By JR on Friday, February 13, 2015
Tanks in WWI
Tanks are now only a minor feature of WWI propaganda but I think it is important to combat propaganda wherever we see it.
The still widely-believed myth is that the invention of tanks by the British was a major factor in the defeat of Germany. It wasn't.
It is true that the allies did produce and field large numbers of tanks, whereas Germany did not. So it is clear that the allies at the time believed their own propaganda. Estimates vary but it is generally said that Britain produced around 2000 tanks and the French over 3000 while Germany produced only around 50. And the French Renault tanks were in many ways actually superior to the British designs.
The big flaws in WWI tank deployment were light armour, slow speed and a tendency to get bogged in the lush agricultural lands of Belgium and Northern France. Even tracked vehicles could not traverse that ground whenever it was wet, and that was often.
The light armour was actually penetrable by rifle and machine gun fire in the early stages and up to the end was an easy kill for German field guns. And Germany had a lot of those.
This handicap was greatly amplified by the slow speed of the tanks -- 5mph for British heavy tanks. It certainly gave German field gunners easy targeting. So the tanks that did not get bogged were generally knocked out without too much trouble.
The British light tanks ("Whippets") did rather better than the heavy tanks but there were only about 200 of them fielded and the British themselves considered them as enough of a failure to cut the numbers they had ordered. They were designed as "fast" tanks but that was only 8mph.
But the tanks did have some engagements in which they helped so how can I be sure that they did not make a crucial difference overall?
I can be sure because almost up to the end Ludendorff was advancing. In his last great push, German troops got to within 50 miles of Paris. But that push cost Ludenfdorff over half a million men and that left Germany with nothing like enough troops to take on the great wave of American troops that began arriving at that time. The American troops did not play a large role in the actual fighting but the sheer number of them told Ludendorff that he was finished and so he asked for an armistice. It was the arrival of the Americans that defeated Germany. Just the prospect of fighting so many fresh and carefully-trained troops led to the surrender.