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Introduction of Tanks to Warfare

War is often a driver of technological and technical development. The trench lines formed in 1914 on the Western Front and the stagnation that followed forced military and civilian leaders to concentrate on new tactics and technologies. While effort was concentrated on the recruitment of troops for active service, men and women from universities and industry were encouraged to get involved with war work through scientific development and engineering.

One of the key problems of the war in Europe was the lack of movement; any advance inevitably involved one side having to attack the other across exposed ground. Tacticians explored the use of mines under enemy positions to blow up the front line before a charge took place as well as more sophisticated uses of artillery attack.  However, whichever tactics were employed, at some point, men and equipment still had to physically attack the front line of the enemy resulting in high levels of deaths and casualties. 

Creating a protected vehicle suitable for an attack was not a new idea – trying to achieve it was. In 1915, the Landships Committee was formed under Winston Churchill at the Admiralty, and machinery for a mobile attack was developed. The British transported their newly built creations to the Front in crates marked water tank to ensure that secrecy was maintained for as long as possible.

On the 15 September 1916, as part of the Battle of the Somme, tanks were deployed on the battlefield for the first time between the villages of Flers and Courcelette. While the initial contribution of the tanks to the outcome of the fighting was mixed, with many suffering mechanical problems, their presence on the battlefield signalled a change in tactics and provided a much needed morale boost.

Throughout 1917, new and better versions of the tank were produced, but their success in battle remained mixed. In the third battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) they became stuck in the mud and bomb craters. By 1918, they began to have more success and the first tank battle with tanks on both sides (British and German) took place near Cachy in April 1918. For the last six months of the war, the use of tanks accompanied by a more tactical combination of artillery, air power and infantry, demonstrated the changes the war had made to military thinking and planning since 1914.

The men serving in the tank units were initially formed from the Machine Gun Corps, but the Royal Tank Regiment was soon created, becoming the Tank Corps in 1917. The Corps saw continuous action and were deployed across the Western Front and the Middle East.

According to the British Jewry Book of Honour, 30 Jewish Officers were part of the Tank Corps with a further 114 Jewish men serving in the ranks.

The following Jewish officers in the Tank Corps received honours:

Lieutenant GHR Barton MC
Captain RG Davis MC
Captain AJ Enoch MC
Captain EM Wolf MC
Captain BM Woolf MC 

The following Jewish soldiers from the Tank Corps were killed in action:

2nd Lieutenant, CA De Pass 22 March 1918
Private A Hunt, 2 September 1918
Private J Levy, 29 September 1918
Private A Posenor, 8 October 1918    

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London Jews in the First World War - We Were There Too

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