September 15th 1916 saw the emergence from the smoke and mist of the first armoured fighting vehicle and marked decisively the end of the previous millenia of human conflict. Barbed wire, intense artillery bombardment, gas, flamethrowers and machine guns had all demonstrated this already, but the British cavalry regiments had yet to resign themselves to this fact. They hung around at the rear of every battle, waiting for that moment to gallop through to open country in pursuit of glorious victory. Those days were passed.
Leonardo da Vinci and H G Wells had already envisaged the possibilities, but the need had not existed. The investment of time and resources did not seem necessary or justifiable. Only when the senseless slaughter of men by entrenched machine guns began to become unacceptable did some forward thinkers, such as Churchill, see that the theories of artists had to become industrial reality.
And so the tank was born- imperfect but revolutionary. Instead of “hanging on the old barbed wire” the infantry might aspire to following tanks over wire that they had steam-rollered flat in minutes.
There are plenty of histories telling this story. I’ll make do with a brief comment and an image from my favourite war artists (perhaps, indeed my favourite artist) Paul Nash. Now, I know it’s 1940s British Cruiser tank, but it’s a nice picture and almost apt! For the purists, here’s a Mark IV tank as depicted by Chevalier Fortunino Matania in an illustration named ‘Furia contra la maquina’ (rage against the machine).
Here are links to a couple of recommended books: