Tag Archives: C Coy

The First Tank Action


The tanks and men of C & D Companies of the Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps went into action on 15 September 1916.  They were making history; this was the first ever use of tanks in combat.  Their attack, 11 weeks into the battle of the Somme, was part of Fourth Army’s plan to penetrate the German defences between Courcelette and Gueudecourt.  The aim was to break through by noon on 15 September 1916 and to then exploit by launching the cavalry towards Bapaume to disrupt the arrival of German reinforcements and to attack German artillery in their depth positions around Le Sars.

Eleven divisions (8 British, 2 Canadian and one from New Zealand) were used in the initial attack which was preceded by a three day artillery bombardment.  The infantry were supported by 48 tanks.  From north to south the allocation of tanks to Divisions was:

  • 2nd Canadian Division – 6 C Coy tanks
  • 15th (Scottish), 50th (Northumbrian) and 47th (2nd London) Divisions – 8 D Coy tanks
  • New Zealand Division – 4 D Coy tanks
  • 41st Division – 10 D Coy tanks
  • 14th (Light) Division – 4 D Coy tanks
  • Guards Division – 10 C Coy tanks
  • 6th and 56th (1st London) Division – 6 C Coy tanks

Most of the divisions broke through the German front line positions on 15 September.  Of the 48 tanks available that day only 32 tanks crossed the British front line of which 18 reached German depth positions.  Twenty three tanks engaged the enemy.  Courcelette, Martinpuich, High Wood and Flers were captured and held although none of the 4th line objectives were reached.

The section from C Company supporting the Canadians at Courcelette, on the left flank of the allied attack, successfully achieved their mission. The remainder of the Coy were on the right flank; these attacks were less successful.  D Company’s action on the left of their area helped to capture Martinpuich.  In the centre the infantry achieved their objectives around High Wood but the 4 supporting tanks became stuck as they tried to negotiate the wood.  The Company greatly assisted in the actions of the Kiwis to the west of Flers, successfully destroying German defensive positions.  The Flers action achieved its aim; despite breakdowns and enemy artillery, the tanks assisted the infantry in capturing all three defensive lines and the village.

The action wasn’t without loss.  Ten tanks were destroyed, 11 tank crewmen were killed in action and 1 died of wounds later that day:

  • Horace Brotherwood (C1) 18 yrs old KIA near Pozieres
  • Bertie Giles (C14) 18 yrs old KIA at Bouleaux Woo.
  • Gerald Pattinson (C14) 30 yrs old KIA at Bouleaux Wood
  • George Macpherson (C20) 20 yrs old DOW at Grove Town CCS
  • Edgar Barnsby (D5) 25 yrs old KIA near Flers
  • Leslie Gutsell (D5) 20 yrs old KIA near Flers
  • Fred Bardsley (D6) 24 yrs old KIA near Gueudecourt
  • George Cook (D6) 29 yrs old KIA near Gueudecourt
  • John Garner (D6) 25 yrs old KIA near Gueudecourt
  • William Debenham (D12) 24 yrs old KIA near Flers
  • Cyril Coles (D15) 23 yrs old KIA near Flers
  • Charles Hoban (D15) 29 yrs old KIA near Flers

Gunner Thomas Bernard C Coy), Gunner Jacob Glaister (D Coy) , Gunner Albert Smith (D Coy), Pte George Thomas (D Coy), Pte Bertram Young (D Coy), were awarded the MM for his actions on 15 Sep.

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Move to the Start Line

During the day the British bombardment became more intense. Initially C Company’s tanks were held up by traffic but eventually the majority of the tanks made it to their harbour areas.
At 8.30 pm the tanks started to make their way to the Start Line.

Move to the FUP

Credit IWM

Credit IWM

The tanks left Caterpillar Valley on the evening of 13 September.  The tanks did not use their cross-country capability but were ordered to follow roads where their slow speed exacerbated traffic difficulties.  C Company tanks moved east to Chimpanzee valley whilst D Company tanks went northeast towards the Green Dump.  Several of the tanks broke down en route and three crews were issued with spares from the ten which had arrived straight from England on 10 September.

The preliminary bombardment started on 13 Sep.


On 11 Sep Operation Orders were issued and on 12 Sep conferences were held at Corps HQs and company and section commanders were introduced to the Divisions they would be supporting who issued them with orders direct.

The C Company War Diary records that

‘All details with regard to points of assembly and starting points were agreed.  Arrangements for replenishing Tanks and men in petrol and oils were made under Company arrangements; these did not prove satisfactory.’

How fast?


4th Army held a conference was held on 10 September, just after C Company had undertaken  a trial across parts of the old battlefield to determine the average speed for deployment. It was found to be 15 yards per minute – or just less than 1,000 yards an hour.  The Conference was attended by the Corps commanders who explained their attack plan.  This was also attended by Lt Col R W Bradley who had commanded the MMGS Depot at Bisley and was now responsible for the coordination of the two tank companies but he was unable to make any contribution.  Also there was Maj Hugh Elles, from the General HQ representing the CinC Gen Douglas Haig.  Elles was the only one to object when the III Commander, Lt Gen Poultney, directed that the four tanks supporting 47 Divisions should drive through High wood.  His objections were over-ruled.


Many of the tanks of C and D Companies, now in France preparing for their first action, had been named by their crews.  C Company clearly enjoyed a cocktail.

C1 – Champagne

C2 – Cognac

C3 – Chartreuse

C4 – Chablis

C5 – Crème de Menthe

C6 – Cordon Rouge

C14 – Corunna

C17 – Campania

C18 – Casa

C19 – Clan Leslie

C23 – Clan Ruthven

C24 – Clan Cameron

D1 – Daredevil

D2 – Daredevil II

D5 – Dolphin

D9 – Dolly

D11 – Die Hard

D13 – Delilah (commanded by 2Lt Sampson!)

D16 – Dracula

D17 – Dinnaken

D20 – Daphne

D21 – Delphine