In the early stages of World War 1 in Europe, trenches had become one of the main battlefield tactics both on offense and defense. The German army was efficient at digging long trenches in the French countryside. Once soldiers were in their trenches, it was very difficult for the enemy to shoot them, unless they raised their heads above ground level. Trench warfare also led to the development of gas warfare which could kill many at once in a single trench.
Consequently, a number of battlefields became virtual stalemates as it was trench against trench. British engineers came up with a solution – the first tank.
The term ‘tank’ was part of the secrecy used by the British to hide what they were doing. ‘Tank’ was thought to have referred to some sort of water tank, but little did anyone know what it really meant.
With the development of a combustion engine, continuous tread and the armor plating developed for ships, British engineers put them all together and came up with two initial tanks – a male and female. The difference being the female tank was only armed with machine guns mounted off the side turrets and the male tank was equipped with machine guns and one 6-pound gun. The tanks had a maximum speed of about 6 miles per hour, had no suspension or effective exhaust system. The crew inside were bounced all over and fought the fumes of the engine. The first production model was the Mark 1.
On this day, September 15, 1916, the Mark 1 tank made its debut at the Battle of the Somme at Flers Courcelette, France. The length of the British tank allowed to it cross the German trenches with machine guns blazing. Even though the Mark 1 was slow, its ability to cross over the German trenches allowed the British to advance nearly 5 miles behind German lines. However, they were so slow and susceptible to mechanical breakdowns that the British found it impossible to defend the newly gained ground.
Tank warfare has drastically changed and remained somewhat the same over the past 100 years. They have become faster with deadlier weapons, but the basic concept developed by the British 100 years ago is still the same.
Sources for the above includes: The Battlefield Debut of the Tank, 1916; Weapons of War – Tanks; The First Tanks and the Battle of Somme; Tanks Introduced into Warfare at the Somme; The Tank Corps of 1914-1918; How Britain Invented The Tank In The First World War