Beasts of Steel – The First Tanks On The Battlefield I THE GREAT WAR Week 112

Beasts of Steel – The First Tanks On The Battlefield I THE GREAT WAR Week 112


We’ve seen many deadly technological advances so far during the war, in the form of new weapons: the flamethrower, incendiary bullets, poison gas; but perhaps none would have a stronger impression on the world of the future than one which appeared in battle for the first time this week: the tank! I’m Indy Neidell; Welcome to the Great War. Last week saw a combined British and French assault on German positions at the Somme. The Germans called off all offensive maneuvers at Verdun, but Bulgarian and Turkish troops under German command invaded Romania, who had just joined the war. And a zeppelin was shot down over Hertfordshire. That zeppelin was the first victim of the new incendiary bullets and I’ll begin this week with another new piece of technology: the tank. They were premiered September 15th at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. The idea for the tank originated with the need for some kind of armored vehicle that could cross no man’s land, break through barbed wire and assault German strongpoints. Already in December 1914, Ernest Swinton of the Royal Engineers had floated the idea of such a vehicle. Actually, even in 1903 H.G Wells had dreamed of such a vehicle in his short story: The Land Ironclads. And caterpillar tracks were used in agriculture by 1905. The tank prototype “Little WIllie” came out in late 1915 and then in January 1916, a larger one with guns called “Mother” came out. The tanks used today were the Mark I model, which was based on the Holt tractor. There were two variants: the male model with two six-pound guns and four machine guns, and the female, which had six machine guns. But integrating tanks into existing tactics posed problems. Should they be concentrated together or spaced out? Should they advance ahead of, with or behind the infantry? British high command decided to spread them out and send them ahead of the men. And they would advance with a creeping barrage of artillery. Then they would flatten the German barbed wire and their guns would support the British infantry. 49 tanks were to be part of the attack. Some were hit by German artillery. Some broke down. Some failed to advance. And in fact, nearly all of the 36 tanks that actually crossed the starting line stopped working for one reason or another. So they were really unreliable. But they did advance several kilometres, finally capturing High Wood as well as Flers, Martinpuich and Courcelette. And certainly terrified the German infantry. But really, for the Germans that day it was actually the creeping barrage tactics that had the biggest impact, not the tanks. There was also just about zero communication between the tanks and the infantry and sometimes, the infantry sped on ahead of them because the creeping barrage was safer than plotting along by the tank. Still, they gave an inkling of what was to come. And for the assault, the German lines had been breached to the point that they were in deep trouble, even though the British had not really broken through. After this though, Winston Churchill, who had enthusiastically backed the development of the tank, wrote to admiral Jacky Fisher: “My poor land battleships have been let off prematurely and on a petty scale. In that idea resided one real victory.” But British Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, was impressed enough to ask the War Office for 1,000 more. There was some other important action at the Somme this week. Back on the 9th was the Battle of Ginchy. The 16th Irish Division was given the job of finally taking the village. They attacked from the south, which was new and had a piece of luck. The two German divisions brought into the sector failed to establish communications with each other, so the defenders were unsupported. When the Irish attacked, within two hours the ruins of Ginchy were in the hands of the 4th Army. Just so you know, when the Battle of the Somme began on July 1st, that day the British took around 60,000 casualties to take 3 square miles. Between July 15th and September 12th, it was around 120,000 casualties for about 6 miles. So in terms of casualties per ground gained, the rate had not changed. It just doesn’t have such a dramatic impact because it wasn’t all in one day. But the Germans had lost a bit of land. And German Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg ordered September 15th: “The main task of the Armies is now to hold fast on all positions on the Western, Eastern, Italian, and Macedonian Fronts, and to employ all other available forces against Romania.” And at home in Germany, the Hindenburg Programme was underway to remobilize the German Army. Recruiting German labor and forcibly deporting 700,000 Belgian workers to Germany. Cardinal John Farley, the archbishop of New York, declared: “You have to go back to the times of the Medes and the Persians to find a like example of a whole people carried into bondage.” President Woodrow Wilson protested this through ambassador to Berlin, James Gerard, and told him to raise the issue with German chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg. Gerard said: “There are Belgians employed in making shells, contrary to the rules of war and the Hague Conventions.” “I don’t believe it”, was the reply. Gerard said: “My automobile is at the door, I can take you in four minutes to where 30 Belgians are working on the manufacture of shells.” The chancellor declined this invitation. There was new action to the south this week as the Italian Front was once again active. Italian Army Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna, launched the Seventh Battle of the Isonzo River on September 14th. After the Sixth Battle a few weeks ago, which had taken Gorizia from the Austro-Hungarian defenders, he brought in thousands of fresh recruits and tons of supplies. He wanted to strike the Austrians on the Carso before they recovered from that battle. But guess what? They already had, and had beefed up their defenses a lot and by early September had four defensive lines. Two more than the Italians knew about. On the 10th, the Italians began their artillery barrage. Though for the three days, they fired blindly into the fog and didn’t do much damage. When the fog cleared on the 13th, however, and with some aerial observation, they destroyed much of the Austrian front lines, blew holes in the barbed wire and wrecked their communications. But the Austrians had left only a token force of men in the front lines and their losses were very small. Then, the Italian infantry attacked. The duke of Aosta had 100,000 men and they attacked the Austrians on a 14-kilometer front, which was a huge density of men. The Italians emerged from the smoke and dust in compact blocks of men and made targets pretty much as tempting and easy as the British did at the Battle of the Somme on July 1st. The Austrian gunners had been waiting for this moment and as the Italians came on, wave after wave, shoulder to shoulder…they just mowed them down. One Austrian officer said it looked like an attempt at mass suicide. And when the Italians reached the deserted Austrian line, they were met with flamethrowers, tear gas and machine gun fire from beyond. The attacks continued for the remainder of the week. And Austrian casualties pretty much matched Italian after the first day. The 15th saw ferocious Italian artillery barrage but there was still no breakthrough and heavy casualties on both sides. And one event, which produced no casualties at all, happened in Kavala in neutral Greece. On the 12th, the 4th Greek Army Corps, 25,000 men, deserted to the Germans and were sent to Germany as “guests”. This, as you may guess, provoked a public outcry in Greece. Two day later, Kavala was occupied by the Bulgarians. And on the front, the Salonika Front, French general Maurice Sarrail began a new offensive on the 12th with a Five Nation Army. Serbian, Russian, Italian, French, and British. The next day, the Serbs advanced towards Florina and Monastir. And we reach the end on another week of war. New offensives in the Balkans and on the Italian Front. The Germans deciding to only launch offensives in Romania for the time being, and forcing hundreds of thousands of foreigners to build their weapons. The Irish on top at the Somme and the debut of the tank. The tank. I know a lot of you had been waiting for this week’s episode because of that. So there you are. One of the greatest and most advanced machines of destruction is now a battlefield reality. And they will continue rolling machine guns blazing away. And the French will use them, and the Germans will use them. And then after the war, they’ll be improved and improved and in all of the devastating conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries thereafter, they will be there. The symbol of military destruction, the symbol of awe-inspiring devastation, the symbol of modern war. If you wanna find out more about the development and history of the tank, you should check out our special episode about them right here.

100 thoughts on “Beasts of Steel – The First Tanks On The Battlefield I THE GREAT WAR Week 112

  1. 5:10 and you have to go to history of USA to see a creation of a federation based on genocide of local people, the only rightful owners of the country that is now inhabited by arrogant self righteous trash…

  2. The Great War, I am not sure if you guys have seen this Channel:
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCK09g6gYGMvU-0x1VCF1hgA?&ab_channel=MilitaryHistoryVisualized

    It is pretty darn amazing and there is a show in it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnECTsis0J4&ab_channel=MilitaryHistoryVisualized

    Just about the topic (Tank) you were talking about.

    I highly encourage everybody who watched TGW to also go to Military History Visualized.

  3. "You have to go back to the times of the Medes and the Persians to find a like example of a whole people carried into bondadge." No, Mr. Archbishop, just 60 years and in your own country. Hypocrisy at it best again.

  4. Great video, I just discovered this channel a few hours ago and I'm really enjoying watching your videos!
    So now that you have made a video about tanks you could make a video about anti tank weapons for the germans, because as we all know they didn't had like much tanks they could sent out to the battlefield so they invented guns like the T-Gewehr. Would be very cool to see a video about that 🙂

  5. At last, a gleam of Dawn's early light in the long night of trench warfare, a false dawn sadly as having taken two years to invent tanks it will now take the Allied powers another two years to learn how to use them.

    Still progress is progress, and well done Winston Churchill, Col Swinton, and all the others who made this possible: but it is going to be heartbreaking to watch the World War I generals apply their own unique brand of incompetence to this new and wonderful thing.

    The truly remarkable thing about all this is that the population of the world was only one seventh of what it is now and yet human life is valued so much more by just about everyone.

    And that's an even better sort of progress.

  6. an irony in the development of the Tank is that once Armies knew how to use them they could arguably be credited with reducing causalities simply by making trench warfare impossible.

  7. Interesting fact and funny story: The first prototype of an armored and armed vehicle with a 360 degree turret was presented in 1906 in Vienna: The "Austro-Daimler Panzerwagen". It was proposed in 1903 by Leopold Salvator, a General of the austro-hungarian army, and developed by Paul Daimler. However: When the vehicle was tested at military exercises under supervision of emperor Franz-Joseph, the loud startup noise of the engine caused the horse of a General to balk. This prompted Franz-Joseph to reject the "Panzerwagen" as being impractical for the military.

  8. First tanks are such a comic secret weapon – clear flaws, not quite used as effectively in hindsight – seemingly terrifying and invincible for their first appearance, easier to handle in the future.

  9. Great vid as always 🙂 I found a small channel today called Oak Leaves & Iron, he mostly does ww2 stuff and he's very new but I'm loving his content so far.

  10. hey great work as always from you guys i follow you since the early year of 2015. I am in a Historical k.u.k. cavalary Regiment. Would you maybe feature our historical counterpart if i provide you the research? Or maybe just a bit about the gear?

  11. For "Out of the Trenches". Now that tanks have appeared on the battlefield could you please go into detail on how the armored fighting vehicle got the name "TANK"? I believe your audience will find it very interesting since most people think it is an acronym. Thank you everyone at The Great War for all you do. I continue to tell all the Soldiers I work with about your channel and many have even thanked me for showing them. I look forward to each new episode.

  12. Did any nation attempt to counter the tank by building a large tunnel that, when driven over, would collapse and the tank would fall into a pit it could not get out of?

  13. I don't get something… you have waves after waves of Italians charging against mgs and…after the first day Austrian casualties matched Italian ones?

  14. Kavala troops were not deserted. The surrendered to Germans because Greece was not officially at war and after Germans assured that were not to surrender to Bulgarians.

  15. 4:52 i dont know if it was intentional but you can see a face in the picture behind if you look really closely abode where is says "of the armies is now" you can see to bomb holes for eyes and a man for an ear and a really creepy face reply if you saw it to xD

  16. Nice job covering armor. One hasn't lived until you have fired a 105 mm gun or a 152mm gun it is awesome to feel that power. indescribable.

  17. Did they ever use tanks as personnel carriers in WW1? Seems like a few dozen tanks would be a really efficient way to get hundreds of men across no mans land safely.

  18. 9:37 That name comes from a Russian spies TV show, it's the fake identity the protagonist (a Soviet spy infiltrated in the German high command during WW2) uses.

  19. Hey guys love this show doing so well I'm a history graduate from sterling uni in Scotland. I love history and always wanted my girlfriend and son to get into history your show is something we have both enjoyed together so thank you.

  20. Arcbishop John Farley was either oblivious of his country's own history or simply did not consider people of other ethnicities people… we all know the answer though.

  21. How Germany Captured it's First Tank
    German Soldier: Schnel Hans Schenl ze British are having their tea and crumpets und have left the keys in the ignition

  22. The new Fighters and plane airforce and the Tanks are the only modern warfare weapons which evolves the fair fight between both sides, all other chemical bombs and nukes and flamethrowers are really bad for humanity itself and aren't really fair on a battlefield. But am I talking about fairness in war? War itself isn't fair in the first place, But humanity haves to be saved and the individual human have to matter…

  23. Incidentally, "kavala" would mean "perfidious" in Finnish. I just found it a funny coincidence that major desertion happened in a place called Kavala.

  24. There were only 61,000 Belgian forced labourers in Germany & only from October 1916 to February 1917, additionally there were some 60,000 forced labourers (French & Belgian) till the end of the war behind the front lines in Belgium & France. See e.g.: Jens Thiel: "Menschenbassin Belgien". Anwerbung, Deportation und Zwangsarbeit im Ersten Weltkrieg. Klartext Verlag, Essen 2007

  25. I don't understand the casualties number for the 7th Isonzo battle. At one point it is stated that the Austrian frontal defence lines held only a token force and that the Italians were attempting "mass suicide" but later, the casualties numbers are the same.

  26. What a fantastic invention….and like most other fantastic inventions…it was British.
    Clever old us, eh????
    It scared the life out of the Germans who thought the tank was absolutely terrifying and some kind of devil machine.

  27. Little Willie didn't perform well…..
    BIG Willie did…. Where have I heard that before??? Ha Ha ha Ha..

  28. H. G. Wells thought up the tank when the machine gun was being put to use. DaVinci did it when muskets were unreliable.

  29. Standing in the line of fire
    32 will lead the way
    Coming over trench and wire
    Going through the endless grey
    Standing in the line of fire
    Moving on through the fray
    Coming over trench and wire
    Live to fight another day

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