Evaluate the significance of the use of tanks had in the outcome of WW1
This fortified machine came into fruition due to the significance of mobile weaponry becoming increasingly necessary on the battlefield. Both sides were engulfed in a war of attrition caused by the trinity of the machine gun, the trench and barbed wire. The tank was significant for the war effort but its faults such as mechanical, design and a lack of strategy hindered its capability in meeting its expectations. At the end of the First World War, the tank would have played a significant part in bringing the war to an end due to the development of a complete new strategy, the all arms attack in which tanks played a significant role.
The machine was not able to live up to the high expectations placed upon them by the commanders which showed that it had been criticised before it even saw a battlefield. In 1917, Wells described his first view of the tank as a “...large slugs... snail...a rhinoceros.” He also added that the tanks were a “joke” therefore clearly indicating that he was not impressed. The reference to the slug and snail which are complex animals but yet they are renown to being slow creatures which take long periods of time to reach from one point to another. This shows us that even at first, the tanks flaw laid within its speed, the speed was hindered by its shocking weight; “28 tons”. The weight of the tank was so high due to the combination of the heavy armour plating and the combustion engine; which were in the initial stages of development and the combustion engine which was key for the powering the tank forward, although the combustion engine was only created a year before. However, describing it as a rhinoceros is a clear indication that Wells considers the tank to be fortified and lethal just like the animal. What induces more fear than a stampeding animal? This description shows that Wells had at first criticised the speed of the tank and it would not be significant on a battlefield but the idea of it being a rhinoceros showed that it was the answer for the need of an armoured mobile weapon to break through the barbed wire and navigate the trenches in order to restore mobility to the battlefield. Nonetheless, this illusion caused by naming the tank a rhinoceros was wrong due to them being “...impervious to small arms fire, and to a lesser extent machine gun fire. However shell fire could (and did) easily destroy a tank...” With a direct hit. This ultimately shows the flaws in the new armoured vehicle as it did not truly serve its purpose as a mobile armoured weapon. The time had come to put the tank to the test and this occurred at the Battle of the Somme.
The tank had finally been approved as battle ready and was shipped out to the frontline where they were first used at Flers - Courclette on September 1916. This was due to the horrendous conditions caused by trench warfare in the Battle of the Somme. Due to the trenches the casualty rates were shockingly high for the British and the Germans; the Germans had lost ‘450,000’ men and the British had lost a staggering ‘650,000’ soldiers. The fortified monsters commissioned by General Douglas Haig came in numbers of 50 to the battlefield but due to technical failures 14 of the tanks were lost and only 36 remained. The use of the tanks was not known fully at this time and many of the tank crew did not know what to do. This is illustrated in a report given by a tank commander stating; “Ours went wrong the day it arrived. We had no reconnaissance or map reading... we had no signalling... and no practice in considering orders.” This shows the ineptitude of the use of the tanks; the strategy was not clear and the machines were not ready due to being rushed into battle even after they were postponed for ten weeks. They were just “a very pretty toy... but I don’t think it can be perfected in time.” This also goes to show that Lord Kitchener was right when he stated this in January 1916 underpinning his reservations on the significance of this new weapon. Sir Douglas Haig had acted in haste and even the men who were supposed to lead the tanks into battle were not able to live up to the high expectations set upon them. The tanks which were able to be led into battle either broke down or were captured by the mud due to “...the harsh lunar landscape of the churned up ground...” The use of heavy artillery before the implementation of the tank on the battlefield caused impeded the tanks performance significance of the tank due to the landscape being damaged to the point where tanks couldn’t function successfully. “They shelled us until they sent our car all in flames.” This account from a tank machine-gunner reiterates Wells statement that the tanks speed will cause it problems and therefore rendering it vulnerable on the battlefield. With the aid of the tank the allies were able to push back the line “2,300 metres” and captured Flers, Courclette and Martinpunch. To a certain extent there was a limited breakthrough at the Somme; as 7 tanks were able to cross enemy trenches, push the German line back 2,300 metres and capture 3 villages restoring some mobility to this war of the attrition. However tanks were prone to breaking down due to the harsh weather conditions that they couldn’t handle. The Germans ability to reform, reinforce and reclaim aided by the mechanical breakdowns of the tanks and the inability to function in harsh weather conditions led to the offensive being called on the 22”nd September.