It was in the First World War on Friday 15th September 1916 at Flers Courcelette in France that tanks were used for the first time in battle. Around 50 of these fearsome-looking weapons had been developed. The tanks travelled slowly on caterpillar tracks over wheels in a way based on American farming tractors and their role was to get through the muddy front line trenches of Northern Europe. The tank its self was hot and noisy and very uncomfortable for the four-man crew operating them with two of the crew – one each side – firing the cannons mounted one each side.
On this September 15th some 40 or so primitive tanks advanced over a mile into enemy lines. However, they were too slow to hold their positions during the German counterattack and because some were subject to mechanical breakdown. Non-the-less – they were part of the battle of the Somme and these huge lumbering vehicles must have been a terrifying sight as they first rolled towards the entrenched enemy.
Despite this initial failure General Douglas Haig, commander of Allied forces at the Somme, saw the promise of this new instrument of war and ordered the war department to produce hundreds more.