History of the Tank: A New Weapon of War

A World War One tank advancing with troops

History of the Tank: A New Weapon of War

Humans are naturally prone to ingenuity. We find solutions to problems, but sometimes the solutions cause new problems. Case in point: World War I. The technology of the previous few decades created dreadnoughts, chemical weapons, improved machine guns and cannons.  Basically it became easier to kill.  Another new weapon was the tank.

Tank Development

A WW1 British tank
A British tank

The Allies needed a weapon that could help end the war’s stalemate. They needed something that could cut through barbed wire in No Man’s Land and advance over large tracks of ground.

They called their new, armored weapon a tank to disguise its development from the enemy.

Tanks ran on a track, a technology that had been developed for farm tractors.  Reporters and soldiers said the new weapon resembled worms and armadillos.

“The ‘tanks’ have added an element of humor which put the [British] army, through all its ranks, into a festive mood,” the Vancouver Daily World said.

Rotating gun turrets were added to later models.

Debut

A World War One tank advancing with troops
A tank advancing with troops

The first tank attack occurred in September 1916 at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. Twenty-five tanks participated in the battle with nine reaching the German line.

More than any other objective, the first tanks were successful in frightening the enemy.

“Of course we surrendered, those of us who were alive,” a German prisoner told a British war correspondent.  “Our machine guns turned loose on it.  But the bullets were only blue sparks on the armor.”

Soon thousands of tanks were produced for the British and French, with the Allies producing nearly all the tanks used during the war. When the Americans entered the conflict, they also used French-built tanks.

Problems

A German tank stuck while trying to travel over a trench
A German tank stuck while trying to travel over a trench

Despite their impressive look, tanks had a number of flaws including:

  • Mechanical failure
  • They advanced slower than the troops
  • They became stuck in the mud
  • They became stuck in craters
  • Large bullets and shells could puncture the metal of early models

The men operating the tanks also faced challenges. The cabin was hot, deafeningly loud and full of engine fumes. Crew members wore gas masks and chain-mail to avoid asphyxiation and being hit by shrapnel.

Tanks also had no radios, so carrier pigeons were the only means of communication.

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Updated:  20 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.

2 thoughts on “History of the Tank: A New Weapon of War

  1. I was trained as an armored crewman in a M60A1 main battle tank in 1982. Even then, tanks had come a long way since 1918. What a lot of armchair generals and historians overlook is that the proper tactics had to be developed and used by those early tankers in the Great War. Tanks when used in mass were but one of the new weapons that helped to break the trench deadlock. One other weapon was gas, which broke a huge hole in the enemy lines when used for the first time. (The French African troops were not only defenseless against it but thought it was witchcraft.) That early success was not followed up on. The first real weapon which broke the trench deadlock was actually the infiltration tactics developed and used by the German Stormtroopers. The early deployment of the American Army was but one reason that advance was stopped cold. By the way, the first stormtroopers were neither Nazi streetfighters nor Imperial troops of the evil Emperor!

    1. Thank you, Joe, for taking time to read my blog and comment. I appreciate it.

      While, I was aware of all the facts you presented, I imagine the average reader learned something today.

      Thanks to wartime censorship, most people would not have been aware of these facts during the war either. All they knew was there were new weapons of war that were causing a generation of young men to be slaughtered. This is the case with the characters in my novel, Angel of Mercy. As members of the medical corps, they weren’t privy to trench-breaking tactics, but they knew all too well about the devastating effects.

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