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The History of the Tank in WW1

The wrist-watch was one iconic innovation of the First World War; the other was the tank. First used by the British in September 1916 the tank changed the face of warfare. On the back of every Lufbery Trench Watch is an engraving of a Mark VII tank which was first produced in 1918.

The Mark VII tank. First produced in the autumn of 1918.

 

The concept of a vehicle to provide troops with both mobile protection and firepower was not a new one. But in the First World War, the increasing availability of the internal combustion engine, armour plate and the continuous track, as well as the problem of trench warfare, combined to facilitate the production of the tank.

Little Willie prototype tank. Built in 1915.

 

The name 'tank' came from British attempts to ensure the secrecy of the new weapons under the guise of water tanks. During the First World War, Britain began the serious development of the tank. Ironically, the Royal Navy led the way with the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, establishing the Landships Committee in early 1915.

 

The military combined with engineers and industrialists and by early 1916 a prototype was adopted as the design of future tanks. Britain used tanks in combat for the first time in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916.

An early tank (the Mark I) in battle in 1916.

 

As production increased and reliability improved, they were used in greater numbers. By the summer of 1918 they were a common element of British fighting methods, with around 2,600 tanks manufactured.

Tanks were common by 1918.

 

France began development in late 1915, eventually creating the Renault FT light tank. This was the first to use a fully rotating turret that contained the tank’s main armament - the basis of tank design ever since. Over 3,000 of these machines were made by late 1918.

Renault FT

 

By contrast, Germany lagged behind. German forces often salvaged British and French tanks, both for research purposes and to use on the battlefield. Germany developed the A7V tank, but only 20 were produced.

German A7V Tank