Mark I Tank

The British tank Mark I was not only the first British tank but also the first operational tank of history used in a war and created a completely new type of weapon.


Development and use:

Before the First World War, proposals for armored vehicles or tracked vehicles as gimmicks or unnecessary were dismissed in all major European powers and ignored by the respective military leadership. This changed only when the war on the Western Front began the war of position, the soldiers entrenched themselves in increasingly fortified shelters and for any of the armies involved, a breakthrough was possible. Also, the immense losses in attacks meant that more protection for their own soldiers was required.

One of the designers who presented such an armored vehicle was the British officer Ernest Dunlop Swinton. However, his idea was initially rejected by the General Staff, so Swinton had to use his political contacts in order to be heard. So in 1915 the first prototype could be built and presented. However, this demonstration failed and could not convince the present military. Only the present Prime Minister and then Marine Minister Winston Churchill recognized the potential of the new weapon, classified it unceremoniously in Landship and could subordinate it to the Navy Department. Swinton was asked to rebuild his project with some changes and adjustments, so that in January 1916 a new prototype called "Mother" could be presented at Hatfield Park in London. For this demonstration extra trenches, barbed wire shingles and fortifications were built so that the prototype could be demonstrated under real conditions. This time, the military leadership succeeded in convincing it and initially 100, and later 50 more tanks were commissioned. For tactical reasons, 75 tanks with two 57mm cannons and four machine guns (male version) and 75 tanks with five machine guns (female version) were ordered.


Mark I Prototype Mother in Hatfield Park, 1916


The Mark I Prototype Mother



Even before the first built tanks could be tested extensively, the British Commander in Chief of Expeditionary Force Sir D. Haig requested the new tanks for his offensive in the summer of 1916. At the end of August 1916, the first two companies were brought to northern France and placed under Haig's control. The tanks then had its first operations on 15 September 1916 at Flers during the Battle of the Somme.

Here were the weaknesses of the new weapon. For one thing, the tanks were far too slow and could be easily turned off by the German artillery, on the other hand, the armor was only strong enough against the shelling of rifles and machine guns, artillery or explosive grenades, however, could cause serious damage. The conditions for the crew were extremely difficult. The view to the outside was very limited and the noise and the heat inside the tanks added to the soldiers in addition. Thus, the demand for the first missions was that the speed, armor and steering had to be significantly improved.

Nevertheless, the tank proved to be a useful weapon. The British doctrine envisaged that the more heavily armed male tanks destroyed the enemy positions with their guns or drove the soldiers out, while the female tanks with their machine guns fended off enemy infantry attacks. Although the success of the missions remained behind the expectations of the new weapon, nevertheless, the emergence of the tanks at the German soldiers initially had a strong psychological effect, because both rifles and machine guns could do nothing against the tanks and the shock and the surprise moment provided for a short-term panic.

After the introduction of Mark II to Mark IV tanks, the remaining Mark I tanks were mainly used for replenishment purposes.


Mark I Tank during the Battle of the Somme on September 25, 1916



Technical specifications:

Designation: Tank Mark I
Country: Great Britain
Length: 8.05 meters (with spurs 9.91 meters)
Width: 4,26 meters
Height: 32,45 meters
Mass: 28.4 tons
Maximum speed: 6,5 km/h
Armor: 6 to 12mm
Main armament: 2 x Hotchkiss L / 40 57mm cannon (male version)
Other weapons: 3 x 7,71mm machine guns (male version)

5 x 7,71mm machine guns (female version)

Drive: 4-stroke six-cylinder Daimler engine with 105 hp
Crew: 8 man



Mark I Tank No. 746 in the C-Company of the Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps (HSMGC)


Mark I Tank No. 511 in the D-Company of the Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps (HSMGC)


Mark I Tank No. 745 in the D-Company of the Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps (HSMGC)


Mark I Tank (male) near Flers, 1916






You can find the right literature here:


British Mark I Tank 1916 (New Vanguard)

British Mark I Tank 1916 (New Vanguard) Paperback – June 24, 2004

In 1915 a machine christened Little Willie changed the way that wars were fought. Little Willie was a fully tracked armoured vehicle that could break a trench system. Its development was completed in December 1915, but by then it had already been superseded by an improved design, Mother. This was the first rhomboid tank, and the prototype for the Mark 1 which would influence a whole generation of tank building. This book details the development of the Mark I, and its surprise arrival in France in the middle of 1916 during the closing weeks of the battles of the Somme.

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British Mark IV Tank (New Vanguard, Vol. 133)

British Mark IV Tank (New Vanguard, Vol. 133) Paperback – April 24, 2007

Amongst the first ever mass-produced tanks in history, the British Mk IV has been classified as one of the most successful heavy tanks to have fought in World War I.

Mechanically similar to its predecessors, the Mark IV embodied various improvements, suggested by experience with earlier variants, including better armour, improved weapons and easier transportation.

It proved its worth at the landmark battle of Cambrai in November 1917, when 460 Mark IVs were deployed for the first time against the enemy with great effect. Arguably changing the nature of war on the Western Front, the Mark IV was one of the first vehicles in the world to partake in a tank duel when, in 1918, it met the German A7V in combat.

Drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished photographs and new information on its operational abilities, this fascinating exploration of the British Mk IV includes detailed descriptions of the tank and its variants, such as the mine-clearing tank, the Tadpole tail device, and the tank created for towing airships, to complete the picture of this crucial vehicle and its deployment on the Western Front.

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Mark V Tank (New Vanguard)

Mark V Tank (New Vanguard) Paperback – April 19, 2011

Although to the casual eye all British tanks of World War I look much the same, the Mark V is quite outstanding and has a strong claim to be the tank that won World War I for the Allies. In this title, renowned tank expert David Fletcher examines the technological developments that made this tank excel where others had failed, and the reasons why it gave the British the upperhand over the Germans on the battlefield and why it was adopted by the US Tank Corps. Accompanied by detailed artwork showing the design changes that allowed the Mark V to breach the widest German trenches, this title is an excellent resource for the study of the armor of World War I.

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Mark IV vs A7V: Villers-Bretonneux 1918 (Duel)

Mark IV vs A7V: Villers-Bretonneux 1918 (Duel) Paperback – January 22, 2013

In March 1918 the Germans launched a series of massive assaults in a bid to break the deadlock on the Western Front and win the war. By this time the British armoured forces had seen extensive combat. The Germans, though, lagged behind in developing armoured fighting vehicles; the March offensive saw the first deployment of the Germans' own design, the A7V. Seeking to capture the important road hub of Amiens, on 24 April the Germans overran Villers-Bretonneux, but were soon halted by Allied ground forces. As three British Mark IV tanks moved up to support a counterattack to regain the town, three German A7Vs arrived on the scene, triggering history's first tank-versus-tank battle.

With two of the British Mark IVs being machine-gun-armed 'females', both were outgunned, and withdrew after the lead A7V, No. 561 'Nixe', damaged them. The remaining 'male' Mark IV, 'A1', equipped with two 6pdr cannons, succeeded in disabling 'Nixe', and the remaining pair of German tanks withdrew. As the only operational tank now on the battlefield, the Mark IV 'male' attracted German artillery fire; as it withdrew, seven British Whippet light tanks engaged the German infantry, only to be attacked themselves by A7V No. 525 'Siegfried' and German artillery.

The German A7V and the British Mark IV were similar in weight, size, and speed, but differed significantly in armour, armament and manoeuvrability. The A7V had thicker armour, and had nearly double the horsepower per ton, but its engines were prone to overheating. The Mark IV's pair of side-mounted 6pdr cannons forced the vehicle to present its side arc to an enemy in order to fire one of its main guns; even so, it had difficulty penetrating the A7V's armour. Possessing twice as many machine guns as the Mark IV, the A7V had a frontally mounted 57mm gun that proved capable of defeating the Mark IV's armour, but the German tank's shape made for a number of blind spots, while the limited traverse of its weapons prompted A7V crews to manoeuvre in a zigzag motion. The Mark IV's rhomboid design proved superior in crossing trenches, climbing obstacles and moving over rough terrain.

As the first tank-versus-tank engagement in history, the fighting around Villers-Bretonneux showcased not only the British Mark IV and German A7V designs, but also the late-war, all-arms environment in which each operated. Although not purpose-built to combat enemy armour, both vehicles proved the viability of such operations, which during the postwar period led to key advances in suspension, armour, gunsights, ammunition, and command and control. While the British continued to develop their armoured forces, German armour development never materialized, and only in the postwar period did they address the issue.

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