Today is the anniversary of the appearance of the Tank in battle. The British used them, in a limited capacity, in the Somme offensive.
The Tanks were not very effective. Winston Churchill envisaged them as dreadnoughts, great armoured ships of the land which would devastate the German lines. In reality there were too few, they were too unreliable and nobody knew quite how to use them.
That comes as no surprise. The British army was all at sea in the early phase of the Somme. The French were making excellent ground, eating up the miles and chewing up German lines. They had learned their lessons well at Verdun. They understood how to fight the industrial war. Concentrated artillery wins the ground and the troops hold the gains.
The French learned the need to have specialist squads for different duties, who were well trained in the requirements of their role. Riflemen to take the lines cleared by the artillery, light machine-gun companies to clear out strong-points and grenade companies to “clear-out” dugouts and trenches while the riflemen advanced.
The British had not absorbed these lessons. They had not fought this type of battle before. In their arrogance they did not listen to the French advisers. The generals thought they knew what they were doing and the poor blighters on the front lines died to prove them wrong.
Blighters: by Siegfried Sassoon
The House is crammed: tier beyond tier they grin
And cackle at the Show, while prancing ranks
Of harlots shrill the chorus, drunk with din;
‘We’re sure the Kaiser loves our dear old Tanks!’
I’d like to see a Tank come down the stalls,
Lurching to rag-time tunes, or ‘Home, sweet Home’,
And there’d be no more jokes in Music-halls
To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.