The tank has been at the forefront of warfare and military tactics for more than 100 years. They were first used by the British army in 1916 in an effort to break the stalemate of the trenches. Modern tanks have gained in sophistication and reliability, but the basic principles remain the same.
The credit for the design of the tank is often given to renaissance artist and inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci, who came up with the idea for a fighting vehicle, hand powered by turning cranks. More practical designs emerged in the early 20th century, with French artillery officer, Captain Leon Levavasseur, designing an armoured cannon propelled by tracks in 1903. In the same year, writer HG Wells foresaw the use of armoured vehicles in his short story ‘The Land Ironclads’.
Tanks – the name chosen in order to disguise what they were during shipping – first saw action on the Somme in 1916. Although many of them broke down or got stuck, they proved that the idea of armoured vehicles was sound.
Originally, Britain’s tanks were part of the Machine Gun Corps, but a separate Royal Tank Regiment was formed in September 1916. This was the first British army unit to adopt the beret as headgear, deeming it more practical than the standard peaked-cap and choosing black fabric that wouldn’t show oil stains.
Tank warfare came into its own in World War Two, with armoured forces playing a significant role in the desert war and on the Russian front. While the Germans’ tanks were often technically superior, the industrial might of the allies allowed them to build tanks like the American Sherman and the Russian T-34, in much larger numbers.
Although the technology has improved, modern tanks like the Challenger still have their roots in WW2 design. If you want to experience what a tank is like for yourself, there are places like https://www.armourgeddon.co.uk/, which offer people in the Midlands tank driving experiences.
While tanks are designed for battle, they also have to provide a place where their crews can live and work for long periods. This leads to some interesting features. Since 1945, for example, all British tanks have been fitted with a boiler to allow the crews to make tea. It’s nice to know the army has its priorities right!