By Sung P – Y9
Tanks played a major role in the First World War. When we think of tanks, we this of huge machines that can blow things up and also a transport which is well armoured.
The word ‘tank’ literally means ‘land vessel’. Winston Churchill donated/gave a huge amount of money for the funding of tanks. But the first use of tanks wasn’t until The Battle of the Somme. They were mainly successful but there were pros and cons.
Advantages of Tanks
Tanks were able to cover a lot of ground and before the tanks were invented, thousands of men would be killed trying to cross the German barbed wire which was thousands of metres long and very deep. Also, the German barbed wire was a lot thicker than British barbed wire. The men would have been funnelled into a ‘kill zone’ and gunned to death. But when tanks came into place, the tanks could easily go straight through the barbed wire and make a path for the men. Also, the tanks armour was so strong that nearly no bullets could penetrate the armour. As well as this, the tanks gave a big boost of morale to the men.
Disadvantages of Tanks
Although there were many advantages to the tanks, there were also quite a few disadvantages. One main disadvantage was the speed of the tank. For example the Mark IV tank had a top speed of 4 mph which is not a big difference to the average walking pace, 3 mph. Another weakness to the tank was that if there was a trench which did not have a big width, the tank would fall into the trench and get stuck and would not be able to get back out again. One main con that is sometimes missed is the amount of money needed to produce a vehicle like this. As you can see, the tank needs metal that is thick enough so that not normal bullets can penetrate it. The part that made lots of tanks unusable is one of the main things, the tracks. The tracks which kept the tank going would from time to time tear off. Once this happened, you would have to abandon it as they did not have the correct tools to easily/quickly place them back together. One last disadvantage was its weight. Tanks (as they are mainly made from metal) are heavy and so it’s not really easy to pull them back out if they sink. The tanks would not sink into water, but when they faced deep mud, they would sink. A few people died because the tank sunk and they were not able to escape in time.
Main World War 1 Tanks
Char d’assault Schneider 1916 (French)
The Char d’assault Schneider was the first ever French tank. The French felt the need to get past the barbed wire quickly and without much harm and this inspired the French to create the Schneider. As this was the main aim (not shooting automatic guns), they started off with a very simple box design. When it was used for the first time, it went at 8mph and seemed to be doing well until they mainly got stuck in the barbed wire and if they did get past, due to the box shape, they would fall into the trenches and get stuck.
Char d’assault St. Chamond 1916 (French)
The St. Chamond was not much better than the Schneider for the reason that the designers did not think realistically. The caterpillar tracks were too short, could not hold the 23-ton tank, etc. But the main problem was that they did not learn from their mistakes. When the Schneider was used, its box shape meant that it would be hard to get out if the tank fell into a trench. By making the tank longer, if they fell into a trench they would not be able to get it back out. After this, the French decided to import British tanks and use them as they were better.
Fiat 2000 1918 (Italian)
During the course of World War One, Italy did not field any armoured units due to a lack of tanks, so instead, they produced original designs. The Fiat 2000 had around the same dimensions as the Mark V tanks. But the Fiat 2000 was quite a lot heavier as the Fiat 2000 weighed 40 tons while the British Mark V weighed 28 tons. Also the tank had a almost spherical top where there would have been a turret which could rotate a full 360. It was actually the first tank to have a fully rotating turret if you didn’t count the Renault FT. The only real problem was its weight as (discussed on page 1) it could have (and did) occasionally sink into the mud. In addition the top speed was 4mph.
Ford Model 1918 (US)
This was one of the first tank designs that the US made. You can also see that from the tanks so far, the design is quite unique as unlike the other tanks, the Ford Model was not ‘filled in’ as much. It was considered as a ‘light tank’ as it weighed 3 tons. There were only 15 originals made probably because not too much later on, the US made better and stronger tanks which had thicker armour. 1500 of these Ford tanks were ordered, but the Armistice intervened and no more were made and the deal was broken.
K Großkampfwagen aka K-Wagen 1918 (German)
While the A7V was being invented the War Ministry in Germany ordered the invention of another tank which was to be heavy. So, the K Großkampfwagen was made and it weighed an astonishing 160 tons but the ministry did not like how heavy it was so they cut parts of it off and made it shorter. This also took off at least 40 tons so the final copy was 120 tons. But still due to its weight, the tank itself was not able to move very fast but travelled and a max of 4.7mph. It also had seven machine guns and could hold up to 27 men.
Leichter Kampfwagen I aka LK I 1918 (German)
The Leichter Kampfwagen was made to be light and cheap. It was the first of two designs and it was a light tank. But it could still only go at 15km/h. It was Germany’s first armoured fighting vehicle to be equipped with a turret but of which none were ordered. It was an experimental tank which led way for the Leichter Kampfwagen II.
As in the name, the LK II was made after the LK I and its armour was in some places up to 14mm thick which meant that it was around 8.5 tons even though it was meant to have been a ‘light tank’. The main weapon was an automatic machine gun and the tank itself could travel at 18 km/h. Only two prototypes were made whilst the remaining 580 were never completed.
Little Willie Landship 1915 (British)
The Little Willie was like the LK II in the sense that it too was a prototype. It was also the first completed tank in history. It was made in July 1915, weighed 16.5 tons and as it was the first tank and as the engines were not brilliant that early on, could only crawl forward at a max speed of 2 miles/h. Only one was made and is at the Tank Museum in Bovington. Even though Little Willie never went to combat, it was a huge achievement in many aspects and lots of later tank designs would come from the Little Willie. Also, if it weren’t for Winston Churchill, the idea/invention of tanks probably would not have happened as he was the one who set up a committee in 1915 to tackle the problems of trench warfare (this is when people would have to follow a path made out of barbed wire and when they were in a ‘kill zone’, they would all have been gunned down). We forget but the first use of the tanks were purely for knocking down the barbed wire.
There is not much to say about the M1917 tank except for that it was a bit of a waste of time and a waste of money. I say this because the tank manufacturers did not make enough of the tanks in time for the war so none of them saw combat and out of the ordered 4,440, only 950 were completed and as none of them actually went to battle, it was a complete waste of money for the people who actually ordered them. But the tanks would have probably been quite successful if they went to war.
Medium Mark C aka Hornet 1918 (British)
The Hornet was another work of the British. But the Hornet had the same outcome as the M1917 6 ton tank. The designs for the Hornet were finished during the First World War but they were not made in time to have been involved in any fighting. The designs though were similar to the Mark I and other tanks that came later in the sense that all of the tanks had a very distinctive rhomboid shape for the tank’s body. Also the Hornet fuel tanks were better and allowed fuel for around 140 miles, and the tank could travel at 8 mph. So overall the Hornet would have been more useful if it was made in time.
It was called the Whippet due to its speed. It was faster than most of the other tanks but still only went at 8mph. There was also a tank in this make called The Music Box Tank No.334. The story of this tank is pretty incredible. For nine hours it was stranded (because it couldn’t keep up) but caused huge amount of damage. The single tank took out a artillery battery, an observation balloon, an infantry battalion camp and a transport column of the German’s 225th division. But eventually the enemy found one big mistake in the tank. The fuel tank was on the top of the tank and so was exposed to the enemy. The enemy saw this and fired the fuel tank so that the fuel leaked into the tank and caused flames. The men quickly got out. One of the men was shot and killed, while the other two men were taken prisoner.
Model 1917 Holt Gas-Electric 1918 (US)
The Model 1917 Holt Gas-Electric was the first tank invented in the US. After the testing process, it turned out that it was unsuitable to use in war for the main reason that it lacked the maneuverability and agility required. So, due to it being unsuitable, it was never used in combat.
Although there were many tanks which were not used, unsuitable, etc. The Renault FT-17 was a tank which was so influential that after its production, 27 different countries used them and it was used in 10 wars. Although fully-revolving turrets had been used on a variety of French armored cars, the FT-17 was the first tank to incorporate this feature. This allowed the smaller tanks to fully utilize a single weapon rather than needing multiple guns mounted with limited fields of fire. This is the main reason to why the Renault FT-17 was such a success and why so many countries used it in 10 battles.
Skeleton Tank 1918 (US)
The Skeleton Tank was an experimental prototype. As in the name, the experiment was to design and make a tank that could go through barbed wire, go through trenches, etc. So in short, do the same thing as any other tank, but go faster and cost less to build. The plan was not to fill in with steel the sides where the tracks would be so that it would be lighter, and use less metal. The reasons it did not go past being a prototype were that 1, the tank only weighed 8,200 kg so it did not seem stable enough, 2, it could even after its lightness only move at max 5 mph, and lastly, because as there were gaps in the frame, or the ‘box’, the driver would be was exposed to heavy shooting. And because the metal wasn’t that thick, the bullets would from time to time pass through if the bullets were fired in the same place.
The A7V was another tank that was designed by Germany in WW1. They were used for eight months in 1918 and around 20 were made. The project for this tank was given to Joseph Vollmer. It was to be near 30 tons, be able to cross ditches/trenches, have a turret and both ends and go at a max of 12 kmph. These were the strict instructions given to Vollmer and he did a good job. Also, the name given to it, ‘Sturmpanzerwagen’ gives a rough translation of ‘Armoured Assault Vehicle’.
Sturmpanzerwagen A7V-U 1918 (German)
You can again see the rhombus shape in this tank. There is not much to say about the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V-U except for that three were made, they were ‘Storm Tanks’, the armour was 1.4cm thick, and as the handling for this tank was dreadful, the idea was eventually scrapped. There was nothing really ‘special’ about this tank.
Another Sturmpanzerwagen. This in German translated as strom tank. It was another of Germany’s WW1 designs. Unlike a few of the German tanks, this one was useful in the sense that it was a fast and light assault tank. It was near the end of WW1 when Germany realised that the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V was too expensive to buy/ to make lots of them so they were looking to make a lighter tank which meant that less metal would have to be used so therefore it would be cheaper and it could be mass produced. So this tank was made. The tank was relatively fast compared to other tanks and could travel at a max speed of 10 mph. The main weapon was a cannon and there were also a few machine guns attached to the tank.
Tank MK I aka Big Willie/Mother/Centipede 1916 (British)
The Mark I tank was the first ever tank which was armed to enter combat. The Mark I tank also introduced a new idea. Carrying people in an protected vehicle so that they are safe and so that they can help attack if needed. There were still a few problems for example the soldiers/men in the tank would have probably been hacking up their lungs as at that stage, there was no ventilation or air supply which was not good enough to block out the toxic gas, carbon monoxide. Also it would have been very hot and stuffy inside the tank as temperatures could reach up to 50 degrees Celsius. Due to this, many people would pass out or as some did, die, but overall, for the first ever tank, the Mark I was great.
The Mark II was nearly identical to the Mark I but there were a few improvements that were made to the Mark II. The Mark II however was given strict instructions that the Mark II would be only used for demonstrations and training exercises. Because of this, some people say that they used unhardened metal so that it would be a lot cheaper. Anyway, why waste money? But later on, the tanks were shipped to France and with the Mark I, the Mark II was used in one battle. The Battle of Arras. However, in this battle, the German machine guns had considerably improved and the Germans were easily able to pierce the tank’s armour.
Note: I skipped the Mk III as there was not much to write about and it was really quite similar to the Mk II. There was also not much of an improvement to write about.
Tank MK IV 1917 (British)
In May, the production started for the MK IV. The Mark IV was more heavily armoured than the Mark I and therefore was heavier and more expensive to build. The Mark IV was another big success and the main difference in the Mark IV was that the design really focused on the safety of the crew. The Mark IV fought in three main battles. At the Third Ypres they were used but due to the terrain did not come much in handy, at Messines Ridge they were used and it was a success and finally there were 432 Mark IV tanks used at the Battle of Cambrai. In short, the Mark IV aided the army several times and the overall outcome of the Mark IV was very good.
The Mark V was and improved/upgraded version of the Mark IV tank. It was used in the last few months of World War 1 and was again used in two other wars. The improvement to the Mark V was that there was a new steering system, a new engine, etc. But some of the disadvantages stayed the same such as the rubbish ventilation but in the three wars it was used in, the Mark V was very helpful and successful. After the Mark Tanks and other British tanks were being used, the Germans decided to dig the trenches wider so that it would be harder to get across.(The Germans thought that the British tanks would get stuck in the trenches). But instead, the British created the Mark V* which had a longer length tanks, so that the tank would be able to reach the other side of the trenches with no difficulty. The Mark V* now weighed around 33 tons each but as it was a success, over 600 of the MK V*s were ordered. After the MK V*, the British found a problem. It was that most of the time, the tracks would come off or stop working. This was the case because as the tanks were too long, it would have to do a difficult turn. The tracks therefore would most of the time give way. Due to this problem, the Mark V** was invented. It was identical to the MK V* except for that the tracks were now 26.5 inches. But only 25 were built and this design did not prove to be much better than the previous MK V*.
Tank Mark IX 1918 (British)
All the previous Mark tanks were built for two main purposes; trample the barbed wire and fire bullets at the enemy. But later on it was obvious that as the men were being fired at, the men could not physically keep in line with the tanks. So, the Mark IX was built for one main purpose. Carry men. The British realised that as the tanks were nearly completely bullet resistant, if the tanks had men in them, the men could be carried miles from where they started and be safe from any wounds. The MK IX carried up to 30 soldiers but in its history only 34 were made.
The Tsar Tank. Well… it was different. As in the picture, the Tsar Tank was and armoured vehicle and instead of tracks, it had what would seem to look like bicycle wheels. It was based on a rather simple fact. It was easier to hold the line rather than moving forwards and attacking. So, the wheels were meant to be 12 metres in diameter and men were meant to be able to fit in them. The planning to scale didn’t go terribly well and after a few projects, the Russians decided to completely scrap the absurd idea.
War Tank America aka Steam Tank 1918 (US)
The Steam tank was invented in America after the Mark IV. It was meant to be an exact replica of the Mark IV but with one main difference. The difference was that it would be run by steam. It cost $60,000 to build and it had kerosene for fuel. Also, the main weapon was different as the American version had a flamethrower. One was made in Boston and broke down completely in the middle of a parade. It was not much an invention but more of an imitation that did not fully work.
So looking back to the First World War and tanks, I think that the advantages to having tanks in wars easily outweigh the disadvantages. Apart from the costs to build and the ventilation inside of the tank, I think that it should be looked back with great pride that people thought of building a machine/vehicle which we still use today. Out of the many advantages, I think that the greatest advantage near the end of the war was that as tanks could carry men, the number of people who died at the barbed wire and in no-man’s land decreased considerably. Also tanks were able to deposit many men miles from where they started but in such a good shape that the majority could go out and fight. Without tanks, I think that many more men would have died and that we would have found it hard to get much further than the enemy’s trenches. Also, we can see how much tanks have developed since then and how we now use them. Furthermore, the weapons that we use with tanks are much more advanced.