was no defined system of
trenches to attack except the old British line just east of Hamel,
which had been originally sited to obtain observation eastwards. The
remainder of the area was held by means of machine-gun nests.

Five companies of 60 tanks in all were employed in the attack; these
were divided into two waves--a first-line wave of 48 and a reserve wave
of 12 machines. Their distribution was as follows:

  6th A.I. Brigade                           2 Sections (6 tanks).
  4th A.I. Brigade                           1 Company (12 tanks).
  11th A.I. Brigade                          6 Sections (18 tanks).
  Liaison between 4th and 11th Brigades      1 Company (12 tanks).
  Reserves                                   1 Company (12 tanks).

The co-operation of the artillery was divided under the headings of
a rolling barrage and the production of smoke screens. Behind the
former the infantry were to advance followed by the tanks, which were
only to pass ahead of them when resistance was encountered. This
arrangement was not a good one and was an inheritance of the Bullecourt
distrust. The latter were to be formed on the high ground west of
Warfusée-Abancourt and north of the Somme and south of Morlancourt.
Once the final objective was gained a standing barrage was to be formed
to cover consolidation.

As the entire operation was of a very limited character an extensive
system of supply dumps was not necessary, so instead each fighting tank
carried forward ammunition and water for the infantry and four supply
tanks were detailed to carry R.E. material and other stores. Each of
these eventually delivered a load of about 12,500 lb. within 500 yards
of the final objective, and within half an hour of its capture. The
total load delivered on July 4, at 40 lb. per man, represented the
loads of a carrying party 1,250 men strong. The number of men used in
these supply tanks was twenty-four.

The tanks assembled at the villages of Hamelet and Fouilloy on the
night of July 2-3, without hostile interference. On the following night
they moved forward to a line approximately 1,000 yards west of the
infantry starting-line under cover of aeroplanes which, flying over the
enemy, drowned the noise of the tank engines.

Zero hour was fixed for 3.10 a.m. and tanks were timed to leave their
starting-line at 3.2 a.m. under cover of artillery harassing fire,
which had been carried out on previous mornings in order to accustom
the enemy to it. This fire lasted seven minutes, then a pause of one
minute occurred, to be followed by barrage fire on the enemy’s front
line for four minutes. This allowed twelve minutes for the tanks to
advance an average distance of 1,200 yards before reaching the infantry
line at zero plus four minutes, when the barrage was to lift. All tanks
were on the starting-line up to time, which is a compliment to the
increased reliability of the Mark V machine over all previous types.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF HAMEL

4th July 1918.]

As the barrage lifted the infantry and tanks moved forward. The
position of the tanks in relation to the infantry varied, but,
generally speaking, the tanks were in front of the infantry and
immediately behind the bursting shells. The enemy’s machine-gunners
fought tenaciously, and in several cases either held up the infantry,
or would have inflicted severe casualties on them, if tanks had not
been there to destroy them. The manœuvring power of the Mark V tank
was clearly demonstrated in all cases where the infantry were held
up by machine guns, it enabled the tanks to drive over the gunners
before they could get away. There were a great number of cases in which
the German machine guns were run over and their detachments crushed.
Driving over machine-gun emplacements was the feature of this attack;
it eliminated all chance of the enemy “coming to life” again after the
attack had passed by.

Tanks detailed for the right flank had severe fighting and did great
execution, their action being of the greatest service. The tanks
detailed to support the infantry battalions passing round Vaire and
Hamel woods and Hamel village guarded their flanks whilst this manœuvre
was in operation.

The tank attack came as a great surprise to the Germans and all
objectives were taken up to scheduled time. The enemy suffered heavy
loss, and, besides those killed, 1,500 prisoners were captured. The
4th Australian Division had 672 officers and other ranks killed and
wounded, and the 5th Brigade had only 16 men wounded and 5 machines
hit. These tanks were all salved by the night of July 6-7.

The co-operation between the infantry and tanks was as near perfect
as it could be; all ranks of the tank crews operating were impressed
by the superb moral of the Australian troops, who never considered
that the presence of the tanks exonerated them from fighting, and who
took instant advantage of any opportunity created by the tanks. From
this day on the fastest comradeship has existed between the Tank and
Australian Corps. Bullecourt was forgotten, and from the psychological
point of view this was an important objective to have gained prior to
the great attack in August.

The second battle in which the Tank Corps took part in July was the
battle of Moreuil or Sauvillers; it is of particular interest, for
it was the only occasion during the war in which our tanks, in any
numbers, operated with the French Army. Another interesting point
connected with this attack was the rapidity with which it was mounted.

At 2.30 p.m. on July 17 the 5th Tank Brigade Commander was informed
that he was to prepare forthwith to co-operate in an attack to be made
by the IXth Corps of the First French Army, and, for this purpose,
the 9th Battalion of the 3rd Tank Brigade was to be placed under his
command and that he and this battalion would come under the orders of
the 3rd French Infantry Division.

The object of the operation was a threefold one:

(i) To seize the St. Ribert wood with the object of outflanking
Mailly-Raineval from the south.

(ii) To capture the German batteries in the neighbourhood of St. Ribert
or to force them to withdraw.

(iii) To advance the French field batteries eastwards in order to bring
fire to bear on the ridge which dominates the right bank of the river
Avre.

The three French Divisions attacking were the 152nd Division on
the right, the 3rd in the centre, and the 15th on the left. Their
respective frontages were 950, 2,000, and 800 metres. The greatest
depth of the attack was 3,000 metres.

The operation was to be launched as a surprise, after a short and
intense artillery preparation; the main objectives were to be captured
by encircling them and then “mopping” them up.

There were three objectives: The first included Bois des
Arrachis, Sauvillers, Mongival village, Adelpare farm and
Ouvrage-des-Trois-Bouqueteaux; twelve tanks and four battalions of
infantry were detailed for this. The second included the clearing of
the plateau to the north of the Bois-de-Sauvillers and the capture
of the south-west corner of the Bois-de-Harpon; the number of tanks
allotted to this objective was twenty-four, with four fresh infantry
battalions. The third, known as the Blue Line, an outpost line covering
the second objective, was to be occupied by eight strong infantry
patrols and all available machines.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF MOREUIL OR SAUVILLERS

July 23rd 1918.]

The attack was to be preceded by one hour’s intensive bombardment,
including heavy counter-battery fire. The creeping barrage was to
consist of H.E. and smoke shells and was to move at the rate of 200
metres in six minutes up to the first objective, after this at the rate
of 200 metres in eight minutes.

Tanks were to attack in sections of three, two in front and one in
immediate support, the infantry advancing in small assaulting groups
close behind the tanks.

Directly the orders were issued preparations were set on foot. On July
18, Lieutenant-Colonel H. K. Woods, commanding the 9th Battalion,
and his reconnaissance officers visited General de Bourgon,[31] the
Commander of the 3rd French Division, who explained to them the
scheme; on the next day these officers reconnoitred the ground over
which the battalion would have to operate, and tactical training was
carried out with the French at the 5th Tank Brigade Driving School at
Vaux-en-Amienois. On the 20th and 21st training continued, and further
examination of the ground was made, and on the 22nd details of the
attack were finally settled. In spite of the continuous exertion of
the last few days all ranks were in the greatest heart to show the 3rd
French Division what the British Tank Corps could do.

Meanwhile headquarters were selected, communications arranged for,
supplies dumped, and reorganisation and rallying-points worked out and
fixed.

The move of the 9th Battalion is particularly interesting on account
of its rapidity. On July 17 it was in the Bus-les-Artois area; on the
18th it moved 16,000 yards across country and entrained under sealed
orders at Rosel, detraining at Conty. On the night of the 19th-20th it
moved 4,000 yards from Conty to Bois-de-Quemetot; on 20th-21st, 9,000
yards to Bois-de-Rampont; on 21st-22nd, 7,000 yards to Bois-de-Hure and
Bois-du-Fay; and on 22nd-23rd 4,500 yards from these woods into action
with thirty-five machines out of the original forty-two fit to fight.

The country over which the action was to be fought was undulating,
and with the exception of large woods there were few tank obstacles.
Prior to the operations the weather had been fine, but on the day of
the attack heavy rain fell and visibility was poor, a south wind of
moderate strength was blowing.

The preliminary bombardment began at 4.30 a.m., and, an hour later,
the tanks having been moved up to their starting-points without
incident, the attack was launched. The tanks advanced ahead of the
infantry, Arrachis wood was cleared and Sauvillers village attacked,
the tanks occupying this village some fifteen minutes before the
infantry arrived. At Adelpare farm and Les-Trois-Bouqueteaux the
enemy’s resistance, as far as the tanks were concerned, was light, and
the German machine-gun posts were speedily overrun. From Sauvillers
village, at zero plus two hours, the tanks advanced on to Sauvillers
wood, which, being too thick to enter, had to be skirted, broadsides
being fired into the foliage. Whilst this was proceeding other tanks
moved forward towards the Bois-de-St.-Ribert, but as the infantry
patrols did not appear they turned back to regain touch with the French
infantry. About 9.30 a.m., whilst cruising round, six tanks were put
out of action in rapid succession by direct hits fired from a battery
situated to the south of St. Ribert wood. At 9.15 a.m. an attack on
Harpon wood was hastily improvised between the O.C. B Company, 9th
Battalion, and the commander of one of the battalions of the 51st
Regiment. This attack was eminently successful; the French infantry,
following the tanks with great élan, established posts in Harpon wood.
After this action the tanks rallied.

In this attack the tank casualties were heavy in personnel: 11 officers
and men were killed and 43 wounded, and 15 tanks were put out of action
by direct hits. The losses in the French Divisions were: 3rd--26
officers and 680 men; 15th--15 officers and 500 men; 152nd--20 officers
and 650 men. It should be noted that though the 3rd, with which
tanks co-operated, had to attack the largest system of defences, its
casualties approximately equalled those of each of the other divisions.

The number of prisoners captured was 1,858, also 5 guns, 45 trench
mortars, and 275 machine guns.

After the attack, when the tanks had returned to their positions of
assembly, General Debeney, commanding the First French Army, paid the
9th Battalion the great honour of personally inspecting it on July 25,
and of expressing his extreme satisfaction at the way in which the
Battalion had fought. As a token of the fast comradeship which had now
been established between the French troops of the 3rd Division and the
9th Tank Battalion, this battalion was presented with the badge of the
3rd French Division and ever since this day the men of this unit have
worn it on their left arm.



CHAPTER XXVIII

GERMAN TANK OPERATIONS


In spite of the fact that throughout the war the Germans never had at
their disposal more than some fifteen tanks of their own manufacture
and some twenty-five captured and repaired British Mark IV machines,
their employment of these machines is worth recording.

As already mentioned the Germans learnt little from the Mark I machine
they captured and held for several days during the battle of the Somme.
In fact, they appear to have treated the tanks generally, during
these operations, with scorn. The machine was indeed mechanically
indifferent, but the German, who is essentially a stupid (_dumm_) man,
could not apparently differentiate between the defects of mechanical
detail and the advantages of fundamental principles, such as mobility,
security, and offensive power, which indeed the whole “idea” of the
tank represented.

The action at Bullecourt, it is thought, opened the German eyes to the
possibilities of a tank attack, that is an attack in which tanks are
used as the resistance-breakers in advance of the infantry. If two
tanks could accomplish what the two Mark I’s did on April 11, 1917,
there was no reason why 200 should not win a great victory, and 2,000
end the war. Be this as it may, it was at about this time--the spring
of 1917--that the first German tank construction was begun at the
Daimler works near Berlin, and the result of this was the production of
fifteen machines known as “Type A.7.V.” (see Plate VI), some of which
first took the field in March 1918.

The chief characteristics of this tank were: its good speed on smooth
ground, on which it could attain some eight miles an hour; its
inability to cross almost any type of trench or shelled ground on
account of its shape. In weight it was about 40 tons, it carried very
thick armour especially in front, capable of withstanding A.P. bullets
at close range and field-gun shells, not firing A.P. ammunition, at
long; it was, however, very vulnerable to the splash of ordinary
bullets on account of the crevices and joints in its armour. The most
interesting feature of this otherwise indifferent machine was that its
tracks were provided with sprung bogies. The use of sprung tracks in so
heavy a tank was the only progressive step shown in the German effort
at tank production.

The German tank was 24 ft. long and 10 ft. 6 in. wide; its armament
was one 1·57 mm. gun and 6 machine guns; its crew, one officer,
eleven N.C.O.s, and four private soldiers--exactly twice the strength
of the crew of a British Mark IV tank. This crew comprised three
distinct classes, drivers (mechanics), gunners (artillerymen), and
machine-gunners (infantrymen). These three classes remained distinct,
little co-operation existing between them.

Both the tanks of German manufacture and the captured British tanks
were divided into sections (Abteilungen) of five machines each, the
personnel establishment of which was as follows:

                          _German Tanks._       _Captured Tanks._
  Captain Commanding.          1                    1
  Lieuts. or 2nd Lieuts.       5                    5
  Drivers                     81                   81
  Machine-gunners             48                   20
  Artillerymen                22                   14
  Signallers                  12                   12
  Medical Corps                1                    1
  Orderlies, etc.              6                    6
                            -----                -----
              Total          176 All ranks.       140 All ranks.
                            -----                -----

This establishment was a very extravagant one when compared with
that of a Mark IV section of five tanks, namely, six officers and
thirty-five other ranks.

Besides the “A.7.V.” machines the Germans employed, during their
various offensives of 1918, a number of caterpillar ammunition carriers
known as “Munitions Schlepper,” or “Tankautos.” These could proceed
across country as well as by road.

The moral of the German Tank Corps was not high, and as regards the
personnel of the captured Mark IV Tanks it was decidedly low, the
Germans having made considerable efforts to prove to their own troops,
by means of demonstrations, that this type of tank was both vulnerable
and ineffective. The training of this Corps appears to have been
indifferent; a certain number of Assault Divisions were trained with
wagons representing tanks, and in a few cases it is believed that
actual tanks were used with infantry in combined training.

The tactics of the German tanks simply consisted in the “mopping up”
of strong points. On several occasions they did get in front of the
attacking infantry, but they do not appear in any sense to have led
the attack. The following extract from the German G.H.Q. instructions,
“The Co-operation of Infantry with Tanks” (!), indicates that no real
co-operation was ever contemplated. It reads:

  “The infantry and tanks will advance independently of one another.
  No special instructions regarding the co-operation with tanks will
  be issued. When advancing with tanks the infantry will not come
  within 160 yards of them on account of the shells which will be
  fired at the tanks.”

In all, there are nine recorded occasions upon which the Germans made
use of tanks, the first of which was in their great offensive which
opened on March 21, 1918. In this attack about ten German and ten
captured British machines were used, and although they accomplished
very little they were much written up in the German press.

[Illustration: PLATE VI

FRENCH RENAULT TANK.]

[Illustration: GERMAN TANK.]

A little over a month later, on April 24, the only successful German
tank attack during the war was carried out. On this occasion,
which has been referred to in Chapter XXVI, fourteen tanks were
brought forward, and of these twelve came into action and
captured Villers-Bretonneux, a point of great tactical importance; a
counter-attack carried out by the Australian Corps and a few British
tanks, however, restored the situation.

A month later a few tanks were used by the Germans against the French
on the opening day of the great Aisne offensive, namely May 27. None
of these machines, however, succeeded in passing a large trench in the
second defensive system known as Dardanelles trench.

On June 1, fifteen operated with little success in the Reims sector,
eight being left derelict in the French lines. Similar unsuccessful
operations were carried out on June 9 and July 15.

On August 31, three German tanks approached our lines east of Bapaume;
two were knocked out by our guns and eventually captured.

On October 8, some fifteen captured British machines were used against
us in the Cambrai sector. Of this action the German account states that
these tanks were employed defensively to fill up a gap in their line;
whether this was so or not, they undoubtedly produced a demoralising
effect amongst our own men, equilibrium only being re-established when
two of them were put out of action. Three days later, on the 11th, a
few tanks were used at St. Aubert; this was the last recorded occasion
upon which the Germans made use of tanks in the Great War.

Indifferent as were the German tank tactics as compared with our own,
one fact was most striking, this being that the British infantry no
more than the German would or could withstand a tank attack. The reason
for this is a simple one, namely, inability to do so. So pronounced
was this feeling of helplessness that when, during our own retirement
in March 1918, rumours were afloat that German tanks were approaching,
our men in several sectors of the line broke and fell back. During
the German retirement a few months later on we find exactly the same
lowering of moral by self-suggested fear, fear based on the inability
to overcome the danger. This moral effect produced by the tank was
appreciated by the Germans, for in a note issued by the XVIIth German
Army we find:

  “Our own tanks strengthen the moral of the infantry to a tremendous
  extent, even if employed only in small numbers, and experience has
  shown that they have a considerable demoralising effect on the
  hostile infantry.”



CHAPTER XXIX

THE BATTLE OF AMIENS


On July 15 the renewed German offensive on the Château-Thierry--Reims
front had been launched and failed. Strategically and tactically placed
in as unenviable a position as any army well could be, the Crown
Prince’s forces received a staggering blow on the 18th, when Marshal
Foch launched his great tank counter-attack against the western flank
of the Soissons salient.

At the time of this attack the brigades of the Tank Corps were
distributed defensively along the First, Third, and Fourth Army
fronts, in order to meet by counter-attacks any renewal of the enemy’s
offensive against these Armies.

Ever since the dramatic _coup-de-main_ accomplished on July 4 by the
4th Australian Division and the 5th Tank Brigade in the battle of
Hamel, the general interest in tanks had become much more conspicuous.
The great tank attack at the battle of Cambrai, convincing in worth as
it was to all who had taken part in it, had been somewhat discredited
by the recent German offensive on the Somme front, which was seized
upon by certain soldiers of the old school to reinforce their
assertion--that the day of the tank had come and gone, and that to
fight a second battle of Cambrai was too great a gamble to be worth
risking. Now a series of projects were asked for which embraced various
areas of operation; in the Fourth Army against the Amiens salient; in
the Third Army against Bucquoy and Bapaume; in the First Army against
the Merville salient and in the Second against Kemmel hill. The only
one of these projects which offered prospects of a decisive success was
the first.

On July 13 the Fourth Army Commander was asked by G.H.Q. to submit a
scheme for an attack on his front. This was done on the 17th, when
a limited operation, with the object of capturing the Amiens outer
defence line, running from Castel through Caix to Mericourt, was
outlined. The force suggested for this attack was three corps and eight
battalions of tanks. On the 21st a conference was held at the Fourth
Army headquarters at Flixecourt when, on the suggestion of the Tank
Corps, the number of tank battalions was raised from eight to twelve;
this comprised the whole Tank Corps less the 1st Tank Brigade, which
was still armed with Mark IV machines, and which at this time was
engaged in training its personnel on the Mark V tank.

On July 27, zero day was fixed for the 10th, but on August 6 this was
changed to the 8th. All this time, in order to maintain secrecy, no
mention of the impending attack was permitted, and the only preparation
which could be undertaken was to send one officer of the Tank Corps
General Staff to the area of operations to study the ground. On July 30
a conference was held at the 5th Tank Brigade headquarters at Vaux, at
which the Fourth Army Commander explained the plan of operations. From
this day on preparations were begun, the railway moves being issued the
same evening.

As already stated, the original proposal was a limited operation, the
centre of the attack being carried out by the Canadian and Australian
Corps. The right of the Canadians was to be covered by the French
First Army attacking east and south-east of the Luce river. The left
of the Australians was to be protected by two divisions of the IIIrd
Corps operating towards Bray. On July 29 the scope of the operation was
extended as follows:

To disengage the Amiens-Paris railway by occupying the line
Hangest--Harbonnières--Mericourt.

To advance to the line Roye--Chaulnes, driving the enemy towards
Ham, and so facilitate the advance of the French on the line
Noyon-Montdidier.

The force placed at the disposal of the Fourth Army consisted of the
following Corps:

  (i) The Canadian Corps--4 divisions.

  (ii) The Australian Corps--4 divisions.

  (iii) The IIIrd Corps--2 divisions.

  (iv) General Reserve--3 divisions, to be supplemented by further
  divisions as soon as possible.

  (v) The Cavalry Corps--3 cavalry divisions.

Tank battalions were allotted to the 3 infantry corps as follows:

  (i) Canadian Corps, 4th Tank Brigade--1st, 4th, 5th, and 14th
  Battalions.

  (ii) Australian Corps--5th Tank Brigade--2nd, 8th, 13th, and 15th
  Battalions.

  (iii) IIIrd Corps--10th Battalion.

  (iv) General Reserve--9th Battalion (still refitting at Cavillon).

  (v) Cavalry Corps. 3rd Tank Brigade--3rd and 6th Battalions.

The 3rd and 6th Battalions were equipped with 48 Whippet tanks each;
all the other battalions were heavy units equipped with 42 Mark V
machines each (36 fighting and 6 training tanks), except the 1st and
15th Battalions, which were each equipped with 36 Mark V One Star
machines.

As in the battle of Cambrai the initiation of the attack was to depend
on the tanks, no artillery registration or bombardment being permitted
prior to the assault. In all, some 82 brigades of field artillery,
26 brigades of heavy artillery, and 13 batteries of heavy guns and
howitzers were to be employed. The following is a summary of the
artillery instructions:

  (i) No artillery bombardment.

  (ii) The initial attack to be opened by a barrage at zero.

  (iii) The majority of the heavy guns and howitzers to concentrate
  on counter-battery work.

  (iv) The field-artillery brigades to be prepared to move forward
  and offer the closest support to the attacking infantry.

  (v) Special noise barrages to cover the approach of the tanks.

The first object of the Cavalry Corps was to secure the old Amiens
defence line and hold it until relieved by infantry units. The second,
to push forward on the line Roye--Chaulnes. For this purpose the 3rd
Cavalry Division with one battalion of Whippets was placed under the
command of the Canadian Corps, and one cavalry brigade, supported by
one company of Whippets, under that of the Australian Corps.

On July 30, the date on which preparations were begun, the Tank Corps
was distributed as follows:

  _1st Tank Brigade_         7th Battalion      Merlimont.
    H.Q. Estruvalle         11th     „          Merlimont.
                            12th     „          Merlimont.
  _2nd Tank Brigade_        10th     „          Bouvigny.
    H.Q. Bois D’Ohlain      14th     „          Mont St. Eloi.
                            15th     „          Simencourt.
  _3rd Tank Brigade_         3rd     „          Toutencourt.
    H.Q. Wavrans             6th     „          Merlimont.
  _4th Tank Brigade_         1st     „          Coullemont.
    H.Q. Couturelle          4th     „          La Cauchie.
                             5th     „          Bailleulval.
  _5th Tank Brigade_         2nd     „          Querrieu wood.
    H.Q. Vaux                8th     „          Blangy (east of Amiens).
                            13th     „          St. Gratien (near to).
                             9th     „          Cavillon.

In order to facilitate co-operation and staff work it was decided
to break up temporarily the 2nd Tank Brigade and to allot the 10th
Battalion to the IIIrd Corps and the 14th and 15th Battalions to the
4th and 5th Tank Brigades respectively. Besides these units five Supply
and Gun Carrier Companies were allotted for the transport of tank and
infantry supplies.

[Illustration: PLATE VII

GUN-CARRIER.]

[Illustration: MARK V STAR TANK (FEMALE).]

Briefly the general preparations were carried out as follows: the 1st,
4th, 5th, 10th, 14th, and 15th Battalions were concentrated by rail
in the Fourth Army area, detraining at Poulainville, Saleux, Prouzel,
and Vignacourt between July 31 and August 5. The 3rd and 6th Whippet
Battalions moved to Naours by the night of August 2-3, and thence to
the Boulevard Pont-Noyelles in Amiens on the night of the 6th-7th,
where they lay hid under the trees. Tanks were got ready commencing on
July 31, on which date the formation of supply dumps was begun. The 9th
Battalion, which had been withdrawn to Cavillon after the battle of
Moreuil, was allotted to the Canadian Corps for training; the training
of the Australian Corps continuing as heretofore at Vaux. Considering
the short time available for preparation the speed with which this
great battle was mounted redounds to the credit of all ranks taking
part in it. It was a triumph of good staff work.

The detailed preparations of the four groups of tanks--3rd, 4th, and
5th Brigades, and the 10th Battalion, are interesting and were as
follows:

_Fourth Tank Brigade._--This brigade established its advanced
headquarters at Dury. Its battalions were distributed as follows:
the 1st, 4th, 5th, and 15th Battalions to the 4th, 1st, 3rd, and 2nd
Canadian Divisions respectively.

No. 3 Tank Supply Company was split up amongst the divisions of
the Canadian Corps; three forward wireless stations were arranged
for as well as one back receiving station; assembly positions and
rallying-points were fixed, and the 2nd Tank Field Company was
detailed, once the battle began, to clear all obstacles off the
Berteaucourt-Thennes road and to prepare crossings over the Luce river
between Hangard and Demuin.

The plan of the Canadian Corps attack was as follows:

The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Canadian Divisions were to make good the Red Line
on zero day, except the left of the 2nd Division, which was to push on
and occupy the Blue Line. The advance of the 3rd Canadian Division was
timed to start at zero plus four hours, the time it was considered the
initial attack would leave the Green Line. The 4th Canadian Division
was to follow the 1st and 3rd to the Blue Line and then to the line
Moreuil--Demuin--Marcelcave. The 1st Tank Battalion was allotted to
this division, and arrangements were made for each of its tanks to
carry forward two Lewis and two Vickers gun-teams besides the crew,
these units being intended to assist the cavalry on the Blue Dotted
Line. Besides the above an independent force, consisting chiefly of
Canadian motor machine guns, was to operate down the Roye road.

_Fifth Tank Brigade._--The 5th Tank Brigade established its advanced
headquarters at Hospice Fouilloy with a report centre at the north-west
corner of Kate wood. Its battalions were distributed as follows: the
2nd Battalion and one company of the 13th Battalion to the 2nd and 5th
Australian Divisions; the 13th Battalion less one company to the 3rd
Australian Division; the 8th Battalion to the 4th; the 15th Battalion
was split into halves of eighteen tanks each, one half operating with
the 4th and the other with the 5th Australian Divisions.

As regards supply arrangements, No. 1 Gun Carrier Company was allotted
to the Australian Corps for transport work. Two forward wireless
stations and one back receiving station were fixed, and assembly and
rallying-points settled.

The general plan was that the tanks were to advance to the first
objective under an artillery barrage. On reaching the second objective
all tanks were to rally except those of the 15th Battalion, which were
to push on to the Blue Dotted Line carrying machine-gunners forward.

_Tenth Battalion._--The whole of the tanks of the 10th Battalion, less
one section, were to operate against the first objective and then push
on to the second, after which they were to rally west of the first
objective.

_Third Tank Brigade._--The 3rd Tank Battalion was allotted to the
3rd Cavalry Division and the 6th Tank Battalion to the 1st Cavalry
Division. The objective of these two battalions was to secure the area
between the Red Line and the old Amiens defence line. The advance of
the 3rd and 1st Cavalry Divisions was to take place at zero plus four
hours. Before the Red Line was reached the cavalry scouts were to
precede the Whippet tanks and discover crossings over the Luce river at
Ignaucourt and Demuin. If crossings were found the Whippets were to use
them; otherwise they were to advance eastwards near Caix. The formation
to be adopted by these two battalions was one company to act as a
screen in front of the cavalry with 200 yards interval between tanks,
one company in support, and one company in reserve.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF AMIENS August 8th 1918.]

The country between our front line and the line Roye--Frise was in
every respect suitable to tank movement. East of the Roye--Frise line
began the French portion of the old Somme battlefield; the ground here
in places had been heavily shelled, but was quite negotiable by heavy
tanks. The flanks of the attack were the two difficult points. Neither
permitted of the use of offensive wings and both offered good defensive
positions for the enemy’s machine-gunners.

Zero was at 4.45 a.m., when 415 fighting tanks out of 420[32] went into
action; this in itself was a notable feat of mechanical efficiency.
The attack was an overwhelming surprise and, though the enemy was
holding his line in strength, little opposition was met with except
in a few localities. At the battles of Hamel and Moreuil the German
machine-gunners had learnt to appreciate what the increased mobility of
the Mark V tank enabled it to accomplish, and not being anxious to be
crushed under its thirty tons of steel they gave less trouble during
this battle than on any previous occasion. In spite of this, many
hostile machine-gun posts were hunted out of the standing corn and run
over. Co-operation was throughout good, especially on the Canadian and
Australian fronts, where the attack swept on irresistibly. On the IIIrd
Corps front the attack started in a state of some confusion, due to the
fog and the uncertain state of the line, the Germans having attacked
the IIIrd Corps on the 6th, and the IIIrd Corps having retaken most of
their lost trenches on the 7th. This undoubtedly complicated the attack
on the 8th.

South of the river Somme all objectives were taken up to time; on the
right flank the difficult valley of the Luce was crossed by all except
two tanks; this was a high compliment to the crews working on this
flank, for the approach of the tanks was rendered most difficult on
account of fog.

Both battalions of Whippets were engaged with their respective
cavalry divisions and had a considerable amount of fighting to do in
the neighbourhood of Cayeux wood, Le Quesnel, east of Mezières, at
Guillaucourt and the railway south of Harbonnières, which was held with
great determination by the enemy as far as the Rosières-Vauvillers road.

During this day’s fighting a total of 100 machines were temporarily
put out of action chiefly by the enemy’s fire from the Chipilly ridge,
which, on account of the partial failure of the IIIrd Corps attack, was
held by the enemy for several days after August 8. On the evening of
the 8th the tanks rallied; the crews, however, were so exhausted by the
great distance covered, the maximum penetration effected being about
7½ miles, and the heat of the day, that it was necessary to resort to
the formation of composite companies for the next day’s operation, few
reserves remaining in hand, and the 9th Tank Battalion, which was now
moving eastwards from Cavillon, was not in a position to take the field
for at least forty-eight hours.

On the night of August 8-9, the front line of our attack from north
to south ran approximately as follows: along the outer Amiens defence
line to Proyart--west of Rainecourt--east of Vauvillers--east of
Rosières--east of Meharicourt--east of Rouvroy--east of Bouchoir. South
of the Amiens-Roye road the line was continued by the French, who had
captured Hangest, Arvillers, and Pierrepont.

Up to 6 o’clock on the morning of August 9, some 16,000 prisoners had
passed through the British and French cages, and over 200 guns had been
counted. Many prisoners testified to the rapid advance of the tanks
which, appearing suddenly out of the mist, rendered all resistance
useless. It is interesting to record that those prisoners who had seen
tanks before all noticed that they were up against a new type which
moved faster and manœuvred better than the old ones.

On the evening of the 8th orders were issued that the attack should be
resumed on the following morning with a view to advancing it to the
line Roye--Chaulnes--Bray-sur-Somme--Dernancourt, particular attention
being paid to the left flank. A strong position was to be established
north of the Somme in order to form a defensive flank to the Fourth
Army.

On August 9, north of the Somme, the 10th Battalion put sixteen tanks
into action with the 12th and 58th Divisions. The attack was, however,
at first held up by machine-gun fire from the woods round Chipilly, and
the work entailed in engaging these weapons by means of tanks was found
most difficult on account of the steep valleys in this sector and the
close nature of the woods. Later on in the day, objectives were gained,
but only after five tanks had been put out of action.

South of the Somme the 5th and 4th Tank Brigades attacked the front
Framerville-Rosières-Bouchoir with 89 tanks. Near Lihons five machines
received direct hits, but in the action round Framerville out of the
13 tanks engaged only 1 was hit. The fewness of tank casualties here
was undoubtedly due to the excellent infantry co-operation, riflemen
working hand-in-hand with the tanks and picking off the enemy’s gunners
directly the machines came under hostile artillery observation.

The 3rd Tank Brigade’s action with the Cavalry Corps was disappointing,
the tanks being kept too long at their Brigade Headquarters. At
Beaufort and Warvillers the Whippets rendered great assistance to
the infantry by chasing hostile machine-gunners out of the crops and
shooting them down as they fled.

On this day in all 145 tanks went into action, of which 39 were hit by
hostile gun fire.

On the night of August 9-10, the attack had reached the line
Bouchoir--Warvillers--Rosières--Framerville--Mericourt. On the 10th
the Fourth Army orders were to continue the advance with the object of
gaining the general line Roye--Chaulnes--Bray-sur-Somme--Dernancourt.
New French forces were also going to attack on the front south of
Montdidier.

On the morning of August 10 the 10th Battalion co-operated in two small
attacks carried out by the 12th Division. Seven tanks took part and
attacked the enemy north of Morlancourt and along the Bray-Corbie road.
This was the last action fought on this front by this battalion.

South of this, the 5th Tank Brigade carried out a minor night operation
against Proyart, and the 4th Tank Brigade with 43 tanks supported the
32nd Division, fresh from the general reserve, and the 4th Canadian
Division in an attack on the line Roye--Hattencourt--Hallu; owing
to the late issue of orders, the hour of attack was altered, and
eventually the advance took place in daylight without smoke. A stubborn
resistance was met with, and out of the 43 tanks operating no fewer
than 23 received direct hits.

The Whippets with the cavalry fared equally badly on this day. They
were ordered to capture Parvillers, but neither the cavalry nor
Whippets reached this spot owing to the old trench systems and the
broken nature of the ground. The edge of the old Somme battlefield had
now been reached, and the time was rapidly approaching when the shelled
area would offer as great an obstacle to the attack as it would an
assistance to the retiring enemy.

During the 10th some 67 tanks in all were engaged, and of these 30
received direct hits.

On August 11 no appreciable change took place on the British front.
Lihons was, however, captured by the 1st Australian Division, assisted
by ten tanks of the 2nd Battalion, otherwise most of the tank
operations consisted in mopping up strong points. On the evening of
this day the 4th and 5th Tank Brigades were withdrawn from action to
refit.

During the next few days it was decided that, whilst pressure should be
kept up south of the Somme, a new battle should open to the north of
this river on the Third Army front, and that three Tank Brigades should
co-operate in this attack; this necessitated the transfer of the 4th
Tank Brigade to the IIIrd Corps north of the Somme and the withdrawal
of the 10th, 14th, and 15th Battalions from the Fourth Army area; this
left the 4th Tank Brigade with the 1st, 4th, and 5th Battalions, and
the 5th Tank Brigade with the 2nd, 8th, and 13th Battalions.

On August 17 the general situation was as follows: A total of 688
tanks had been in action on August 8, 9, 10, and 11; 480 machines
had been handed over to Salvage; very few of the remaining machines
were actually fit for a lengthy action, and all required a thorough
overhaul; four days, as we shall see, were only possible for this, for
the next battle was scheduled to open on August 21.

The great battle of Amiens was now at an end. A tremendous physical,
and above all, moral blow had been dealt the enemy; not only had he
lost 22,000 prisoners and 400 guns, but also all hope of winning the
war by force of arms. On August 16 the Fourth Army Commander, General
Sir Henry Rawlinson, issued the following Special Order, which sums up
the reason for this great victory:

  “The success of the operations of August 8 and succeeding days was
  largely due to the conspicuous part played by the 3rd, 4th, and
  5th Brigades of the Tank Corps, and I desire to place on record my
  sincere appreciation of the invaluable services rendered both by
  the Mark V and the Mark V Star and the Whippets.

  “The task of secretly assembling so large a number of tanks
  entailed very hard and continuous work by all concerned for four or
  five nights previous to the battle.

  “The tactical handling of the tanks in action made calls on the
  skill and physical endurance of the detachments which were met with
  by a gallantry and devotion beyond all praise.

  “I desire to place on record my appreciation of the splendid
  success that they achieved, and heartily to congratulate the Tank
  Corps as a whole on the completeness of their arrangements and the
  admirable prowess exhibited by all ranks actually engaged on this
  occasion.

  “There are many vitally important lessons to be learned from
  their experiences. These will, I trust, be taken to heart by all
  concerned and made full use of when next the Tank Corps is called
  upon to go into battle.

  “The part played by the tanks and Whippets in the battle of August
  8 was in all respects a very fine performance.”

The success of the operations may be attributed to--surprise, the
moral effect of the tanks, the high moral of our own infantry, the
rapid advance of our guns, and the good roads for supplies.

The main deductions to be drawn from this battle are:

(i) That once preparations are well in progress it is almost impossible
to modify them to meet any change in objective.

(ii) That the staying power of an attack lies in the general reserve.
In this attack the tank general reserve was very weak, consequently
after August 8 tank attacks began to “peter out.”

(iii) That the heavy tank is an assault weapon. Its role is in trench
warfare. Once open warfare is entered on infantry must protect tanks
from artillery fire.

(iv) That the endurance in action of heavy tanks may, at present, be
put down as being three days, after which they require overhaul.

(v) That the supply tank is too slow and heavy; a light machine such as
a cross-country tractor should replace it.

(vi) That at present wireless and aeroplane communications cannot be
relied upon; the safest means of communication and the simplest is by
galloper.

(vii) That the attachment of tanks to cavalry is not a success; for,
in this battle, each of these arms in many ways impeded rather than
helped the other. During the approach marches the Whippets frequently
were reported to have been unable to keep up with the rapid movement of
the cavalry; during actual fighting the reverse took place. By noon on
August 8, great confusion was developing behind the enemy’s lines, by
this time the Whippets should have been operating five to ten miles in
advance of the infantry, accentuating this demoralisation. As it was,
being tied down to support the cavalry, they were a long way behind
the infantry advance, the reason being that as cavalry cannot make
themselves invisible on the battlefield by throwing themselves flat
on the ground as infantry can, they had to retire either to a flank
or to the rear to avoid being exterminated by machine-gun fire. Close
co-operation between cavalry and tanks being, therefore, practically
impossible, both suffered by attempting to accomplish it.

The outstanding lesson of the battle of Amiens as far as tanks are
concerned is that neither the Mark V nor the Whippet machine has
sufficient speed for open warfare. Had we possessed a machine which
could have moved at an average rate of ten miles an hour, which had
a radius of action of 100 or more miles, in this battle we should
have not only occupied the bridges across the Somme between Peronne
and Ham by noon on August 8, but, by wheeling south-east towards
Noyon, we should have cut off the entire German forces south of
the Amiens--Roye--Noyon road and inflicted such a blow that in all
probability the war would have ended before the month was out. Both
from the positive and negative standpoint, this battle may be summed up
as “a triumph of machine-power over man-power,” or, if preferred, “of
petrol over muscle.”



CHAPTER XXX

THE FIGHT OF A WHIPPET TANK


In this history space has forbidden any extensive reference to
individual tank actions, though when all is said and done it was on
these actions that not only was the efficiency of the Tank Corps
founded but victory itself.

Prior to the battle of Amiens it will be remembered that the 3rd and
6th Whippet Battalions were allotted to work with the Cavalry Corps,
and that this did not prove a great success owing to the difficulty of
combining the action of steel mechanically driven with horseflesh. The
account of the action given below is that of a single machine, working
well in advance of the attack against the enemy’s communications, as it
is and was considered at the time in the Tank Corps that all the light
tanks should have been. This account is so interesting and instructive
that it is quoted in full. The pluck shown by the crew of one officer
and two men, though not exceptional in the Tank Corps, is worthy of the
highest praise. These three men, like the Argonauts of old, launched
their landship on an expedition faced by unknown dangers; they fought
their way through countless odds and faced single-handed the whole
of the rear of the German Army. But for an unfortunate accident they
might have returned unscathed to safety. In spite of the misfortune
which eventually overtook them, at the lowest computation they must
have inflicted 200 casualties on the enemy, and at the price of one man
killed.

If still there are to be found doubters in the power of the tank, and
in the superiority of mechanical warfare over muscular, surely this
heroic incident will alone suffice to convince them:

  “On August 8, 1918, I commanded Whippet tank ‘Musical Box,’
  belonging to ‘B’ Company of the 6th Battalion. We left the lying-up
  point at zero (4.20 a.m.) and proceeded across country to the south
  side of the railway at Villers-Bretonneux. We crossed the railway
  in column of sections, by the bridge on the eastern outskirts of
  the town. I reached the British front line and passed through the
  Australian infantry (2nd Australian Division) and some of our heavy
  tanks (Mark V), in company with the remainder of the Whippets of
  ‘B’ Company. Four sections of ‘B’ Company proceeded parallel with
  the railway (Amiens--Ham) across country due east. After proceeding
  about 2,000 yards in this direction, I found myself to be the
  leading machine, owing to the others having become ditched. To
  my immediate front I could see more Mark V tanks being followed
  very closely by Australian infantry. About this time we came under
  direct shell fire from a four-gun field battery, of which I could
  see the flashes, between Abancourt and Bayonvillers. Two Mark V
  tanks, 150 yards on my right front, were knocked out. I saw clouds
  of smoke coming out of these machines, and the crews evacuate them.
  The infantry following the heavy machines were suffering casualties
  from this battery. I turned half left and ran diagonally across
  the front of the battery, at a distance of about 600 yards. Both
  my guns were able to fire on the battery, in spite of which they
  got off about eight rounds at me without damage, but sufficiently
  close to be audible inside the cab, and I could see the flash of
  each gun as it fired. By this time I had passed behind a belt of
  trees running along a roadside. I ran along this belt until level
  with the battery, when I turned full right and engaged the battery
  in rear. On observing our appearance from the belt of trees, the
  gunners, some thirty in number, abandoned their guns and tried to
  get away. Gunner Ribbans and I accounted for the whole lot.[33] I
  cruised forward, making a detour to the left, and shot a number
  of the enemy who appeared to be demoralised, and were moving
  about the country in all directions. This detour brought me back
  to the railway siding N.N.W. of Guillaucourt. I could now see
  other Whippets coming up and a few Mark V.s also. The Australian
  infantry, who followed magnificently, had now passed through the
  battery position which we had accounted for and were lying in a
  sunken road about 400 yards past the battery and slightly to the
  left of it. I got out of my machine and went to an Australian full
  lieutenant and asked if he wanted any help. Whilst talking to
  him, he received a bullet which struck the metal shoulder title,
  a piece of the bullet casing entering his shoulder. While he was
  being dressed, Major Rycroft,[34] on horseback, and Lieutenant
  Waterhouse, in a tank, and Captain Strachan of ‘B’ Company, 6th
  Battalion, arrived and received confirmation from the Australian
  officer of our having knocked out the field battery. I told Major
  Rycroft what we had done, and then moved off again at once, as
  it appeared to be unwise for four machines (Lieutenant Watkins
  had also arrived) to remain stationary at one spot. I proceeded
  parallel with the railway embankment in an easterly direction,
  passing through two cavalry patrols of about twelve men each.
  The first patrol was receiving casualties from a party of enemy
  in a field of corn. I dealt with this, killing three or four,
  the remainder escaping out of sight into the corn. Proceeding
  further east, I saw the second patrol pursuing six enemy. The
  leading horse was so tired that he was not gaining appreciably
  on the rearmost Hun. Some of the leading fugitives turned about
  and fired at the cavalryman, when his sword was stretched out and
  practically touching the back of the last Hun. Horse and rider
  were brought down on the left of the road. The remainder of the
  cavalrymen deployed to the right, coming in close under the railway
  embankment, where they dismounted and came under fire from the
  enemy, who had now taken up a position on the railway bridge, and
  were firing over the parapet, inflicting one or two casualties. I
  ran the machine up until we had a clear view of the bridge, and
  killed four of the enemy with one long burst, the other two running
  across the bridge and so down the opposite slope out of sight. On
  our left I could see, about three-quarters of a mile away, a train
  on fire being towed by an engine. I proceeded further east still
  parallel to the railway, and approached carefully a small valley
  marked on my map as containing Boche hutments. As I entered the
  valley (between Bayonvillers and Harbonnières) at right angles,
  many enemy were visible packing kits and others retiring. On our
  opening fire on the nearest, many others appeared from huts, making
  for the end of the valley, their object being to get over the
  embankment and so out of our sight. We accounted for many of these.
  I cruised round, Ribbans went into one of the huts and returned,
  and we counted about sixty dead and wounded. There were evidences
  of shell fire amongst the huts, but we certainly accounted for most
  of the casualties counted there. I turned left from the railway
  and cruised across country, as lines of enemy infantry could be
  seen retiring. We fired at these many times at ranges of 200 yards
  to 600 yards. These targets were fleeting, owing to the enemy
  getting down into the corn when fired on. In spite of this, many
  casualties must have been inflicted, as we cruised up and down for
  at least an hour. I did not see any more of our troops or machines
  after leaving the cavalry patrols already referred to. During the
  cruising, being the only machine to get through, we invariably
  received intense rifle and machine-gun fire. I would here beg to
  suggest that no petrol be carried on the outside of the machine, as
  under orders we were carrying nine tins of petrol on the roof,[35]
  for refilling purposes when well into the enemy lines (should
  opportunity occur). The perforated tins allowed the petrol to run
  all over the cab. These fumes, combined with the intense bullet
  splash and the great heat after being in action (by this time) nine
  to ten hours, made it necessary at this point to breathe through
  the mouthpiece of the box respirator, without actually wearing the
  mask.

  “At 14.00 hours, or thereabouts, I again proceeded east, parallel
  to the railway and about 100 yards north of it. I could see a large
  aerodrome and also an observation balloon at a height of about 200
  ft. I could also see great quantities of motor and horse transport
  moving in all directions. Over the top of another bridge on my left
  I could see the cover of a lorry coming in my direction. I moved
  up out of sight and waited until he topped the bridge, when I shot
  the driver. The lorry ran into a right-hand ditch. The railway had
  now come out of the cutting in which it had rested all the while,
  and I could see both sides of it. I could see a long line of men
  retiring on both sides of the railway, and fired at these at ranges
  of 400 yards to 500 yards, inflicting heavy casualties. I passed
  through these and also accounted for one horse and the driver of
  a two-horse canvas-covered wagon on the far side of the railway.
  We now crossed a small road which crossed the main railway, and
  came in view of a large horse and wagon lines, which ran across
  the railway and close to it. Gunner Ribbans (right-hand gun) here
  had a view of the south side of railway, and fired continuously
  into motor and horse transport moving on three roads (one north
  and south, one almost parallel to the railway, and one diagonally
  between these two). I fired many bursts at 600 yards to 800 yards
  at transport blocking roads on my left, causing great confusion.
  Rifle and machine-gun fire was not heavy at this time, owing to
  our sudden appearance, as the roads were all banked up in order to
  cross the railway. There were about twelve men in the middle aisle
  of these lines. I fired a long burst at these. Some went down and
  others got in amongst the wheels and undergrowth. I turned quarter
  left towards a small copse, where there were more horses and men,
  about 200 yards away. On the way across we met the most intense
  rifle and machine-gun fire imaginable, from all sides. When at
  all possible we returned the fire, until the left-hand revolver
  port cover was shot away. I withdrew the forward gun, locked the
  mounting, and held the body of the gun against the hole. Petrol
  was still running down the inside of the back door. Fumes and heat
  combined were very bad. We were still moving forward, and I was
  shouting to Driver Carney to turn about as it was impossible to
  continue the action, when two heavy concussions closely followed
  one another and the cab burst into flames. Carney and Ribbans got
  to the door and collapsed. I was almost overcome, but managed to
  get the door open and fell out on to the ground, and was able to
  drag out the other two men. Burning petrol was running on to the
  ground where we were lying. The fresh air revived us and we all got
  up and made a short rush to get away from the burning petrol. We
  were all on fire. In this rush Carney was shot in the stomach and
  killed. We rolled over and over to try to extinguish the flames.
  I saw numbers of the enemy approaching from all round. The first
  arrival came for me with a rifle and bayonet. I got hold of this
  and the point of the bayonet entered my right forearm. The second
  man struck at my head with the butt end of his rifle, hit my
  shoulder and neck, and knocked me down. When I came to, there were
  dozens all round me, and anyone who could reach me did so, and I
  was well kicked; they were furious. Ribbans and I were taken away
  and stood by ourselves about twenty yards clear of the crowd. An
  argument ensued, and we were eventually marched to a dugout where
  paper bandages were put on our hands. Our faces were left as they
  were. We were then marched down the road to the main railway. There
  we joined a party of about eight enemy, and marched past a field
  kitchen where I sighed for food. We had had nothing since 8.30 p.m.
  on the night previous to the action and it was 3.30 p.m. when we
  were set on fire. We went on to a village where, on my intelligence
  map, a Divisional H.Q. had been marked. An elderly stout officer
  interrogated me, asking if I was an officer. I said ‘Yes.’ He then
  asked various other questions, to which I replied, ‘I do not know.’
  He said, ‘Do you mean you do not know or you will not tell me?’
  I said, ‘You can take it whichever way you wish.’ He then struck
  me in the face and went away. We went on to Chaulnes to a canvas
  hospital, on the right side of the railway, where I was injected
  with anti-tetanus. Later I was again interrogated with the same
  result as above, except that instead of being struck, I received
  five days’ solitary confinement in a room with no window and only a
  small piece of bread and a bowl of soup each day. On the fifth day
  I was again interrogated, and said the same as before. I said that
  he had no right to give me solitary confinement and that unless I
  were released I should, at the first opportunity, report him to
  the highest possible authority. The next day I was sent away and
  eventually reached the camp at Freiburg, where I found my brother,
  Captain A. E. Arnold, M.C., Tank Corps. The conduct of Gunner
  Ribbans and Driver Carney was beyond all praise throughout. Driver
  Carney drove from Villers-Bretonneux onwards.”[36]

      (Signed) C. B. ARNOLD, _Lieut._,
                _6th Tank Battalion_,

  _January 1, 1919_.



CHAPTER XXXI

GERMAN APPRECIATION OF BRITISH TANKS


The tardy development of both tanks and anti-tank defences has been
referred to; from this it is evident that the Germans did not take
kindly to the tank idea. In the tank they apparently only saw a
cumbersome machine, a land Merrimac; they were unable to read the
writing in iron or to understand the message that this machine brought
with it on to every battlefield, namely, “the doom to all muscular
warfare.” Why they took so little interest in tanks may have been due
to the feeling that time lacked for their development; it may have been
due to the extremely low opinion held by the German Higher Command of
our generalship, which prejudiced them against a purely British idea.
These, however, are trivial reasons, and there must have been a deeper
and broader foundation to their prejudice. The two following extracts
from documents issued by the German General Staff appear to supply the
real reason:

(i) From an account of the German offensive of 1918:

  “The use of 300 British tanks at Cambrai (1917) was a battle of
  matériel.... The German Higher Command decided, from the very
  outset, not to fight a battle of matériel.”

(ii) From an order issued by the German G.H.Q., similar to many others
issued during the war:

  “The Higher Command is continually hearing that men who are
  classified as ‘fit for garrison duty’ are of the opinion that there
  is no need for them to fight and that officers hesitate to demand
  that they should do so. This totally erroneous assumption must be
  definitely and rigorously stamped out. Men in the field who are
  classified as fit for garrison or labour duties, but who can carry
  a rifle, must fight.”

Such was the German tactical policy: masses of men rather than
efficiency of weapons, quantity of flesh rather than quality of steel.

The policy of drafting into first-line formations men who could only
just carry a rifle began in 1915. Since this date it was the constant
complaint of the German regimental officer that he was obliged “to
carry” in his unit an ever-increasing number of useless men--men who,
for physical or moral reasons, were unfit to fight, who never intended
to fight, and who never did fight.

The best men went to the machine-gun units and to the assault troops.
In many cases the remainder of the infantry were of little fighting
value, though many of these men might otherwise have been usefully
employed in a war, which if not one of matériel, was at least one in
which economic factors such as man-power played an important part.

By abiding by this policy of “cannon-fodder” the German Higher Command
was able to look at an order of battle totalling some 250 divisions--on
paper a terrific muscular force. Being pledged to a policy of employing
masses of men for fighting, the Germans were not in a position to find
labour for the construction of additional weapons such as tanks. It now
seems clear that this policy, at least as far as tanks were concerned,
was regretted before the end of the war, as the following extracts and
quotations will show:

In July 1918 General Ludendorff wrote: “In all the open-warfare
questions in the course of their great defensive between the Marne and
the Vesle, the French were only able to obtain one initial tactical
success due to surprise, namely, that of July 18, 1918. It is to the
tanks that the enemy owes his success.” A similar remark was made in
an order of the LIst Corps on July 23, 1918: “As soon as the tanks are
destroyed the whole attack fails.”

The tank victory at the battle of Amiens brought forth a rich crop of
appreciative comments from the Germans. Ludendorff on August 11 wrote:

  “Staff officers sent from G.H.Q. report that the reasons for the
  defeat of the Second Army are as follows: ‘The fact that the troops
  were surprised by the massed attack of tanks, and lost their
  heads when the tanks suddenly appeared behind them, having broken
  through under cover of natural and artificial fog ... the fact that
  the artillery allotted to reserve infantry units ... was wholly
  insufficient to establish fresh resistance ... against the enemy
  who had broken through and against his tanks.’”

A 21st Infantry Divisional Order dated August 15 contained the
following:

  “Recent fighting has shown that our infantry is capable of
  repelling an unsupported hostile infantry attack and is not
  dependent on our protective barrage.

  “On the other hand, a massed tank attack, as put in by the enemy
  during the recent fighting, requires stronger artillery defensive
  measures.

  “The duty of the infantry is to keep the enemy advancing under
  cover of the tanks (whether infantry, cavalry, or aeroplanes) away
  from our artillery in order to give the latter freedom of action in
  its main rôle, viz.: the engagement of tanks.”

This clear statement that the main duty of the artillery has become
the engagement of tanks is noteworthy, especially when compared with
previous orders which stated that the allotment of artillery to tank
defences must not interfere with defensive barrages and counter-battery
work.

This document continues:

  “Counter-attacks against hostile infantry supported by tanks do not
  offer any chances of success and demand unnecessary sacrifices;
  they must, therefore, only be launched if the tanks have been put
  out of action.”

Thus two of the mainstays of the former German defence, _i.e._ “the
protective barrage” and “the immediate counter-attack,” were abandoned
in the event of tank attacks.

Yet one more order is interesting, that issued on August 12 to the
Crown Prince’s Group of Armies:

  “G.H.Q. reports that during the recent fighting on the fronts of
  the Second and Eighteenth Armies, large numbers of tanks broke
  through on narrow fronts, and pushing straight forward, rapidly
  attacked battery positions and the Headquarters of Divisions.

  “In many cases no defence could be made in time against the tanks,
  which attacked them from all sides.

  “Anti-tank defence must now be developed to deal with such
  situations.”

“Messages concerning tanks will have priority over all other messages
or calls whatsoever” is the last extract we will here quote, this
order being sent out on September 8, 1918. These few words alone are
sufficient to show that the enemy at last had awakened to the danger of
the tank and was now making frenzied efforts to organise, at all costs,
an efficient anti-tank defence.

It was now no longer the pluck of our Royal Air Force, the courage
of our infantry, or the masses of our shells, it was the tank which
threatened the German with destruction and against which he now
concentrated all his energy. These efforts were, however, so belated
that even the schemes and orders issued were contradictory and lacking
in co-ordination; the actual practice was, needless to say, still more
diverse.

From August 1918 onwards the success of almost every Allied attack was
attributed to tanks in the German official communiqués. The Allies were
stated to have captured such-and-such a place “by means of masses of
tanks” even on occasions when very few tanks had actually been used.
This explanation of any German lack of success by reference to tanks
soon produced very marked results both in the German soldier and the
German public.

Since the German Higher Command could explain away failure in the event
of tank attack the German regimental officer very naturally came to
consider that the presence of tanks was a sufficient reason for the
loss of any position entrusted to his care. His men came to consider
that in the presence of tanks they could not be expected to hold
out. Most German officers when captured were anxious to explain that
their capture was inevitable and that they had done all that could be
expected of them. From this time onwards their explanations generally
became very simple: “The tanks had arrived, there was nothing to be
done.” The failure of the Higher Command to produce tanks to combat
those used by the Allies began to undermine the faith of the troops in
their generals.

As a result of the “massed tank attacks,” so frequently referred to
in the communiques, the leading German military correspondents dealt
with the tank question at considerable length. They pointed out the
vital importance of tanks and inquired what the German Higher Command
proposed to do about it, or reassured their readers that the situation
was well in hand and that a German tank would shortly make its
appearance in adequate numbers. So nervous did the press grow that the
War Ministry found it necessary to offer an explanation.

General von Wrisberg, speaking for the Minister of War in the
Reichstag, made the following statement:

  “The attack on August 8 between the Avre and the Ancre was not
  unexpected by our leaders. When, nevertheless, the English
  succeeded in achieving a great success the reasons are to be sought
  in the massed employment of tanks and surprise under the protection
  of fog....

  “The American Armies also should not terrify us. We shall also
  settle with them. More momentous for us was the question of tanks.
  We are adequately armed against them. Anti-tank defence is nowadays
  more a question of nerve than matériel.”

On October 23 the German Wireless published the following statement by
General Scheuch, Minister of War:

  “Germany will never need to make peace owing to a shortage of war
  matériel. The superiority of the enemy at present is principally
  due to their use of tanks. We have been actively engaged for a long
  period in working at producing this weapon (which is recognised as
  important) in adequate numbers. We shall thus have an additional
  means for the successful continuance of the war, if we are
  compelled to continue it.”

This statement was obviously made in reply to public criticism, but the
statement that efforts were being made to produce a large number of
tanks appears to be true.

It is doubtful, however, if it were true to say that they had been
actively working on tanks for a long time. It is credibly reported
that when Hindenburg visited the German Tank Centre near Charleroi in
February 1918, he remarked, “I do not think that tanks are any use, but
as these have been made they may as well be tried.” This remark of the
German Commander-in-Chief was typical of the general feeling of the
German Great General Staff towards tanks up to August 8, 1918. In our
own Army it also expressed precisely the feeling of a section of our
Higher Command. It is hoped that, as this chapter shows the Germans
were eventually, though too late, cured of their want of foresight, we
have also been. As to this the future alone will enlighten us.



CHAPTER XXXII

AEROPLANE CO-OPERATION WITH TANKS


Prior to July 1, 1918, no definite aeroplane and tank co-operation had
been organised, though the want of such co-operation had been long
felt, and in one of the attacks on Bourlon wood, during the battle of
Cambrai, aeroplanes had proved their value in protecting tanks from the
enemy’s field guns.

The assistance which aeroplanes can afford tanks falls under the two
main headings of information and protection; in the future, no doubt,
those of command and supply will be added.

Prior to the battle of Arras, in February and March 1917, certain
experiments were carried out in communication between tanks, aeroplanes
and captive balloons by means of the Aldis daylight signalling lamp,
as already mentioned in Chapter XXIV; these experiments did not prove
a success. During the battle of Messines aeroplanes, with considerable
accuracy, reported the whereabouts of tanks on the battlefield. At the
Third Battle of Ypres this useful work was continued, and again at
the battle of Cambrai, but during these last operations the days were
usually so misty as to forbid much useful work being accomplished.

After the battle of Cambrai every endeavour was made by the Tank Corps
to get this co-operation regularised and placed on a sound footing,
but except for some remarkable tests carried out by the 1st Tank
Brigade in the vicinity of Fricourt, in February 1918, in which it was
conclusively demonstrated that low-flying aeroplanes could render the
greatest protective assistance to tanks, nothing was done to institute
a definite system of co-operation. To do so, only one thing was
required--namely, the attachment of a flight or squadron of aeroplanes
to the Tank Corps for experimental purposes. At length on July 1, 1918,
some five weeks before the battle of Amiens began, No. 8 Squadron,
R.A.F., equipped with eighteen Armstrong-Whitworth machines, was
attached to the Tank Corps, for the purpose of co-operating with the
tanks and carrying out experiments with a view to future development.
This squadron was under the command of Major T. Leigh-Mallory, D.S.O.,
and it was due to the energy of this officer that, in the extremely
short time available, such extensive progress was made in aeroplane
and tank co-operation, especially in contact work. The benefit which
resulted from this co-operation cannot be over-estimated.

Early in June, No. 42 Squadron, R.A.F., had already carried out
experiments with smoke flares and Very lights which were successful,
whilst No. 22 Squadron attempted wireless telephony, and No. 15
Squadron visual signalling communication by means of discs swung out
from the fuselage. These experiments formed the basis of the work which
No. 8 Squadron now started on with the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Tank Brigades,
continuing it up to the opening of the August offensive.

The account of the co-operation of No. 8 Squadron may be conveniently
divided into three periods:

(i) The period of preparation, July 1 to August 8.

(ii) The battle of Amiens.

(iii) The battle of Bapaume to November 11, 1918.

During the last-mentioned period No. 8 Squadron was reinforced by No.
73 Squadron, which, being equipped with Sopwith-Camel machines, was
able to deal effectively with the enemy’s anti-tank guns.

The first essential of successful co-operation being comradeship, a
firm alliance was at once established between the flights of No. 8
Squadron and the tank units with which this squadron was working.
This was carried out by attaching tank officers to the flights, these
officers frequently flying, whilst pilots and observers were given
rides in the tanks.

The battle of Hamel, on July 4, was the first occasion upon which
aeroplanes were definitely detailed to work with tanks, C Flight of No.
8 Squadron being attached to the 5th Tank Brigade for this operation.
The morning was a peculiarly dark one, with clouds at 1,000 ft.;
nevertheless one aeroplane managed to get off at 2.50 a.m. and a second
at 3 a.m. These two machines flew low over the enemy’s lines with
the object of drowning the noise of the approaching tanks. Later on
another machine, flying down into the smoke of the artillery barrage,
silenced some guns which were giving considerable trouble. Altogether
the assistance that No. 8 Squadron rendered the Tank Corps, on this the
first occasion upon which these two mechanical arms co-operated, boded
well of the future.

After the battle of Hamel, tests and training were continued, “B”
Flight concentrating on wireless telegraphy and telephony with the 1st
Tank Brigade, and “A” Flight on visual signalling with the 3rd Tank
Brigade.

The wireless telephony tests, though of exceptional interest, did not
prove very successful. Under very favourable conditions speech could
be heard in a moving tank from an aeroplane flying at an altitude of
500 ft. and not more than a quarter of a mile away. It was consequently
decided that, for immediate use, wireless telephony was not a practical
means of communication.

Towards the end of July a series of most successful tests were carried
out in wireless telegraphy, tanks clearly receiving messages from
aeroplanes at 2,500 ft. altitude and 9,000 yards away. Successful as
these experiments proved, they were destined to be still-born, for
time was insufficient to develop them or to apply them during active
operations.

The disc signalling carried out by “A” Flight was instituted as a
means of directing Whippet tanks on to their objectives. By degrees a
complete code of signals was evolved so that the aeroplane was able to
communicate both the nature and direction of the target. In conjunction
with disc signalling, various kinds of smoke bombs and Very lights
were experimented with, and by means of these several very successful
manœuvres were carried out at the Tank Gunnery School at Merlimont.

In spite of the fact that the period of preparation was too short
to enable the results of tests to be applied in battle, pilots and
observers had got to know a great many of the tank officers with
whom they were going to co-operate, and in addition had learnt much
concerning the limitations of tanks, and the kind of information
required by their staffs and crews during action.

The programme of work for No. 8 Squadron on the opening day of the
battle of Amiens was as follows:

(i) Machines to fly over the line for the last hour of the tank
approach march in order to drown the noise of the tank engines.

(ii) Contact and counter-attack patrols to keep tank units constantly
informed, by dropping messages at fixed stations, as to the progress of
the battle.

(iii) All machines were instructed to help the tanks whenever an
opportunity arose.

On August 5 the Squadron concentrated at Vignacourt, “C” Flight being
detailed to work with the 5th Tank Brigade and “B” and “A” Flights with
the 4th and 3rd Brigades.

At 2.50 a.m. on August 8 three machines “took off” to cover the tanks
during the last hour of the approach march. The morning was dark and
the clouds appeared high. Each of these machines dropped six 25 lb.
bombs, at intervals, over the enemy’s lines. Between 4.50 a.m. and
5 a.m. the first four tank-contact patrol machines “took off.” The
valleys were already coated with thick mist and within an hour the
whole country for miles was obscured. By flying very low and making
use of gaps in the mist, one of these machines was able to report that
tanks had passed through Demuin, and consequently it was known that the
bridge there must be intact. The first message to be dropped at the
Advanced Headquarters of the Tank Corps read as follows:

  “To Advanced H.Q. Tank Corps
        “(per aeroplane).
  “W.4. 8th.

  “Machine landed 8.30 a.m. reports AAA 6.15 a.m. 4 tanks seen in
  action on a line 500 yards west of road through C.17.b, C.11.d,
  C.12.a AAA 7.15 a.m. 4 tanks seen together heading E on road
  beyond Hourges at C.11 central AAA 3 tanks seen together in C.6.d
  uncertain AAA 7.20 a.m. Green Line taken, tanks rallying to move
  off again AAA Foregoing report applies to 5th Tank Battalion
  Sector AAA 7.45 a.m. 4 tanks on road leading north out of Demuin
  V.25.C.4.8 AAA 1 tank at D.1.c central AAA 4 tanks at C.11.d.3.8
  heading east AAA 7.45 a.m. French infantry seen in large numbers
  on western outskirts of Moreuil wood and French barrage on a
  line C.17.c C.23.a, & C.29.a & 28.D AAA Motor transport probably
  armoured cars seen on road in U.26 near Domart AAA German balloon
  observed up just east of Caix about 8 a.m. at 1,200 ft. AAA Bombs
  dropped in W.22.d south of Harbonnières, target guns AAA Addressed
  22nd Wing 3rd, 4th and 5th Tank Bde. Advanced Hqrs. AAA.

  “Sent by aeroplane to dropping ground Advanced H.Q. Tank Corps.

  “Note added.

  “Cavalry and tanks in large numbers proceeding east at 8 a.m. south
  of Bois d’Aquenne.

            “Intelligence Officer,
                “8th Squadron, R.A.F.
                    “8.50 a.m.”

Many other such messages were dropped during the day, the Tank Brigade
Headquarters being well posted with information as the attack proceeded.

On the following three days of the battle the enemy’s resistance in
the air became much more marked. On August 9 and 10 good targets
were observed from the air in the form of large parties of infantry
and transport. On the 10th, Captain West and Lieutenant Haslam were
co-operating with tanks near Rosières when movement along the roads was
noticed in the neighbourhood of Roye. Although some 8,000 yards from
our lines Captain West immediately flew his machines in that direction
and with great effect bombed and fired on the enemy’s transport
moving eastwards. Just as he turned to fly back he was attacked by
seven Fokker biplanes. With almost the first burst one of the hostile
machines, which had got above Captain West’s right-hand wing, shot his
left leg off between the knee and the thigh, three explosive bullets
hitting it. In spite of the fact that West’s leg fell amongst the
controls and that he was wounded in the right foot he managed to fly
his machine back and land it in our lines. For this act of gallantry he
was awarded the Victoria Cross.

During the battle of Amiens aeroplane co-operation had been chiefly
confined to contact and counter-attack patrols. The tanks had, however,
during this battle, suffered heavily from the German field guns, so, in
the next great battle, the battle of Bapaume, it was decided to make
counter-gun work a feature of aeroplane co-operation.

Instead of sending all machines up on contact and counter-attack
patrol, as many machines as possible were reserved for counter-gun
work. From this time onwards the tendency was to concentrate more and
more on this important duty, and as fresh experiences were gained this
work grew more and more successful. Fortunately, just before the Third
Army attack began, on August 21, No. 73 Squadron (Sopwith-Camels) was
attached to the Tank Corps for this form of co-operation.

The tactics adopted in this counter-gun work are interesting. To send
down zone calls was useless, as the German gunners opened fire, as a
rule, when the tanks were but 1,000 yards away. Immediate action was,
therefore, necessary, and this was taken by bombing and machine-gunning
hostile artillery until the tanks had run over the emplacements. The
method of locating the hostile gun positions consisted in carefully
studying the ground prior to the attack by consulting maps and air
photographs, and from this study to make out a chart of all likely gun
positions. On September 2 a most valuable document was captured which
set forth the complete scheme the Germans had adopted in connection
with the distribution of their guns for anti-tank work; further, in
this document were described the various types of positions anti-tank
gunners should take up. By the aid of this document and a large-scale
map it was possible to plot out beforehand the majority of possible
gun positions. As each of our aeroplanes had only about 2,000 yards of
front to watch, the result was that all likely places were periodically
bombed. In this way, by selecting the likely places beforehand, a great
number of anti-tank guns were spotted as soon as they opened fire, and
thus immense service was rendered to the tanks.

August 21 was the most disappointing day No. 8 Squadron experienced
whilst attached to the Tank Corps. The morning was very foggy and it
was quite impossible for the machines to leave the ground until 11
a.m., a little over six hours after zero, which was at 4.55 a.m. In
spite of this the counter-gun machines were not too late to carry out
useful work against several batteries; this work was chiefly carried
out by No. 73 Squadron, which was quite new to the work. The value
of the experience gained on this day was amply demonstrated by the
effective work carried out by this Squadron on the 23rd, when many
hostile guns were attacked and their crews scattered. A good example of
the valuable work carried out by No. 73 Squadron occurred on September
2.

A gun was observed being man-handled towards Chaufours wood; 800 rounds
were fired at it, the gun crew leaving the gun and seeking security
in the wood. A little later on this crew, emerging from the wood,
attempted to haul the gun into it; fire was once again opened by the
aeroplane, but in spite of it the crew succeeded in their object. Bombs
were then dropped on the wood, and no further movement was observed.

On September 29 a wireless-signal tank was used as a dropping station.
This proved a most useful innovation, for one aeroplane dropping its
message at this station found, on its return home, that this message
had been received by the headquarters to which it was directed within
a few minutes of it having been dropped, in fact, far quicker than it
would have been had the aeroplane dropped it at the headquarters itself.

The dropping of messages to tanks in action was also successfully
accomplished during the 29th. One of these messages sent down the
information that the Germans were still holding the village of Bony;
a group of tanks, receiving this, at once wheeled towards Bony and
attacked it.

On October 8 aeroplanes once again carried out useful co-operation
with the tanks. The following account is taken from the report of an
aeroplane the pilot of which observed the tanks attacking Serain:

  “As the tanks were approaching we dropped bombs on various
  parties of Germans who were in the village. The tanks were then
  surrounding the village, one going right into the centre of it; a
  second attacked the orchard to the south, mopping up parties of
  Germans; whilst a third came round the north of the village and was
  approaching a small valley in which were 200 to 300 Germans covered
  by a stretch of dead ground. On seeing the tank approaching the
  Germans fled eastwards, whereupon we flew towards them firing our
  machine guns, doing great execution.”

Such actions as these were of daily occurrence and they only went to
prove what the headquarters of the Tank Corps had long held--namely,
that the co-operation of aeroplanes with tanks is of incalculable
importance, the aeroplanes protecting the tanks and the tanks
protecting the infantry. In the future, no doubt, not only will
messages be dropped and hostile guns silenced, but the commanders
of tank battalions will be carried in the air, these officers
communicating with their machines by means of wireless telephony, and
supplies of petrol will be transported by means of aeroplane for the
replenishment of the tanks.



CHAPTER XXXIII

THE BATTLE OF BAPAUME AND THE SECOND BATTLE OF ARRAS


The operations which took place between the conclusion of the great
battle of Amiens and the signing of the armistice may conveniently be
divided into three periods:

(i) The battle of Bapaume and the Second Battle of Arras--August 21 to
September 3.

(ii) The battles of Epehy and Cambrai St. Quentin--September 18 to
October 10.

(iii) The battles of the Selle and Maubeuge--October 17 to November 11.

The first comprises the fighting in the devastated area, the second
the breaking through of the Hindenburg system of trenches, and the
third open warfare east of this system. Each of these periods will be
dealt with in a separate chapter, in which most of the detail of battle
preparation will be omitted so as to avoid a repetition of descriptions
of work which had by now been reduced to a routine in the Tank Corps.

Towards the end of the battle of Amiens it became apparent that the
enemy was commencing to withdraw his troops in the Pusieux-Serre area
opposite the Third Army front, and that, in all probability, this
retirement was only part of a general withdrawal on the entire front
south of the Scarpe. It was, therefore, decided on August 13 that the
Third Army should prepare an attack on the German front north of the
Somme, whilst the Fourth Army continued to press the enemy south of
this river. Consequent on this decision the 3rd, 6th, 9th, 10th, 14th,
and 15th Tank Battalions were withdrawn from the Fourth Army area, and
concentrated in that of the Third. On August 15 to these battalions
were added the 7th, 11th, and 12th of the 1st Tank Brigade. These
moves necessitated a complete reshuffling of Tank Brigades, which on
August 19 were constituted as follows:

    (i) _In the Third Army Area:_

  1st Tank Brigade            3rd Battalion   Medium A.
                              7th    „        Mark IV.
                             10th    „        Mark V.
                             17th    „        Armoured cars.

  2nd Tank Brigade            6th    „        Medium A.
                             12th    „        Mark IV.
                             15th    „        Mark V Star.

  3rd Tank Brigade            9th    „        Mark V.
                             11th    „        Mark V Star.
                             14th    „        Mark V.

    _(ii) In the Fourth Army Area:_

  4th Tank Brigade            1st Battalion   Mark V Star.
                              4th    „        Mark V.
                              5th    „        Mark V.

  5th Tank Brigade            2nd    „        Mark V.
                              8th    „        Mark V.
                             13th    „        Mark V.

On the Third Army front the attack was to be launched on August 21
and, if successful, this attack was to be pushed forward and the front
extended by an attack delivered by the Fourth Army south of the Somme.
The general plan was as follows:

The VIth, IVth, and Vth Corps of the Third Army were to attack on the
line Beaucourt-sur-Ancre--Moyenneville, a frontage of 17,000 yards,
with the object of driving the enemy eastwards across the Arras-Bapaume
road and of forcing him from the Somme area. Tanks were only to operate
between Moyenneville and Bucquoy, as the ground south of this frontage
was unsuited to tank movement; for this reason no tanks were allotted
to the Vth Corps.

The allotment of tanks was as follows:

  VIth Corps   2nd and 3rd Tank Brigades.
  IVth Corps   1st Tank Brigade.

Owing to the little time available and the necessity for maintaining
secrecy it was not possible to carry out any training with the
divisions of the Third Army; many of these, however, had previously
attended demonstrations at Bermicourt, to supplement which notes were
now issued and as many lectures as possible given prior to this attack.

Another difficulty was reconnaissance, time for which was most limited.
Again previous work came to the rescue; for many officers in the Tank
Corps had carefully studied the area of attack prior to the Second
Battle of the Somme and had fought over it during the German spring
offensive.

On the Fourth Army front the IIIrd Corps, on the left of this Army and
north of the river Somme, was to attack between Bray and Albert. The
4th Tank Brigade was to assist in the attack and its machines were
allotted to divisions as follows:

  4th Battalion  10 tanks to 12th Division.
   „     „        4 tanks to 18th Division.
  5th Battalion  10 tanks to 47th Division.
  1st Battalion  15 tanks to Fourth Army reserve.

South of the Somme the 5th Tank Brigade was ordered to co-operate with
the Australian Corps on the front Herleville--Chuignolles; the object
of the attack being to capture these villages and the rise running east
of them. Tanks were allotted as follows:

  8th Battalion   12 tanks to 32nd Division.
  2nd Battalion   12 tanks to 1st Australian Brigade.
  13th Battalion  12 tanks to 2nd Australian Brigade.

The battle of Bapaume, which began on August 21, is of particular
interest in that it was the first attack launched against a new
tactical system of defence recently adopted by the enemy, namely, the
holding of his reserves well in rear of a lightly held outpost line. In
conformity with the principles of this system of defence in depth the
Germans had withdrawn their guns behind the Albert-Arras railway; this
eventually complicated the tank attack, for had they remained forward,
as so frequently they had heretofore done, they would have been
surprised and captured during the first phase of the battle; as it was,
they accounted for many of our machines during the third phase.

In consequence of the enemy’s new system of defence and the varying
powers of the three marks of machines used by the 1st and 2nd Tank
Brigades, tanks were disposed in echelons as follows:

(i) Two battalions of Mark IV tanks to operate as far as the second
objective.

(ii) One battalion of Mark V and one of Mark V star machines to operate
against the second objective and proceed as far as the Albert-Arras
railway.

(iii) Two battalions of Whippets to operate beyond the Albert-Arras
railway line.

Zero hour was at 4.55 a.m. The Mark IV battalion moved forward and
successfully cleared the first objective and pushed on towards the
second. Once again the attack was a surprise, perhaps not so much
through it being unexpected as through the inability of the Germans to
meet it, especially as their guns had been withdrawn. To illustrate how
complete this surprise was it is only necessary to mention that candles
were found still burning in the trenches when we crossed them, and
papers and equipment scattered broadcast gave evidence of the hurried
flight of the enemy. The second echelon and the Whippets had, however,
a far more difficult task to accomplish. The Albert-Arras railway had,
previous to the attack, been turned into a strongly defended line of
machine-gun nests covered by the German guns east of it. Unfortunately
the thick ground mist, which had shielded the approach of the first
echelon, now began to lift; this enabled the German artillery observers
to direct a deadly fire on the tanks, in fact, each individual tank
became the centre of a zone of bullets and bursting shells. Avoiding
these zones, our infantry pushed on with few casualties. During this
day’s fighting many parties of the enemy, some over a hundred strong,
surrendered _en bloc_ directly the tanks were seen approaching. Such
action on the part of the German infantry was becoming a stereotyped
procedure in all tank attacks. On the 21st, of the 190 tanks which took
part in the attack, 37 received direct hits.

On August 22 the IIIrd Corps launched its attack on a front of some
10,000 yards with complete success. The tanks, which had been
instructed by the IIIrd Corps to proceed in rear of the infantry, in
actual fact led the attack the whole way, effecting a penetration of
about 4,000 yards. All objectives were gained, and at the end of the
day our line ran east of Albert, east of Meaulte, east of the Happy
Valley, and through the western outskirts of Bray-sur-Somme.

On the following day the attack of the IIIrd Corps was continued in
conjunction with that of the Third Army to the north and the Australian
Corps to the south. The IIIrd Corps captured Tara and Usna hills,
employing six tanks of the 1st Tank Battalion in this action. On the
Australian front the thirty-six machines of the 5th Tank Brigade
deployed and led the infantry right on to their objective, which was
successfully occupied. On reaching this the machines of the 2nd and
13th Battalions exploited north of Chuignolles with the 3rd Australian
Brigade, whilst those of the 8th Battalion rallied. During this attack
the enemy put up a stout resistance, his machine-gunners fighting with
great spirit and in many cases continuing to fire their guns until
run over by the tanks. Curiously enough, in comparison with this, on
the previous day the enemy’s machine-gunners on the IIIrd Corps front
scarcely put up any fight at all, and when asked why they had not done
so replied: “Oh! it would not have been any good.”

The following is a typical battle-history sheet depicting the tank
fighting at this period; it was written by a tank commander who took
part in the above attack.

  “At 4.25 a.m. on the 23rd instant, I proceeded with my female
  tank ‘Mabel’ (No. 9382) in front of the infantry. I made a very
  zigzag course to the wood in the south-west edge of the village
  of Chuignolles, where I encountered an anti-tank gun which was
  eventually knocked out by the male tank commanded by 2nd Lieut.
  Simmonds, who was operating on my right. I then worked up the
  south side of the village, heavily machine-gunning all the crops
  and copses, and dislodged several machine-gun crews of the enemy.
  I next came back to the village and mopped up the enemy on the
  outskirts until it was clear. Then, emerging from the smoke of
  two shells which dropped short, I found myself in the midst of
  a battery of whizz-bangs. The gunners of this battery I at once
  proceeded to obliterate with good success, after which I came
  behind another battery and proceeded with the same operation. Then
  I started to take infantry over to the high ground south of Square
  wood in L.35d, when I was called back by an Australian colonel to
  attend to some M.G. nests which had been left in the centre of
  the village; here I mopped up twelve M.G. nests and then started
  to catch up the remainder of the tanks and the barrage, but while
  at the top of a very steep bank, approximately R.10.b.30.50, I
  received a direct hit from a whizz-bang on the front horns, which
  sent me out of control to the bottom of the bank, where I found it
  had broken one plate of my left track. After repairing this, the
  barrage having finished, and as tanks were coming back to rally, I
  brought my tank back to the rallying-point at Amy wood.”

In the Third Army the attack was re-opened on August 23 by a moonlight
operation, starting at 4 a.m., carried out against the village of
Gomiecourt. The 3rd Division, supported by ten Mark IV tanks of the
12th Battalion, attacked this village and carried it. A little later
the Guards Division with four Mark IV.s captured the village of
Hamelincourt.

At 11 a.m. the VIth Corps, assisted by fifteen Whippets, attacked in
the direction of Ervillers--Behagnies--Sapignies, and by noon were
east of the Bapaume-Arras road. Near Sapignies heavy machine-gun
fire was encountered, which prevented our infantry moving forward;
notwithstanding this the Whippets continued their advance. In one
machine the officer and sergeant were killed; the remaining man,
however, after placing the corpses in a shell-hole, continued
single-handed to follow the other tanks, and when a target offered
itself, locked his back axle and fired his Hotchkiss gun. Although
Sapignies and Behagnies were not captured the operation was successful
in securing a large number of prisoners. This attack materially
assisted that of the IVth Corps on Achiet-le-Grand and Bihucourt, which
were captured by the 37th Division and six Mark V tanks of the 1st
Tank Brigade.

At 5.7 a.m., in spite of a very heavy gas barrage which took place
between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., eighteen tanks of the 11th Battalion and
eight of the 9th Battalion co-operated with the 52nd and 56th Divisions
in an attack on the Hamelincourt-Heninel spur. Both these objectives
were carried with small loss.

On August 24 the attacks of the Third and Fourth Armies were pushed
with vigour, the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Tank Brigades co-operating.

At 2 a.m. on the IVth Corps front four Mark IV machines assisted the
37th Division west of Sapignies; later on, seven Mark IV tanks and
nineteen Whippets attacked with the New Zealand and 37th Divisions on
Grevillers, Biefvillers, and Loupart wood, which were captured. On the
front of the 56th Division a bloody engagement began at 7 a.m. for the
ownership of the line St. Leger--Henin-sur-Cojeul, eleven tanks of the
11th Battalion co-operating after an approach march of 10,000 yards.
All objectives were gained. At 2 p.m. this attack was continued, two
tanks leading the infantry north of Croisilles as far as the Hindenburg
Line, which was strongly held. Both these machines had particularly
exciting experiences. One received a direct hit which rendered the
officer commanding it unconscious; recovering his senses, he at once
took charge of his machine and pushed on. In the other the crew were
forced to evacuate the tank on account of the enemy surrounding it
with phosphorus bombs; before leaving it the officer in command turned
the tank’s head towards home and then, getting out, walked between
the front horns of the machine until the fumes had cleared away. All
this time the tank was surrounded by the enemy. This attack failed; it
is interesting, however, to note that one tank of the 11th Battalion
covered during this operation 40,000 yards in some twenty-six hours.

At 3.30 p.m. five tanks of the 9th Battalion took part in an attack
on the line Mory copse--Camouflage copse. At first there was not much
opposition, but after Mory copse was reached the enemy put up a stout
resistance and, refusing to surrender, was killed almost to a man,
one party of about sixty being put out of action by four rounds of
6-pounder case shot.

At dawn this day on the Fourth Army front five tanks of the 1st
Battalion assisted the 47th Division in the recapture of the Happy
Valley, which had been lost on the previous afternoon. This attack was
entirely successful, and besides the Happy Valley the extensive village
of Bray was added to our gains.

On the evening of August 24 the 3rd Tank Brigade was transferred
from the Third Army to the Canadian Corps of the First Army for the
forthcoming attack on the First Army front, which was to initiate the
Second Battle of Arras. This entailed a lengthy night march of 29,000
yards from Blaireville and Boisleux-au-Mont to Moyenneville, thence to
Achicourt.

On August 25 minor tank attacks were carried out on the IVth Corps
front against Favreuil, Avesnes, Thilloy, and Sapignies, and on the
26th tanks of the 9th Battalion, some of which had moved 37,000 yards
since the night of the 24th-25th, attacked with the Guards Division
north of Mory. This attack was not a great success, due to the dense
mist, which made co-operation almost impossible and the maintenance
of direction most difficult. During this engagement one tank had five
members of its crew wounded by anti-tank rifle bullets.

On the Canadian Corps’ front an attack was carried out opposite Fampoux
and Neuville-Vitasse, the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions operating with
tanks of the 9th and 11th Divisions against Wancourt, Guemappe, and
Monchy-le-Preux. Near Monchy several tanks were knocked out, the crews
joining the infantry to repel a local counter-attack. The sergeant of
one crew, hearing that the enemy had captured his tank, collected his
men and charged forward to recover it, arriving at one sponson door of
the machine as the enemy were scrambling out of the opposite one.

On the following day, the 27th, operations continued east of
Monchy-le-Preux, and in the Guemappe-Cherisy area, but ceased
altogether as far as tanks were concerned until the 29th. On this
day minor tank operations were carried out on the Third Army front
south-west of Beugnatre by the 1st Brigade, the enemy having evacuated
Thilloy and Bapaume. This Brigade, on the 30th, co-operated with the
5th British and New Zealand Divisions against Fremicourt, Beugny,
Bancourt, Haplincourt, and Velu wood, whilst the 2nd Tank Brigade
attacked Vaux-Vraucourt. All these attacks were successful.

On the last day of August 1918, probably the most decisive month
in the whole war, nine Mark IV.s of the 12th Battalion and four
Whippets of the 6th Battalion attacked the Longatte trench, Moreuil
switch, and Vraucourt trench, taking all these objectives, and on the
following day, September 1, Whippets of the 6th Battalion completed the
above operations by establishing the infantry on the slopes east of
Vaux-Vraucourt.

The Second Battle of Arras reached its zenith on September 2 when the
famous Drocourt-Queant line, which we had failed to reach in April
1917, was broken. Starting from the south the 1st Tank Brigade operated
with the 42nd and 5th Divisions against Beugny and Villars-au-Flos.
To the north of this attack the 2nd Tank Brigade assisted in the VIth
Corps operations against Moreuil, Lagnicourt, and Morchies. This attack
was made in conjunction with those of the Canadian and XVIIth Corps
against the Drocourt-Queant line. This line was attacked by the 1st
and 4th Canadian Divisions and the 4th Division, together with as many
tanks as the 9th, 11th, and 14th Battalions of the 3rd Tank Brigade
could muster. The assembly of these machines was difficult owing not
only to the intricate nature of the Sensée valley but to the fact that
active operations were taking place throughout these preparations.

The Drocourt-Queant line, built in the spring of 1917, was protected
by immensely strong belts of wire entanglement, and it was expected
that every effort would be made on the part of the enemy to hold these
defences at all cost; nevertheless, on the whole, less opposition was
encountered than had been anticipated. Except for anti-tank rifle fire,
which was especially noticeable at Villers-les-Cagnicourt, the tanks
met little opposition. It is estimated that in this attack one company
of tanks alone destroyed over seventy hostile machine guns, the German
gunners surrendering to the tanks as they approached.

On the next day, the enemy falling back, the Whippet tanks pushed
forward to Hermies and Dermicourt. Thus the Second Battle of Arras
ended in an overwhelming success by the piercing of the renowned
Drocourt-Queant line. A blow had now been delivered from which the
enemy’s moral never recovered.

Since August 21, in all, 511 tanks had been in action, and except
for one or two minor failures every attack had culminated in a cheap
success--cheap as regards our own infantry casualties, especially so
when it is remembered that during the fortnight which comprised the
battle of Bapaume and the Second Battle of Arras no fewer than 470 guns
and 53,000 prisoners were captured. Thus in a little less than one
month the German Army had lost to the First, Third, and Fourth British
Armies 870 guns and 75,000 men without counting killed and wounded.



CHAPTER XXXIV

GERMAN ANTI-TANK TACTICS


From September 1916 onwards to the conclusion of the war, German
anti-tank tactics passed through three phases. Firstly, the enemy
had no anti-tank defence at all, or what he devised he based upon a
misconception of what the tank could accomplish. Secondly, having
learnt but little about tanks, he considered that only a small
expenditure of effort and matériel was required to deal with weapons of
so limited a scope. Thirdly, from August 1918 onwards, he took panic
and over-estimated their powers; his efforts at anti-tank defence
became feverish and he appeared to be willing to make any and every
sacrifice to combat this terrible weapon.

Captured documents clearly show that the introduction of tanks was
as great a surprise to the German General Staff as to their fighting
troops. It is true that certain vague rumours had been circulated
that the Allies might use some new weapon, but, as such rumours have
throughout the war been current on all sides, no particular importance
was attached to them. In spite of the fact that tanks were used on
several occasions between September 15 and November 13, 1916, and that
the enemy held in his possession near Gueudecourt a captured tank for
some fourteen days, he formed a most inaccurate idea of it.

During the winter of 1916 and 1917 instructions were issued on
anti-tank defence. These were based on the following entirely erroneous
ideas:

(i) That tanks were largely dependent on roads.

(ii) That tanks would approach the German lines in daylight.

(iii) That tanks were impervious to machine-gun fire.

These led to the Germans depending on road obstacles such as pits and
indirect artillery fire; as a matter of fact, at this time the most
potent weapon which could have been used against tanks was the machine
gun firing A.P. bullets. That the Mark I tank was not proof against
these bullets was not discovered until April 1917, after the British
failure at Bullecourt. This discovery was of little use, for by the
time the next battle was fought, Messines, a tank with thicker armour,
the Mark IV, had replaced the Mark I.

It is evident that throughout this period the German Higher Command
gave little thought to the tank question and quite failed to appreciate
the possibilities of the machine. Prisoners were questioned and rough
sketches, many grotesque in the extreme, were obtained from them
and published for information. What information they imparted was
misleading; in fact, the whole attitude of the German General Staff,
during this period, may be summed up as “stupidity tempered with
ridicule.”

During 1917 the German grew to realise that artillery formed the chief
defence against tanks. Great prominence was given to indirect fire by
all types of guns and howitzers, and in spite of several dawn attacks
the enemy laid great stress on what he called “Distant Defence.” As
actual operations proved, indirect artillery fire produced little
effect save on broken-down machines. Partially learning this, the
Germans resorted to special anti-tank guns, and on an average, two,
protected by concrete, were emplaced on each divisional front; these
were in certain sectors supplemented by captured Belgian and old German
guns. Fixed anti-tank guns proved, however, of little use, for though
a few tanks were knocked out by them, notably at Glencorse wood on the
first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, they generally were destroyed
by our terrific initial bombardments. Curiously enough, though both
indirect fire and fixed guns proved a failure, little consideration
was, at this time, given to the simplest form of artillery action
against tanks, namely--direct fire by field guns.

Infantry anti-tank defence, during 1917, was negligible and chiefly
consisted in instructions how to “keep its head” and to leave the rest
to the artillery; the use of bundles of stick bombs was recommended,
and though A.P. bullets received no great support, the effect of the
splash of ordinary S.A.A. was not realised in the least degree.

Prior to the battle of Cambrai (November 1917) the true anti-tank
defence had been mud, mud produced by gun fire and rain. At this battle
the enemy was caught completely unawares, his anti-tank defence was
slight; but a feature of the operation was the improvised defence put
up by a few of the enemy’s field guns, which inflicted heavy casualties
on tanks, especially at Flesquières. In general, however, the enemy
realised the ineffectiveness of his anti-tank defence, yet curiously
enough he at present showed no decided inclination to adopt direct
field-gun fire as its backbone. In spite of the fact that the incident
of a German battery, served by an officer, putting a considerable
number of tanks out of action had received mention in the British
dispatches, still the enemy remained oblivious to the utility of direct
fire, and in place of praising his gunners, as we did, he praised
troops from Posen who had put up a determined resistance against tanks
in Fontaine Notre Dame.

The German counter-attack on November 30, 1917, which resulted in the
capture of a considerable number of tanks, seems to have entirely
allayed any anxiety created by the attack on the 20th; for though the
question of anti-tank defence was given rather more prominence than
heretofore, no greater practical attention was paid to it during the
winter of 1917-1918 than during the one previous to it.

The German offensive in the spring of 1918 put all defensive questions
into the background. This period, however, produced a new weapon, the
German anti-tank rifle.

This rifle was first captured during the battle of Hamel on July 4. It
had only just been issued to certain divisions; other divisions were
equipped with it later on.

This weapon was 5 ft. 6 in. in length, it weighed 36 lb. and fired
single shots, using A.P. ammunition of ·530 calibre. It was too
conspicuous and too slow a weapon to be really effective against
tanks, though it could easily penetrate them at several hundred yards
range. Its chief disadvantage was that the German soldier would not
use it; not only was he not trained to do so, but he was afraid of its
kick, and still more afraid of the tanks themselves. It is doubtful if
1 per cent. of the anti-tank rifles captured in our tank attacks had
ever been fired at all.

The French counter-attack between the Aisne and the Marne in July,
followed by the British victories of Amiens and Bapaume in August,
struck through the opacity of the German General Staff like a bolt from
out the blue, with a result that a complete _volte face_ was made as
regards tanks. The instructions now issued gave anti-tank defence the
first place in every project; the eyes of General Ludendorff were now
opened, and, realising the seriousness of the tank problem, on July 22
he wrote as follows:

  “The utmost attention must be paid to combat tanks--our earlier
  successes against tanks lead to a certain contempt for this weapon
  of warfare. We must, however, now reckon with more dangerous tanks.”

This is a more human document than those subsequently issued by the
German Chief of the General Staff. Ludendorff now clearly realised that
anti-tank defence had been neglected; he probably realised also that
this neglect would be difficult to explain to the army and the public,
which, as a result of failures, were about to become far more critical
of their leaders than ever before.

It is not clear, however, whether Ludendorff realised a still more
serious aspect of the tank problem, namely, that it was now too late to
organise an efficient defence against the “more dangerous tanks.” Such
a defence might have been created before these tanks were available in
effective numbers; it could not be organised now unless the pressure
the Allies were now exerting could be relieved. This was impossible,
for the motive force of this pressure was the tank.

The steps which the German General Staff now took to combat the tank
are interesting. Special officers were appointed to the staffs of
Groups of Armies, Corps, Divisions, and Brigades, whose sole duty it
was to deal with anti-tank defence within these formations. The field
gun was at length recognised as the most efficient anti-tank weapon
available. These guns were organised as follows:

(i) A few forward and silent guns in each divisional sector--outpost
guns.

(ii) Sections from batteries in reserve were allotted definite sectors.
On a tank attack taking place, they would gallop forward and engage any
tank entering the sector allotted to the section. These sections of
guns proved the backbone of the German anti-tank defence.

(iii) All batteries (howitzers included) were ordered to take up
positions from which advancing tanks could be engaged by _direct fire_.
The most effective range for this purpose was first considered to be
over 1,000 yards; this was gradually reduced to about 500.

Batteries in (i) and (ii) were to be employed for anti-tank work only,
in (iii) they were available for other work, but in the event of a tank
attack the engagement of tanks was their chief task.

The duty still allotted to the infantry was “to keep their heads” or
“to keep calm,” actions which at this period were impossible to the
German Higher Command directly tanks were mentioned. Other orders laid
down that in the event of a tank attack “infantry should move to a
flank.” How this was to be done when tanks were attacking on frontages
of twenty to thirty miles was not explained. A.P. ammunition had to a
great extent fallen into discredit, and, curious to record, the effect
of “splash” as a means of blinding a tank was still hardly realised,
and this after two years of tank warfare.

As artificial obstacles had proved of little use from the end of July,
when the Germans withdrew behind the rivers Ancre and Avre, until the
signing of the armistice every effort was made to use river lines as a
defence against tanks. Road obstacles and stockades were still in use,
but though they proved a hindrance to the movement of armoured cars
they proved none to tanks.

A great deal of energy and explosive material was expended in laying
minefields. At first, special mines in the form of a shallow box were
used; later on these were replaced by shells. Lack of time, however,
prevented the enemy from developing sufficiently large minefields to
produce an important result.

The idea of combining the various forms of anti-tank defence under one
command in such a way as to form an anti-tank fort had been dealt with
on paper, but was only in a very few cases put into practice. The idea
was a sound one, and if well combined with natural obstacles it would
have formed the best defence against tanks that the enemy could have
created with the means at his disposal.

An anti-tank fort was to consist of:

Four field guns, 2 flat-trajectory minenwerfer, 4 anti-tank rifles, and
2 machine guns firing A.P. ammunition. The fort was to be sited several
thousand yards behind the outpost guns and close to the main line of
defence.

Throughout the last two years of the war occasional successes were
gained by the Germans by various means of anti-tank defence, these
usually being due to a combination of the following circumstances:

(i) The use of tanks outside their limitation.

(ii) A hitch or failure in carrying out the plan of attack.

(iii) An exceptional display of resource, initiative, and courage on
the part of some individual German soldier.

In general the keynote of the German anti-tank defence was lack of
foresight, the development of tanks not being appreciated. Among the
very large number of captured orders dealing with anti-tank defence
there is no recorded instance of any anticipation of superior types
of tanks to those already in use. The German General Staff lacked
imagination and the faculty of appreciating the value of weapons that
had not been explained to them whilst at school; obsolescence dimmed
their foresight.



CHAPTER XXXV

THE BATTLES OF EPEHY AND CAMBRAI--ST. QUENTIN


On September 4 all Tank Brigades were withdrawn from Armies and placed
in G.H.Q. reserve to refit and reorganise. When this had been completed
Tank Brigades were constituted as follows:

  1st Tank Brigade          7th Battalion            Mark IV.
                           11th    „                 Mark V Star.
                           12th    „                 Mark IV.
                           15th    „                 Mark V Star.

  2nd Tank Brigade         10th    „                 Mark V.
                           14th    „                 Mark V.

  3rd Tank Brigade          3rd    „                 Medium A.
                            6th    „                 Medium A.
                            9th    „                 Mark V.
                           17th    „                 Armoured cars.

  4th Tank Brigade          1st    „                 Mark V.
                            4th    „                 Mark V.
                            5th    „                 Mark V.
                          301st American Battalion   Mark V Star.

  5th Tank Brigade          2nd Battalion            Mark V.
                            8th     „                Mark V.
                           13th     „                Mark V.

At 7 a.m. on September 17, in a heavy storm of rain, the Fourth and
Third Armies initiated the battle of Epehy by attacking on a front of
some seventeen miles from Holnon to Gouzeaucourt, the First French Army
co-operating south of Holnon.

On September 18 the 4th and 5th Tank Brigades were released from G.H.Q.
reserve and allotted to the Fourth Army, the 2nd Tank Battalion having
been transferred to this Army on September 13.

On this day the battle of Epehy continued on the front Epehy-Villeret,
some 7,000 yards long. In this attack twenty tanks of the 2nd Battalion
assisted the IIIrd Corps, Australian Corps, and IXth Corps. On the
IIIrd Corps front heavy machine-gun fire was encountered and overcome,
many machine guns being destroyed. On that of the IXth progress was
slow, and the Australians, meeting with little resistance, captured
Ronssoy and Hargicourt.

After two days’ rest the attack was continued on the 21st, nine tanks
of the 2nd Battalion operating on the IIIrd Corps front against the
Knoll and Guillemont farm. Two of these machines carried forward
infantry, but the machine-gun fire was so heavy that it was not
possible to drop them. During this day the enemy put up a most
determined resistance and there were not sufficient tanks engaged
to silence his machine guns. Another two days’ rest followed, and
then again was the attack renewed on the IXth Corps front against
Fresnoy-le-Petit and the Quadrilateral, nineteen machines of the 13th
Battalion attacking with the 1st and 6th Divisions. So heavy was the
enemy’s gas barrage on this day that some of the tank crews were forced
to wear their respirators for over two hours on end. In spite of the
enemy being in great strength eighteen machines assisted the infantry.
Thus ended the battle of Epehy and though the advance was not great
nearly 12,000 prisoners and 100 guns were added to the “bag.”

Preparations were now set in hand for an extensive attack against the
Hindenburg and auxiliary lines of defence, which together formed a zone
of entrenchments for the most part very heavily wired and extending
over a depth varying from 8,000 to 16,000 yards. This attack entailed
another hasty reorganisation of tank battalions, which was completed by
September 26, when the battle order of Brigades was as follows:

  _1st Tank Brigade_     7th Battalion    Mark IV      Bullecourt.
    H.Q. Bihucourt      11th    „         Mark V Star  Barastre.
                        12th    „         Mark IV      W. of Ruyaulcourt.
                         1st T.S. Coy.                 S. of Velu.
                         2nd G.C. Coy.                 Bancourt.

  _2nd Tank Brigade_    10th Battalion    Mark V Star  Auchy les Hesdin.
    H.Q. Gomiecourt     14th   „          Mark V       Winnipeg Camp.
                        15th   „          Mark V Star  Hermies.
                         2nd T.S. Coy.                 Gomiecourt.
                         1st G.C. Coy.                 N.W. of
                                                         Vaux-Vraucourt.

  _3rd Tank Brigade_     5th Battalion    Mark V       E. of Cartigny.
    H.Q. Barleux         6th    „         Medium A     S. of Tincourt.
                         9th    „         Mark V       S. of Tincourt.
                         3rd T.S. Coy.                 S. of Tincourt.

  _4th Tank Brigade_     1st Battalion    Mark V       Manancourt.
    H.Q.
      Templeux-la-Fosse  4th    „         Mark V       S. of Manancourt.
                       301st American     Mark V Star  S. of Manancourt.
                               Battalion
                         4th T.S. Coy.                 S. of Manancourt.

  _5th Tank Brigade_     2nd Battalion    Mark V       Suzanne.
    H.Q. Bois-de-Buire   3rd    „         Medium A     S. of Roisel.
                         8th    „         Mark V       S. of Tincourt.
                        13th    „         Mark V       S. of Tincourt.
                        16th    „         Mark V Star  S. of Tincourt.
                        17th    „         Armoured     Buire.
                                            Cars
                         5th T.S. Coy.                 S. of Tincourt.

The rapidity with which these changes were made would, a few months
back, have bewildered both the Tank Corps Headquarter Staff and the
Brigade and Battalion Commanders themselves; now the knack of rapid
movement had been mastered, and though great energy had to be exerted
during such reorganisations, they were generally accomplished in time
and efficiently.

On September 27 the great battle began, comprising the First, Third,
and Fourth Armies on a front of sixteen miles. The battlefield was
divided into two main sectors, to the north that of the First and Third
Armies, between the Sensée river and Gouzeaucourt, with the object of
capturing Bourlon hill, and to the south that of the Fourth Army with
the capture of the Knoll, Guillemont farm, and Quennemont farm as its
objectives.

East of the First Army front line ran the canal Du Nord, a formidable
obstacle to tanks in spite of the fact that it was dry, having never
been completed. This canal varied from 36 to 50 ft. wide at the bottom,
and was 12 ft. deep, and the slopes of its sides were in many places
steep. The enemy, evidently suspecting that tanks might attempt to
cross it, had at certain places rendered this temporarily impossible,
so it was thought, by cutting in its bank a vertical wall 9 ft.
deep for several hundreds of yards along the eastern side between
Mœuvres and Inchy. In the Maquion-Bourlon sector the enemy had made
little anti-tank preparation, probably considering that the canal
itself formed a sufficient obstacle. In the Beaucamp sector, however,
anti-tank preparations were exceptionally thorough, many anti-tank
rifles being placed in position here.

Sixteen tanks of the 7th Battalion, all Mark IV.s, some of which had
fought over very nearly the same ground in November 1917, were allotted
to co-operate with the Canadian Corps. In spite of the formidable great
ditch which lay in front of them, fifteen of these machines crossed
the canal Du Nord near Mœuvres, and attacked Bourlon village and the
western edge of Bourlon wood. Of these fifteen machines only three were
put out of action, one by a mine placed in a road leading through a gap
in the canal and two by a battery near Deligny hill.

On the Third Army front Corps were disposed from north to south as
follows: XVIIth, VIth, IVth, and Vth Corps.

Twenty-six tanks of the 15th Battalion operated with the XVIIth Corps
south of Bourlon wood, and with the VIth Corps against Flesquières and
Premy Chapel. A fine performance was here carried out in crossing the
canal, and although more than one attempt had to be made by several of
the tanks the 9 ft. wall was successfully surmounted. This attack was
an overwhelming success in spite of the heavy tank casualties, 11 out
of the 26 machines operating being hit on the extreme objectives. On
the IVth Corps front 12 machines of the 11th Battalion attacked between
Gouzeaucourt and Trescault: this operation was, however, only partially
successful.

On the front of the Fourth Army the 27th American Division, supported
by twelve tanks of the 4th Tank Battalion, carried out a preparatory
attack on the Knoll, Guillemont and Quennemont farms, the object being
to advance the front line so as to be in a better position to attack in
force on the 29th. The Germans holding this sector of their line were
reliable and well led troops, and in spite of the fact that the tanks
and infantry reached their objectives a counter-attack drove them back,
with the result that up to zero-hour on the 29th the actual location of
our front line was very uncertain.

On September 28 a small local attack, which was completely successful,
was carried out against Raillencourt and St. Olle; in this six tanks of
the 7th Battalion took part.

On the following day seven tanks of the 11th Battalion co-operated with
the Vth Corps in the capture of Gonnelieu and Villers Guislain in spite
of strong resistance put up by the enemy.

On the Fourth Army front an important battle of considerable magnitude
was fought on the 29th, involving some 175 tanks. The object of this
battle was to force the Hindenburg Line between Bellenglise and
Vendhuile. Along this front is situated the St. Quentin canal, and as,
between Bellicourt and Vendhuile, this canal runs underground through
a tunnel, it provided the German garrisons of this sector of their
line with good underground cover. An operation on this sector had been
the subject of careful study by the Tank Corps General Staff both in
England and France ever since the summer of 1917, as this tunnel and
a shorter one just north of St. Quentin provide the only negotiable
approaches for tanks over the canal. It was fully realised that the
enemy would put up a most determined resistance to secure his retention
of the tunnel, for should it be occupied by us the whole of the
Hindenburg defences north and south of it would be threatened.

The attack was to be carried out by four Corps, the IXth Corps on the
right, the American and Australian Corps in the centre, and the IIIrd
Corps on the left.

The American Corps was to capture the first objective, the strongly
entrenched system east of Bony; the Australian Corps was then to pass
through the gap made and be followed by the American Corps exploiting
north and south. The IXth Corps was to clear the west bank of the
St. Quentin canal under cover of the southern wing of the American
exploitation force, whilst the IIIrd Corps was to move forward with the
left of the American Corps.

Tanks were allotted to Corps as follows:

3rd Tank Brigade, 5th, 6th, and 9th Battalions, to the IXth Corps.

4th Tank Brigade, 1st, 4th, and 301st American Battalion, to the
Australian Corps.

5th Tank Brigade, 8th, 13th, and 16th Battalions, in Army reserve.

The 301st American Battalion was attached for operations to the 27th
American Division.

A thick mist covered the ground when the tanks moved forward at 5.50
a.m. It will be remembered that the situation opposite the Knoll
and the two farms of Guillemont and Quennemont was very obscure.
This attack, which was to break the well sited and highly organised
Hindenburg Line, was necessarily a “set piece” attack in which
objectives, allotment of tanks, etc., had to be carefully worked out
beforehand. The plan of operations was based on the assumption that
the line--the Knoll--Guillemont farm--Quennemont farm--would form the
“jumping off” line. The resistance put up by the enemy in this sector
was far greater than ordinary, with the result that up to the time of
the attack the above line was still in German hands. This meant that
the artillery programme would have to be hastily changed or left as it
was. The latter course was decided on so as to obviate confusion, and
this necessitated the infantry attackers starting at a considerable
distance in rear of the protective barrage. As events turned out the
task set the Americans proved too severe, nevertheless with great
gallantry they pushed forward, some of them actually forcing their way
through the German defences. The majority, however, were mown down by
the exceptionally heavy machine-gun fire which was brought to bear on
them. The attack failed.

Meanwhile the 301st American Tank Battalion met with a disaster,
for, whilst moving forward from near Ronssoy, it ran into an old
British minefield west of Guillemont farm laid in the previous
February; ten machines were blown up and only two succeeded in
assisting the infantry. This minefield consisted of rows of buried
2 in. trench-mortar bombs, each containing 50 lb. of ammonal; the
explosions were terrific, the whole bottom of many machines being torn
out; in nearly all cases the crews of these tanks suffered very heavy
casualties.

In the south, tanks of the 4th and 5th Brigades cleared Nauroy and
Bellicourt and broke through the Hindenburg Line. The mist now began
to lift, and consequent on the failure of the northern attack, the
attackers were placed, tactically, in a very dangerous situation, for
the enemy was now able to fire into their backs. Several tanks, which
had been allotted to later objectives, on realising the seriousness of
the situation went into action on their own initiative without either
artillery or infantry support. This very gallant action undoubtedly
saved a great many infantry casualties, though the tanks themselves
suffered heavy losses.

On the right the attack of the IXth Corps was a complete success; in
the first rush the 46th Division crossed the canal, a magnificent
performance, and captured Magny and Etricourt with 4,000 prisoners. The
tanks operating with this Corps, being unable to cross with the troops,
who waded and swam the water in the canal, moved on Bellicourt, a
difficult operation in the dense fog. From this place they swung south,
working down the bank of the canal, and arrived in time to take part
in the capture of Magny. During this action the enemy’s artillery fire
proved very accurate; which was, however, to be expected, for this was
the third tank assault on the Knoll--Guillemont--Quennemont position;
consequently the German gunners had become thoroughly drilled in the
defence of this sector.

On the following day eighteen tanks of the 13th Battalion worked up
the Hindenburg and the Nauroy--Le Catelet lines, but on account of
some misunderstanding the infantry did not follow, consequently the
operation did not prove of much value.

On the First Army front six tanks of the 9th Battalion operated with
the 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisions against Cuvillers, Blecourt, and
Tilloy; they crossed the Douai-Cambrai road near Sancourt and greatly
helped the infantry by overcoming the determined machine-gun resistance
which was encountered throughout this attack. On the next day further
tanks of this Battalion assisted the 32nd Division in occupying the
Fonsomme line east of Joncourt. In this action smoke clouds were used
from tanks to cover their approach from the observation of the German
gunners; this proved very successful and undoubtedly reduced loss by
gun fire. One tank had a curious experience: a smoke bomb having burst
on the top of it, the crew were forced to evacuate the machine on
account of the fumes being drawn inside. The tank commander, having
put the fire out, was unable to find his crew; as time was short
he got inside the tank and continued his advance alone; on his way
forward he took on board an officer and two men of the Manchester
Regiment. The tank then went into action against a machine-gun nest;
as the improvised crew was ignorant of the Hotchkiss gun each time
a jam occurred the tank commander had to leave the driver’s seat to
rectify it. Shortly afterwards the truant crew turned up, so the tank
commander, having first driven his newly-made comrades to cover,
dropped them, and then proceeded on his way.

On October 3 an attack was launched against the Sequehart-Bony front
in which twenty machines of the 5th Tank Brigade proved of very great
assistance to the 32nd and 46th Divisions. Sequehart was cleared and so
was Ramicourt and Doon copse, but Montbrehain remained uncaptured.

On the 4th, the 3rd Tank Battalion was transferred from the 5th to the
3rd Tank Brigade, and a day later the 16th Tank Battalion from the
5th to the 4th Tank Brigade. The 8th, 9th, and 18th Battalions were
withdrawn into G.H.Q. reserve. On the 5th the first phase of the battle
of Cambrai--St. Quentin opened with a failure to take Beaurevoir in
which attack six tanks of the 4th Tank Battalion attempted to assist
the 25th Division. Co-operation in this action was indifferent, due
chiefly to the fact that the infantry of this division had never been
trained to work with tanks. This failure was partially retrieved by
a brilliantly executed attack by the Australians supported by twelve
tanks of the 16th Battalion against Montbrehain. This village was held
by the enemy in strength, and many good targets at close quarters were
obtained for 6-pounders firing case shot. The co-operation throughout
was excellent, as, since the battle of Hamel, had always been the case
when operating with the Australian Corps--tank commanders constantly
getting out of their tanks and talking to the infantry.

The second phase of the Cambrai--St. Quentin battle opened on the
morning of October 8 on an eighteen miles front--it was entirely
successful. Tanks were allotted as follows, eighty-two in all being
used:

  1st Tank Brigade  12th Battalion            1 Company to IVth Corps.
                                              1 Company to VIth Corps.
                                              1 Company to XVIIth Corps.
                    11th Battalion            To Vth Corps.

  4th Tank Brigade   1st Battalion            To XIIIth Corps.
                   301st American Battalion   To IInd American Corps.

  3rd Tank Brigade    3rd Battalion           To IInd American Corps.
                      6th Battalion           To IXth Corps.

The attacks, carried out by the 12th Tank Battalion on the front
Niergnies--La Targette, were successful, the infantry universally
testifying to the assistance rendered by this battalion. An interesting
encounter now took place, the enemy counter-attacking from the
direction of Awoingt with four captured British Mark IV tanks, one male
and three females. The counter-attack was speedily dealt with, the
renegade male being knocked out by a 6-pounder shell fired by one of
our own tanks and one female put out of action by a shell fired from a
captured German field gun by a tank section commander; the remaining
two females fled on the approach of one of our machines of the same
sex. So ended the second tank encounter as successfully as the first,
which it will be remembered was fought near the village of Cachy on
April 24, 1918.

The other actions fought on this day were briefly as follows:

One Company of the 11th Battalion assisted the 32nd Division against
Villers-Outreaux, another company operated with the 21st Division
and the third company with the 38th. This last company was of great
assistance, as the infantry had been held up by a broad belt of wire
which they were unable to cross until the tanks crushed down pathways
through it.

The 6th Tank Battalion, operating with the IInd American Corps, carried
out its programme, one of its machines putting three batteries of field
guns out of action in Fraicourt wood; and the 3rd Battalion came into
action in the neighbourhood of Serain. This village was very strongly
defended, the enemy holding it to cover his withdrawal.

On October 9 the attack continued along the whole front, eight tanks
of the 4th Battalion coming into action east of Premont and the 17th
Armoured Car Battalion, under orders of the Cavalry Corps, operating
around Maurois and Honnechy. Two days later, on the 11th, five tanks
of the 5th Battalion operated with the 6th Division north of Riguerval
wood; this was the last tank action fought in this battle.

The battle of Cambrai--St. Quentin was at an end. The Hindenburg Line
had now to all intents and purposes ceased to exist as an obstacle. It
had been broken on a front of nearly thirty miles, on which frontage
a penetration of some twenty miles had been effected, and no fewer
than 630 guns and 48,000 prisoners captured during the last fourteen
days. The effect of this great battle, coupled with the successes of
the French in the south and the operations east of Ypres and round
Courtrai, fought by the British, French, and Belgians in the north,
resulted in the withdrawal of the German forces in the Roubaix, Lille,
and Douai area, and with this withdrawal the whole of the British
forces in France from north of Menin to Bohain, seven miles north-west
of Guise, were faced with field warfare; open country stretched before
them, uncut by trench, unhung by wire. The period of exploitation
had arrived--that period all our endeavours had been concentrated on
attaining during four years of the most desperate and relentless war in
history.

Considering the comparative weakness of the British Army, the time of
the year, and the nature of the fighting, it had truly been a notable
performance on the part of the English and the Dominion infantry, to
have fought their way so far. To carry out a rapid pursuit was beyond
their endeavours, for the German Army, though beaten, was not yet
broken. For cavalry to do so was unthinkable, for the German rearguards
possessed many thousands of machine guns, and as long as these weapons
existed, pursuit, as cavalry dream it to be, is utterly impossible.
One arm alone could have turned the present defeat into a rout--the
tank, but few of these remained, for since August 8 no fewer than 819
machines had been handed over to Salvage by the tank battalions, and
these battalions themselves had lost in personnel 550 officers and
2,557 other ranks, a small number indeed when compared with the number
of actions the Corps had been engaged in, yet a severe loss out of a
fighting state of some 1,500 officers and 8,000 other ranks.

Had it been possible at this crisis to put into the field two fresh
brigades of medium tanks, that is about 300 machines, the cost of which
would be approximately £1,500,000, or one-fifth that of one day’s
cost of the war, the greatest war in all history might have closed
on or near the field of Waterloo in a decisive victory ending in an
unconditional surrender or an irretrievable rout.



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE U.S.A. TANK CORPS


On April 2, 1917, the United States of America entered the Great War.
Up to this date tanks had not accomplished much. British machines had
taken part in the battles of the Somme and Ancre, and the first French
ones had made their appearance on the training ground in October 1916.

In June 1917, Lieutenant-Colonel H. Parker was detailed to inquire into
the military value of tanks, and in the following month he forwarded
his report on this subject to the Operation Section of the Infantry
Committee of Colonel C. B. Baker’s Commission.

Lieutenant-Colonel Parker’s report makes good reading; not only is
it virile but sound. It was indeed a great pity that it was not more
completely acted on. The following is an extract from it:

  “1. A hole 30 k. wide _punched_ through _the whole German
  formation_ deep enough to uncover a line of communication to a
  flank attack.

  “This hole must be wide enough to assure the passage of lighter
  equipment--the divisional machine-gun companies can follow the
  tanks because the tanks will _make_ a road for them.

  “The wave of machine guns--divisional companies--must turn out to
  right and left, supported by a second line of tanks, to widen the
  breach.

  “The wave of machine guns must be followed by _cavalry_--‘hell for
  leather’--if the hole is once punched through, and this cavalry
  must strike lines of communication _at all hazards_. Possibly
  motor-cycle machine guns may be better adapted to this use than
  cavalry, but _I am a believer in the cavalry_. Support it with
  Jitney-carried infantry and machine guns as quickly as possible.

  “2. The problem is _that of passing a defile_. _Nothing more._
  It is like trying to force a mountain pass, where the sides are
  occupied by enemy who can fire down into the pass. The ‘pass’ is
  some 30 k. in length, and we must have something that can _drive
  through_. Then turn to the sides and widen the breach. Assail 100
  k. to cover assault.

  “It is the old ‘flying wedge’ of football, with interference coming
  through the hole in the line. The ‘tanks’ take the place of the
  ‘line buckers’ who open the hole; the ‘Divisional Jitney machine
  guns’ are the ‘interference,’ the ‘cavalry’ will carry the ball as
  soon as the hole is opened, _i.e._ ride through and hit the line of
  communication.

  “3. The operation works out this way:

  (_a_) A cloud of fighting avions at high altitude, to clear the air.

  (_b_) A cloud of observation avions at low altitude, just in front
          of the line of tanks, dropping bombs and using machine guns
          on the trenches.

  (_c_) Our long-range artillery blocking the German artillery.

  (_d_) Our lighter artillery barraging the front to prevent escape
          of the Germans in their front lines.

  (_e_) Our mobile machine guns following up the tanks at about 500
          yards, covering them with _canopy fire_, step by step.

  (_f_) Our Divisional Jitney companies of machine guns driving in
          ‘hell-bent’ after the tanks and widening the breach.

  (_g_) Our cavalry riding through this breach as soon as it is
          opened for them and swinging out _à la_ Jeb. Stuart around
          McClellan’s Army. Sacrificed? of course, but winning results
          worth the sacrifice.

  (_h_) Jitney or truck-transported infantry following as fast as
          gasoline can carry it to support the success and make our
          foothold sure.

  (_i_) Truck-transported--or tank-transported--artillery following
          as fast as possible.

“I BELIEVE SUCH A PLAN WILL WIN. FRITZ HAS NOT THE RESOURCES TO
ADOPT SUCH A PLAN. WE HAVE. WE SHOULD DO IT AND DO IT NOW as far as
preparation goes in material. It will take time to get ready.”

Shortly before this report was written, Colonel Rockenbach, the
commander designate of the American Tank Corps, landed in France
and proceeded with General Pershing to Chaumont, the U.S.A. General
Headquarters.

On September 23, 1917, a project for a Tank Corps was approved. The
Corps was to consist of 5 heavy and 20 light battalions, together with
headquarter units, depots and workshops, while in the United States a
training centre comprising 2 heavy and 5 light battalions was to be
maintained. In May 1918 the establishment of the Corps was expanded to
15 brigades, each brigade to consist of 1 heavy and 2 light battalions,
the former to be armed with the Mark VIII and the latter with the
Renault tank.

Meanwhile an immense constructional programme was developed for both
Mark VIII.s and Renaults, yet, in spite of this, by November 11, 1918,
one year and seven months after America entered the war, only some
twenty odd American-built Renault tanks had been landed in France.
The slowness in American construction is very apparent when it is
remembered that a similar period only elapsed between the first sketch
drawing of the British Mark I tank, in February 1915, and the landing
of this machine in France in August 1916.

The lack of machines in the American Tank Corps rendered the training
of its personnel impossible, consequently at the beginning of 1918
two training camps were started, one at Bovington--the British Tank
Training Centre--and the other at Bourg in the Haute-Marne, where
training was carried out under French supervision. The history of the
units trained at these two centres will be dealt with separately as
follows:

By February 1918, 500 volunteers from various branches of the American
Army were assembled at Bourg for instruction. On March 27, 10 Renault
machines were taken over from the French, another 15 being sent to
Bourg in June. In August, 144 Renault tanks arrived, and 2 light
battalions were at once mobilised under the command of Colonel G. S.
Patten and were railed to the St. Mihiel area, where they operated with
the First American Army, which attacked the famous salient on September
12.

From a tank point of view this attack was a disappointing one. From
railhead both battalions moved 20 kilometres to their positions of
assembly, but on the first day of the attack, owing to the difficulties
of ground in a well-established defence area, they never succeeded in
catching up with the infantry. These troops moved forward rapidly, for
it must be remembered that the enemy’s resistance was very feeble,
the salient having already been partially evacuated by the enemy.
Owing to lack of petrol the tanks did not participate in the second
day’s fighting, and on the third they appear only on one occasion to
have come into contact with the enemy and to have collected a number
of prisoners. The following day these two battalions were withdrawn
practically intact, only three machines being left behind damaged or
broken down.

The American tanks next appear fighting side by side with French
tank units in the Argonne operations. Profiting by their previous
experience, although infantry and tanks had never met on the training
ground, the two American tank battalions materially assisted their
infantry.

On the first day of the Argonne attack, September 26, it had been
intended to keep a reserve of tanks in hand for the second day’s
operations, but owing to the infantry being held up these went into the
attack about noon.

From this date until October 13 these battalions were continually
placed at the disposal of the infantry commanders, but were not often
called upon to take an active part in operations. Frequently they were
moved many miles, to the detriment of their tracks and engines and
without achieving any great result; they were also used independently
for reconnaissance work and for unsupported attacks delivered against
positions the infantry had failed to capture.

On October 13 the remains of these two battalions were withdrawn and
a provisional company was formed which accompanied the advance of the
American forces until the cessation of hostilities on November 11, 1918.

The 301st U.S.A. Heavy Tank Battalion arrived at Wool on April 10, and
continued training under British instruction until August 24, when
it embarked for France. Soon after its arrival in this country it was
attached to the 1st British Tank Brigade.

On September 29 the 301st American Tank Battalion took part in the
important attack carried out by the 27th and 30th American Divisions
against the Hindenburg Line running east of the Bellicourt tunnel.
The attack started at 5.50 a.m. in a thick mist, and though the 30th
American Division reached the Bellicourt tunnel to time, the 27th on
its left was held up. On the front of the last-named Division only one
tank succeeded in crossing the tunnel, the others running foul of an
old British minefield as described in Chapter XXXV. Of the thirty-four
tanks which took part in this attack only ten rallied.

On October 8, when the Fourth Army resumed the offensive, the 301st
Battalion was allotted to the IInd American Corps, which was attacking
a position some 3,000 yards north-west of Brancourt with the IXth
British Corps on its right and the XIIIth on its left. This attack was
a complete success; the 301st Battalion fought right through to its
final objective, rendering the greatest assistance to the infantry, who
worked in close co-operation with the tanks. One tank in particular did
great execution: it advanced, firing both its 6-pounders at the railway
cutting between Beaurevoir and Montbrehain, the ground being littered
with German dead.

Nine days later, on the 17th, the attack was continued, the 301st
Battalion again being attached to the IInd American Corps, the
objective of which was a line running west of Busigny--eastern edge
of La Sablière wood (south of Busigny)--west of Bohain. In this
operation the crossing of the river Selle, south of St. Souplet, was
a most difficult problem, as the river ran through “No Man’s Land”;
nevertheless, by means of low-flying aeroplanes reconnaissance and
night-patrol work was carried out, crossings were selected, and on the
actual day of the attack no fewer than nineteen tanks out of the twenty
operating successfully crossed the stream.

The next and last attack carried out by the 301st Battalion during the
war took place on October 23, when nine tanks of this unit assisted
the 6th and 1st British Divisions in an attack in the neighbourhood of
Bazuel, south-east of Le Cateau. This operation was part of the Fourth
Army’s attack, the objectives of which were the high ground overlooking
the canal de la Sambre et Oise, between Catillon, and Bois l’Evêque and
the villages of Fontaine-au-Bois, Robersart, and Bousies.

All nine tanks moved forward at zero hour behind the barrage, and
from the report of an observer who saw these machines in action it
appears that they cleared up the whole of the ground as far as the
Bazuel-Catillon road. Very little opposition was met with, but in
spite of this, owing to the poor visibility and the enclosed nature of
the country, the infantry were slow in following the tanks and great
difficulty was experienced in maintaining touch with them. Nevertheless
all infantry commanders expressed themselves well pleased with the work
the tanks had accomplished, which had chiefly consisted in reducing
strong points and breaking paths through the hedges. Of the nine tanks
which took the field all rallied; no casualties other than five men,
slightly gassed, were suffered. The attack on this day was altogether a
fitting conclusion to the brief but conspicuously gallant career of the
301st American Tank Battalion.



CHAPTER XXXVII

THE BATTLES OF THE SELLE AND MAUBEUGE


On October 12, the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 15th Battalions were
withdrawn and placed in G.H.Q. reserve, and on the following day the
6th Battalion was transferred to the 4th Tank Brigade; meanwhile the
retiring enemy endeavoured to form a defensive line on the east side of
the river Selle.

On this front, on October 17, the Fourth Army and the First French Army
attacked from Le Cateau southwards to Vaux Andigny on a front of about
twelve miles. The 4th Tank Brigade was the only brigade in action, and
its battalions were allotted as follows:

  1st Tank Battalion          To the IXth Corps, on the right.
  301st American Battalion    To the IInd American Corps, in the centre.
  16th Tank Battalion         To the XIIIth Corps, on the left.

The 6th Tank Battalion was held in Fourth Army reserve.

The chief obstacle was the river Selle, the course of which roughly
approximated to the starting line in “No Man’s Land,” consequently
reconnaissance of this obstacle was extremely difficult. In spite of
this tapes were laid across the stream at night time, when it was
discovered that the river had been dammed in places in order to render
the crossing of tanks over it more difficult.

The early morning of the 17th was so foggy that tanks had to move
forward at zero hour (5.30 a.m.) on compass bearings. Each of the
forty-eight machines used carried a crib, and by casting these into the
Selle north of St. Souplet and at Molain the 1st and 16th Battalions
and the 301st American Battalion crossed this river safely. The
resistance offered by the enemy was not great, the Germans apparently
having considered the flooded river a certain obstacle against tanks.

Three days later the Third Army attacked between Le Cateau and the
Scheldt canal, four tanks of the 11th Battalion co-operating with the
Vth Corps against Neuvilly and Amervalles. Again the chief difficulty
was the crossing of the Selle: this was successfully effected by means
of an underwater sleeper bridge constructed by the Royal Engineers at
night time: being under water the bridge was not visible to the enemy
during the day. The attack was entirely successful, all four tanks
crossing the river and reaching their objectives.

About the middle of October the 2nd Tank Brigade was reconstituted,
the following battalions being allotted to it: 6th, 9th, 10th, 14th
Battalions, and the 301st American Tank Battalion. All these units were
short of men and very short of machines.

On October 23, thirty-seven tanks took part in a successful moonlight
attack at 1.20 a.m. carried out by the Third and Fourth Armies north
and south of Le Cateau, with the object of securing the whole line from
the Sambre along the edge of the forest of Mormal to the vicinity of
Valenciennes. In this attack the following battalions took part:

  301st American Tank Battalion, allotted to IXth Corps.
  10th Tank Battalion, allotted to XIIIth Corps.
  11th and 12th Tank Battalions, allotted to Vth Corps.

In spite of the darkness, mist, and a considerable amount of gas
shelling, all objectives were reached. Many good targets presented
themselves, especially for case-shot fire, and in all some 3,000
prisoners were captured. In this attack tanks were of considerable help
in crushing down hedges and so opening gaps in them for the infantry to
pass through.

The attack was continued on the following day, six machines of the
10th Battalion co-operating with the 18th and 25th Divisions in the
neighbourhood of Robersart. Near Renuart farm great assistance was
rendered to the infantry, and a German ammunition dump exploded by a
6-pounder shell threw the enemy into great confusion and inflicted many
casualties on him.

With this attack the battle of the Selle came to an end and with it 475
guns and 20,000 prisoners were added to those already captured.

The battle of Maubeuge opened on November 2 with an attack carried out
by the IXth Corps west of Landrecies. This attack was supported by
three tanks of the 10th Battalion and it was carried out in order to
improve our position near Happegarbes preliminary to a big attack on
the 4th. All objectives were taken, but unfortunately lost again before
nightfall.

November 4 witnessed the last large tank attack of the war, large only
in comparison with the number of machines at this time fit for action.
The attack was on a broad front of over thirty miles, extending from
the river Oise to north of Valenciennes. On the British section of this
front thirty-seven tanks were used and were allotted as follows:

  Third Army      VIth Corps      1 Company 6th Tank Battalion.
                  IVth Corps      2 Sections 14th Tank Battalion.
                  Vth Corps       1 Company 9th Tank Battalion.

  Fourth Army     XIIIth Corps    5 Sections 14th Tank Battalion.
                                  2 Companies 9th Tank Battalion.
                                  2 Sections 14th Tank Battalion.
                                  17th Armoured Car Battalion.
                  IXth Corps      4 Sections 10th Tank Battalion.

From the above distribution of tanks it will be seen how exhausted
units had become, sections now taking the place of companies and
companies of battalions.

Zero hour varied on the Corps fronts from 5.30 to 6.15 a.m. Briefly the
action of the tanks was as follows:

Those of the 10th Tank Battalion assisted in the taking of Catillon and
Happeharbes; the capture of the former village was an important step
in securing the crossing over the Oise canal. Generally speaking the
tanks operating with the XIIIth Corps had a successful day, especially
in the neighbourhood of Hecq, Preux, and the north-western edge of the
forest of Mormal. Although supply tanks[37] are not meant for fighting
purposes, three, which were carrying forward bridging material for the
25th Division, came into action near Landrecies. On approaching the
canal they found that our infantry were still on its western side,
hung up by machine-gun fire. One tank being knocked out, the section
commander decided to push on with the other two; this he did, our
infantry following these machines as if they were fighting tanks, with
the result that the machine-gunners surrendered and the far bank of the
canal was secured.

The following day, November 5, saw the last tank action of the war,
eight Whippets of the 6th Tank Battalion taking part in an attack of
the 3rd Guards Brigade north of the forest of Mormal. The country was
most difficult for combined operations, for it was intersected by
numerous ditches and fences which rendered it ideal for the rearguard
operations the Germans were now fighting all along their front. Either
the Whippets had to go forward and so lose touch with our infantry or
remain with the infantry and lose touch with the enemy. In spite of
these difficulties all objectives were taken, and the last tank action
of the war was a success.

During the next few days refitting continued with a view to building
up an organised fighting force from the shattered remnants of the Tank
Corps; as this was in progress the signing of the armistice terms on
November 11 brought hostilities to an end.

Ninety-six days of almost continuous battle had now taken place since
the great tank attack at Amiens was launched by the Fourth Army on
August 8, since when many of the officers and men of the Tank Corps had
been in action as many as fifteen and sixteen times. During this period
no fewer than 1,993 tanks and tank armoured cars had been engaged on
thirty-nine days in all; 887 machines had been handed over to Salvage,
313 of these being sent to the Central Workshops, and 204 having been
repaired and reissued to battalions. Of the above 887 tanks, only
fifteen had been struck off the strength as unsalvable. Casualties
against establishment had been heavy: 598 officers and 2,826 other
ranks being counted amongst killed, wounded, missing, and prisoners;
but when it is considered that the total strength of the Tank Corps on
August 7 was considerably under that of an infantry division, and that
in the old days of the artillery battles, such as the First Battle of
the Somme, an infantry division frequently sustained 4,000 casualties
in twelve hours fighting, the tank casualties were extraordinarily
light. It was no longer a matter of twelve hours’ but of thirty-nine
days’ fighting at twelve hours a day. From this we may deduce our
final and outstanding lesson from all these battles, namely, that iron
mechanically moved is an economiser of blood, that the tank is an
economiser of life--the lives of men, men being the most valuable asset
any country can possess.

The determination of Sir Douglas Haig had at length been rewarded, and
the endeavours which failed at Passchendaele won through finally and
irrevocably at Maubeuge. A fitting conclusion to all these operations
is to be found in the last dispatch of the Commander-in-Chief of the
British Armies, which hands down to posterity a just judgment on the
value of the work carried out by the British Tank Corps during the
ever-memorable months of August to November 1918. In these dispatches
are to be found the following three paragraphs, which are worth
pondering over when the time comes for us to consider the future:

  “In the decisive contests of this period, the strongest and most
  vital parts of the enemy’s front were attacked by the British,
  his lateral communications were cut and his best divisions fought
  to a standstill. On the different battle fronts 187,000 prisoners
  and 2,850 guns were captured by us, bringing the total of our
  prisoners for the present year to over 201,000. Immense numbers of
  machine guns and trench mortars were taken also, the figures of
  those actually counted exceeding 29,000 machine guns and some 3,000
  trench mortars. These results were achieved by 59 fighting British
  divisions, which in the course of three months of battle engaged
  and defeated 99 separate divisions.”

  “Since the opening of our offensive on August 8, tanks have
  been employed on every battlefield, and the importance of the
  part played by them in breaking up the resistance of the German
  infantry can scarcely be exaggerated. The whole scheme of the
  attack of August 8 was dependent upon tanks, and ever since that
  date on numberless occasions the success of our infantry has been
  powerfully assisted or confirmed by their timely arrival. So great
  has been the effect produced upon the German infantry by the
  appearance of British tanks that in more than one instance, when
  for various reasons real tanks were not available in sufficient
  numbers, valuable results have been obtained by the use of dummy
  tanks painted on frames of wood and canvas.

  “It is no disparagement of the courage of our infantry, or of the
  skill and devotion of our artillery, to say that the achievements
  of those essential arms would have fallen short of the full measure
  of success achieved by our armies had it not been for the very
  gallant and devoted work of the Tank Corps, under the command of
  Major-General H. J. Elles.”



CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE 17TH TANK ARMOURED CAR BATTALION


In March 1918 the 17th Tank Battalion was in process of formation at
the Tank Training Centre at Wool, when the German spring offensive
resulted in so great a demand being made on the home resources that
it was converted into an Armoured Car Battalion on April 23. On the
following day the drivers were selected, and sixteen armoured cars,
which were earmarked for the eastern theatre of war, were handed over
to it, the Vickers machine guns being replaced by Hotchkiss ones.

On April 28 the cars were embarked at Portsmouth, and on the 29th the
personnel, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel E. J. Carter, left
Folkestone for Boulogne. Thus in six days the whole battalion was
formed, equipped, and landed in France.

Immediately on landing the 17th Battalion was attached to the Second
Army and ordered to proceed to Poperinghe, but the tactical situation
improving these orders were cancelled and it was first sent to the Tank
Gunnery School at Merlimont for instruction, and later on to the Tank
Depot at Mers.

After some ten days’ training the 17th Battalion joined the Fourth Army
and went into the line at La Hussoye, being attached to the Australian
Corps. A few days later the battalion was transferred to the XXIInd
Corps, which was then resting in G.H.Q. reserve, immediately behind
the right flank of the British Army, and battalion headquarters were
established at Pissy. Here training continued until June 10, when at
9.30 a.m. instructions were received by Lieutenant-Colonel Carter to
report to the headquarters of the First French Army at Conty.

At Conty orders were issued for the battalion to proceed to Ravenel
near St. Just. The battalion was notified of this by telephone, and,
although the night was very dark and wet and the roads crowded with
traffic, it reached Ravenel by 5 a.m. on June 11, after a sixty-mile
journey, and went into action with the Tenth French Army in its
counter-attack at Belloy on that day. In this battle two sections of
armoured cars engaged the enemy with machine-gun fire, but the quantity
of debris scattered on the roads, and the fragile nature of the chassis
of the cars, prevented their being freely used. On the conclusion of
these operations the battalion returned to the XXIInd Corps.

On July 18 the 17th Battalion was ordered to join General Fayolle’s
Army, but did not come into action on account of delays on the road
due to congested traffic. Ten days later it was attached to the 6th
French Cavalry Division, which was operating north of Château-Thierry
following the retreating enemy towards the river Ourcq. On this river
the Germans took up a defensive position, covering its approaches
by machine-gun fire; this brought the French cavalry to a halt, but
not the armoured cars, which were able, on account of their armour,
to approach quite close to the bridges and open fire on the enemy’s
machine-gunners. At Fère-en-Tardenois the battalion greatly aided the
French by moving through the main streets of the village, which was
held by Germans. Similar assistance was rendered to the Americans at
Ronchères.

When the 6th French Cavalry Division was withdrawn to rest the 17th
Battalion proceeded to Senlis, and at 9 a.m., having just entered this
town, it received orders to proceed forthwith to Amiens, and report to
the headquarters of the Australian Corps. Amiens, which was nearly 100
miles distant, was reached the same night.

On arriving at Amiens Lieutenant-Colonel Carter was informed that
his unit was to take part in the projected attack east of this town.
The chief difficulty foreseen in an armoured-car action in this
neighbourhood was the crossing of the trenches. Although only one day
was available wherein to find a solution to this difficulty, it was
accomplished by attaching a small force of tanks to the battalion.
These tanks were used to tow the armoured cars over the obstacles, or
rather, along the tracks the tanks formed through them. This solution
proved eminently successful.

For the Fourth Army operations the 17th Armoured Car Battalion was
placed under the orders of the 5th Tank Brigade. On the morning of
August 8 the battalion moved forward with its accompanying tanks,
which successfully assisted all its cars over “No Man’s Land.” Beyond
Warfusée, several large trees, felled by shell fire, had fallen across
the road, entirely blocking it; these were speedily removed by the
towing tanks, thus clearing the road not only for the armoured cars but
for our guns and transport. After this delay the cars moved rapidly
forward and passed through our attacking lines about twenty minutes
before the infantry were timed to reach their final objective. To
accomplish this the cars had to run through our own artillery barrage;
this they did without casualty.

The road was now clear and the cars proceeded through the enemy’s
lines, scattering any infantry they found on the road. They made for
the valley near Foucaucourt, where the headquarter troops of a German
Corps were known to be encamped. These troops were completely surprised
and many casualties were inflicted on them by six cars moving through
the valley. The confusion caused soon developed into a panic, the enemy
scattering in all directions, spreading the alarm.

Whilst this surprise was developing, several sections of armoured
cars turned south and north off the Amiens-Brie road. The former met
large columns of transport and mounted officers and teams of horses
apparently belonging to the German headquarters at Framerville. These
were fired on at short range, four officers being shot down by a single
burst of fire. Shortly after this the German headquarters were reached,
and the Australian Corps flag, which had been carried in one of the
cars for the purpose, was run up over the house which, until a few
minutes before, had been occupied by the German Corps Commander. At
about this time one car came in sight of a German train: the engine was
fired at and put out of action; later on the cavalry arriving captured
it.

The cars which had turned northwards entered Proyart and Chuignolles,
two moving up to the river Somme. At Proyart the cars found the German
troops at dinner; these they shot down and scattered in all directions,
and then, moving westwards, met masses of the enemy driven from their
trenches by the Australians. In order to surprise these men, who were
moving eastwards, the cars hid in the outskirts of Proyart, and, when
the enemy was between fifty and one hundred yards distant, they rapidly
moved forward, shooting down great numbers. Scattering from before the
cars at Proyart the enemy made across country towards Chuignolles,
only to be met by the cars which had proceeded to this village, and
were once again fired on and dispersed. Near Chuignolles one armoured
car obtained “running practice” with its machine guns at a lorry full
of troops, and kept up fire until the lorry ran into the ditch. There
were also several cases of armoured cars following German transport
vehicles, without anything unusual being suspected, until fire was
opened at point-blank range.

Although more than half the cars were out of action by the evening of
the 8th there were no casualties amongst their personnel sufficiently
serious to require evacuation.

After repairing the damages sustained on August 8, the 17th Battalion
was transferred to the First Army, and on August 21 took part in
the operations near Bucquoy. At the entrance of the village a large
crater had been blown in the road, over which the cars were hauled
after a smooth path had been beaten down across it by a Whippet tank.
The cars then made their way through the enemy’s lines and reached
Achiet-le-Petit ahead of our infantry, where several machine guns were
silenced by them. In this action two of the cars received direct hits,
one of them being burnt out and destroyed.

On August 24 the battalion operated with the New Zealand Division in
the attack on Bapaume, the cars penetrating to the Arras-Bapaume road,
where severe fighting took place.

In the attack of September 2, the 17th Battalion operated with
the Canadian Corps in the assault on the Drocourt-Queant line. In
this action four cars were hit by shell fire, but two squadrons of
aeroplanes co-operating with the cars attacked the German battery so
vigorously that the crews of the disabled cars were able to escape
being captured.

On September 29 the armoured cars operated with the Australian Corps
and the IInd American Corps in the attack on the Hindenburg Line near
Bony; here numerous casualties were inflicted on the enemy and four
cars were put out of action by being burnt. This position was captured
by the Australians on the following day.

On October 8 the armoured cars were attached to the Cavalry Corps,
which was operating from Beaurevoir towards Le Cateau. On this day the
cars kept touch with the cavalry, but on the following morning they
moved forward through Maretz. About two miles beyond this village a
section co-operated with South African infantry and drove the German
machine-gunners from a strong position they were holding. The cars
were able to run right through the hostile machine-gun fire, and by
enfilading the enemy’s position killed the German machine-gunners and
captured ten machine guns and two trench mortars.

A section of cars made a dash to cross the railway bridge on the
Maretz-Honnechy road, but the enemy’s demolition party saw them coming
and, lighting the fuse, fled. The leading car, however, got across
safely, the charge exploding and blowing up the bridge immediately this
car had crossed and thereby cutting it off from the second car, which
was some fifty yards behind. The leading car then went through Maurois
and Honnechy, all guns firing; both of these villages were crowded with
troops. Near Honnechy church the car ran into a by-road by mistake;
at the same moment a group of Germans came out of a house and the car
accounted for five of them in the doorway. This incident was described
with enthusiasm by a French woman, the owner of the house, to
Lieutenant-Colonel Carter on the following day. After passing Honnechy
the car was run towards a bridge which was known to exist. Profiting by
his previous experience the commander of the car determined to save the
bridge from demolition and so not only effect his retreat but secure
it to the British Army. To accomplish this the car rapidly moved round
a corner of the road leading to the bridge, with its guns pointing in
the direction where the demolition party would probably be. This action
proved successful, the demolition party being scattered by a burst of
bullets before the charge could be fired. The bridge was thus saved
and proved of great importance to the British forces later on. The car
then crossed the river and proceeded to the spot where the second car
had been unable to cross, picking it up; both cars returned to report
their action, one at least having accomplished a very daring and useful
journey.

On November 4 the armoured cars were attached to the XVIIIth Corps and
were detailed to operate with the 18th and 50th Divisions in the forest
of Mormal. In this district the roads are narrow and at this time of
the year were very slippery; armoured-car action was therefore most
difficult. On the next day the cars of the 17th Battalion, now much
reduced in numbers, were operating with no fewer than five divisions
simultaneously. On the 9th all cars were concentrated and attached to
the Fourth Army advanced guard to assist in the pursuit of the retiring
enemy. In the action which followed the cars were cut off from the
advanced guard by all the river bridges being destroyed, but in spite
of this they were able to continue advancing on a line parallel to the
pursuit. At Ramousies and Liessies three complete trains of ammunition
were passed and numbers of heavy guns, lorries and artillery transport,
the enemy being in full flight and in a high state of demoralisation.

On November 11 the armoured cars were reconnoitring towards
Eppé-Sauvage and Moustier (twelve miles east of Avegnes), near the
Belgian frontier, some seven or eight miles in advance of the nearest
British troops, when at 10.30 a.m. an officer from the 33rd French
Division informed the officer in command that he had heard rumours of
an armistice; a few minutes later a dispatch-rider corroborated this
information, stating that hostilities were to cease at 11 a.m. Firing
went on until about three minutes to eleven, when it ceased, breaking
out in a final crash at eleven o’clock--then all was silence; a silence
almost uncanny to the men of the 17th Tank Armoured Car Battalion, who
had not been out of gunshot since July 17, the date upon which the
battalion opened its eventful history with the French Army on the Marne.

Dramatic as had been the short and brilliant career of the 17th
Armoured Car Battalion, its work was not yet ended. On November 13 it
assembled at Avesnes, and joining the cavalry of the Fourth Army moved
forward towards the Rhine. On the 26th four sections of cars were
ordered to Charleroi to deal with a reported disturbance. In this town
they were received with the greatest enthusiasm by the inhabitants,
and at Courcelles were surrounded by excited townsfolk who, having
collected all available brass instruments, crowded round the cars
playing the British National Anthem at a range of about five yards.

From Charleroi, the 17th Battalion joined the Second Army, moving on
Cologne, and were attached to the 1st Cavalry Division. On December
1 the German frontier was crossed at Malmédy, whence the battalion
was immediately sent on with the 2nd Cavalry Brigade to deal with
disturbances which had broken out in Cologne. Five days later, on the
6th, the cavalry halted outside the town, and the G.O.C. 2nd Cavalry
Brigade, escorted by cars of the 17th Battalion, proceeded to the
Rathaus to discuss the administration of the town with the burgomaster.
Cologne was entered at midday, the crews of the armoured cars being the
first British troops to enter. That afternoon the western end of the
Rhine bridge was occupied, and the colours of the Tank Corps run up to
flutter over the famous river.

The record of this battalion is a truly remarkable one. It was formed,
equipped, and landed in France in the short space of six days. In six
months it fought in ten separate battles with English, Australian,
Canadian, New Zealand, South African, French, and American troops, and
was three times mentioned in German dispatches. Every car was hit and
some of them many times, and yet the total losses in killed in action
throughout this period was only one officer and four other ranks. At
the cost of these five men and seven cars totally destroyed, this
battalion must have inflicted scores if not hundreds of casualties on
the enemy. That the British Army was not equipped with many more of
these units will be a problem which will doubtless perplex the minds of
future military historians.



CHAPTER XXXIX

A RETROSPECT OF WHAT TANKS HAVE ACCOMPLISHED


Like all other human energies, war may be reduced to a science, and had
this, throughout history, been better understood, how many countless
thousands of lives and millions of money might not have been saved, and
how much sorrow and waste might not have been prevented!

Science is but another name for knowledge--knowledge co-ordinated,
arranged and systematised--from which art, or the application of
knowledge to existing and ever-changing conditions, is derived and
built up on unchanging principles.

The fundamental difficulty in the art of war is in the application
of its theories in order to test their values. Like surgery and
medicine, it demands its patients or victims as its training-ground,
and without these it is most difficult to arrive at expert judgments
and conclusions. It is an art which is neither directly commercial,
materially remunerative, nor normally applicable, consequently it has
generally been looked upon as a necessary evil, an insurance against
disaster rather than the application of a science which should have as
its main object the prevention of the calamity of war.

As an applied science, war is half human, half mechanical; it is,
therefore, pre-eminently a live or dynamic science, a science which
must grow with human understanding itself, so that its means of action,
materialised in the soldier, may not only keep level with progress but
absorb it to its own particular ends. When we look back on the history
of war, what do we see? A school of pedants fumbling with the past,
hoodwinked against the future, seeking panaceas in past victories,
the circumstances under which these were won being blindly accepted
as recurring decimals. Thus do they lumber their minds with obsolete
detail, formulæ and shibboleths, precepts and rituals which are as
much out of place on the modern battlefield as phlogiston or the
philosopher’s stone would be in a present-day laboratory.

Time and again has it been asserted that war itself is the sole test of
a soldier’s worth and that on the battlefield alone will the great be
sifted from the little.

And why? Because, until to-day, we have never emerged from what may be
called the “alchemical” epoch of warfare, the compounding of illusions
without knowledge, the application of actions without understanding;
we have not reduced war to a science founded on definite principles
nor learnt that 99 per cent. of victory depends on weapons, machinery
placed in the hands of man so that he may kill without being injured.

Galen was a great physician and so was Paracelsus, but who to-day would
apply their methods when they can employ those of Pasteur and Lister?
Where we have been so wrong and will continue to remain so wrong,
unless we radically change our peace methods of warfare, is that we
possess no process of producing great peace soldiers--scientists for
war. We do not realise that an army is formed to prevent war, that it
is composed of human points, that the good player will not lose many
of these points, and that the bad player will go bankrupt. That the
loss or gain depends on superiority of brains and of weapons and not
necessarily superiority of rank and numbers of men. When we do realise
this, then shall we cast the ancient balsams, solvents, and coagulants
to the winds and set about developing the mental and mechanical sides
of war in days of peace, so that, should wars become inevitable, we may
win them with the minimum of human loss.

Soldiers have laughed at Joly de Maizeroy, Massenbach, and Maurice
de Saxe for suggesting “victory without fighting,” “wars without
battles”; but seldom are their eyes dimmed with a tear when they read
of a victory which cost thousands of lives, and a victory which might
have been won at the cost of a few hundreds. Yet surely is the saving
of men’s lives and limbs as great an attribute of good leadership as
the taking of those of the enemy; is it not in fact endurance, or the
staying power in human lives, which is the backbone of victory itself?

In August 1914 the Great War opened to all intents and purposes as
an exaggerated 1870 operation. The doctrine of the contending armies
was 1870, its leaders were saturated with 1870 ideas, its weapons
were improved 1870, it was 1870 in complexion, in tone, in manner,
in thought, in tactics, and in movement. If this be doubted read the
text-books prior to the war and compare them with those of 1872 and
then with the events of the war itself. Take any great army of 1918 and
place it over the same army of 1914: the sides do not coincide. What is
the one great difference? Mechanical progress in weapons, not numbers
of men, for men potentially had in numbers decreased; yet any 1918
equipped army would have beaten a 1914 one because of guns, heavy guns,
super-heavy guns, mortars, shells, bombs, grenades, gas, machine guns,
machine rifles, automatic rifles, range-spotters, sound-detectors,
smoke, aeroplanes, lorries, railways, tramways, armoured cars, and
tanks.

What to-day would be thought of a mechanical engineer who applied 1870
methods? Nothing; he would go bankrupt in six weeks if he started
business on 1870 lines. This is exactly what the armies of 1914
did; they tactically went bankrupt because they were sufficiently
big, or the area of operations was sufficiently small, to deny to
them strategical movement. Could this have been foreseen? Given
the numbers, given the weapons, and given the area of operations,
a simple rule-of-three sum can be worked out, the answer to which
is siege warfare and the tactics of which is the frontal attack of
penetration;[38] yet every _Field Service Regulations_, in 1914,
favoured envelopment and paid but a passing attention to trench warfare.

Inevitably the preordained tactics of penetration were forced on the
contending parties, and human points were thrown over the parapets
in handfuls; as if men, armed with a rifle and bayonet, who could
only secure their existence by remaining underground, had any chance
whatever of attaining a decisive victory by forsaking their shelters
and facing weapons in the open which had previously forced them to
earth. What was the result? The Germans failed at Ypres and Verdun;
the French in the Champagne, at Verdun, and at Reims; and we at Neuve
Chapelle, Loos, the Somme, Arras, and Passchendaele. Between 2,000,000
and 3,000,000 casualties on one side of the balance sheet and a few
square miles of uninhabitable ground on the other was the sum-total
of these united endeavours, and all because no single army had, since
1870, realised the mechanical side of the science of war. In October,
ten weeks after the war had opened, as the second chapter of this book
has already related, the mechanical side was realised and a solution
was found in the production of a chariot not so very dissimilar to that
depicted on the “Victory Stele of Eannatum” of Lagash, 3,000 years
B.C.--no very novel mechanical invention!

Time, a few months, was, however, requisite for the substitution of the
petrol engine for the horses of the Assyrians, and as time could not
be wasted other mechanical lapses were made good which might have well
been foreseen had penetration and not envelopment been diagnosed as the
leading tactical act of the war.

At first each contending nation in turn passed through its barbed-wire
crisis, its gun shortage and its ammunition scandal. Millions of miles
of wire were produced, thousands of guns were made, and ammunition was
manufactured not by thousands of rounds, but by hundreds of thousands
of tons. Had any one side been able to fire at the other, in September
1914, 100,000 tons in a couple of days, that side would have, probably,
won the war. This is practically what happened at the Dunajec in
1915--the Russians were out-weaponed and consequently defeated.

On the Western Front, as the artillery competition was more or less
mutual, stagnation became still more complete. In place of hurling men
against uncut wire, shells were hurled instead, the bombardments being
sufficiently long to enable the Germans to transport troops from the
east of Poland to France in time to meet the assault. As the frontage
of this assault was usually under ten miles, the total battle-front
being over 500, the operation may be compared with that of attempting
to take the life of a rhinoceros with a hat-pin. These tactics
inevitably failed, not only through the impossibility of economically
wearing away the enemy’s reserves, but on account of the impossibility
of rapidly moving forward our own; for in the act of destroying wire,
simultaneously did the guns create an area so difficult to move over
that, had it been possible to advance the infantry, it would never have
been possible to feed or supply them.

That stationary warfare should have increased in endurance as the
gun-power of each side was multiplied was not necessary; this was
clearly proved during the first two German battles of 1918. By this
date, on all sides, had artillery attained its zenith, but the Germans,
by threatening a front of nearly 250 miles--practically from the
Channel to the Meuse--and then, after an intense bombardment lasting
but a few hours, attacking on a comparatively wide front of some fifty
miles, were able to develop their machine power to its fullest effect,
that is to say, with the least opposition.

It took nearly three years from the date of the battle of the Dunajec
before the use of the gun as a weapon of surprise was grasped; this
will probably prove one of the most astounding tactical anomalies of
the war. During this period two other weapons were devised which were
destined in most respects to outclass the gun; the idea of both must
have arisen at approximately the same time.

For years before the war the French and ourselves had been the leading
mechanical engineers of Europe; in a similar respect the Germans were
its leading chemists. Both, once a deadlock had arisen in the war,
sought aid from the sciences they best understood during peacetime,
and from which, had they understood war as a science, they would have
looked for assistance years before its present outbreak.

The first stroke of genius delivered in the war was the use the Germans
made of gas on April 22, 1915, and the second the use we made of tanks
on September 15, 1916; both failed through want of a scientific grasp
of war. They were tentative attacks, not delivered in strength or mass,
yet curious to relate both were delivered by armies which, having been
brought up in the 1870 school of thought, were fully conversant with
the old precept of “superiority of numbers at the decisive point”;
but, thinking in muscular terms only, they failed to apply it to the
mechanical and chemical contrivances now placed at their disposal.

By many soldiers even to-day it is not realised that gas is a
missile weapon following directly along the evolutionary path of all
projectiles. A solid shot has to hit a target in order to injure it;
as targets became difficult to see it became necessary to increase the
radius of effect of the solid shot by replacing it by a hollow one
filled with explosive. By means of this shell, a target might be missed
by the shell yet hit by a flying fragment; the danger zone of the solid
shot was increased many hundreds of times. Once targets not only become
invisible but disappear into under-earth shelters, the shell has but
little effect unless days are spent in bombardment, consequently the
most effective manner of hitting them is to replace the shell by a gas
inundation which will cover extensive areas and percolate into trenches
and shelters. Gas has, in fact, multiplied the explosive radius of
action of a shell indefinitely, and had it been used in quantity by
the Germans before the Allies could protect themselves against it, the
enemy might well have won the war.

Gas, whatever its possibilities were before this protection was
obtained, remains but a projectile evolved as above described.
Tanks were a “creation,” and the introduction of the petrol-driven
cross-country tractor on the battlefield, it is thought, will mark a
definite close to the “alchemical” epoch of warfare. All war on land,
in the past, has been based on muscular energy; henceforth it will be
based on mechanical. The change is radical, and Wilson’s “Big Willie”
will one day pass into legend alongside Stevenson’s “Rocket.” As steam,
applied as a motive force, in 150 years changed the world more than
it had previously been changed since the days of palæolithic man, so,
before the present century has run its course, may as great a change
take place in the realms of war. The cause of both is the same: as the
invention of the steam engine rendered obsolete to a high degree the
hand-tool and replaced it by the machine-tool, so the application of
petrol to the battlefield will force the hand-weapon out of existence
and replace it by the machine-weapon. That the tank will continue in
its present form is as unlikely as it would have been to expect, in
1769, that Watt’s pumping engine was the “Ultima Thule” of all such
engines. It is not the form which is the stroke of true genius, but
the idea, the replacing of muscular energy by mechanical force as the
motive power of an army.

Had the combatant nations of the Great War possessed more foresight,
had they thought of war as a science in place of as an insurance
policy, they could have had a steam-driven tank thirty years ago and a
petrol-driven one immediately after the South African War. The Batter
tractor existed, anyhow in design, in 1888, and during the South
African War Mr. W. Ralston drew a comic picture entitled “Warfare of
the Future: The Tractor Mounted Infantry in Action,” to say nothing
about the story by Mr. H. G. Wells. But no, the breath of ancient
battles had to be breathed, and whilst military students were studying
Jena, Inkerman, and Worth, the commercial sciences were daily producing
one invention after another which a little adjustment would help win
the next war more speedily than the study of scores of Jominis and
Clausewitzs.

To show how unscientific the soldiers of the 1870-1914 epoch had become
it is only necessary to quote that after the battle of the Somme in
the highest German military circles the machine was considered as a
veritable joke. Apparently it could not be seen that, though the Mark
I tank was far from perfect, it, being able to reintroduce armour and
to provide the soldier with a mobile weapon platform, revolutionised
the entire theory of 1870 warfare.

On July 1, 1916, the opening day of the battle of the Somme, the
British Army sustained between 40,000 and 50,000 casualties. On
September 25, one single tank forced the surrender of 370 Germans at
a cost of five casualties to ourselves, yet in July 1917 the Mark IV
tank was still considered but as a minor factor. Its design was not
sufficiently reliable, its true powers were more or less a matter of
conjecture; the troops were not fully accustomed to it, nor would
they place sufficient faith in it to accept it in lieu of artillery
support, in fact, in its present state of development the tank was
but an adjunct to infantry and guns. Such were some of the views held
regarding it when, like a bolt from the blue, the battle of Cambrai
shot across the horizon of 1870 battles.

At Cambrai it was the Mark IV tank which was used, the same which
had existed in July; the Tank Corps had not increased materially in
size; the infantry were for the most part used-up troops--some had
received a few days’ training with tanks, others had never even seen
these machines. The assault was an overwhelming success: at the cost
of some 5,000 infantry casualties an advance was made in twelve hours
which in extent took ninety days at Ypres, and which in this last-named
battle cost over a quarter of a million men. Yet, in spite of this
astonishing success, so conservative had the Army grown to the true
needs of victory that there were certain soldiers who now stated that
the tactics employed at Cambrai could never be repeated again and that
the day of the tank had come and gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then came the “crowning mercy”--the attack on Hamel. Something had
to be done to reinstate the credit of the Tank Corps. There were but
three suitable localities to do it in: the first, against the Merville
salient--the ground here was bad, being intersected by dikes and
canals; the second, eastward from between Arras and Hebuterne--the
ground here was much cut up, and the tactical objective was not
suitable; the third, eastwards from Villers-Bretonneux--the ground here
was excellent, but the Australians, who held this sector, had little
confidence in the tank.

Human prejudice is, however, not difficult to overcome to the student
of psychology. After tactful persuasion the Australian Corps was
induced to accept sixty machines, as an “adjunct” to their operations.
The tanks (Mark V.s) were drawn up 1,000 yards _in rear_ of the
attackers, yet, nevertheless, within a few minutes of the attack being
launched, they caught up with the leading wave and carried this wave
and those in rear right through to the final objective. The loss of the
4th Australian Division was insignificant; their prejudices vanished
and a close comradeship between them and the Tank Corps was established
which redounds to their gallantry and common sense.

Hamel, minor incident though it was, was of more importance to the
immediate problems of the British Army than Cambrai itself. General
Rawlinson, commanding the Fourth Army, saw his opportunity, and the
result was that from Hamel onwards the war became a tank war. The
machine had made good in spite of prejudice and opposition. The Germans
lost their heads, and with their heads they lost the war. That the
war might have been won without tanks is quite possible, but that
fifty-nine British divisions would, without their assistance, have
beaten ninety-nine German ones in three months is extremely unlikely.

What had the influence of the tank really been? Let us examine this
question and so close this retrospect.

The effect of the tank’s mobility on grand tactics was stupendous.
Between the winter of 1914 and the summer of 1918, to all intents and
purposes, the Allies waged a static war on the Western Front. During
these three and a half years various attempts were made to wear down
the enemy’s fighting strength as a prelude to a decisive exploitation
or pursuit, but these battles of attrition were mutually destructive
and the Allies undoubtedly lost more casualties than they inflicted.
Attrition without the possibility of surprise or mobility is a mere
“push of pikes,” it is a muscular but brainless operation. At the Third
Battle of Ypres it cost us a quarter of a million men. Then came the
tank, and true attrition was rendered possible; in other words, in tank
battles the enemy lost more in human points than we did: it is doubtful
whether in killed and wounded we lost, between August 8 and November
11, 1918, as many men as the prisoners we captured. This was only
possible by our possessing the means of putting the grand tactical act
of penetration into operation, by breaking down the “inviolability” of
the German front, and by so doing rendering envelopment a reality.

In minor tactics it was possible, by means of the tank, to economise
life by harmonising fire and movement and movement and security; the
tank soldier could use the whole of his energy in the manipulation of
his weapons and none in the effort of moving himself forward; further
than this, sufficiently thick armour could be carried to protect him
against bullets, shrapnel, and shell splinters. Human legs no longer
controlled marches, and human skin no longer was the sole protection to
the flesh beneath it. A new direction was obtained, that of the moving
firing line; the knight in armour was once again reinstated, his horse
now a petrol engine and his lance a machine gun.

Strategy, or the science of making the most of time for warlike ends,
had practically ceased since November 1914. Even the great advances
of the Germans in 1918 came to an abrupt stop through failure of
road capacity, and roads and rails form the network upon which all
former strategy was woven. The cross-country tractor, or tank, widened
the size of roads to an almost unlimited degree. The earth became a
universal vehicle of motion, like the sea, and to those sides which
relied on tanks, naval tactics could be superimposed on those of land
warfare.

With the introduction of mechanical movement every principle of war
became easy of application and, to-day, to pit an overland mechanical
army against one relying on roads, rails, and muscular energy, is
to pit a fleet of modern battleships against one of wind-driven
three-deckers. The result of such an action is not even within the
possibility of doubt: the latter will for a certainty be destroyed, for
the highest form of machinery must win, because it saves time, and time
is the controlling factor on the battlefield as in the workshop.



CHAPTER XL

A FORECAST OF WHAT TANKS MAY DO


Accepting war as a science and an art, that it is founded on definite
principles which are applied according to the conditions of the moment,
we may scientifically reduce it to its component elements, which are:
Men, weapons, and movement. A combination of these three is an army, a
body of men which can fight and move.

Tactics, or the art of moving armed men on the battlefield, change
directly in accordance with the nature of the weapons themselves and
the mobility of the means of transport. Each new or improved weapon or
method of movement demands a corresponding change in the art of war.

Tools, or weapons, if only the right ones can be discovered, form
99 per cent. of victory. Strategy, command, leadership, courage,
discipline, supply, organisation, and all the moral and physical
paraphernalia of war are as nothing to a high superiority of weapons;
at most they go to form the 1 per cent. which makes the whole possible.
Indeed, as Carlyle writes, “Savage animalism is nothing, inventive
spiritualism is all.”

To-day the introduction of the tank on the battlefield entirely
revolutionises the art of war in that:

(i) It increases mobility by replacing muscular force by mechanical
power.

(ii) It increases security by rendering innocuous the effect of bullets
through the feasibility of carrying armour plate.

(iii) It increases offensive power by relieving the man from carrying
his weapons or the horse from dragging them, and by facilitating
ammunition supply it increases the destructive power of the weapons it
carries.

In other words, an army moved by petrol can obtain a greater effect
from its weapons in a given time with less loss to itself than one
which relies on muscular energy as its motive force. Whilst securing
its crew dynamically a tank enables it to fight statically, it is in
every respect the “landship” it was first called.

These are our premises and from them we may deduce the following
all-important fact: That in all wars, and especially modern wars--wars
in which weapons change rapidly--no army of fifty years before any date
selected would stand a “dog’s chance” against the army existing at this
date, not even if it were composed entirely of Winkelrieds and Marshal
Neys. Consider the following examples:

(i) Napoleon was an infinitely greater general than Lord Raglan; yet
Lord Raglan would, in 1855, have beaten any army Napoleon, in 1805,
could have led against him, because Lord Raglan’s men were armed with
the Minie rifle.

(ii) Eleven years after Inkerman, Moltke would have beaten Lord
Raglan’s army hollow, not because he was a greater soldier than Lord
Raglan, but because his men were armed with the needle gun.

From this we may deduce the fact, which has already been stated,
namely, that weapons form 99 per cent. of victory, consequently
the General Staff of every army should be composed of mechanical
clairvoyants, seers of new conditions, new fields of war to exploit,
and new tools to assist in this exploitation. Had Napoleon, in 1805,
offered a prize of £1,000,000 for a weapon 100 per cent. more efficient
than the “Brown Bess,” it is almost a certainty that, by 1815, he would
have got it; for the want of a little foresight and for the want of the
understanding that progress in weapons of war is a similar problem to
progress of tools in manufacture, he might have saved his Empire and
ended his days as supreme tyrant of Europe.

The whole history of the evolution of machine tools is that of the
elimination of the workman and the replacement of muscular energy by
steam, electricity, or some other form of power. “Fewer men, more
machines, higher output” has during the last hundred years been
the motto of every progressive workshop. Likewise we believe that
from now onwards in every progressive army will a similar motto be
adopted. Further than this, we believe that those nations which have
proved their ability in the past as leaders of science and mechanical
engineering will in the future be those which will produce the most
efficient armies, for these armies will be based on the foundations of
the commercial sciences.

Accepting that the main factor in future warfare will be the replacing
of man-power by machine-power, the logical deduction is that the ideal
army to aim at is _one_ man, not a conscripted nation, not even a
super-scientist, but one man who can press a button or pull a plug
and so put into operation war-machines evolved by the best brains of
the nation during peacetime. Such an army need not even occupy the
theatre of operations in which the war is to be fought; _he_ may be
ensconced thousands of miles away, perhaps in Kamtchatka, fighting a
battle on the Western Front. Is this impossible? Not at all; even in
the late war we can picture to ourselves a one-armed cripple sitting
in Muravieff-Amourski and electrically discharging gas against the
Hindenburg Line directly his indicator announces a favourable wind.

So far the chemist, but is man going to be controlled by gas, are human
destinies to be limited by a “whiff of phosgene”?

“Certainly not,” answers the soldier mechanic. “It is true that the
future may produce many unknown gases which, as long as they remain
unknown to the opposing side, are unlikely to be rendered innocuous by
means of a respirator; I, however, will scrap the respirator and place
my men in gas-proof tanks, and whenever my indicator denotes impure
air, the crews will batten down their hatches, their engines will
be run off accumulators, and they themselves will live on oxygen or
compressed air. I will apply to land-warfare naval methods undreamt of
before, I will produce a land machine which will, so to speak, submerge
itself when the gas cloud approaches, just as a submarine submerges in
the sea when a destroyer draws near.”

There is an answer to every weapon, and that side which has most
thoroughly thought these answers out during days of peace is the one
which is most likely to produce a steel-shod Achilles for days of war.

Without journeying so far as Amourski let us imagine that war was to
break out again three years hence and that we were equipped with a
tank 200 per cent. superior to our at present best type--a machine
travelling at fifteen miles an hour in place of five, and that the
Germans sitting behind their Hindenburg Line were still backing
personnel against matériel, numbers of men against perfection of
weapons.

An army is an organisation, comparable, like all other organisations,
very closely with the human body. It possesses a body and a brain; its
fighting troops are the former, its headquarters staffs the latter. In
the past the usual process of tactics has been to wage a body warfare:
one body is moved up against the other body and like two boxers they
pummel each other until one is knocked out. But suppose that boxer
“A” could by some simple operation paralyse the brain of boxer “B,”
what use would all boxer “B’s” muscular strength be to him, even if it
rivalled that of Samson and Goliath combined? No use at all, as David
proved!

Now apply this process to the battle of 1923. The tank fleets, under
cover of dense clouds of smoke, or at night-time, move forward, not
against the body of the enemy’s army but against his brains; their
objectives are not the enemy’s infantry or the enemy’s guns, not
positions or tactical localities, but the billets of the German
headquarters staffs--the Army, Corps, and Divisional headquarters.
These they capture, destroy or disperse; what then is the body going
to do, for its brain is paralysed? Who is going to control it, feed it
with reserves, ammunition, and supplies? Who is going to manœuvre it to
give it foot play? Either it will stand still and be knocked out, or,
much more likely, it will be seized by panic and become paralysed to
action.

What is the answer to this type of brain warfare? The answer is the
tank; the brains will get into metal skulls or boxes, the bodies will
get into the same, and land fleet will manœuvre against land fleet.

The growth of these tactics may be slow, but eventually they will
become imperative. It may be urged that the field gun is master of the
tank in the open, just as a land battery is master of a ship at sea.
This is only true as long as the gunner can see his target, and no
known means at present exist whereby sight can penetrate a dense cloud
of smoke. It may also be urged that a heavy machine gun will enable
the infantry to protect themselves against tanks. But to be mobile
the weight of the machine gun is limited to the carrying power of two
men--about 80 lb., and there is no known reason why a tank should not
be armoured to withstand the bullets of such a weapon. If a heavier
machine gun is made it will be forced to take to a mounting, and for
choice to a mechanical one; it will in fact become a tank or a tank
destroyer.

The necessity of armour in war has always been recognised, and its
general disuse only dates from the sixteenth century onwards. When
armour could not be used other means of protection, all makeshifts,
were sought after--earth-works, entrenchments, use of ground, manœuvre,
and covering fire, and as regards the last-named substitute it is
interesting to go back a little into history, for, even from a cursory
study, we may better understand the present and foresee the future.

In the days of our Henry VIII a body of arquebusiers had to stand
twenty-five ranks deep in order to obtain continuity of fire; that is
to say, that once the first rank had fired and doubled to the rear it
would only be ready loaded again when the twenty-fifth rank was about
to discharge its pieces. By the days of Gustavus Adolphus, the art
of musketry and the musket had so far improved as to permit of these
twenty-five ranks being reduced to eight. As improvement went apace we
find Frederick the Great reducing them to three, and Wellington in the
Peninsula to two. Even in the early period of the revolutionary wars
it was found necessary for light infantry to reduce the human target
they offered to the enemy’s fire by making use of extensions. In 1866
extensions became more feasible on account of the Prussians being armed
with a breach-loading rifle; in 1870 they became more general; in 1899
they have grown to between ten and fifteen paces, which may be taken
as the maximum for a man, armed with the magazine rifle, to deliver
one round per yard of front each minute. In 1904 trenches are made use
of on an extensive scale, for as extensions cannot be increased if
fire effect is to be maintained, some other form of protection must
be sought, and men, not being able to carry armour, must carry spades
instead and so still further immobilise themselves. In 1914, after a
brief hurry-scurry of open warfare, all sides take to earth and the
spade reigns supreme.

Then comes the reintroduction of armour with the tank, and what do we
see? Not only mobility and direct protection, but the reinstitution of
the firing line, not now morcelated at fifteen paces interval between
the men composing it, but at 150 to 300 paces between the tanks, the
mechanical skirmishing fortresses of which it is built up. A tank with
a crew of 6 men can deliver fire at the rate of 300 rounds a minute, or
equivalent to 30 riflemen at a South African War extension, and being
armoured they suffer practically no loss and can consequently challenge
not only 30 riflemen but 300, any number, in fact, who are sent against
them. The logical conclusion to be drawn from this is that extensions
are useless, trenches at best but static makeshifts, the infantryman
must don armour and, as he has not the strength to carry it, he must
get into a tank. If this is common sense, let us attempt to visualise
what a tank war of the future may entail.

In the mechanical wars of the future we must first of all recognise
the fact that the earth is a solid sea as easily traversable in
all directions by a tractor as a sheet of ice is by a skater; the
battles in these wars will therefore more and more approximate to
naval actions. As trenches, as we know them, and the ordinary field
obstacles now constructed will be useless, it may become necessary
during peacetime to turn the great strategical centres--manufactories,
railways, stores, seats of government, etc., into defended land-ports
or protected power, fuel, and control stations. The fortifications
of these will probably consist of immense dry moats and extensive
minefields which will constitute a direct protection against tank
attacks. Water obstacles will be useless, for the tank of a few years
hence will undoubtedly be of an amphibious nature. To protect these
centres from the air, barracks, storehouses, mobilisation stores,
tankodromes and aerodromes will all have to be constructed well
beneath the surface of the ground--in fact, the future fortress will
approximate closely to a gigantic dugout surrounded by a field of land
mines electrically manipulated.

Near the frontier these defended ports will probably be equipped
with and linked up by lethal gas works--gas-producing and storage
plants, lodged below the surface, which on war being declared can
instantaneously be set operating electrically by one man stationed
hundreds of miles away if needs be. When this type of warfare is
instituted, mobilisation will not consist in equipping with weapons
a small section of the community, but in providing such of the civil
population as cannot be rapidly evacuated from the area it is proposed
to inundate, or placed in gastight shelters safely underground, with
anti-gas appliances. Under these circumstances the defence of frontiers
will be organised according to prevailing winds, and signs of war will
be looked for not amongst military but civil movements.

As the gas-storage tanks are opened and the gas-producing plants
set operating, fleets of fast-moving tanks, equipped with tons of
liquid gas, against which the enemy will probably have no means of
protection,[39] will cross the frontier and obliterate every living
thing in the fields and farms, the villages and cities of the enemy’s
country. Whilst life is being swept away around the frontier fleets
of aeroplanes will attack the enemy’s great industrial and governing
centres. All these attacks will be made, at first, not against the
enemy’s army, which will be mobilising underground, but against the
civil population in order to compel it to accept the will of the
attacker.

If the enemy will not accept peace terms forthwith, then wars in
the air and on the earth will take place between machines to gain
superiority. Tank will meet tank, and, commanded from the air, fleets
of these machines will manœuvre between the defended ports seeking
each other out and exterminating each other in orthodox naval fashion.
Whilst these small forces of men, representing perhaps 0·5 per cent.
or 1 per cent. of the entire population of the country, strong through
machinery, are at death-grips with their enemy, their respective
nations will be producing weapons for them; so, in the future, as
military fighting man-power dwindles must we expect to see military
manufacturing man-power increase.

Are we safe in this little island of ours against the future? If
at times, during the “alchemical” period of warfare, we have been
threatened and invaded, we may be certain that during the scientific
period we shall be less secure than we have been in the past.

From the present-day tank to one which can plunge into the Channel
at Calais at 4 in the morning, land at Dover at six o’clock, and be
outside Buckingham Palace for an early lunch will not probably require
as many as the fifty-two years which have separated the _Merrimac_
from the _Tiger_ or the _Queen Elizabeth_. If this is too remote a
period for the present generation to grow anxious about, there is no
reason why four or five years hence ships should not be constructed
as tank-carriers, these machines being conveyed across the ocean and
launched into the sea near the coast carrying sufficient fuel to move
them 300 or 400 miles inland. From ships as carriers it is but one step
to aeroplanes as suppliers and lifters, and another to aeroplanes as
tanks themselves.

If the evolution of war, in the past, has been slow, do not let us
flatter ourselves that it is likely to remain so in the future. From
the gliders of the Wright Brothers the aeroplane rapidly evolved,
and from a 40 H.P. engine of ten or twelve years back to-day the
Porte “Super-Baby” triplane carries five engines of 400 H.P. each
and the Tarrant triplane has a span of 131 feet and to drive it
six Napier “Lion” engines are used, developing no less than 3,000
horse-power. The tank is still in its infancy, but it will grow
and one day in mechanical perfection and efficiency catch up with
the super-Dreadnought and the Handley Page, and what then? A close
co-operation between the great mechanical weapons, the seaship, the
airship, and the landship--or, if preferred, of boat, aeroplane, and
tank--will take place. These weapons will approximate and unify,
evolving one arm and not three arms, which will require one defence
force and not three. This, even to-day, is becoming more and more
apparent, and the sooner the brains of the future Defence Force are
developed the better for this nation, for to-day we are thinking, like
mediæval magicians, in separate terms of air, water, and earth, and
some of us in those of gabions, lances, and blunderbusses.

If great wars can be restricted or abolished by word of mouth or
written agreement, the above gropings into the future, even if
possible, may never materialise; but even if this be so, many small
wars lie in front of us, for Europe politically, since 1914, has
practically gone back 400 years, the frontiers of the smaller nations
approximating closely to those of the later Middle Ages. The more
nations there are in the world the more wars there will be in the
making, and as half the smaller nations of central and eastern Europe
consider war a national sport there is little likelihood of agreements
being kept or peace being maintained; in fact, all agreements which
cannot be compelled by brute force are likely to be treated as “scraps
of paper.”

To enforce peace, power and the means of applying it will be needed by
the greater nations who by law will never quarrel; here the mechanic
steps forward and presents the nations concerned with the tank and the
aeroplane as a means towards this end. He is perfectly right; the
general introduction of mechanical weapons must bring with it the end
of small wars if not also of civil disturbances.

Take the case of the defence of India. What has always been the great
difficulty in our frontier expeditions? Not our enemy or his weapons,
but the country which enables the Afghan to evade our columns and
impede our advance. It is the resistance offered by natural obstacles
which we have to overcome and not those imposed upon us by weapons
which generally are vastly inferior to those with which our men are
equipped.

Take the case of a punitive expedition starting from Peshawer and
proceeding to Kabul. The force will consist of three bodies of
troops--a small fighting advanced guard, a large main body protecting
the transport, and strong flank guards protecting the main body.
On account of the tactics which have to be adopted the advance is
excessively slow. The main body proceeding along the roads, which
almost inevitably coincide with the bottoms of the valleys, has to be
kept out of rifle shot, consequently the flank guards have usually
to “crown the heights” on each side of the road, which necessitates
much climbing and loss of time. If the advance were over an open veldt
land, as in South Africa, in place of in a hilly country, movement
would be simplified, but still will the flank guards have to be thrown
out because the main body, consisting of men and animals, is pervious
to bullets. This perviousness to bullets is the basis of the whole
trouble, and unless bullet-proof armour can be carried, when it does
not matter whether the rifle is fired at a range of two yards or two
miles, the only means of denying effect to the rifle is to keep it out
of range of its target.

Though up to a short time ago the carrying of armour was not a
feasible proposition, now it is, and there are few more difficulties
in advancing up or down the Khyber with a well-constructed tank than
across the open. Armour, by rendering flesh impervious to bullets,
does away with the necessity of flank guards and long straggling
supply columns, and our punitive expedition equipped with tanks can
reach Kabul in a few days, and not only reach it but abandon its
communications, as they will require no protection. If tank supply
columns, which are self-protecting, are considered too slow, once the
force has reached Kabul its supply and the evacuation of its sick
(there will be but few wounded) can be carried out by aeroplane. The
whole operation becomes too simple to be classed as an operation
of war. Once impress upon the Afghan the hopelessness of facing a
mechanical punitive force and he will give up rendering such forces
necessary.

In our many small wars of the past we have frequently been faced with
desert warfare, a warfare even more difficult than hill and mountain
fighting. Here again the chief difficulty is a natural one--want of
water, and not an artificial one--superiority of the enemy’s weapons.
In 1885 Sir Henry Stewart started from Korti on the Nile to relieve
General Gordon: his difficulties were supply difficulties, and it
took him twenty-one days to reach Gubat, a distance of 180 miles.
A tank moving at an average pace of ten miles an hour could have
accomplished the journey in two days, and being supplied by aeroplane
could have reached Khartum a few days later. One tank would have won
Maiwand, Isandhlwana, and El Teb; one tank can meet any quantity of
Tower muskets, or Mauser rifles for aught that; one tank, costing say
£10,000, can not only win a small war normally costing £2,000,000, but
render such wars in the future highly improbable if not impossible. The
moral, therefore, is--get the tank.

From small wars to internal Imperial Defence is but one step. Render
rebellion hopeless and it will not take place. In India we lock up in
an unremunerative army 75,000 British troops and 150,000 Indian. Both
these forces can be done away with and order maintained, and maintained
with certainty, by a mechanical police force of 20,000 to 25,000 men.

What now is the great lesson to be learnt from the above examples?
That war will be eliminated by weapons, not by words or treaties or
leagues of nations; by weapons--leagues of tanks, aeroplanes, and
submarines--which will render opposition hopeless or retribution so
terrible that nations will think not once or twice but many times
before going to war. If the civilian population of a country know that
should they demand war they may be killed in a few minutes by the tens
of thousands, they will not only cease to demand it but see beforehand
that they are well prepared by superiority of weapons to terrify their
neighbours out of declaring war against them.

Weapons we, therefore, see are, if not a means of ending war and
ridding the world of this dementia, a means of maintaining peace on a
far firmer footing than hitherto it has been maintained by muscular
power. To limit the evolution of weapons is therefore to limit the
periods of peace. An Army cannot stand still, it must develop with the
civilisation of which it forms part or become barbaric. To equip our
Army to-day with bows and arrows would not reduce the frequency of
war, it would actually increase it, for according to his tools, so is
man himself, and as an Army is built up of men, if these men are armed
with bows and arrows they will in nature closely approximate to the age
which produced these weapons, the age which burnt Joan of Arc. Equally
so will the Army of to-day, if in equipment it be not allowed to keep
pace with scientific progress, develop into a band of brigands, for in
2019 the rifle and gun of to-day, and the civilisation which produced
them, will be as uncouth as the arquebus, the carronade, and the
manners of the sixteenth century.

If a millennium is ever to be ushered in upon earth it will be
accomplished through the development of brain-power and not through it
becoming atrophied. If war is to be rendered impossible the process
will be a slow evolutionary one, the desire of war gradually slowing
down, and its motive force energising some other ideal. To restrict
war by maintaining soldiers as ill-armed barbarians is to prevent it
working out its destined course. Human nature, in spite of Benjamin
Kidd, does not change in a generation, and the tendencies which beget
war will out until human nature has outgrown them. The world has a
soul, and like that of a man it must pass through years of love, hate,
striving and ambition before attaining those of wisdom and decay.

There may yet be many wars ahead of us, but one thing would appear to
be certain, and this is that small wars will disappear and great ones
become less frequent, science rendering them too terrible to be entered
upon lightly.

To-day we stand upon the threshold of a new epoch in the history of the
world--war based on petrol, the natural sequent of an industry based
on steam. That we have attained the final step on the evolutionary
ladder of war is most unlikely, for mechanical and chemical weapons may
disappear and be replaced by others still more terrible. Electricity
has scarcely yet been touched upon and it is not impossible that
mechanical warfare will be replaced by one of a wireless nature,
and that not only the elements, but man’s flesh and bones, will be
controlled by the “fluid” which to-day we do not even understand. This
method of imposing the will of one man on another may in its turn be
replaced by a purely psychological warfare, wherein weapons are not
even used or battlefields sought or loss of life or limb aimed at; but,
in place, the corruption of the human reason, the dimming of the human
intellect, and the disintegration of the moral and spiritual life of
one nation by the influence of the will of another is accomplished.

Be all these as they may, one fact stands out supreme in all types and
conditions of war, and this is, that the strongest and most efficient
brain wins, which applies equally to all nations as it does to all
individuals.

Animal superiority over animal is based on muscle, human superiority
over human is based on brain. The nation with the supreme brain will
eventually rule the world, and so long as war continues the Army with
the best brains (which also means the best weapons) will accomplish
victory with the least loss. Our Army from to-day must step forward;
“to advance is to conquer,” and this applies in greater force to
brain-power than to muscle-power, for brains control muscles. To stand
still is to retrogress; to glance backwards is to lose time, and if
we pause now we are lost in the future. Do not, therefore, let us
mark time on our own graves, do not let us hark back to 1914 with its
rifles and its ammunition boots, its sabres and its horseshoes, and
all its muscular barbarism; let us plan and let us think, thus shall
we penetrate the veil of the future, thus shall we learn how to equip
our Army with a brain and with a body which united, if war be ever
again forced upon us, will compel victory at the smallest possible
cost. Surely this is an ideal worthy of a great nation and of a great
Army, the object of which is to prevent war and to maintain peace, to
prevent war by science and not by nescience, by progress and not by
retrogression.


[Illustration]



INDEX


  Abancourt, 206, 231

  Abbas Ridge, 100

  Abbé, Bois de l’, 201

  Abbeville, 34

  Abelard, xv

  Acheux, 58

  Achicourt, 84, 105, 257

  Achiet-le-Grand, 84, 176, 255

  Achiet-le-Petit, 176, 292

  Acq, 84

  Adelpare, 208, 210

  Admiralty, the, 18-20, 22, 25, 27-33

  Agincourt, 2

  Aillette, the, 196

  Aisne, the, 14, 81, 189, 196-7, 215

  Albert, 71, 175, 252-4

  Alberta, 121-2

  Aldershot, 9-11

  Alexandria, 134

  Ali El Muntar, 101, 130

  Allen, Major G. W. G., M.C., xii

  Alleux, Bois des, 173

  Alvinzi, xiv

  American Army, 270-2, 275, 277-84, 290

  _American Machinist, The_, xii, 4

  American Tank Corps, 268, 271-2, 274, 277-82, 284

  Amervalles, 284

  Amiens, 169, 217-29, 237, 243, 245, 247, 290

  Ancre, the, 54, 57-9, 176, 196

  Anneux, 150

  Anti-tank tactics, 87-8, 260-5

  Antwerp, 198

  Applegarth tractor, 10

  Aquenne, Bois d’, 202

  Archdale, Captain O. A., xii

  Archery in warfare, 2

  Archinger, 4

  Ardennes, the, 1

  Argonne, the, 280

  Armentières, 200

  Arnold, Captain A. E., M.C., 235

  Arnold, Lieutenant C. B., D.S.O., xiii, 235

  Arrachis, Bois des, 208, 210

  Arras, 81-9, 105, 108, 114, 144, 166, 250-3, 257-9

  Arrol, Messrs. William, 28

  Atawineh Ridge, 100

  Atkin-Berry, Major H. C., D.S.O., M.C., xv

  Australia Hill, 101

  Australian Corps, 87, 99, 101, 109-10, 130, 203, 205, 207, 215, 217-9,
      221-3, 226, 231-2, 252, 254-5, 267, 270-1, 274, 289, 290-2, 304

  Aveluy, 71, 175-6

  Avesnes, 257

  Avonmouth, 98

  Awoingt, 274


  Bacon, Admiral Sir Reginald, K.C.B., K.C.V.O., D.S.O., 21-2, 66

  Bailleul, 83

  Bailleulval, 200

  Baker, Colonel C. B., 277

  Baker Carr, Brig.-Gen. C.D’A. B.S., C.M.G., D.S.O., xvi, 62

  Balfour, Right Hon. A. J., 25

  Bancourt, 258

  Bank Farm, 121

  Banteux, 138-9

  Bapaume, 55, 144, 175-6, 215, 243, 247, 250-2, 293

  Barastre, 175

  Barry, John Richard, 9

  Batter tractor, 10-13, 303

  Bayonvillers, 231-2

  Bazentin, 175

  Bazuel, 282

  Beach Post, 131

  Beaucamp, 269

  Beaucourt-sur-Ancre, 176, 251

  Beaufort, 225

  Beaumont Hamel, 58

  Beauquesne, 61

  Beaurains, 91

  Beaurevoir, 144-5, 273, 281

  Beauval, 203

  Beersheba, 99-100, 130

  Behagnies, 235

  Belah, 101

  Bellenglise, 270

  Bellicourt, 272, 281

  Belloy, 290

  Berliet, 186

  Bermicourt, 61-2, 71, 127, 141, 168, 252

  Berthen, 200

  Bertincourt, 143

  Beugny, 174, 258

  Biefvillers, 256

  Big Willie, 267, 303

  Bihucourt, 255

  Bird, Colonel, 25

  Bisley, 31, 159-61

  Blangy, 62, 71, 200

  Blecourt, 273

  Boescheppe, 200

  Bois des Bœufs, 85

  Bois d’Olhain, 173

  Bois l’Evêque, 282

  Bony, 249, 293

  Boulogne, 4

  Bourg, 279

  Bourgon, General de, 209

  Bourlon Wood, 144-6, 149, 150-1, 156, 269

  Bovington Camp, _see_ Wool

  Boyd-Rochfort, Major H., D.S.O., M.C., xv

  Boydell engine, 9

  Boyeffles, 173

  Bradley, Lieut.-Colonel D. W., D.S.O., xii, 34, 54, 154, 162

  Bramond, Frank, 11

  Brancourt, 281

  Bray-sur-Somme, 34, 172, 175-6, 218, 225-6, 252, 254, 257

  Brie Bridge, 175

  Briquetterie, the, 54

  Brock, Commander, 165

  Broodseinde Ridge, 119

  Brough, Lieut.-Colonel, C.M.G., 34, 161-2

  Bruay, 200

  Brussels, 108

  Bucquoy, 204, 292

  Buire Wood, 172

  Bullecourt, 86-8, 205, 207, 213, 261

  Bullhouse Farm, 159

  Burnett-Stuart, Brig.-Gen., 162

  Bus, 175

  Bus les Artois, 209

  Busnes, 200

  Butler, Major-Gen., 162

  Buzancy, 193

  Byng, General Sir Julian (afterwards Lord), xvi, 139


  Cachy, 201-2, 274

  Caix, 218

  California Trench, 122

  Cambrai, xvi, 15, 64, 82, 129, 138-53, 155-8, 165, 167, 173, 181, 186,
      215, 217, 219, 237, 242, 250, 273-6, 304

  Canadian Corps, 85, 163-5, 169, 203, 218-21, 223, 257-8, 269, 273

  Cantigny, 188

  Capper, Major-Gen. Sir John, K.C.B., 63

  Capricorn Keep, 121

  Carney, Driver, 234-5

  Carter, Lieut.-Colonel E. J., xiii, 289-90, 294

  Cassel, 119

  Castel, 218

  Catillon, 282, 285

  Cavalry Corps, 219-20, 225, 230

  Cavillon, 224

  Cayeux Wood, 224

  Cercottes, 184, 186

  Chacrise, 193

  Champlieu, 185

  Charleroi, 241, 295

  Charteris, Capt. the Hon. Evan, xi, xii, xv

  Château-Thierry, 189, 195,290

  Chaufours Wood, 248

  Chaulnes, 176, 235

  Chaumont, 279

  Chaussée Brunehaut, 193

  Chedeville, Colonel, 190

  Chemin des Dames, 186-7

  Chinese Labour Company, 51st, 128-9

  Chipilly, 169, 224-5

  Chuignolles, 252, 254, 292

  Churchill, Right Hon. Winston, 18-20, 22, 24-5, 27-8, 32-3

  Clapham Junction, 109

  Cléry, 175

  Cockcroft, the, 122

  Cojeul, 92

  Colincamps, 176

  Cologne, 295

  Cologne, river, 174-5

  Combles, 55

  Comines, 116

  Concrois Wood, 193

  Connaught Rangers, 173

  Contalmaison, 176

  Conty, 289-90

  Courage, Brig.-Gen. A., D.S.O., M.C., xvi, 62

  Courcelles, 295

  Courchamps, 194

  Craonne, 82, 186-7

  Crested Rock, 131-2

  Crèvecœur, 138-9, 144-6

  Cricket Valley, 131, 133

  Crinchon, river, 84

  Croisilles, 94-5, 256

  Crompton, Col., R.E., 23

  Cugnot, 8-9

  Cuvillers, 273

  Cyrus, 142


  Dalby-Jones, Lieut.-Colonel W., 29

  Dale-Bussell, P., 23, 32-3

  Debeney, General, 211

  Deir el Belah, 99-100, 130-1, 133

  Deligny Hill, 269

  Delville Wood, 56

  Dermicourt, 259

  Desert Column, 130

  Dessart Wood, 143, 146

  Devonport, 98

  D’Eyncourt, Sir Eustace Tennyson, K.C.B., xii, 22-3, 30-4, 66

  Diplock, Mr., 24

  Dixmude, 119

  Doignies, 173-4

  Doingt Wood, 172

  Dolls’ House, 204

  Doon Copse, 273

  Dormans, 189, 195

  Douai, 82

  Doucet, Lieut.-Colonel L. C. A. de B., xiii

  Doullens, 174

  Dranoutre, 109

  Drocourt-Queant Line, 82, 84, 108, 258, 293

  Druid Ridge, 100

  Dumble, Colonel, 23

  Dunajec, the, 15, 300, 301

  Dundas, Major R. W., M.C., xv

  Dunlop, Andrew, 9

  Durham Light Infantry, 15th, 57


  Earle, Captain A., 66

  Eclimeux, 62

  Edgeworth, Richard Lovell, 9

  El Arish, 98-9, 101, 131-3

  El Burs, 101

  Elles, Major-Gen. H. J., C.B., D.S.O., xiii, xiv, xvi, 28, 61, 64, 66,
      147-8, 288

  El Sire, 101

  Elveden, 31, 160-2

  _Engineer, The_, xii, 9

  Epehy, 174, 250, 266-72

  Eppé-Sauvage, 294

  Erin, 62, 70-1, 127, 180

  Ervillers, 255

  Escaut, the, 138

  Esclairvillers Wood, 173

  Espilly, 195

  Estaires, 200

  Estienne, General, 184-6, 198

  Etricourt, 272

  Ex-Crown Prince, the, 188, 217

  Ex-Kaiser, the, 188

  Experiments Committee, 26


  Fampoux, 83

  Fanny’s Farm, 111

  Favreuil, 257

  Fayolles, General, 290

  Fender, Guillaume, 9

  Ferdinand’s Farm, 121

  Fère-en-Tardenois, 290

  Festubert, 200

  Feuchy, 85

  Feuchy-Chapel, 86-87

  Flers, 55-6

  Flesquières, 144-9, 155, 262, 269

  Flos, 55

  Foch, Marshal, 200, 217

  Fonsomme, 273

  Fontaine-au-Bois, 282

  Fontaine-Notre-Dame, 150-1, 262

  Fontana, 4

  Foot, Major S. H., D.S.O., xii

  Forsyth-Major, Major O. A., xii, 98 _note_

  Foster, Messrs. William, 24

  Foster-Daimler tractor, 22, 39

  Foucaucourt, 291

  Fouilloy, 206

  Fowke, Major-Gen. G. H., 21

  Fraicourt, 275

  Framerville, 225, 291

  Frechencourt, 200

  Frederick the Great, 14

  Freiburg, 235

  Fremicourt, 172, 258

  French, Field-Marshal Sir John (afterwards Lord), 21

  French Tank Corps, 184-98

  Fresnoy-le-Petit, 267

  Frezenberg, 121

  Fricourt, xv, 175, 242

  Fuller, Brevet-Colonel J. F. C., D.S.O., xi, 66, 299 _note_

  Furse, Major-Gen. Sir William, K.C.B., D.S.O., 66


  Gallipoli, 123

  Gas, Poison, 17, 30, 314-5

  Gauche Wood, 152

  Gavrelle, 88

  Gaza, 98-102, 130-4

  Geninwell Copse, 173

  George V, His Majesty King, 161, 165

  German, Thomas, 9

  German Tank Corps, 201, 212-6, 241

  Gheluvelt, 119

  Ghent, 108

  Gilban, 98

  Gird Trench, 57

  Givenchy, 200

  Glasgow, Brig.-Gen. W., C.H.G., 63, 67

  Glencorse Wood, 261

  Gommecourt, 17, 81-2, 255

  Gonnelieu, 270

  Gordon, General, 318

  Gore-Anley, Brig.-Gen. F., D.S.O., 62-3

  Gouzeaucourt, 143, 146, 266, 268-9

  Graincourt, 146, 149

  Grand Bois, 110

  Grand Ravin, 149-50

  Grand Rozoy, 196

  Grandecourt, 110, 176

  Green, Major G. A., M. C., xiv

  Green Dump, 55

  Green Hill, 101-2

  Grevillers, 256

  Grivesnes, 188

  Grose, Francis, 4

  Guards’ Division, 152, 255, 257

  Guemappe, 257

  Guest, Major, 26

  Gueudecourt, 55-7, 260

  Guillaucourt, 224, 231

  Guillemont, 267-70

  Guise, 198

  Gun Hill, 131, 133

  Gunpowder, introduction of, 2


  Haig, Field-Marshal Sir Douglas (afterwards Earl), 28, 32, 287-8

  Ham, 220

  Hamel, xvi, 168, 217, 204-5, 207, 244, 262, 304-5

  Hamelet, 206

  Hamelincourt, 256

  Hamencourt, 174

  Hangard, Bois de, 201-2

  Haplincourt, 258

  Happegarbes, 285

  Happy Valley, 254, 257

  Harbonnières, 224, 232, 235

  Hardress Lloyd, Brig.-Gen. J., D.S.O., xvi, 63

  Hareira, 95, 130

  Hargicourt, 267

  Harp, The, 83, 85-6

  Harpon, Bois de, 208, 210

  Hartennes Wood, 193

  Haslam, Lieut., 246

  Hatfield, 30-1

  Havre, 127

  Havrincourt Wood, 143, 145-7, 149

  Heart Hill, 100

  Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps, 31, 159

  Hebuterne, 176, 304

  Hecq, 286

  Hendecourt, 87

  Henincourt, 172

  Heninel, 82, 85-6, 256

  Henin-sur-Cojeul, 83, 256

  Herleville, 252

  Hermies, 259

  Hervilly, 174

  Hervin Farm, 85

  Hesdin, 127

  Hetherington, Major T. G., 22-4

  Heudicourt, 143

  Hillock Farm, 122

  Hindenburg, Marshal, xiv, 188, 241

  Hindenburg Line, 82, 83, 86, 87, 94-5, 141, 145, 250, 256, 267, 270-2,
      275, 281

  Hindenburg Support Line, 145

  Holden, Colonel, 25

  Holdford-Walker, Major, 162

  Holnon, 266

  Holt caterpillar tractor, 11, 22

  Holzschuher, 6-7

  Honnechy, 275, 293-4

  Honnecourt, 151

  Hooge, 119, 121

  Hornihan Roy, xvii

  Hornsby tractor, 11

  Hotblack, Major F. E., D.S.O., M.C., xiii, xv, 61

  Houthulst Forest, 120

  Humières, 62, 200

  Humerœuil, 70


  Imperial Defence Committee, 26

  Inchy, 144

  India, defence of, 317-8

  Indian Cavalry Division, 130

  In Seirat, 100

  Inter-Allied Tank Committee, 65

  Island Wood, 131

  Italian Army, 130

  Iveagh, Lord, 160-1

  Iwuy, 144


  Joffre, Marshal, 185

  Joint Naval and Military Committee, 22, 25

  Joly de Maizeroy, 298

  Joncourt, 273

  Jones, Paul, xiii

  Joye Farm, 111


  Kantara, 98

  Kemmel, Mount, 110, 119

  Kemmelbeek, the, 117

  Khan Yunus, 99

  Kidd, Benjamin, 319

  Kirbet El Sihan, 101, 102

  Kitchener, Field-Marshal Lord, 24, 30, 32

  Knoll, The, 267-70

  Knothe, Major H., M.C., 161

  Kurd Hill, 100-2

  Kurd Valley, 99

  Kyeser, Conrad, 4


  La Belle Etoile, 144

  Labyrinth, the, 101

  La Cauchie, 200

  La Fère, 173

  Laffaux Hill, 187

  La Folie, 151

  Lagash, 300

  Lagnicourt, 83, 258

  La Maisonette, 176

  Landrecies, 170, 285-6

  Landships Committee, 23-5, 28

  Langemarck, 119

  Lateau Wood, 148

  La Vacquerie, 148

  Le Bosquet, 139

  Le Cateau, 282

  Le Catelet, 272, 283-4

  Le Quesnel, 224

  Lees Hill, 101-2

  Leigh-Mallory, Major T., D.S.O., xiii

  Lenclos, Ninon de, xv

  Leonardo da Vinci, 5, 7

  Les-Trois-Bouqueteaux, 208, 210

  Lestren, 200

  Leuvrigny, Bois de, 195

  Liessies, 294

  Lihons, 225-6

  Lille, 108

  Little Willie, 26

  Lloyd George, Right Hon. D., 25, 30, 161

  Lombartbeek, the, 117

  Loop, the, 34

  Luce, the, 169

  Ludendorff, General, xiv, 188, 218, 222-3, 237-8, 263

  Lulworth, 162

  Lys, the, 199


  Magdhaba, 131

  Macdonald’s Wood, 121

  McKenna, Right Hon. Reginald, 30

  Mackensen, Field-Marshal von, 15

  Maclean, J. B., 66

  Magny, 272

  Mailly Poivres, 185

  Maistre, General, 203

  Malmaison, 187

  Malmédy, 295

  Manchester, H. H., 4 _note_, 8

  Manchester Regiment, 273

  Mangin, General, 189

  Mansara, 99-100

  Maquion, 269

  Marcoing, 82, 139, 144-6, 148-50, 180

  Maretz, 293

  Marfaux, 195

  Maricourt, 54, 175-6

  Marly-le-Roi, 184

  Marne, the, 14, 190, 195

  Martel, Major G. le Q., D.S.O., M.C., xv, 61, 161

  Martigny, 185

  Martinpuich, 55

  Marwitz, General von der, 151

  Masnières, 139, 144-6, 149-51

  Massenbach, 298

  Mathew-Lannowe, Brig.-Gen. E. B., C.M.G., D.S.O., xii, 62, 66

  Maubeuge, 250, 285-8

  Maurice de Saxe, 298

  Maurois, 275, 293

  Maximilian I, 7

  Mazar Trench, 101

  Meaulte, 254

  Menin, 276

  Mercatel, 83, 92

  Mercedes tractor, 11

  Mericourt, 218, 225

  Merlimont, 72, 200, 245, 289

  Mers, 70, 289

  Merville, 200, 304

  Messines, 108, 113-4, 166, 180, 242, 261

  Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co., 28

  Meuse, the, 197

  Mézières, 81

  Miette, the, 187

  _Military Antiquities_, 4

  Miraumont, 176

  Mœuvres, 269

  Moislains, 174-5

  Molesworth, Lieut.-Colonel J. D. M., M.C., xiii, 180

  Molinghem, 200

  Monchy le Preux, 82-4, 88, 257-8

  Moncrieff, Major-Gen. Sir George Scott-, 22, 25

  Mon du Hibou, 122

  Money Hill, 99-100

  Montauban, xv, 175-6

  Montbrehain, 273-4, 281

  Montdidier, 188, 196

  Montenescourt, xvi, 84

  Monument, the, 202

  Morchies, 174, 258

  Moreuil, xvi, 204, 207-8, 258

  Morlancourt, 206

  Mormal, Forest of, 284-6

  Morval, 55

  Mory Copse, 256-7

  _Motor Cycle, The_, 159

  Mount Pleasant Wood, 95-7

  Moustier, 294-5

  Moyenneville, 251, 257

  Munitions, Ministry of, 25, 30-4

  Murat, xvi

  Musketry, art of, 312-3


  Nancy, 81

  Napoleon, xiv, 8, 104, 170-1, 309

  Nauroy, 272

  Nepal Trench, 92

  Neuville St. Vaast, 84

  Neuville-Vitasse, 83, 85, 86, 91, 257

  Neuvilly, 284

  New Zealand Division, 258, 292-3

  Newburn, John, 9

  Newbury, 127

  Ney, Marshal, xv

  Nieppe, 200

  Nieuport, 15, 108

  Nine Wood, 146, 149

  Nord, Canal du, 144, 268-9

  Noyelles, 149

  Noyon, 81, 188, 229

  Nutt, Major N., 98


  Oise, the, 138, 172, 285

  Oosthoek, 117

  Oosttaverne, 109, 111, 115

  Ostend, 81

  Ouderdom, 109, 117

  Ourcq, the, 189-90, 290

  Outpost Hill, 101-2, 130

  Ovillers, 54


  Paillencourt, 144

  Pailleul, 144

  Palmer, William, 9

  Palmer gunsight, 164

  Parker, Lieut.-Colonel H., 277-8

  Parvillers, 226

  Passchendaele, 287

  Patten, Colonel G. S., 279

  Pedrail Co., 24, 27-8

  Peizière, 173

  Péronne, 229

  Perry, Sir Percival, 66

  Pershing, General, 279

  Pierremont, 62

  Pissy, 289

  Ploegsteert, 200

  Poelcappelle, 122-4

  Point du Jour, 83

  Polygonveld, 120

  Poperinghe, 117, 289

  Porte triplane, 316

  Pozières, 176

  Premont, 275

  Premy Chapel, 269

  Preux, 286

  Proyart, 226, 292

  Pusieux, 250


  Quadrilateral, the, 267

  Queen’s Hill, 101-2

  Quennemont Farm, 268-9, 271


  Rafa Trench, 99-101, 131-3

  Raglan, Lord, 309

  Raillencourt, 270

  Ralston, W., 303

  Ramicourt, 273

  Ramousies, 294

  Ramsey, David, 8

  Ravenel, 290

  Rawlinson, General Sir Henry (afterwards Lord), 227, 305

  Reims, 81-2, 108, 188-90, 195, 215, 217

  Reincourt, 87

  Renuart Farm, 281

  Ribbans, Gunner, 231, 233-4

  Ribecourt, 138-9

  Ricardo engine, 42

  Richborough, 127

  Riencourt, 55

  Riguerval Wood, 275

  Robersart, 282

  Roberts tractor, 11

  Robertson, General Sir William, 32, 161

  Rochet-Schneider tractor, 11

  Rockenbach, Colonel, 278-9

  Roclincourt, 83-5

  Rocquigny-Villers, 55

  Rœux, 88, 95-7

  Roisel, 172-4

  Romani Trench, 99

  Ronchères, 290

  Ronssoy Wood, 173, 267

  Rosières, 225, 246

  Roulers, 197

  Royal Air Force, 239, 242-9

  Royal Engineers, 284

  Royal Flying Corps, 61

  Royal Munster Fusiliers, 173

  Royal Naval Air Service, 29-30

  Roye, 82, 196, 229

  Rumilly, 145, 148-9

  Ruyaulcourt, 143

  Rycroft, Major, 232


  St. Aubert, 215

  St. Emilie, 173

  St. Julien, 121-4

  St. Leger, 256

  St. Martin-Église, 62

  St. Mihiel, 196-7, 279

  St. Olle, 270

  St. Omer, 119

  St. Pierre-Divion, 58

  St. Quentin, 138, 197-8, 250

  St. Quentin Canal, 270

  St. Ribert, Bois de, 208, 210

  St. Souplet, 281, 283

  Salisbury Plain, 28

  Salonika, 197

  Sambre, the, 284

  Sampson Ridge, 101

  Sancourt, 273

  Sapignies, 255-7

  Sautrecourt, 62

  Sauvillers, 188, 204, 207-8

  Sayer, Major H. S., xii

  Scarpe, the, 83, 85, 138, 172-3, 250

  Scheldt Canal, 284

  Scherpenberg, 110

  Scheuch, General, 240-1

  Schott, Caspar, 8

  Sea Post, 131, 133

  Searle, Colonel F., C.B.E., D.S.O., xiv

  Seely, Major-Gen. Right Hon. J. E. B. 66

  Selle, the, 250, 281, 283-5

  Sénécat Wood, 188

  Senlis, 290

  Sensée, the, 144, 268

  Sensée Valley, 258

  Sequehart, 273

  Serain, 249, 275

  Seranvillers, 145, 148

  Serre, 17, 176, 250

  Sforza, Ludovico, 5

  Sheikh Abbas, 99-100

  Sheikh Hasan, 131-3

  Sheikh Nebhan, 100, 130

  Sheikh Redwam, 101

  Shekia, 99

  Simencourt, 200

  Simmonds, 2nd Lieutenant, 254

  Smith, Geoffrey, 159

  Smythe, Sir John, xvii

  Soissons, 82, 108, 195, 197-8, 217

  Somme, the, 16-7, 33-4, 54, 58-9, 81, 98, 134, 166, 169, 172-7,
      199-201, 205-6, 212, 223, 225-6, 251-2, 287, 303-4

  Sorel, 143

  South African Brigade, 293

  Spencer, Major R., M.C., xiii

  Spree Farm, 121

  Springfield, 122

  Steenbeek, the, 110, 119, 121

  Steenwerck, 200

  Stephenson, George, xvii, 303

  Stern, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Albert, K.B.E., C.M.G., 23, 30-1, 33-4, 63,
      66

  Stevin, Simon, 7-8

  Stewart, Sir Henry, 318

  Stewart, Captain Ian M., M.C., xv

  Stothert & Pitt, Messrs., 28

  Strahan, Captain, 232

  Suez Canal, 98

  Summers, Major, 162

  Swanage, 164

  Swinton, Major-Gen. E. D., C.B., D.S.O., xii, 18, 20-2, 26, 29, 31,
      50-3, 66, 72 _note_, 159-60, 162

  Symes, Lieut. K. P., 32


  Tandy, Major, 161

  Tank Armoured Car Battalion, Seventeenth, xiii, 289-96

  Tank Corps: _esprit-de-corps_, xvi, 68-72;
    Headquarters Staff, xiv-xv, 60-2, 65, 103-7, 113, 174, 199, 218, 270;
    formation of first unit, 31;
    first appearance in action, 54-6;
    capture of the Gird Trench, 57;
    reorganisation, 62-7;
    training centres, 62, 66-7, 159-65;
    methods of training, 67-71;
    mobile canteens, 72;
    tank tactics, 73-80, 87, 89, 104-7, 111-6, 136-43, 252-3, 276-8;
    at the battle of Arras, 81-97;
    at the Second Battle of Gaza, 98-102;
    at the battle of Messines, 108-12;
    at the Third Battle of Ypres, 117-24;
    mechanical engineering side, 125-9;
    at the Third Battle of Gaza, 130-4;
    at the battle of Cambrai, 140-53;
    issue of “Battle Notes,” 154;
    growth in numbers, 172-3;
    at the Second Battle of the Somme, 173-7;
    reduction in numbers, 199;
    first encounter with German tanks, 201;
    preparations for the Great Offensive, 202-3;
    first experience of night warfare, 204;
    at the battle of Hamel, 204-7, 304-5;
    operations with the French Army at the battle of Moreuil, 207-11;
    at the battle of Amiens, 218-29;
    exploits of Whippet Tank “Musical Box,” 230-5;
    co-operation with the Royal Air Force, 242-9;
    at the battle of Bapaume, 250-7;
    at the Second Battle of Arras, 257-9;
    at the battle of Epehy, 266-7;
    at the battle of Cambrai--St. Quentin, 268-75, 304;
    heavy casualties, 276, 287;
    at the battle of the Selle, 283-5;
    at the battle of Maubeuge, 285;
    last action of the War, 286;
    tribute from Sir Douglas (now Earl) Haig, 287-8
      First Tank Brigade, xvi, 62, 117-22, 146, 150-1, 168, 173, 200,
          218, 220, 242-4, 250-1, 256-8, 266-9
      Second Tank Brigade, xvi, 62, 109, 117-22, 146, 150-2, 172-3, 200,
          220, 251, 266
      Third Tank Brigade, 63, 117-23, 139, 146, 172, 175, 200-2, 208-11,
          219-20, 222, 225-7, 243-4, 251, 256-8, 266, 271-4
      Fourth Tank Brigade, 168, 172, 174-6, 199-200, 219-21, 225-7,
          251-2, 256-8, 266-9, 271-4, 283-6
      Fifth Tank Brigade, 168, 172, 200, 205, 208, 216, 219, 222, 226-7,
          243-6, 251-2, 254, 266, 271-4

  Tank Gun Carrier Companies, xii, 168-71

  Tank Park, 58

  Tank Signal Companies, 178-83

  Tank Supply Companies, 33-4, 109-10, 166-71, 286

  Tanks: their early origin, 1-2;
    armoured knights as living tanks, 2;
    fifteenth- and sixteenth-century battle-cars, 2-8;
    Cugnot steam car, 8;
    endless chain, 9-13;
    invention of the landship, 18-29;
    how the name “tank” was chosen, 29;
    first official trial, 30;
    taken over by the War Office from the Admiralty, 31;
    order placed for the first hundred, 32;
    their first appearance in action, 54-6;
    more successful on their second appearance, 56-7;
    lessons learnt from their early operations, 58-9;
    limitations of early tanks, 105;
    first use of supply tanks, 109;
    introduction of cloud-smoke apparatus, 165;
    French tanks, 184-98;
    German tanks, 212-6;
    not successful when attached to cavalry, 228-9;
    how they impressed the Germans, 236-41;
    their co-operation with aeroplanes, 242;
    German defence against, 260;
    American tanks, 279-82;
    retrospect of what they have accomplished, 297-307;
    forecast of what they may do, 308, 321
      Mark I Tanks, 35-7, 44, 49-53, 63, 82, 89, 102, 105, 109-10, 166,
          185, 203, 213, 261
      Mark II, 37, 63, 89, 102, 110
      Mark III, 37, 63, 82
      Mark IV, 37-41, 44, 63, 109-10, 122, 130, 141, 167-8, 173, 201,
          203, 212, 214, 253, 255, 258, 261, 267, 269
    Mark V, 41-3, 199, 202-3, 206-7, 219, 223, 227, 231, 253, 256, 267
    Mark V Star, 43, 219, 227, 253, 267
    Mark VIII, 279
    Mark IX, 167-8
    Medium Mark A (“Chaser” or “Whippet”), 10, 44-7, 164, 173, 176,
        201-2, 219, 223-4, 226-9, 244, 253, 255, 258
    Daimler Type A.7.V., 212-3
    Renault, 185-6, 279
    St. Chamond, 184-5
    Schneider, 184-6
    Tank No. 505, 90-1;
      No. 716, 95-6;
      No. 770, 91-2;
      No. 783, 92-3;
      No. 784, 93-4;
      “Mabel,” 254-5;
      “Musical Box,” 230-5;
      “Tiger,” 101;
      “Wytschaete Express,” 111

  Tapper, Captain H. J., 61

  Tara Hill, 254

  Tarrant triplane, 316

  Telegraph Hill, 83, 91

  Tel El Ajjul, 99

  Tel El Nujeid, 100

  Templeux la Fosse, 172

  Teneur, 127-8

  Thelus, 83

  Thetford, 34

  Thielt, 197

  Thiepval, 57

  Thilloy, 172, 257-8

  Tigny, 193

  Tilloy les Mafflaines, 83-5, 273

  Tilly-Capelle, 62

  Tortoise Hill, 133

  Toutencourt, 200

  Trench Warfare Department, 28-9

  Trescault, 269

  Triangle Farm, 122-3

  Tritton, Sir William, 24-6, 31

  Trones Wood, 55

  Tulloch, Captain T. G., 18, 20-2, 32

  Tunnelling Company, 184th, 117


  Umbrella Hill, 130-2

  Usna Hill, 254

  Uzielli, Colonel T. J., D.S.O., M.C., xiv-xv, 61


  Vaire Wood, 205, 207

  Valenciennes, 81, 144, 284-5

  Valturio, 5

  Vauban,14

  Vaux-Vraucourt, 174, 258

  Vaux Andigny, 283

  Vaux en Amienois, 205, 209

  Velu Wood, 172, 258

  Vendhuile, 270

  Verdrel, Bois de, 173

  Verdun, 184

  Vesle, the, 188

  Vieille Capelle, 200

  Vignacourt, 245

  Villemontoire, 193

  Villers-au-Flos, 55, 258

  Villers-Bretonneux, 169, 201-2, 205, 215, 231, 235

  Villers-Cotterets, 189, 191

  Villers-Guislain, 143, 146, 151-2, 270

  Villers-les-Cagnicourt, 259

  Villers-Outreaux, 275

  Vimy, 83-5

  Vis-en-Artois, 83


  Wadi El Nukhabir, 99

  Wadi Ghuzze, 100

  Wahl, Colonel, 187

  Wailly, 71, 172, 175

  Wambeke Valley, 111

  Wancourt, 86, 91-2, 257

  War Office, 9, 22, 25, 29-30, 32, 158-9

  Wareham, 162

  Warfusée, 205-6, 291

  Warren, the, 101

  Warvillers, 225

  Waterhouse, Lieutenant, 232

  Waterloo, 276

  Watkins, Lieutenant, 232

  Watt, James, 8, 303

  Wellington, 14

  Wells, H. G., 303

  Wembley, 27

  West, Captain, V.C., 246-7

  West Indian Detachment, 130

  Wheeler, Major G. L., 25, 31

  Wilson, Major W. G., 25-6, 31-2, 303

  Wiltje, 120

  Winnipeg Cemetery, 122

  Woods, Lieut.-Colonel H. K., 209

  Wool Tank Corps Training Centre, xii, 62-4, 66-7, 162-5, 279-81, 289

  Worgret Camp, 162

  Wright Brothers, 316

  Wrisberg, General von, 240

  Wurmser, xiv

  Wytschaete, 108-11, 119


  Ypres, xvi, 14-6, 108-9, 113 _note_, 114, 117-24, 129, 138-9, 153,
      166, 242, 261, 304, 306

  Ytres, 143

  Yunus Trench, 101, 131, 133

  Yvrench, 34


  Zeebrugge, 14

  Zoo Trench, 92

  Zowaiid Trench, 101, 131


  PRINTED BY
  HAZELL, WATSON AND VINEY, LD.,
  LONDON AND AYLESBURY,
  ENGLAND.



FOOTNOTES


[1] Previously a Tank Corps engineer officer in France.

[2] _Ibid._

[3] Previously Brigade Major, 2nd Tank Brigade, in France.

[4] Previously G.S.O.2, Intelligence Headquarters, Tank Corps.

[5] German bayonet tassels.

[6] Certain chapters of this history originally appeared in a privately
circulated series of papers entitled _Weekly Tank Notes_.

[7] _How to make Railways Pay for the War_, p. 6. By Roy Horniman.

[8] The arrow was the means of immobilising the knight by forcing him
to dismount. Horse armour was never very satisfactory. Regarding the
maces, a chronicler writes of their use by the archers at Agincourt:
“It seemed as though they were hammering upon anvils.”

[9] The idea of a mobile fortress or battle car is very old: chariots
are known to have existed in Assyria as far back as the year 3500 B.C.
The Egyptians and Israelites both adopted them from this source. In
Biblical times their tactical utility was considerable, as the Book of
Judges relates. The Chinese, as early as 1200 B.C., made use of war
cars armoured against projectiles.

[10] Much of the following information is taken from an article
entitled “The Forerunner of the Tank,” by H. H. Manchester, published
in _The American Mechanist_, vol. 49, No. 15.

[11] “The Forerunner of the Tank,” by H. H. Manchester.

[12] For Edgeworth’s invention and the short summary of the
footed-wheel, etc., which follows see _The Engineer_, August 10, 1917,
and following issues.

[13] _The Engineer, ibid._

[14] The machine constructed by the Trench Warfare Department was the
double bogey car designed by the Pedrail Company, of which it will be
remembered twelve were originally ordered by the “Landships Committee”
and eventually abandoned. The resuscitation of this machine arose as
follows:

During the summer of 1915 the Trench Warfare Department approached the
Pedrail Company concerning the design of a flame projector with the
capacity of 12,000 gallons of petrol. In order to carry this weapon
the Pedrail Company suggested their original design, which, though it
was not approved of by the “Landships Committee,” was accepted by the
Trench Warfare Department. One machine was placed on order and built
at Bath by Messrs. Stothert and Pitt, the pedrails being manufactured
by the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co., Ltd., and the
frame by Messrs. William Arrol. The machine when built weighed 32
tons unloaded, was equipped with two 100 h.p. Astor engines, and when
tested out on Salisbury Plain attained a speed of 15 miles an hour.
Only one of these machines was made, as eventually the idea of using
mechanically driven flame projectors was abandoned.

[15] This is the first appearance of the word “tank” in the history
of the machine. Up to December 1915, the machines now known as
“tanks” were, in the experimental stage, called “landships” or “land
cruisers,” and also “caterpillar machine-gun destroyers.” On December
24, whilst drafting the above report of the Conference it occurred
to Colonel Swinton that the use of the above names would give away
a secret which it was important to preserve. After consultation
with Lieutenant-Colonel W. Daily-Jones, assistant secretary of the
“Committee of Imperial Defence,” the following names were suggested by
Colonel Swinton--“cistern,” “reservoir,” and “tank,” all of which were
applicable to the steel-like structure of the machines in the earlier
stages of manufacture. Because it was less clumsy and monosyllabic the
name “tank” was decided on.

[16] On February 8, 1915.

[17] The sponsons of the Mark I were only 10 mm. armour and not proof
against A.P. bullets.

[18] Map reference.

[19] The original order was for 100, this was later on increased to 150.

[20] The lighter form of tank was called “medium” because the French,
by now, had produced the light Renault tank (see Plate III).

[21] At this time, January 1917, General Swinton’s notes given in
Chapter IV were not known of at the Heavy Branch Headquarters.

[22] Major O. A. Forsyth-Major (Second in Command of the Egyptian
Tank Detachment), on whose report this chapter is based, lost all his
documents and maps at sea in May 1918 when the ship on which he was
returning to England was torpedoed and sunk, consequently some of the
dates are missing.

[23] “It is not some familiar spirit which suddenly and secretly
discloses to me what I have to say or do in a case unexpected by
others; it is reflexion, meditation.”--NAPOLEON.

[24] This chapter is extracted from a project submitted by Headquarters
Tank Corps on June 11, 1917. It correctly visualised the Third Battle
of Ypres, and the German artillery tactics adopted during it.

[25] At this time the German reserves totalled about 750,000 men.

[26] Breakdowns in the past had for the most part been due to bad
ground, not defective mechanism.

[27] The statement made in the daily press that General Elles’ order
ran--“England expects every tank to do its damnedest,” was a pure
journalistic invention and one in very bad taste.

[28] “Battle Notes” were issued from time to time by Tank Corps
Headquarters to all tank crews. Their object was to stimulate “esprit
de corps and moral.” They were human documents for the most part,
referring not only to the tank but also to other arms.

[29] From this it must not be deduced that the officers and men of the
Tank Corps would not obey orders, but that the officer in command of
the Supply Companies was a student of human nature. Why order when a
simple act like this will do the ordering?

[30] The German reports published in April asserted that tanks were
used against the British Army on March 21. As nothing is definitely
known of their effect they probably failed to come into action.

[31] General de Bourgon was a great friend of the Tank Corps; he
presented its Headquarters mess with a charming trophy.

[32] Nine heavy battalions with 324 machines and two medium battalions
with 96. Besides these tanks, there were 42 in mechanical reserve,
96 supply tanks, and 22 gun-carriers. In all, and not counting the
machines of the 9th Tank Battalion, there were 580 tanks.

[33] This was borne witness to by British troops near by.

[34] Captain of the company to which this tank belonged.

[35] This was contrary to Tank Corps “Standing Battle Orders.”

[36] This report was written by Lieut. Arnold after his return from
Germany. The tank was eventually found close to the railway on the
eastern side of the Harbonnières-Rosières road.

[37] A supply tank is armed with one Lewis gun.

[38] See “The Tactics of Penetration,” by Captain J. F. C. Fuller,
_Journal of the Royal United Services Institution_, November 1914. This
article was written in April 1914.

[39] During the war the normal system of detecting new gases was to
examine captured respirators, and from the chemicals they contained
inversely deduce the gases they would protect their wearers against. In
peacetime no such means of detection will be possible.



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant
preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.

Inconsistent hyphenation of words and names has not been changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.

The edges of some illustrations were lost in the binding by the
scanning equipment. Illustrations have been moved between paragraphs,
so some of the page numbers in the List of Illustrations no longer
match the placement in this eBook. However, in versions of this eBook
containing links, the links in those lists lead directly to the
corresponding illustrations.

Some of the plates were missing the "Plate" caption, apparently due to
cropping during the scanning process. Since other plates include that
caption, it has been restored to the ones from which it was missing.

Index not checked for proper alphabetization or correct page references.

Text uses “moral” rather than “morale”.

Page 44: The "CHARACTERISTICS" table contains 11 columns and has been
split into three parts in the Plain Text version of this eBook.

Pages 44-45: “Tyler engine” also is printed as “Tylor”.

Page 182: In the “A. D. Signals” organization chart, it was unclear
whether the lower portion was a continuation of the upper line or
subordinate to the “1st Tank Brigade”. The chart has been reproduced
here as similarly to the original as possible.

Page 213: “1·57” mm. must be a misprint for “157 mm.”

Page 218: “Noyon-Montdidier” perhaps should be “Noyon--Montdidier”.

Page 272: “2 in. trench-mortar bombs, each containing 50 lb. of ammonal”
was printed with those numbers.

Page 310: “Kamtchatka” was printed that way.





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