British Tank Development during WW1

Due to overconfidence by British command, the Mark series of tanks had mixed success on the battlefield. Incidents such as the Battle of Arras–where a combination of bad weather, horrifically bombed out terrain and lack of combined arms coordination led to below average performance by the tank brigades assigned to breach the entrenched German lines–and the 3rd Battle of Ypres–which occurred for similar reasons–cemented the and emphasized on the fact that the British were still new to tank warfare and required more specialized tanks to support the other assault elements (infantry, artillery etc.)


After the Battle of Ypres, the British began to improve their tactics in addition to creating specialized variants of their tanks to address a wide variety of conditions:

Improvements in Tactics:

  • 1917 near town of Cambrai: 447 British tanks attacked German lines.
    • Before the attack, artillery began a shorter than usual barrage so as to not create so many craters so the tanks had an easier time traversing terrain.
    • The Allies were able to gain an extraordinary 7 miles of land, but were unable to hold it because the tank brigades had taken so many hits that the occupying forces were left with no support.
      • During WW1, it was extremely common to lose many lives in order to gain and lose (at most) up to a few feet of land, such was life in the trenches.
    • Effect: This led to increased interest in tank design and improvements in combined arms tactics, whereby all elements of a military force worked together in an assault or defensive maneuver. Many of these new developments would form the foundation of armored warfare–and would be used and modified–up until the Cold War.

Specialized Tanks:

  • The First World War also produced a need for mobile artillery, where you combined powerful fixed artillery with the treads of a tank, alleviating logistics because you can now move entire artillery pieces without having to assemble them on site
    • This was particularly important because aircraft were also in their infancy, being used as spotters to look for stationary gun emplacements, once the gun emplacements were spotted the planes would transmit via 1 way radio signal back to the artillery emplacements to fire on those coordinates.
      • On a related note: Aerial dogfights came about when planes were sent to shoot down the spotter planes.
    • New development: Self-Propelled Guns (SPG)
    • The British developed the Gun Carrier Mark 1, based on the chassis of the Mark 1 tank (shown below)gun_carrier_mark_i
  • Combat Engineering Vehicles (Both the British and French did this)
    • The conditions of the WW1 battlefields combined with tank innovation naturally led to the development of vehicles designed with the sole purpose of either digging new trenches, laying bridges, carrying large and heavy loads, mine clearance, and to salvage other tanks that were lost in No Man’s Land.
      a Mark IV Salvage Tank

      ***A thing to keep note: Do you wonder why all of the British tanks were largely the same? That’s because all tank development was put under the authority of one the Landship Committee, and all design decisions/resources were put through the same minds, same criteria, and same approval. I.E. British Tank Development was largely centralized under one ministry.

Sources used: (for Mark 1 Gun Carrier picture)


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