Band of Brothers

Not all the tank crews took part in the exercises at Yvrench.  Views clearly differ on just how good the briefings and training were.  Some crews were quite content that everything had been done to prepare them for the tasks ahead; they had been told precisely what they had to do.  Others were less certain.  But all agreed that morale remained high; there was a wonderful esprit de corps and great comradeship.  No one seemed fearful of the fighting to come.

Band of Brothers. Stephen Pope http://www.firsttankcrews.com

Band of Brothers. Stephen Pope http://www.firsttankcrews.com

Photo – Band of Brothers.  Credit Stephen Pope http://www.firsttankcrews.com

Yvrench

The C Coy tanks arrived in Yvrench from 25 August and during their time there they were inspected by the GHQ Staff.  The tank commanders and the Infantry of the 56th Division developed some rudimentary infantry-tank tactics.  This was the first and last time that the tanks worked with Infantry before going into action on the 15th September, 1916.

Field Marshal Haig, accompanied by the commanders of the Fourth and Reserve Armies, Generals Rawlinson and Gough, visited the area on 26 August and watched a mock attack by 12 tanks from C Company, supporting/supported by the 7th Middlesex.  The CinC appeared impressed with what he saw.  He wrote in his diary:

“At 3pm I was present at a demonstration in the use of ‘Tanks’.  A battalion of infantry and five tanks operated together.  The tanks crossed ditches and parapets representing the several lines of a defensive position with the greatest of ease, and one entered a wood which was made to represent a strong point and easily ‘walked’ over fair-sized trees of six inches diameter!  Altogether, the demonstration was quite encouraging but we require to clear our idea as to the tactical use of these machines’.”

They had just under 3 weeks to do this thinking.

Tank-Yvrench

Operation Alpaca

The transfer of the C and D Company men and their tanks to France was called Operation Alpaca.

C Company began the operation on 13 August by loading 13 of their their tanks onto the rail-flats for their journey to Avonmouth, where they were lifted onto a cargo ship.  They crossed to France on 20th/21st August.  Their remaining machines followed on 24th/25th August. The first tranche of D Company’s tanks followed a day later and the second tranche crossed in early September.  The men travelled separately, by train to London and then on to Southampton before boarding the troopship Caesarea for the journey to Le Havre.

Men and machines were reunited in Yvrench, a village approximately 50kms behind the line.   An HQ was set up in Yvrencheux and an assembly and training area was established at St Riquier.

Field Marshal Haig visited the area on 26 August and watched a mock attack by 12 tanks from C Company, supporting/supported by the 7th Middlesex.  The CinC was impressed with what he saw but recorded ‘we require to clear our idea as to the tactical use of these machines’.  They had just under 3 weeks to do this thinking!

C Coy en route to Waterloo railway station 24th August 1916

C Coy en route to Waterloo railway station 24th August 1916

Tank Tips

In August 1916 Swinton wrote some Tank Tips based on the lessons learned from their time training at Elveden.

  • Remember your orders
  • Shoot quick
  • Shoot low. A miss which throws dust in the enemy’s eyes is better than one which whistles in his ear.
  • Shoot cunning.
  • Shoot the enemy while they are rubbing their eyes.
  • Economise ammunition and don’t kill a man three times.
  • Remember that trenches are curly and dugouts deep – look round the corners
  • Watch the progress of the fight and your neighbouring tanks
  • Watch your infantry whom you are helping
  • Remember the position of your own line
  • Smell the enemy’s machine guns and other small guns and kill them first with your 6-pounders.
  • You must ferret out where the MGs are, judging by the following signs:
    • Sound
    • Dust
    • Smoke
    • A shadow in a parapet
    • A hole in a wall, haystack, rubbish heap, wood stack or pile of bricks
  • Machine guns will usually be placed to fire slantways across the front and to shoot along the wire. One 6-pounder shell that hits the loophole of a machine gun emplacement will do it in.
  • Use the 6-pounder with care; shoot to hit and not to make a noise
  • Never have any gun, even when unloaded, pointing at your own infantry, or a 6-pounder pointed at another Tank.
  • It is the unloaded gun that kills the fool’s friend.
  • Never mind the heat
  • Never mind the noise
  • Never mind the dust
  • Think of your pals in the infantry
  • Thank God you are bullet-proof and can help the infantry, who are not
  • Have your masks always ready