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The Tank, a New Weapon for the Somme

The tank, a powerful weapon of mass destruction, made its very first appearance on the battlefield during the Battle of the Somme.

The Tank, a New Weapon
@Ludovic Mondouet
When the First World War broke out, countries across the globe were dragged into a war of terrifying violence, to an extent never experienced before. With the aim of bringing a halt to the endless attritional warfare and to inflict the greatest possible damage upon enemy positions, great thought went into the design of new weapons for the battlefield.

Britain began the serious development of the tank, thus named in an attempt to ensure the secrecy of the new weapon in the guise of a water tank, in early 1915 and the Landships Committee was established by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. The idea was to create a weapon that would be able to rapidly cross vast stretches of battleground, bridge trenches and flatten barbed wire. By early 1916, a prototype had been adopted for the future British tanks.

Shipped across the channel to the Somme, the first tanks were then put to the test during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on the 15th September 1916. Struck by mechanical faults and bad luck, however, of the 49 British Mark 1 tanks only 27 reached the German front line and just 6 their final objective. They may not have had the strategic effect desired, but they did have a lasting psychological effect on the enemy and parts of the battle were successful. The first appearance of tanks on the battlefields demonstrated the intensifying industrial character of the conflict, reinforcing the role of the artillery and marking a turning point in military history.


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