Last Friday, July 1, marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in WWI. The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was several months long. It began with 18 (!) French and British divisions going “over the top” and was the largest battle of the First World War. Over a million casualties were suffered; 60,000 of them were British on that first Saturday alone.
“…a series of extended lines of British infantry were seen moving forward from the British trenches. The first line appeared to continue with end to right and left. It was quickly followed by a second line, then a third and a fourth…
“…Red rockets sped up into the blue sky as a signal to the artillery, and immediately afterwards a mass of shells from the German batteries in the rear tore through the air and burst among the advancing lines. Whole sections seemed to fall, and the rear formations, moving in closer order, quickly scattered. The advance rapidly crumbled under this hail of shells and bullets. All along the line men could be seen throwing their arms into the air and collapsing, never to move again. Badly wound rolled about in their agony, and others less severely injured crawled to the nearest shell-hole for shelter.
The British soldier, however, has no lack of courage, and once his hand is set to the plough he is not easily turned from his purpose. The extended lines, though badly shaken and with many gaps, now came on all the faster. ” Matthäus Gerster, Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 119
Today is July 4, the 100th anniversary of the death of the American poet Alan Seeger (author of ‘I have a rendezvous with death‘) one of many thousands of Americans who volunteered to fight on behalf of the French long before the United States entered the war. The Somme Offensive was unlike anything the world had seen before — 19th century tactics employed in the face of 20th century weaponry, resulting in the worst casualty rates in the history of warfare. One of the results of this battle — the first ever deployment of tanks (also something never before seen) to the battlefield, though that did not actually happen until September.
That makes 2016 the centenary of the tank.
We understand them to be part and parcel of warfare now, an integral piece of the “combined arms” concept. Technology has improved, their role has evolved, they’re a part of popular culture and a dreadful sight to our enemies — but never forget, some poor bastard a century ago was the very first “crunchy” to ever look up at some massive, bellowing, stinking machine and think, “What the fuck?”
Especially if those first tankers attacked the wrong trench.
“We heard strange throbbing noises, and lumbering slowly toward us came three huge mechanical monsters such as we had never seen before. My first impression was that they looked ready to topple on their noses, but their tails and the two little wheels at the back held them down and kept them level. Big metal things they were, with two sets of caterpillar wheels that went right round the body. There was a bulge on each side with a door in the bulging part, and machine-guns on swivels poked out from either side. The engine, a petrol engine of massive proportions, occupied practically all the inside space. Mounted behind each door was a motorcycle type of saddle set and there was just about enough room left for the belts of ammunition and the drivers.
Instead of going on to the German lines the three tanks assigned to us straddled our front line, stopped and then opened up a murderous machine-gun fire, enfilading us left and right. There they sat, squat monstrous things, noses stuck up in the air, crushing the sides of our trench out of shape with their machine-guns swivelling [sic] around and firing like mad.” Bert Chaney, 7TH Battalion, The London Regiment, 15 September 1916
We’ve got some interesting stuff coming your way during Tank Week, September 12-16. We hope you’ll join us. All are welcome, tanker and crunchy alike.
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