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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Lighting - in Tanks and to work by


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I'm trying to find out about lighting in a couple of different conditions.

Firstly, I'm interested in lighting in interiors of tanks, specifically earlier models. I know there were viewing slits to look out and I have found a photo on the internet of a small light scavenged from a damaged tank though model unknown nor proliferation of these lights. I wonder whether tank crews may have worked using torches etc. I appreciate that vision would have bee limited by fumes aswell though I would be grateful to anybody who may be able to err, shed any light on this for me!!

I'm also interested to know how working parties, specifically engineers laying explosives for bridge blasts etc, may have worked at night. Would they have just had to have worked by the light of the moon? were ther perhaps shaded or black out style lamps?

I have found examples of dry cell officers torches and candle lanterns but little else.

Any help much appreciated,


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  • 2 weeks later...

You do not seem to have struck lucky with this question. I cannot help much. It is my impression that the early tanks had no electrical system, but that later types, some of which carrried wireless did. I would suggest that you look at the RAC Museum web site - tankmuseum.org.uk - and try to contact them.

Old Tom

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The Tank in Action by Capt DG Browne, MC, gives this (his Mk IV tank G46, 'Gina', having become disabled in a waterlogged shell hole during 3rd Ypres 31st July, 1917)

Normally, tanks are lighted by small electric festoon lamps hung under the roof, but in G46 these were now out of action, the accumulators being under water. In any case, I should not have used them, as even with everything shut down the light escapes through numerous small chinks around the gun-ports and shields. The more powerful handlamps were tabooed for the same reason. There remained only the pair of coloured bulbs on the signalling belt, of which the green, besides making us look as if we were in the last stages of decomposition, was too brilliant to please me. The feeble glow of the red bulb, however, could hardly be seen by someone standing close outside. I had to employ it sparingly, as I did not know how long the small battery would last, but when at intervals I switched it on the effect was rather curious. The dull crimson light was reflected in the water beneath us, the rain drops collecting along the joints of the roof shone like rubies, and the complication of exhaust pipes and ammunition boxes above the engine cast over half the interior a great wavering shadow, in which I could see dimly the faces of my crew huddled in the sponsons and about the differential.

Elsewhere Browne gives:

We examined the map and photographs inside the tank by the light of an electric torch

and also mentions reading maps etc by the light of torches with failing batteries. As part of a list of ancillary equipment carried (which includes handlamps) he gives this description of the 'signalling belt' mentioned in the first extract:

'...an ingenious device like a pair of pantomime braces fitted with batteries, switches and red and green lights, to be used in guiding tanks at night ...

Somebody else might be able to come up with a definitive answer to this, but I suspect that the accumulators mentioned might only have been used for lighting; with, I believe, engines started by hand cranking, not electric start (?) and the ignition system, I've read elsewhere, using a magneto, there would have been, at least till the advent of radio tanks, no other use for electric power on board so I doubt that the complications of including a dynamo and the necessary charging circuitry - not to mention the risks from a further type of fumes - to keep accumulators topped up for the short duration actions of the GF would have been considered. This does raise another query: whether the accumulators mentioned would have been of the disposable, one use only type (ie dry cells), or a rechargeable lead acid (another hazard) wet cell type for removal & recharge once a tank had returned to base after an action.


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The engine in the Mk IV was started with a starting handle it had a magnito driven by the flywheel connected to the engine. This also charged the accumulators. A frequent cause of failure when ditched was the floor plate bowing slightly and jamming the flywheel. When this happened the tank was in effect dead. The Mk V had a different engine with a differently positioned flywheel (and a thicker floor).I think this Ricardo engine had a starter motor and bigger batteries. Both the MkIV and V had a bracket for an electric headlight to be fitted.

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