Exactly 100 years ago today, the British Army sent tanks into action for the first time at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Somme offensive, changing the nature of warfare forever.
To mark the centenary of the tank and to honour those who made history, the Royal Tank Regiment and the Tank Museum are in Central London to display both the oldest and latest examples of tank warfare.
Speaking on the day of the event, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:
“The tank changed the face of modern warfare. We remember the bravery of those very first tank crews and celebrate the world-leading innovation of our Armed forces.
“Those values remain hallmarks of UK defence today. Our armed forces are in action in 25 countries across the globe and we investing in the equipment of tomorrow, including more than £3.5billion on the next generation of armoured vehicles.”
Pictured: WWI Mark One replica from the Tank Museum sitting proudly in Trafalgar Square on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.
As part of today’s events, a replica of a British First World War tank was displayed in Trafalgar Square before moving to Horse Guards Parade where it was joined by the British Army’s latest Challenger 2 tank, crewed by members of The Royal Tank Regiment.
Oldest tank unit in the world
During the First World War, to raise funds for the new tanks, the government sent tanks ‘on tour’ around the country. These new ‘wonder weapons’ attracted huge crowds. Trafalgar Square hosted several ‘Tank Banks’ so it is fitting that today it once again played host to a tank crew.
The Royal Tank Regiment, which is the oldest tank unit in the world, can trace its roots back to the assault on the 15th September 1916. After that battle the importance of the tank was soon recognised and production increased. During the Second World War the Regiment had as many as 25 battalions fighting all over the world. Since then, the Regiment has been deployed on all major conflicts most recently being involved in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pictured: A Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank sitting proudly on Horse Guards Parade on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.
Life extension programme
The original First World War tank went from concept to combat in under two years. That spirit and dedication to innovation remains strong in the military today. The MOD continues to invest in keeping our tank fleet world class; the Challenger 2 will be undergo a significant life extension programme keeping it at the forefront of the British Army’s warfighting capability. Furthermore £3.5 billion will be spent on the manufacturing phase of a programme to build 589 AJAX armoured vehicles which will be at the heart of the Army’s new strike brigades. Later this year, women will train as tank crew for the first time.
Much has changed but like the tank crews of 1916, today’s crews share unique comradeship forged from working as a tight knit team operating the most formidable weapon on the battlefield.