Friday, 15 July 2011

Landships Ho!

When the Pennine Fusiliers vanished in November 1916, they weren’t the only British troops to disappear. It is now widely acknowledged that a Mark 1 male tank, the HMLS Ivanhoe, vanished with them.

Partially inspired by HG Wells’ 1903 tale in the Strand magazine, The Land Ironclads, the tank was conceived as an armoured landship to counter the German machine gun and trench defences. They were organised into several companies under the command of the Machine Gun Corps, each with a small complement of Mark 1 male and female tanks (also called bulls and bitches).

Both male and female tanks had fore and aft light machine guns and side gun sponsons. In the Mark I male tanks these were armed with two 6 pounder Hotchkiss guns and two Hotchkiss belt-fed machine guns:

The Mark I female tank had smaller side sponsons, equipped only with four Vickers machine guns:

These armoured behemoths were thirty two feet long, weighed twenty eight tons and could reach a maximum speed of four miles per hour. They were powered by a 105hp hand-cranked Daimler engine and had a crew complement of eight. It took four of them just to turn the starting handle. It also took four men to drive it. The driver and tank commander sat  up front in a small cabin. Each tank track was also controlled by separate secondary gears, manned by two gearsmen at the rear. The other four crew were gunners and loaders.

After the tanks’ first notable victory at  Flers Courcelette, in September 1916, 'I' Company of the Machine Gun Corps Heavy Section was deployed to the Harcourt sector, with the hopes that it would help break the deadlock there before winter set in.

It wasn't to be.

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