British Mark I Tanks Go Into Action
September 15, 1916
On September 15, 1916, the British Mark I tank went into action at the Somme, marking the first use of a tank in military action. How much do you know about this tank?
British heavy tanks were a series of related armored fighting vehicles developed by the United Kingdom during World War I. The Mark I was the world’s first tank, tracked and armed armored vehicle, to enter combat. The name “tank” was initially a code name to maintain secrecy and disguise its true purpose. This type of tank was developed to break the stalemate of trench warfare and could survive the machine gun and small-arms fire in “No Man’s Land,” travel over difficult terrain, crush barbed wire, and cross trenches to assault fortified enemy positions with powerful armament along with carrying supplies and troops.
British heavy tanks are distinguished by their unusual rhomboidal shape with a high climbing face of the track, designed to allow the tank to cross the wide and deep trenches common on the Western Front. Due to the height necessary for this shape, and armed turret would have made the vehicle too tall and unstable. Instead, the main armament was arranged in sponsons at the side of the vehicle. The first prototype, called “Mother,” mounted a six-pounder (57 mm) cannon and a Hotchkiss machine gun at each side. Later, subtypes were produced with machine guns only, which were designated “Female,” while the original version with the protruding 6-pounder was called “Male.”
The Mark I entered service in August 1916 and was first used in battle on the morning of September 15, 1916 during the battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Somme Offensive. With the exception of a few interim Mark II and III tanks, it was followed by the largely similar Mark IV, which first saw combat in June 1917. The Mark IV was then used en masse, with roughly 460 tanks, at the Battle of Cambrai that November. The Mark V, with a much-improved transmission, entered service in mid-1918. More than 2,000 British heavy tanks were produced until their manufactured was discontinued at the end of the war.