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.
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.
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!
On 3 December 1915, as he headed off to France to serve as a soldier, Winston Churchill wrote a paper on ‘Variants of the Offensive’.
He introduced the idea of armoured vehicles that used caterpillar tracks. On Christmas Day 1915, Sir Douglas Haig, who had recently taken over command of the Expeditionary Force in France, read this paper and decided that he wanted to know more about the caterpillars mentioned.
Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Elles was sent to England to find out what was going on in the darkened rooms of Whitehall and the factories of Lincoln.