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13 November 2014

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You are in: Dorset > History > Local History > How the tank changed warfare - and Dorset

WW1 tank (photo courtesy of Bovington Tank Museum)

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 Tank Museum)

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 the tanks (Bovington)

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
created: 30/10/2007

Have Your Say

What are your wartime memories?

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Pauline Gurling
My father volantered for the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corp which became the 1st Tank Battalion and trained at Belton Park near Grantham. His name was Albert Victor Day and was known as "Lucky Daisy" as he and the men in his tank always got out if it was blown up. He started as a 1st class gun layer but became the driver when they first went over the top. His was the tank which climbed a tree in Bourlon Wood. The film was shown on TV but he would not let me phone up aboutit. He won the Military Medal but I don't know what for. He was born in December 1896 and passed away in August 1972.

Donald Willcox
I served with NO2 Independant Bridging Troop a unit of The 254 Indian Tank Brigade WW11 would love to hear from anyone else still alive . Hope its not just me and Slarke .pepiwill

marilyn dawson-hamilton
my father harry such sgt was at bovington at the start of the great war.then abroad with his men and tanks. when walter wilson [inventor of the tank]died his widow mrs wilson presented my mother with a wonderful picture of the first tank for my father signed etc.which hangs proudly in my study.unfortunatley my father passed away beforehand-now has my mother.if there are any relitives of my fathers comrades in arms left i would like to here from them. motto-through the mud through the blood to the green fields beyond. sgt harry such born 10 jan 1895. thank you, marilyn BBC Dorset writes: please could you email - we'd love to hear more of your story.

David Wilde
My father was a tank commander in June 1944 and was a driver for the commanding officer General Jolly, author of the book "Blue Flash" about the 144 RAC regiment. My father's 'war diary' which includes his personal thoughts/reflections during the invasion of europe releasing POWs from Stalag (?) and including a map is now at Bovington Tank Museum

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