Battle of Cambrai

A Century Of Tanks: "100 Years Ago A New Weapon System Was Born"

Battle of Cambrai

"One hundred years ago a new weapon system was born".

So opens the Tank Museum's book by Robin Cross and David Willey, which carries a forward by the TV popular historian Dan Snow.

The book explains how the Somme in 1916 saw the debut of the 'Land Ship', that would then go into battle far more spectacularly at Cambrai a year later.

From there, the machine continued to shape and define warfare:

"(Armoured) vehicles have played a leading part on battlefields from northern France in 1940 to the Korean peninsula.

"Tanks spearheaded the brilliant German thrust through the Ardennes, they drove Rommel from North Africa, clashed at Kursk, swam ashore at D-day, slowly edged towards Berlin from East and West, fought each other to a standstill on the Golan Heights and the Sinai Desert, crushed dissent in Prague and Budapest, swept away the South Vietnamese regime and toppled Saddam Hussein."

First World War
(image: Carlton Books)

The first tanks were, of course, British.

The Mark I tank took to the battlefield at the Somme in 1916. 

That was followed by the Mark IV, which was active throughout 1917 but made its mark at Cambrai on November 20th.

World War 1
(image: Carlton Books)

British tanks came in two varieties: male and female.

That wasn't because the British were planning to breed them to make more, but because they needed a way to differentiate between those that carried machine guns (females) and those that carried artillery guns (males) as their main armaments.

Here a Mark IV Male tank gun port (or Sponson) is shown.

It has a shortened 6-pounder artillery gun - the longer ones had been prone to getting caught on obstacles - and a Lewis gun in a ball mounting as a backup armament.

German tank books Die Flucht im Tank by Hanns Kappler and Die Panzertrauppen by Guderian
German tank-themed books (images: Carlton Books)

As scary as it must have been for Germans to face down British tanks, this 1937 book (shown above left) indicates that, in retrospect, they made for exciting fiction.

Die Flutchtim Tank, or 'The Escape in the Tank' looks to be an exciting read!

Conversely, a more serious book (shown above right) was authored by the German tank commander Generalmajor Guderian, who would play a pivotal role in the Battle of France in 1940, and in driving the British to evacuate from Dunkirk.

The caption in Cross and Willey's book informs us:

"Prior to the Second World War, Guderion battled with traditionalists in the Germany Army who saw the tank only as a support weapon for the infantry. Here his publication is titled 'The panzer troops and their cooperation with other arms'."

Guderian would certainly prove to be right about the tank's importance in battle.

Shown below are the Panzers that were so devastating to the French and their British allies in 1940. They have just crossed over the Somme as they continue their advance.

And just below that is a predecessor - a German World War 1 A7V, of which only 20 were ever produced.

(image: Carlton Books)
western front tank
(image: Carlton Books)

The tank soon became an important symbol in politics and propaganda.

Just below is a Nazi rally in Saxony, and below that, tanks massed on Red Square in Moscow in 1940.

(image: Carlton Books)
(image: Carlton Books)

The British, of course, would eventually make better use of their tanks during the Second World War.

They fought Rommel, the 'Desert Fox', in North Africa (the next image).

Below that, a Churchill tank is shown speeding into action.

British A9 tanks in Egypt (image: Carlton Books)
(image: Carlton Books)

Willey and Cross' book also features tanks in more recent decades.

Some examples are this M48 tank, being operated by the Isreali Defence Forces (IDF), and below that a CV 90 Swedish-made medium tank.

(image: Carlton Books)
(image: Carlton Books)

To pick up a copy of 'Tanks: 100 Years of Armoured Warfare' by Robin Cross and David Willey, visit Carlton Books. Use the code promo code TANKS to get a £15 DISCOUNT.

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