Author: Steve Traywick
I’ve written about some of the men I served with, now I have to talk about the hardware: Tanks.
By 1917, the British Army had lost nearly a million men on the bloody killing fields of the
Western Front in France. The Brits (and French) had squandered hundreds of thousands of lives making headlong infantry attacks against a German trench system protected by artillery, machine-guns, barbed-wire and of course tough infantry to gain mere yards of ground. They were getting desperate.
On the morning of 20 November 1917, German troops in front of the town of Cambrai, in northern France on the Escaut river, were stunned to see what appeared to be prehistoric monsters crawling at them out of the fog and smoke. The tank was making its battlefield debut.
American industry did not have the time to develop a tank of their own. Between the world wars, the US half-heartedly played with tank designs. The Great Depression and isolationism, however, kept America’s military on a shoestring budget. Meanwhile, Germany developed and built tanks of their own and more importantly, based on the
theories of a genius named Heinz Guderian developed the tactics to use them en mass.
When Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France in 1940, France had a larger, better armored and better armed fleet of tanks. French military wisdom of the time taught that tanks were simply mobile pillboxes and slaved them to infantry units. Guderian’s theory on the use of tanks called for them to be used in masses with infantry in support, an iron fist in an iron glove. Strong points would be bypassed with follow on infantry taking them out. Germany used these ideas and tactics to do to France what she had failed to do in WWI; the French army and British Expeditionary Force were taken out and France was overrun. Continue reading