5 tanks that changed the course of the First World War

5 tanks that changed the course of the First World War


The technological revolution of the tanks changed the nature of military confrontations.

And it took place during the First World War , a conflict characterized by trenches that imposed tortuous advances and exposure to climate and enemy fire.

Craig Moore , author of the book Tank Hunter: World War One , “Tank Hunter: World War I”, selected for the BBC the five tanks that changed the course of the war that devastated Europe between 1914 and 1918.

1. The British tank Mark I

The first British tank had the ability to traverse trenches because of its rhomboidal shape . And its armor allowed it to advance towards the German machine guns with impunity.

The large caterpillars of the tank also succeeded in crushing line after line of barbed wire.

The Mark I represented a technological revolution that solved the problem of how to cross “no man’s land” between enemy trenches.

British tank Mark I Photo: Underwood Archives / Getty Images
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image

Image captionBritish tank Mark I. The tanks were used for the first time in combat on September 15, 1916 at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Battle of the Somme. Photo: Underwood Archives / Getty Images

The tank could deal a hard blow to the rival defense and reduce casualties in the attacking forces.

This vehicle changed the course of the First World War, since it appeared when the Germans still did not possess tanks .

There were two varieties of the Mark I. The “male” tank was armed with two six-pounder (57 mm) guns mounted on platforms on both sides.

British trench during the Battle of the Somme Photo: Wiki Commons

Image caption British trench during the Battle of the Somme. More than 18 million people died during the First World War, one of the bloodiest conflicts in history. Photo: Wiki Commons

Each platform had a machine gun in turn and a third machine gun was mounted on the cockpit and fired forward.

The six-pounder guns were designed to destroy fortified positions.

But they did not cause as many casualties on enemy lines as the Mark I “female” , which had five machine guns, two on each platform and one in the cockpit.

2. The British tank Mark IV and his “fajinas”

After the British used tanks for the first time at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in September 1916, German forces changed their strategy.

One of the main “anti-tank” measures was to trench the trenches to prevent the new armored vehicles from crossing them.

British tank Mark IV Photo: Mansell / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

Image caption A British Mark IV tank advances alongside the infantry in a French field during the First World War. Photo: Mansell / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

The British air force discovered the new German tactics through aerial photographs.

And in response to the widened trenches of the Germans, the British introduced the Mark IV tank with the so-called fajinas , bunches of branches tied with chains that were transported in the front of the hull.

The fascines had been used in medieval times to cross the pits that surrounded the castles.

The Mark IV tanks that approached the German trenches in three formations .

The first tank stopped at the edge of the trench, released its fascia, and then moved to the left while firing with machine guns.

A second tank did the same moving to the right, and the third dropped its fascia and crossed the trench over the three compact bundles of branches tied with chains.

3. The British supply tank

Newspapers of the First World War often mention that some tanks had to leave the front because they ran out of fuel or ammunition .

A six-pounder cannon mounted on one side of a Mark V tank.

Image caption A six-pounder gun mounted on the sides of a Mark V tank. Photo: Wiki Commons

And the withdrawal of the tanks left the infantry in an even more vulnerable position.

It was not possible to supply the tanks using an unshielded truck , so the best option was to adapt tanks or build special tanks.

To transport even more ammunition, these supply tanks carried special “sleds” of wood and metal that moved on what looked like giant skis.

The sledges were attached to the back of the tanks with chains or reinforced ropes.

The spaces reserved for the guns in the common tanks were sealed in the cars adapted with metal plates.

The use of supply tanks had a fundamental impact in the First World War by allowing the tanks to stay longer in the front.

4. The French light tank Renault FT-17

In the middle of World War I, the French industry faced difficulties to produce enough heavy trucks like its models Schneider CA and Saint Chamond.

Colonel Jean-Baptiste Estienne found the solution in the design of a light car for two men, armed with a single machine gun.

The French light tank Renault FT-17 Photo: Three Lions / Getty Images

Image caption The Renault FT-17 light tank was the first with a rotating turret that allowed a 360-degree view of the battlefield Photo: Three Lions / Getty Images

This car was cheaper and could be produced on a large scale despite the restrictions faced by the French industry during the war.

For the cost of a Saint Chamond tank, five Renault FTs could be built.

When Renault started building the new FT-17 tank, Estienne was one of its main drivers.

This light tank was the first with a rotating turret that allowed a 360 degree view of the battlefield. It is considered the first modern tank and was used even in World War II.

Colonel Estienne proposed to use light tanks with a “swarm of bees” tactic.

The strategy was to attack with a multitude of light tanks to overwhelm the enemy, instead of using a single heavy tank.

This tactic revolutionized the fighting. It was no longer necessary for the tanks to be preceded by large-scale bombing to minimize the impact of enemy projectiles on the metal structure.

Tank “swarms” could neutralize the enemy’s artillery, allowing the advance of the infantry.

6. The German tank Beutepanzer (tank trophy)

The Germans built only 20 heavy tanks Sturmpanzerwagen (armored assault vehicle), a model that used A7V chassis.

But these vehicles did not change the course of the war because very few were built.

Beutenpanzer tank or trophy tank

Image caption One of the Beutepanzer or originally British trophy tanks that the Germans withdrew from the front, repaired and then used with a German cross. Photo: Wiki Commons

However, after the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917, the Germans recovered from the front about 300 damaged British Mark IV tanks.

The German forces managed to repair 170 of those tanks , in which they replaced the guns of 6 pounds and the British machine guns by German arms.

In the spring of 1918, the repaired tanks, with painted German crosses, returned to the battlefield to fight their previous owners.

This was a surprise for British troops, who began to paint their own tanks with large white and red lines to distinguish them from land and air of German tanks.

Mark V “female” tanks, which were armed only with machine guns, were now vulnerable to German attacks.

The solution was to incorporate on the side of the tanks “female” a typical platform of tanks “male” with a six-pounder gun.

This modified car was called Mark V, “compound tank” or “hermaphrodite tank”.

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