Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Where Were the British Tanks During the 100 Days Offensive?

While failing to achieve critical mass at any particular point on the battlefield, the Tank Corps soldiers and their tanks represented themselves well throughout 1918. They trained hard and fought harder for the eventual victory. One continuing Achilles' heel remained the lack of reserves at any echelon to help press the fight. In fact, with the crush of the Michael Offensive appropriating many soldiers into infantry units originally allocated to expand the Tank Corps, the corps was reduced from six brigades to five for the remainder of 1918. Help was all but nonexistent as the Tank Corps only received two fresh battalions between August and November 1918. All other tank battalions were in a continuous though piecemeal fighting essentially through war’s end.

After the tank’s highly successful use in the battles of Hamel and Amiens in the summer of 1918, few figured dramatically in the final weeks before the Armistice. Some historians, such as John Terraine, hold that the tank force had culminated by the end of September 1918. A noted exception is historian Tim Travers, whose calculations on mission-capable tanks available to General Haig from August through November 1918 revealed around 300 ready at any particular time of choosing. Travers cites lack of trained crews, lack of reserves, and lack of spares (complete tanks) as the prime suspects in keeping tanks out of the majority of fighting during late 1918. Though compelling, Travers fails to account for crew or unit cohesion, or logistical support. Further, with the Allied breakthrough in October 1918, tanks likely lost significance with many leaders who envisioned the tank’s role as primarily to execute the breakthrough, not win the war of maneuver...

German Infantry Versus a British Tank

J.F.C. Fuller himself in his 1920 history of tanks in the Great War described the Tank Corps as a shattered force by November 1918, and his accounting of tanks showed out of 1,993 tanks and other armored vehicles engaged in battle during the last 100 days of the war, 887 were turned over to salvage. Only 204 had been repaired and reissued by the end of the war, 15 were declared un-salvageable, and the rest were still in some sort of maintenance limbo.

Source:  "What Kept the Tank from Being the Decisive Weapon of World War I," Thesis, Major Brian A. Pedersen, U.S.Army, 2007


  1. So if the Allied triumph in fall 1918 was based on combined arms tactics successfully deployed, armor played a small role?

  2. By the end of the breakout at Amiens, the beginning of the hundred days, there were few tanks and crews available. It seems wondrous that they could find crews, given that their life expectancy was short. If a tank made it across no man's land, in daylight, it was a target for field guns. If hit, the crew died a nasty death, perhaps roasted. If the tank survived for a hour or so, the crew was likely overcome by heat and fumes in the poorly ventilated tank.

    The tanks were vulnerable to even rifle caliber bullets. On the night of August 10, 1918, three Mark Vs led an infantry column along the Roman Road beside the Somme. In the dark, they escaped the field guns, but the machine gun fire was intense, too intense for the infantry to advance. The tanks survived, but they had lost three officers and nineteen crewmen.

  3. Reading my Grandfather's books on his Division (107 Inf/27 ID/II Corps) they trained and had a limited number of tanks (British Types and British crews). They were used for infantry support and not massed to attack strong points. so I assume, the two Divisons of II Corps subtracted from the overall numbers available for the British. How they were used-inf support vs massed tanks-was always an issue of how to employ tanks.
    While the article is about Brit tanks, you shouldn't overlook the contribution of French tanks and tactics to this aspect of WW1, i.e. armored warfare.
    More Renault FT17s were built than all the Brit tanks combined. They were very innovative and what could be called the first modern tank. They outfitted all US tank units in the last months of the war.