Jump to content
Free downloads from TNA ×
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Effectiveness of tanks


centurion

Recommended Posts

In the thread on German tactics we got onto the use of tanks. There seem to be varying opinions on their effectiveness in WW1. I would argue that they were very effective but only once appropraite tactics had been evolved - ie by July 1918. For initial evidence I would submit the following:

In their submission to the Reichstag, strongly urging the immediate seeking of an armistice and peace terms, the German High Command, headed by Hindenburg and Lunendorf, specifically refer to the mass use of tanks by the Allies as a major cause of the German military collapse

Two factors have had a decisive influence on our decision, namely, tanks and our reserves.

The enemy has made use of tanks in unexpectedly large numbers. In cases where they have suddenly emerged in huge masses from smoke clouds, our men were completely unnerved.

Tanks broke through our foremost lines, making a way for their infantry, reaching our rear, and causing local panics, which entirely upset our battle control. When we were able to locate them our anti-tank guns and our artillery speedily put an end to them.

But the mischief had already been done, and solely owing to the success of the tanks we have suffered enormous losses in prisoners, and this had unexpectedly reduced our strength and caused a more speedy wastage of our reserves than we had anticipated”. .

An enemy’s citation of a particular weapon as a major cause of their defeat is a powerful endorsement of its importance and effectiveness. The following figures compiled by Major General J.F.C.Fuller also help to put the contribution of the tank in context.

As regards casualties the comparisons are amazing. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme July 1st 1916, when no tanks were used, the British casualties were approximately 60,000. On the first day of the Battle of Amiens when 415 (fighting) tanks were used they were slightly under 1,000. Between July and November 1916, the British casualties per square mile of battlefield gained were 5,300; during the same months in 1917, at the Battle of Third Ypres, they were 8,200; and in the same period in 1918 they were 83. In the third period alone were tanks used in numbers and effectively.’

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello,

I hesitate to argue with the opinion of the late general Fuller but I feel his statistic of casualties per area captured is by far not the whole story. For example, there were great changes in tactics between the 1916 and 1918, in particular with the use of artillery and the advent of predicted shoots off the map. The tank played a significant part of increasing importance as time passed but by the end of WW1 it was still unreliable and vulnerable to field artillery fire.

Old Tom

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not a tank expert but it seems to me that the tank was a weapon where everything went just right for Britain. By the time that the enemy was starting to get over the shock and evolve weapons and tactics to defend against them, it was too late. They were of maximum effect for just long enough. My favourite story which I have not been able to verify, is that of the British squad with a captured German anti-tank rifle knocking out a captured British tank being used against them in the 1918 retreat. Another year and the tank would have been like gas, still capable of causing damage but no longer terrifying.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello,

The tank played a significant part of increasing importance as time passed but by the end of WW1 it was still unreliable and vulnerable to field artillery fire.

Old Tom

The tank has always been (and still is) unreliable and vunerable to field artillery fire. The trick is to use your tanks in such a way as they don't come up against field artillery fire. By August 1918 the Tank Corps had specialised RAF squadrons dedicated to their support. The two seaters (Big Acks) were able to spot established dug in field artillery in an anti tank role and a.) warn the tanks of their location b.) direct allied heavy artillery fire onto them, whilst the single seaters (Sopwith F1 Camels) concentrated on knocking out any field artillery (including SP guns) that tried to move on the battlefield to place themselves in a position to engage the tanks. This was a lesson learned from Cambrai where they tried to use Camels from non specialised ground attack squadrons to spot and knock out emplaced (and often camoflaged) field guns operating in an anti tank role, almost impossible to do in a single seat aircraft when the pilots attention is divided into not flying into the ground and keeping an eye open for enemy fighters. As the German High Command report points out by the time the tanks had advanced far enough (from their own artillery support) so that the German guns could knock them out it was already too late. Yes a large number of tanks were knocked out but by that time they had bought the victory.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not a tank expert but it seems to me that the tank was a weapon where everything went just right for Britain. By the time that the enemy was starting to get over the shock and evolve weapons and tactics to defend against them, it was too late. They were of maximum effect for just long enough. My favourite story which I have not been able to verify, is that of the British squad with a captured German anti-tank rifle knocking out a captured British tank being used against them in the 1918 retreat. Another year and the tank would have been like gas, still capable of causing damage but no longer terrifying.

I'd be interested in anything you might have on that one. I did an article for another site last year on Allied anti tank defences. I knew that some Mauser anti tank rifles had been captured but not that any had been turned round. I think if there was such an action it must have happened towards the end of the German 1918 offensive as the beute panzers (reconditioned re gunned captured British mk IVs) only started to come into action about then.

Fear of the tank as such had probably faded by the time of the big successes in late 1918 (and I think accounts of German 'tank panic' when the tanks first appeared in 1916 was greatly exagerated). It was the shock of the massed tank attack that did the trick. I'm sure survivors of France in 1940 could also talk about the shock effect of tanks even though most of the Panzers of the blitzkrieg were also lightly armoured and vunerable to field gun fire.

Iwouldn't be too sure about the impact of gas - some of the nerve gases the Germans were developing would have been another level of horror if used in 1919

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The quote by Fuller about the amazing comparison doesn't really sway me. To compare casualty figures from 8 August 1918 at Amiens to 1 July 1916 is a very simplistic look at raw figures. There are too many differences in the tactics, techniques and procedures between 1916 and 1918. And his figure are wrong.

How many divisions were involved at each action? Wasn’t it about 27 in 1916?

Fourth Army used about 11 at Amiens.

Is he comparing total casualties with KIA? If so, it is a ridiculous comparison.

According to Edmonds, Fourth Army’s total casualties for 8 August seem to have been under 9,000. According to Bean, in the Australian Corps ‘probably 1000 men had been hit in reaching the first objective and another 1000 in gaining the second and third – that is 500 men per division throughout.’

Tanks were very important at Amiens but the success of Fourth Army’s counter- battery work, its advantage in numbers and surprise make the battle no comparison with 1 July 1916.

Chris Henschke

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tanks probably had an initial and significant impact during the first part of the Battle of Amiens in August 1918, however, they were subject to a very high percentage loss to both enemy action and mechanical breakdown. Fuller commented on the shock impact of tanks in the first stage of this battle and I believe he was correct. However, within the Canadian Corps, tank casualties among some 300 tanks was 75 percent by the end of the first day of battle. The remainder of the battle was carried forward by first artillery and then just hard hitting infantry.

Later when the Canadian Corps broke through the Drocourt-Queant Line, the infantry were instructed to advance in front of the limited tanks to protect them - tanks were only to take the lead if absolutely necessary. There were only 50 tanks available to the entire Canadian Corps during the breaking of this section of the Hindenburg Line.

Later when the Canadian Corps attacked at the Battle of Canal du Nord the Germans were already adapting to the tank by dispersion and spreading out their defence into greater depth and with the introduction special anti-tank artillery detachments and anti-tank obstacles.

Back to the German generals; when you are testifying in front of politicians who are looking for "scapegoats" for the failure to win the war - what would you expect someone to say. To be bested in combat by men and tactics is very difficult to admit. However, if you can claim you were at a technological disadvantage because of the failure of OTHERS ...

Borden Battery

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No one is arguing that the tanks did not incur very heavy casualties after they had bought the victory. The same happend in later battles when tank numbers had been built up again but again the tanks were essential in achieving the break through.

Re the German Generals - they didn't testify in front of anyone - they issued a report telling (and the word is definitely telling) the Riechstag why they had to seek an armistice to save the army. In fact the technological disadvantage was definitely partly the General's own fault. Hindenburg had discouraged German tank development and his comment to the first German tank troops when the first A7Vs were delivered was hardly encouraging being translated as "I don't think they'll be much use but now that we've got them we might as well use them". He became a tank convert after Amiens.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello,

Thanks Centurion (any relation to the to the 1950's AFV?) for the detail about use of aircraft to warn tanks about field guns in an anti tank role. Can you elaborate as to how the information was passed from aircraft to tank?

My reference to field guns was intended to indicate that there was no need for a special weapon to disable a tank. Of course they were only armoured against the current infantry weapons.

Looking a a few notes from books I have read reliability ( in a very loose sense of the term) was not too bad on the first day. The French deployed 128 on the first day of the Nivele offensive on the Aisne and only lost 18 to breakdown. The British had 552 on strength for Amiens and 430 got to the start line (my terms). Numbers on the second day were much lower.

Old Tom

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here follows a description of how the aircraft and tanks worked in unison (its basically one I've published elsewhere). After 1939 all this had to be re learnt!

In November 1917 RFC ground attack squadrons had been tasked with locating and destroying German anti tank gun positions at Cambrai. The aircraft involved would have primarily been Sopwith F1 Camels armed with twin machine guns and Cooper bombs (although some Airco DH5 fighters may also have been involved). This was very much a roving commission seeking targets of opportunity rather than one of close cooperation with the tanks. In general this had little success, not because of any inadequacy of the Camel as a ground attack fighter (it was just as deadly effective in this role as it was as an interceptor, squadrons of Camels, from the RAF and AFC, destroying the Turkish 7th Army in 1918 for example). The problem was that it is difficult for the pilot of an unarmoured and somewhat unstable single seat fighter flying, under rifle and machinegun fire, at very low altitude (at about 120 mph) and constantly having to watch out for enemy fighters to spot a dug in and camouflaged gun. Casualty rates amongst ground attack squadrons were in any case high.

In June 1918 No 8 Squadron RAF (an army cooperation unit which had already begun to specialise in spotting anti tank guns) was assigned to the Tank Corp with the specific task of detecting anti tank guns in the path of the tanks and calling down British artillery fire on them. No. 8 were equipped with Armstrong Whitworth FK 8 (‘the Big Ack’) two seaters. This aircraft had been designed by a Dutchman Frederick Koolhoven (hence the FK) and was a bigger, tougher development from the FK2/3 (‘the Little Ack) that had been designed to replace the BE2C. The Big Ack was a superior aircraft in many ways to the RE8 the RAF’s other spotter aircraft and regarded as better able to fight off German fighters whilst carrying out its tasks. That this was so had been proven by one of No 8 Squadrons Big Acks in March of that year when it was attacked by no less than six Fokker DrI triplanes from the famous Richtoffen Flying Circus, shooting down three of them before being forced to land in flames in no mans land (its pilot A A McLeod being awarded the VC and the observer A W Hammond the MC). The typical armament of the FK8 was up to eight 25 pound Cooper bombs and a Vickers mg firing forwards with a Lewis for the observer (some may well have been unofficially fitted with a twin Lewis mounting). At low altitude it had a top speed of 98.4 mph.

In action the pilot would concentrate on spotting the dug in guns whilst the observer would keep watch for enemy fighters (the pilot had the best forward and downwards view). On spotting a target the aircraft would note its position and would notify the tanks, artillery and HQ by dropping a message at a designated forward communications point equipped with telephone and possibly radio communications, The degree to which the tanks themselves were able to benefit from wireless communications is a subject needing more research but certainly towards the end of 1918 a number of commanders tanks (usually MkV*s) were fitted with sets capable of receiving and transmitting when on the move. The commander of one such tank in the American 301 bat winning an MC in October. The aircraft also had the option of using its Cooper bombs to attack the gun position itself. This was the sort of work carried out by No.8 Squadron at the Battle of Hamel.

By the Battle of Amiens No.43 Squadron RAF (a ground attack Camel squadron) had also been assigned to the tanks. At the same time No. 8’s role had been expanded. Over the rest of the war lessons were learnt and the approach and roles continually refined. In essence however these were as follows.

No. 8 Squadron:

- Provided a noise barrage to cover the sound of tanks on their approach - so that it would be impossible to detect the direction from which they were coming. With a throaty 190hp Beardmore engine the Big Ack would provide this service very well.

- Provided contact patrols to provide information as to what was ahead of the tanks and forewarn of counter attacks.

- Spotted anti tank positions (guns, ambushes etc.) and report these back to the tanks, artillery and HQ

- Provided regular updates for HQ as to the position of the tanks in relation to the map, the enemy and flanking units. This was vital to prevent infantry and tanks being separated and avoid ‘friendly’ fire incidents. They also provided vital information on the ground ahead (such as, for example, that the bridge at Demuin remained undamaged so that the tanks would be able to cross).

No 43 Squadron:

- Stopped anti tank guns entering the area of action in which the tanks were operating. This was done by shooting up and bombing guns (horse drawn or motorised) that were easily spotted moving along the roads or trackways to attack the tanks. In the case of motorised artillery the Camels would have an extra incentive as these guns could double as anti aircraft weapons so that it would be a case of ‘get them first before they can deploy’.

- Shot up and bombed any troops, transport or guns ‘flushed out’ by and retreating from the advancing tanks (in this of course they might be joined by other ground attack aircraft).

- Broke up any infantry counter attacks

- Provided fighter cover for No 8 squadron although this was very much a secondary role.

Of course these roles were fluid and overlapped to some extent, for example at Amiens No. 8 Squadron joined in bombing and strafing retreating forces. No 43 squadron would operate from an airstrip close enough for aircraft to quickly re fuel, arm and bomb up and get back into action with as little delay as possible.

It is interesting to observe how much progress was made in the period between the 1st Battle of Cambrai and the 2nd Battle of Cambrai. In the first case German anti tank guns at Fontaine and Bourlon halted the British tanks, in the second German guns in these positions were bombed and machine gunned before they could deploy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Centurio,

Great stuff. Glad you have joined this forum to pass on your knowledge. Have you ben studying tanks in the Great war for some time?

Tanks3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Centurio,

Great stuff. Glad you have joined this forum to pass on your knowledge. Have you ben studying tanks in the Great war for some time?

I suspect he has! In a related thread he directed us to this article which he wrote himself.

http://www.landships.freeservers.com/new_p...an_at_inww1.htm

I had not seen that website before, but it is extremely interesting and well worth book-marking.

Edited: on testing this link, it goes to a broken link, but clicking on other links on that page got me to the main site; Centurion's article is the one on anti-tank tactics

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Apologies, I have come late to this thread having been travelling. On the effectiveness of tanks, it is worth sub-dividing how they were used. There are many ways this can be done. First, it is worth distinguishing between offensive and defensive operations using tanks. Focusing on the latter, I am referring to the primary use of tanks in either preventing a retreat or supporting a retreat. This is to distinguish from their use in consolidating the gains in an attack. In a 'defensive' role, tanks were extremely limited. There were very few examples of this role, given that tanks were mostly used in Entente offensive operations. Operation Michael revealed that tanks played no significant part in halting the German success. Tanks were distributed across the area that was attacked, with the intent of providing small, locally effective counter-attack forces. There were individual examples where tanks helped, such as in the defence of Epehy, but when you step back and look at the whole picture, the Tank Corps lost very heavily in equipment and made no appeciable dent in stopping the overall German momentum. Dismounted tank crews did help by providing well-trained Lewis gun teams that supplemented the efforts of the infantry. The reason for this operational failure (not to be confused with local tactical successes, and not to denigrate the dedication and contributions of the tank crews) can be seen when examining two other examples.

During the German counter-attack on the Flesquières salient after the early British success in the Battle of Cambrai, tanks played a role in stablizing the British right wing. The reason they were helpful is that the tanks were still in the vicinity, awaiting transport back to base. The other example relates to the prelude to the Battle of Soissons in July 1918. This battle is remembered for the mass tank attack that supported the Franco-American attack on the Marne salient. What is less well known is that the Germans attempted to take the forest that provided the major forming-up area prior to the attack. These attempts were part of the drive to open up the neck of the salient, which severely restricted the resupply, and therefore the operational freedom, of the German forces holding the salient. French tanks played a role in foiling these attacks, but only because they happened to be in the vicinity.

German tanks did support defensive operations on some occasions in late 1918. Some local tactical successes were achieved on occasion but no significant contribution to halting the Entente momentum. It should be noted that the threat of tank (and armoured car) counter-attacks did cause German forces to deploy resources in anti-tank roles during their offensive operations. I have seen evidence of this from records of infantery gun batteries in Operation Friedensturm for example.

IMHO, the role of tanks in defensive operations was severely limited by the same factors that limited their role in break-outs - extremely limited range and lack of effective communications systems. The lack of range meant that tanks could only be of potential value if they were distributed (hence the approach taken in Operation Michael). They could be held in a distant reserve but such a reserve would have had severe difficulties in countering the main thrust/s of the enemy attack. When tanks were spread around, their capabilities were diluted. When an enemy attack coincided with a local concentration of significant numbers of tanks, then the tanks were helpful.

In offensive operations, tanks required tank-favourable ground. Guderian used the word Panzergünstig, in contrast to terrain that was Panzerhemmend ('restricted for tanks') or Panzersicher ('tank-proof'). These concepts had to be learned the hard way. Third Ypres was the most vivid example of how to bog-down a tank attack, literally. Tanks did play a useful role on a few occasions even in the Ypres salient, most notably in support of Maxse's attack on the German strongpoints near St Julien. Villages and other built-up areas were equally unhelpful to unsupported tanks. The villages of Bourlon and La Fontaine illustrated this point only too well in the Battle of Cambrai. Thus, by 1918 offensive tank operations were being undertaken, mostly, in terrain that was favourable to their use - relatively open, flat ground that was undisturbed by weeks of previous shelling. It is not clear that German anti-tank doctrine fully apprecciated these distinctions, or more particularly the need to focus resources on the tank-favourable areas. This was Guderian's thesis, which he supported with evidence of the lack of preparation that occurred even when evidence of major tank attacks was detected in advance, eg before the Battle of Amiens. I don't know.

Tanks were effective when used appropriately - en masse, across the right terrain, with the right level of support, including aircraft, infantry and artillery. Their effectiveness related to the ability to create gaps in the wire, thereby reducing the need for prolonged preparatory wire-cutting by artillery and trench mortars, to crush machine guns and other small centres of resistance, and to bring significant firepower to bear under favourable circumstances. If they attacked infantry who perceived a lack of support from artillery or other effective counter-tank measures, then it was highly likely that the infantry would withdraw or surrender. As indicated, 'panic' is not necessarily the right word to describe these situations, though there were some cases of this response, just as occurred with cavalry on occasion for example.

Centurion, it was helpful to see the information about aerial support. I would just make a few additional comments. The distinction between the fighter-bombers and the single seat fighters is important. There were other significant differences between the Battles of Cambrai versus Amiens, with respect to the effectiveness of aerial support against German anti-tank artillery. The key to the German defence of Cambrai was the village of Flesquières. The German field guns proved vital to the defence of the village, which in turn prevented the exploitation of any successes on either side. The guns escaped aerial detection and then operated with relative inpunity from their camoflagued positions against the tanks. There was a long discussion some time ago about General Harper's infantry tactics. This thread is in the Classic Threads section now and although many of the battlemaps and photographs are no longer linked, there are several quotes from German sources about what happened in and around Flesquières. There are also extensive quotes from Ludendorff about his view of tanks. A search of this section using 'Harper' as the search criterion will take you to the thread, if you are interested. I still have the photographs and maps, if these are of interest.

Assuming that it had been possible to see the German field guns around Flesquières, what might have been the result of aerial attacks? I have tried to study this question in some detail. It is difficult. I have not had the time to study many German sources on this topic as yet. British sources do mention field guns coming under German aerial attack. The Master of Belhaven's account is one example that springs immediately to mind. He mentions the experience of German aircraft attacking his batteries with machine gun fire during Third Ypres, ie just prior to Cambrai. It seems that such attacks were a nuisance but rarely caused any significant effect. By this time, both British and German gun batteries were increasingly supplied with automatic weapons for protection against aircraft when in static positions. Gun batteries on the move were another story. These were extremely vulnerable, or at least the horses were. Part of the problem for the German defenses in the Battle of Amiens is that the intelligence warning of the attack was not acted upon, so that more batteries had not been got into position before the battle, unlike before the Battle of Cambrai for example.

The only other brief point is that the dropping of messages from aircraft does not automatically equate to the contents of those messages being communicated to tanks, as you know. I have never seen examples of the latter part of the process being fulfilled, but have not studied this in detail yet. There were tanks fitted with radios but Fletcher has found no concrete evidence that they played any role. Even supposing they could communicate effectively in the heat of battle, it is really difficult to know how the information might have been widely disseminated amongst tank crews. But this is just conjecture on my part, based on reading accounts of tankers during operations. These is clear evidence that aerial communication was of immense importance in co-ordinating real-time counter-battery fire with the artillery.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The British scheme to use tanks defensively against the German 1918 offensive revolved round the idea of conclealing small numbers of tanks that would emerge from their hiding places and fall upon the flank and rear of the attackers. It was known as Ferocious Rabbit - says it all really. Not a success. None of the WW1 tanks were particularly suited to defensive operations. Even the St Chammond that could have been used as an SP Gun in much the same way as the Germans used their assault guns in defence in 1944/5 does not seem to have been effective. (Although the few remaining St Chamonds do appear to have been moderately effective bing used in this role offensively when the fighting moved away from the shelled areas in October 1918.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Many of you must know that later in the war the Germans detailed one or sometimes two 77 mm fieldgun batteries to many infantry regiments, drawn from either the 50 special "infantry gun" batteries that were formed for this service or ordinary field gun batteries detailed from field artillery regiments. So there were a number of field guns, camoflaged of course, to be routinely found in the forward German infantry positions. Their description in German might be usefully translated as "accompaning batteries".

I have recently come across, in a German source, a mention of an order to these batteries to take one of their field guns, camoflage it particularily well, and not to fire it in routine fire missions, but to retain it for extreme emergencies, which I assume would often be a serious tank attack.

There is a controversy about a supposed example of the effectiveness of a single field gun in the anti-tank role. Supposedly, and unusually, a German officer was mentioned in British dispatches, who had supposedly single-handedly manned a 77 mm field gun and knocked out 17 British tanks before being killed.

Some Pal chimed in and said that that story was invented by some British officers, who had managed to screw up a tank attack without too much help from the Germans, and then mentioned in dispatches a mythical German hero officer who could take the blame for the bolloxed attack.

Not a very important matter, but one which might be fun to sort out.

Bob Lembke

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As you say Bob, not too serious but fun to try and establish one way ot the other. About the only comment I would make at this stage is , 17 is a lot of tanks to lose to one gun. It implies a large number of them in the actual attack.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On the subject of the use of tanks in defence the British did have a few successes most noteably during the 2nd Battle of the Somme on the 21st and 22nd of March 1918 when formations of about 30 Mk IVs were used to mount proper counter attacks rather than penny packet ambushes. The effect was partly nullified by a failure of infantry to follow up (so that on the 21st the tanks having recaptured some villages had to withdraw at nightfall as no infantry had appeared to reoccupy them). Nevertheless a battery of heavy guns was captured. More success was had on the 22nd even though there was again no infantry support (there was just no reserve left to provide this). A battery of field guns was put out of action and then the German infantry were attacked. A German officer, Major Heigl, later reported "It became very disagreable for us when a tank crossed our line a number of times and set to work against us with machine gun and artillery (sic) fire." "This beast ran systematically along our line and subjected one of our sections to heavy casualties." "The Prussian Infantry Regiment 52 was obliged to withdraw under heavy losses, and this when the English accompanying infantery had not participated." "The tank can therefore also take prisoners and did that here alone."

Although 17 of the 30 tanks used in this action were hit and 70% of the crews were casualties the German advance was halted at this particular point. This indicates that the effectiveness of the tanks should not be measured by the survivability of the tanks but in their impact on the battlefield.

Throughout the British retreat tanks were mainly used in penny packet operations. It does appear as if a deliberate atempt was made to hold back tanks and not commit them to action where they could not be used to advantage. Less than half the tanks available were actually committed to action. Most tank losses were due to tanks running out of fuel during the retreat itself as the general chaos prevented supplies reaching them

Link to comment
Share on other sites

With regard to the effectiveness of one or two field guns the question to be first asked is when?. It may have been German doctrine to have one or two dug in and camoflaged guns for anti tank defence in the 1917 - early 1918 period but by August 1918 this was plainly not working. One German report on Amiens states "At several points it seems to have been impossible to organise a defense in time due to the fact that the batteries having their guns dug inwere not mobile enough and were not ready to fire in time to defend themselves quickly against the tanks which were attacking from all directions" ....."it is necessary to avoid digging in the guns too deeply. It is sufficient that the men be protected" During September there were a flurry of German documnets defining how defence against tanks should be organised. One states that "Against tanks attacking in mass, it is doubtful that the use of individual guns or sections, stationary or mobile will result in a decisive success. The fire of individual guns scatters too easily and is too weak. Mobile sections are fequently brought into action too late"

With regard to the Flesquieres incident - the thread to which a redirection has been give is so long and broad in scope that haven't yet spottted where in it this specific detail lies. However I suspect that it may be tale that grew in the telling as an early account of the action I've found mentions several tanks which sounds like a lot less than 17. It does seem like a monumental cockup on the part of the the commander of the tanks who was not following the prescibed approach and instead had developed his own attack formation that resulted in his tanks being out in front with no infantry or artillery support (the latter probably didn't know were the tanks where as reporting back relied on a tank/infantry link up) and the tanks drove directly over a ridge ignorant of what was on the other side - in this case an artillery gun. In this formation as the tank crested the ridge driver's forward and downward view would be non existant and the gunners would not be able to bring their guns to bear. Its for exactly this reason that anti tank berms are built today. Its an anti tank gunners ideal situation and one that the commander of even a modern MBT would wish to avoid. It seems that the crew (note crew) were able to knock out a number of tanks before their gun was silenced. A point that needs to be made is that the tank formations that were defined for use were intended to aoid such situations. Any tank is vunerable if used in a foolish manner. Much more relevant is the successful German defence of Fontaine in the Cambrai battle. for whilst a number of tanks (including C47) were knocked out by anti tank infantry squads the greatest damage seems to have been done by two motorised anti aircraft guns firing at range. It was just this type gun that that the Camels were able to knock out before they could deploy at the 2nd battle of Cambrai.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I endorse Centurian view's about Flesquieres; whilst George Harper has taken a lot of flak, due to his different tactics, the E Bn tanks appeared in line ahead, over a skyline, rather than as a group. If they have followed Harper's tactics, the lead tank would hrve been lost but not the following three. It was a gunner's field day

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bob, there is a discussion about the "lone gunner", starting here:

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...st&p=221216

It is the thread on Flesquières that I mentioned above.

Robert

Robert;

A great discussion!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks, Bob. I tried to do justice to the German perspective on this battle, particularly the defence of Flesquières. It was one of those interesting examples where having read details about how the Germans had successfully defended similar localities in other battles, it appeared that the usual English versions of the battle were missing something really important. You become attuned to what is not said in the historical accounts. There were several German batteries located either side of Flesquières, and they were very difficult to spot. The gunners were practised in anti-tank tactics, thanks to the foresight and leadership of their commander. Delta, I think all of these factors point to the potential difficulty of any type of formation. The guns were also well supported by their infantry colleagues, and the associated Begleitwaffen. Ultimately, the tide of the advance was too great and the guns could not survive. They did, however, largely dispose of the tank threat in this area, which then enabled the well-led composite defence force within the village to hold out until after dark. This in turn meant that the cavalry advance was held up, as the forward elements came under fire from the chateau and neighbouring village. Some of the infantry advances, particularly on the left flank of the British attack, were also held up as well, which meant that the attack on Fontaine-Notre-Dame and Bourlon Wood did not proceed as planned. It also meant that the remaining German artillery forces located further to the rear could still receive visual communication signals.

Centurion, I think the example of the motorised flak gun is significant. Fritz Nagel gives other examples of how such guns supported ground assaults in his book "Fritz: The World War I Memoir of a German Lieutenant". So far my reading of the German accounts of Cambrai has focused on Flesquières. These accounts also include descriptions of the work of other field gun and howitzer batteries in taking out British tanks. I will try and collate this information. It serves to emphasize that the German artillery, most notably the field gunners, played the most significant role in the effective anti-tank operations. There are even accounts of the Mörser taking on an anti-tank role as well, for example in Anton Breitung's book "Salve! Batterie - Feuer!". Breitung published Leutnant von Thiele's story of a 21 cm Mörser battery that was part of 8/Reservefußartillerieregiment 18, located in Varey Wood north of Chatillon. The battery was involved in a dramatic firefight at close range with tanks that broke through during July 1918, when the Germans were retreating from the Marne salient.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The point I keep trying to get across is one cannot judge the effectiveness of the tanks in 1918 by looking at failings at Cambrai in 1917. The British Army did learn a lot of things from 1st Cambrai and by August 1918 had evoved ways of dealing with many of these problems

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...