Tank at Trafalgar

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | September 15, 2016 0

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On this day 100 years ago the first tank was used in warfare.

A replica tank rolled into Trafalgar Square to mark 100 years since the armoured vehicles were first used in the theatre of war. The tank is a model of the Mark IV which was first used on the battlefield as part of the Somme offensive 100 years ago today. It was the first time in history that a tank was used as part of an attack and changed the nature of warfare forever. The war machine was designed to move at walking pace to accompany foot-soldiers in an effort to curb casualties – after 57,000 people were killed in the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The full-sized replica of a Mark IV tank took up position in Trafalgar Square exactly a century after the new technology was used for the first time at the battle of Flers-Courcelette during the Somme offensive. The tank, nicknamed Big Brute, then drove through Admiralty Arch and onto Horse Guards Parade to take up position alongside one of its modern day counterparts, A British Army Challenger 2.

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Designed to travel at walking pace (3mph) to support the infantry, the plan was for 32 tanks to be involved in the first attack, but only 18 saw action because of mechanical failure or difficulties with the terrain. The name “tank” came from the secret code name as the factory was pretending to build metal tanks. The site at Flers-Courcelette is today marked with a small memorial to this momentous moment in warfare.tank3

The unusual rhomboidal shape was to give as long a track run as possible to allow for crossing the wide trenches prevalent on the Western Front battlefields.  The heavy tanks were designated “male” or “female” according to the type of armament they carried in the sponsons fitted to their sides.  The prototype mounted a 6-pounder (57 mm) cannon and a Hotchkiss machine gun in each.

During the war, Trafalgar Square was the scene of many Tank Banks, which were high profile fundraising events where celebrities and politicians would climb aboard and make rallying speeches. The life-sized model  was used in the film Warhorse. A replica has been used to mark the event because none of the Dorset Tank Museum’s collection of original tanks are able to run under their own power and cannot be transported long distances because of their age and fragility.

 

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In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

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