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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Letters to numbers


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When did tank battalion letters change to three figure numbers and were all tank battalions affected by the

change.I'm also curious to know what happened if battalion letters were retained after the 9th battalion i.e

did "J" battalion retain the letter on their tanks or did they change to the three figure numbers. Alan

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Hello Alan

I think you will find that they had both. The three-figure number was in effect a manufacturers' serial number, and the letter and one or two figure number identified the battalion and the individual tank's place in it.


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Tank Battalions were re-numbered using ordinal numbers rather than letters on 1 January 1918. So, A Battalion became 1st Battalion etc. Your interest Raggy I know is in K Battalion, which at that time wasn't in France. It became 11th Battalion.

The large numbers seen on tanks' horns, and hull fronts and rears are nothing to do with Battalions. They were carried by tanks in the UK, typically being used for training. Consequently they're often called Home Service Numbers or Training Numbers. Two digit HSNs were used by older types of tank (Marks I, II and III). The first digit of a three digit training number denotes the type of tank, so Mark IV Males have HSNs starting with 1, whereas Mark IV Females HSNs start with 2 etc.

Serial numbers, or manufacturer's numbers, could be three, four or five digits. Those for Medium A tanks were three digits with an A prefix. A tank with a HSN would have a different serial number.

To return to tanks in use with Battalions in France now, these also often carried crew numbers. Aside from one or two battalions that had very idiosyncratic ways of marking their tanks with crew numbers, crew numbers typically comprised the Battalion letter prefix and a one or two digit number. Some Battalions continued to use their old letters in their crew numbers even after their Battalion was re-designated. Examples are 9th Battalion, which prefixed their crew numbers with I and 10th Battalion, which prefixed theirs with J. 6th Battalion on the other hand, used a 6/ prefix.

Hope that helps.


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