Wednesday, August 29, 2007
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.
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.
The first tanks, Little Willie and Mark I, had proved disappointing but by 1917 saw the development of two successful tanks, the Whippet and Mark V. After the United States entered the war it was suggested that its engineers should join those in Britain to produce a new tank.
The first Mark VIII was ready in the summer of 1918. One new innovation was the separation of the engine from the crew compartment. This reduced the fire risk and helped stop fumes and heat from the engine entering the area where the crew worked. The armour protection was improved and the length increased to combat Germany's decision to construct wider trenches on the Western Front. Weighing 37 tons, the 34 ft. Mark VIII tank could cross a gap of 15 ft. The seven built in Glasgow (the rest were made in France and the United States) were fitted with Rolls-Royce aero engines.