This Day in History – September 15th, 1916

British heavy tanks were a series of related vehicles developed by the British Army during the First World War. The Mark I was the world’s first tank to enter combat. Born of the need to break the domination of trenches, barbed wire and machine guns over the battlefields of theWestern Front, it was the first vehicle to be named “tank”, a name chosen as an expedient to maintain secrecy and to disguise its true purpose. It was developed to be able to cross trenches, resist small-arms fire, travel over difficult terrain, carry supplies, and to capture fortified enemy positions. It is regarded as successful in many respects, but suffered from many problems owing to its primitive nature. Armament was naval 6-pounder guns and machine guns.

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The Mark I entered service in August 1916, and was first used in action on the morning of September 15th, 1916 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Somme Offensive. With the exception of the few interim Mark II and Mark III tanks, it was followed by the largely similar Mark IV, which first saw combat in June 1917. The Mark IV was used en masse (about 460 tanks) at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. The Mark V, with its much improved transmission, entered service in mid-1918.

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. Due to the height necessary for this shape, a turreted armament would have made the vehicle too high and top heavy. Instead, the main armament was arranged in sponsons at the side of the vehicle.

Great Britain produced about 2,600 tanks of various types during the war.

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