It is not often that a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) occurs, but approximately 100 years ago one did. On 20 November 1917, over 400 tanks were deployed en masse for the first time by the British at Cambrai, France. This ushered in a new era of warfare…that of armor.
Prior to Cambrai, the tank was deployed primarily in scattered pockets and small numbers, negating some of the shock and awe of the new weapon. Particularly since the early tanks were very unreliable.
But something needed to be done to stop the massacre of human wave offensives and trench warfare. Thoughts on how to break the stalemate started in August of that year, with the final plans calling for a new combined arms offensive of armor, artillery, and infantry. The tanks were to crush the barbed wire while the artillery was registered “silently” to achieve maximum surprise.
The assault began at 6:30 in the morning. By the end of the day, the Allies had advanced nearly five miles in some areas….a huge success compared to previous offensives that measured in yards. This was a greater advance in six hours than at Flanders in three months, despite a complicated trench system and defense in depth.
The British tank at the center of the offensive was the Mark IV. It was large and heavily armed. The male version mounted two naval 6 lb. cannons along with three machine guns. The female version of the Mark IV mounted five machine guns.
The Americans in Wartime Museum has its tank from that era, the M1917. It has been driven at our last two Open Houses…..its little engine sputtering and its tracks clanking. This is the vehicle with which U.S. Army officers such as Eisenhower and Patton learned their craft.
The last known US veteran of WWI passed on in 2011. But his legacy, and that of the millions of his battle buddies, and the millions more Americans on the home-front, still lives on at the Americans in Wartime Museum.
So this Holiday season, think about Cambrai. Think about the M1917 tank. But also think about what our tank represents….the courage and sacrifice of Americans who gave their all in serving our country so that others can celebrate their special remembrances with family and friends.