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Category: Armour/Allied

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Allied Armour in WW1

  • Royal Tank Corps hat badge
  • Above Mark 5 tank with cribb

Click to enlarge. Tanks were designed to smash through or over barbed wire entanglements Click to enlarge. Tanks were designed to climb over trenches and obstacles.
During WWI mobile warfare on the Western Front had effectively come to a halt. Both sides were dug-in  in massive defensive positions littered with pillboxes, mine, wire, and strong points. Except for gas and artillery attacks the war was at a stalemate. Any attempt at attack was repelled by a relatively new and awesome weapon, the machine gun. Tanks were first developed by the British as a sort of mobile pillbox that could advance forward under withering machine gun fire to crush wire and obstacles and to provide fire support for advancing infantry.
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Mark 4 tank with captured German artillery, 1916/17 Mark 5 Tank 1917. Note device to fill enemy trench so tank can proceed Whippet Tank as used in attack on Hindenburg Line 1918
Although the performance of the first tanks, Little Willie and Mark I, had proved disappointing in battle, Colonel John Fuller, Chief of Staff of the Tank Corps, remained convinced that these machines could win the war. After the Battle of the Somme, Fuller persuaded Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Army, to order another 1,000 tanks.

The British had 60 tanks in service by the spring of 1917. Improvements were made and the new Mark IV tank was strong enough to withstand the recently developed German anti-tank rifles. The Mark IVs were used at the Battle of Messines in June 1917 but those used at Passchendaele later that year tended to get stuck in the mud before they reached the German lines. Other problems encountered during this period included poor visibility, noxious fumes and high temperatures inside the tank.

At the autumn of 1917 a lighter tank called the Mark A was ready to be used on the Western Front. Nicknamed the Whippet, it was faster than previous tanks but was still unreliable and vulnerable to artillery fire.

The Mark V tank became available in July 1918. It contained a new Ricardo engine that had been specially designed for the tank. With new transmission and better gears, the tank could travel at nearly 5 mph. To help the tank tackle the wide trenches of the Hindenburg Line, cribbs were carried. 

This was a braced cylindrical framework which when dropped in the trench acted as a kind of stepping stone. (See centre photo above)

At Amiens Colonel John Fuller managed to persuade General Henry Rawlinson to use 342 Mark V and 72 Whippet tanks, followed by soldiers and supported by over 1,000 aircraft. The strategy worked and the Allies managed to breakthrough the German frontline.

France. c. 1917. 

Gunners and drivers of a Canadian Army motor machine gun detachment cleaning their weapons and vehicles after a successful operation in the Somme area. 

(Donor Canadian Official Photograph)

Badges of the Tank Corps & Royal Tank Regiment

Brief History of The  Royal Tank Regiment (more details below)

The Royal Tank Regiment was formed from the Heavy Machine Gun Corps in 1916 and first saw action in tanks during the Battle of the Somme in August 1916.  Cambrai in November 1917 (celebration day) saw the newly formed ‘Tank Corps’ in action for the first time and gaining ground in a war that had been at a stalemate for years.  

The Tank Corps saw service until the end of the war on all fronts.  After the war, the Tank Corps became the Royal Tank Corps (1928) and then later the Royal Tank Regiment in line with Calvary terminology; it formed a large part of the newly formed Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) in 1939.  In World War II, the  RTC saw action in Europe, the Western Desert, Burma, Italy and NW Europe after D Day.  

Original RTC badge (Tudor Crown) WW2 RTR badge (Tudor Crown) Current RTR badge (St Edward's Crown)
Tank Badge. The ordinary Machine Gun Corps' cap badge was the first official badge of the Heavy Branch. It was not universally popular and many of its members retained the badges of their original Regiment or Corps. By 1917 the new Branch was seeking its own distinctive badge, but as this was a matter for which Royal approval was required and would take time, the War Office agreed that a worsted arm badge would be introduced until the cap badge was approved. 

The Army Order authorising the badge (79 of 6 February 1917) decreed that it should be worn on the right arm three inches below the point of the shoulder. It also states that 'It is to be worn by all ranks'. This would appear to dispel the popular myth, perpetuated by the Regimental History, that it was only awarded to trained tank crewmen. Certainly for many years all members of the RTC/RTR have worn it on service and battle dress. A silver embroidered version was worn on the other ranks pre-war blue patrols and the Band had a gold embroidered one for their full dress. 

In 1996 the RTR Council directed that the gold embroidered badge was to be worn on both Officers' and Warrants Officers' and Sergeants' Mess Dress. 

They do wear a silver embroidered version on No 1 Dress and No 3 Dress (tropical white equivalent of No 1 Dress) although a brass badge has been worn instead on No 3 Dress (Fourth in Malaya 1964). 

This brass badge was also worn by officers and men on khaki drill and olive green tropical dress. The arm badge is not worn on combat dress, it is however worn on parade black denims.

Flags of the Royal Tank (Corps) Regiment

The RTR flag is (starting at the bottom) brown, red, green. If signifies "From Mud, Through Blood to the Green Fields Beyond". 
General Elles' original hand made Battle Flag.  

Flag of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment

The Colours. The Regimental Colours are Brown, Red and Green. When it was first formed, the Tank Corps had no distinctive colours. Nothing was done about it until just before the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 when General Elles, wanting some distinguishing mark for his tank, went into a shop to buy material for a flag. Although stocks were small, the General bought some lengths of silk-brown, red and green. The silk was sewn together and was flown from his tank 'Hilda' in which he led the Tank Corps into battle. The colours typified the struggle of the Corps - 'From mud, through blood to the green fields beyond'. This most apt interpretation of the colours was suggested by Colonel Fuller. The flag is flown with the green uppermost. 
  • It is held by descendants of the Australian historian John Laffin.


On the 13th June 1900 Major General Sir Ernest Swinton was serving with the British Forces in the Boer War. On that precise date, he visualised the requirement for an armoured fighting vehicle to defeat the destructive power of the machine gun. The tank, a revolutionary new weapon system, born of General Swinton's vision, was to break the stalemate of trench warfare and the dominance of the machine gun of the battlefields of Flanders sixteen years later.

The story of The Royal Tank Regiment is one of struggle, triumph and achievement. Its origins are a mere three-quarters of a century old, but those years have seen the stalemate of trench warfare overcome, the restoration of mobility and the establishment of the tank and mechanised forces, as a dominant factor in battle. The tank reaffirmed its position as the decisive weapon on the battlefield during the Gulf War.

The present Royal Tank Regiment, composed of two regular regiments, is the direct heir to the original armoured car pioneers of 1914, the Naval Brigade and the RNAS squadron which augmented the British Expeditionary Forces for the defence of Antwerp in August of that year.

When the first tanks were produced in 1916, they were manned by members of the Machine Gun Corps, formed into six companies which were collectively known as the Heavy Branch.

The very first battle involving tanks took place on the Somme. About thirty British Mark 1 tanks attacked German positions between the villages of Flers and Courcelette, on Friday 15 September 1916. The arrival of the tanks on the battlefield signalled the end of trench warfare, which had suffocated both sides in the 1914-18 conflict.

During this action the Press seized on a report from an aircraft crew, which said that "a tank is walking down the main street of Flers with the British Army cheering behind it." This was "D" Company, later the 4th Royal Tank Regiment. These companies were expanded to form battalions and were renamed the Tank Corps in 1917.

The first battle between two opposing tanks took place near the village of Cachy on 24 April 1918. The German A7V tank Nixe (Lt Biltz), engaged three British Mark IV tanks, and damaged two, but was knocked out by the third, commanded by 2/Lt Frank Mitchell.

By December 1918 there were 26 battalions, and as well as serving in France, a detachment from the Corps had served under Allenby at Gaza, Palestine in 1917. The Corps saw almost continuous action, winning four VC's.

In France at dawn on November 20th, 1917, some 300 British Mark IV tanks of the Tank Corps, led by Brigadier Hugh Elles, created a major break in the German Hindenburg Line and nearly reached Cambrai itself. This was the Battle of Cambrai, and so successful was this action, that the church bells were rung throughout Great Britain. Each year this great battle is commemorated as "Cambrai Day".

At the end of World War 1 with the status of the Tank Corps in the greatest doubt, three small tank detachments were despatched to Russia, to support the White Russians against the Bolsheviks. One British manned tank achieved the capture of Tsaritsin, later called Stalingrad, now known as Volgograd.

By 1920 the Tank Corps was reduced to a Depot and four battalions, becoming established in its own right in 1923 when it was granted the prefix "Royal" by King George V, its Colonel-in-Chief since 1918. At this time it also officially adopted the black beret as its distinctive headgear, with the silver badge and 'Fear Naught' motto.

Thereafter Royal Tank Regiment armoured car and light tank units helped maintain the peace throughout the Empire in Iraq, Persia, Palestine, India and Egypt until 1939 when war clouds once more gathered over Europe.

The Corps changed to its present title in 1939, with the formation of the Royal Tank Regiment. The RTC had, up until 1928, been entirely responsible for all "armour" in the British Army. Its schools began the mechanisation and training of the cavalry, and the RTR itself expanded between 1935 and 1938 into eight regular battalions.

From the outset of World War II, both Sir Winston Churchill and Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, made it clear that they wished to be associated with the Royal Tank Regiment - the value of the tank as a decisive battlefield weapon was being recognised.

By the end of the Second World War, the tank had once again proved itself a major battle winner, and having fought in most of the major engagements in Europe, North Africa, the Middle and Far East, the Regiment had battalions spread all over the globe. Two more VC's had been awarded, together with countless other decorations, to men who, "...cheerfully went to war in tin cans, closely surrounded by a lethal mixture of petrol and ammunition.

Both 4th and 7th RTR fought in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. At Arras, on 21 May 1940 they smashed into the rear of Rommel's 7th Panzer Division with good effect. However, both regiments suffered heavily in the end and the survivors escaped via Dunkirk. Three other RTR regiments fought in Western France as part of the British First Armoured Division.

Throughout the desert war, elements of the RTR saw almost continuous action. In particular the great victory over the Italian at Beda Fomm. The RTR was heavily committed at El Alamein in October 1942, not only in conventional tanks but also in mine-sweeping flail tanks called Scorpions. While Montgomery's Eighth Army pursued retreating Axis forces across Libya, a new Army under General Eisenhower landed in Tunisia.
Here RTR crews in Churchill tanks met and defeated the mighty German Tigers.

Major General Sir Percy Hobart, an RTR officer since 1923, is best known as commander of the famous 79th Armoured Division. Equipped with special purpose tanks known as Funnies this division spearheaded the British attack on D-Day, 6 June 1944 and continued to support Allied forces in Europe until the end of the war. Once again the RTR played a vital part, notably in such events as the attack on Le Havre, the fantastic six-day dash from Normandy to Belgium and the crossing of the river Rhine in March 1945.


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