One of the turning points of the First World War was the introduction of the tank. The Allied forces and German Austrian Axis had fought themselves to a standstill in France. Cavalry had failed, the slow advance of troops were just mown down by machine gun firing positions and the field was a sea of mud, wire and craters from the equally ineffective constant shelling. What was needed was something that could offer protection for troops and allow an advance to really establish itself when the line of trenches were broken through. The idea came from the Admiralty, if the Battleships of the Royal Navy could be brought onto land the war could be ended in weeks. The motorised tank was born. There are sadly no working examples of the Mark 1 tank and only one remains virtual intact at the Bovington Tank Museum. However, you can still get an idea of how a tank drives with a Tank Driving Experience day at armourgeddon although you won’t have to put up with what the first tank pilots had to face.
- It had nothing to absorb any shocks when it ran over something. Whist the wrought iron riveted frame of the tank meant it could go almost anywhere, the crew admitted that you could feel one go over a penny making for a very bumpy ride.
- The crew numbered eight men in extremely cramped conditions. One pilot drove the tank and the other worked the gears and acceleration. There wasn’t a single control point. Four men would work the guns with two others on fire and engineering duties.
- There were two types of weapons. One version (the male) had two medium cannons facing forward and two rear firing machine guns. The other (the female) just featured machine guns. The noise from the cannons and machine guns was deafening.
- With cannon added the Male version was 28 tonnes and the Female was 27 tonnes.
- The first use of the Tank was at the battle of Cambrai.
- The inside of the tank was ridiculously hot when the engine was at full power. It spewed out exhaust fumes making it impossible for the men inside it to drive it and fire the guns.
- The Mark 1 was not the only tank designed for battle. The other was the “Little Wille” which was little more than an armoured firing platform.
- A competition to design a working war vehicle was hotly contested with William Foster Co winning the “Landships Committee”’s approval. Prior to this the company was known for making agricultural machines.