How the tank changed warfare - and Dorset
With the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day, BBC Dorset remembers the role played by a new invention during WWI - the tank. Author Christy Campbell reveals how the new tanks transformed warfare - and Dorset.
"The tanks represented a break from the mud, blood and blundering generals of the First World War. There was a group of people who realised there was a better way – that soldiers could wear armour like knights of old."
So says Christy Campbell, author of "Band of Brigands", a book about the first men in tanks.
The idea for tanks came from Winston Churchill, who at the time was First Lord of the Admiralty. He secretly piloted the idea of 'land ships' and advertised for drivers and technicians in a motorcycle magazine.
Going into battle (Bovington)
It was in 1916, the same year as the disastrous Battle of the Somme, that the army decided to adopt the idea. It built 60 tanks to start with, to break "the riddle of the trenches".
"The significance of tanks was that they showed the Germans that the British still had the will to keep attacking," explains Christy, "despite losing millions of men in the trenches.”
After the first tanks were judged to be a success, the army needed somewhere bigger to test them.
Bovington Camp was the perfect place. It was close to the coast and the new armour could be easily transported to the front.
The camp became the official tank training ground. The American tank unit moved in to Bovington in 1918. They were well known for chasing the local women.
"There was one tank man who chased a saucy little Margaritte Watkins, who was the bank manager's daughter in Wareham," says Christy.
King George inspecting tanks (Bovington)
The Americans left a lasting impression on the area. And, so Christy infers, a few 'war babies' too.
The men driving the tanks were not conventional soldiers. They were known as a 'citizen army' and were often quite scruffy.
One officer declared, "I have never seen such a band of brigands in my life".
Yet tanks were critical in putting the war effort on the offensive. German generals blamed the invention of tanks for their loss.
This November not only commemorates the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War, it's also 91 years since the Battle of Cambrai, the first time tanks were successfully used in combat.
BBC South held a special event at the Bovington Tank Museum on Saturday 8 November 2008:
last updated: 11/11/2008 at 10:46
Have Your Say
What are your wartime memories?