“Through mud and blood”: The Development of Tank Corps in WW I

The tank was one of the many modern weapons to come out of the First World War. “Landships”, as they were originally known, had existed in British speculative fiction for some time in the later portion of the 19th century; indeed, H.G. Wells had written about an armoured fighting vehicle shortly before the war. 

Image: [Tunic], Canadian Tank Corps, c 1918. Collections CCGW/CCGG 2014.07.10.01

Armoured cars were already in use on the Western Front and both armies made some use of caterpillar tractors to move heavy naval guns into place behind the lines. By 1915, British efforts to develop the tank as a secret weapon had begun, with the hope to deploy them during the Somme Offensive in the summer of 1916.

As is largely acknowledged, the tanks were at first not a great success. They were prone to break downs and could not advance very quickly or very far. The crews were hampered by the limited visibility of the engine area and the majority of the tanks first used at Courcelette on 15 September 1916 did not actually make it as far as the front lines. Those that did were of limited use, as they were suborned to infantry command and were used in limited numbers. However, by 1917 tanks were a common sight on the battlefield as the French began to use a small Renault model and the Germans developed the box-like A7V for use in early 1918.

Canada began the formation of a tank corps in January 1918 with recruitment for the Canadian Tank Corps. Before this point, Canadian divisions had been provided with tanks and crews by the British 4th Tank Brigade, with 1 tank battalion per division. Canada’s first tank battalion arrived in England for training in July 1918 and was almost ready for deployment to the front when the war ended. In all, 3 battalions were recruited and 2 trained; the corps was dissolved after the war and re-started at the beginning of World War II.

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