Tales of the Tanks
'With the Armored Monsters in Battle'
Told by the Men in the Tanks


Adventures as Romantic as Mediaeval Legends

the new steel monsters as depicted on British magazine covers


Here are four tales as strange as "Arabian Nights" direct from the great battles of the Somme. It was on these battlegrounds that armored monsters plunged into the enemies' ranks, spitting flame and death, and creating consternation among the German soldiers. These armored tractors are an American invention. While the huge death-machines were constructed in England, they were built on plans from the United States. It was for divulging secrets about these tractors that Mlle. Mata Hari, the Dutch-Javanese dancer, was arrested in Paris as a spy and sentenced to execution.



I - Story of a Young Australian in a Tank on the Battlefield


Out for first time. Strange sensation. Worse than being in a submarine. At first unable to see anything but imagined a lot. Bullets began to rain like hailstones on a galvanized roof at first, then like a series of hammer blows. We passed through it all unscathed.

Suddenly we gave a terrible lurch. I thought we were booked through. Lookout said we were astride an enemy trench. "Give them hell!" was the order. We gave them it. Our guns raked and swept trenches right and left.

Got a peep at frightened Huns. It was grimly humorous. They tried to bolt like scared rabbits, but were shot down in bunches before getting to their burrows. Machine guns brought forward. Started vicious rattle on our "hide." Not the least impression was made. Shells began to burst. We moved on and overtook some more frightened Huns. Cut their ranks to ribbons with our fire.

They ran like men possessed. Officer tried to rally them. They awaited our coming for a while. As soon as our gum began to spit at them they were off once more. Infantry rounded them up and survivors surrendered. Very curious about us. Stood open mouthed and wide eyed watching, but weren't much the wiser.

Experience was not altogether pleasant at first. Tank sickness is as bad as sea sickness until you get used to it.

Tuesday.-Off for another cruise. Peppering begun at once. Thought old thing was going to be drowned in shower of bullets. Things quiet down quickly. Silly blighters thought they could rush the tank like they would a fort. Dashed up from all sides. We fired at them point blank. Devilish plucky chaps some of them, for all their madness. The survivors had another try. We spat at them venomously. More of them went down.

The blessed old tub gave a sudden jerk. God in heaven, thought I, it's goodby to earth; but it wasn't. Only some Hun dead and wounded we bad skidded into. The rain of bullets resumed. It was like as if hundreds of rivets were being hammered into the hide of the tank. We rushed through. 'Soon the music had charms, and we got to like the regular rhythm of it.

Suddenly a jolt, and our hearts jolted in our mouths in sympathy. Nothing doing in the mishap line. Only some unwonted obstacle. Heavier "strumming" on our keyboard outside, and more regular. Machine guns at it now. Straddled on as though we like it. A tremendous thud. The whole outfit seemed done for. Nearly jumped out of my skin. Looked at each other and wondered what it was. Still a roof over our heads, thank God.

Wednesday.- Early start. Roughest voyage yet, Waves of fire seemed to break over us. Tremendous crash. Then another, and several others at intervals. Silence for a time. Party of Huns came to meet us outside the village. Very stout old gentleman in front. Thought it was the Mayor and village bigpots to give us a civic welcome. Mistaken. They meant to give warm reception, but not as we understood the word. Let fly with machine guns. Then tried silly boarding tactics. We laughed. Our guns answered theirs.

Tank reception committee dispersed in a cloud of smoke and flame; no trailing clouds of glory. Fat old gentleman only visible member of deputation. Stood openmouthed. Purple with rage. Tank bore down. Old gent started to run. Funnier than a sack race. Old gent flung himself to earth with many signs to surrender.

Thursday.- Got into the village, and passed down between two irregular rows of wrecked houses. Hundreds of Huns came rushing up from cellars and from behind ruins to see us. Some had eyes staring out of head. Looked surprised and even frightened.

One blighter made a rush at us with a clubbed rifle. Made a terrible swipe at the tank. Smashed his rifle, and made a nasty noise on our roof. Hurt himself more than he hurt us. Off for a joy ride after some nice Huns who took to flight as we came up.

Friday.- Early afloat. Usual showers of bullets and a few shells on the way. Got right across a trench. Made the sparks fly. Went along parapet routing out Huns everywhere. Enemy terrified. Tried to run, but couldn't keep it up under our fire. Threw up the sponge and surrendered in batches.

One cheeky chap said he didn't think it was fair to fight with such things. We said that was our affair, and we could stand the racket Germany cared to make over it. Asked one chap if the thought we should have got permission from the Kaiser before using them. Didn't see the joke. Took about two hundred prisoners. Killed and wounded as many more. Tired out when through.

Saturday.-On the move before breakfast. Terrible crash on first go off. Thought we had collided with a wandering world. Weathered the storm. Got busy on enemy trenches. Rare good sport. Enemy tried a surprise for infantry - Yorkshiremen - advancing to attack. We tried a surprise, too, and ours came off first. Huns weren't pleased. Didn't think it was playing the game according to Potsdam rules.

We waddled into their ambush for the attacking troops. Never saw men so frightened. Fled panicstricken in all directions. Only a few chaps stayed behind and tried to stop us by machine gun fire. Smashed them to bits and left their machine guns to be picked up, by the Yorkshiremen they hoped to surprise.

Went snorting after the enemy wherever we could find them. Their losses were terrible. Later strong detachments tried to make their way back, supported by big guns. Lined up across the road and gave them hot time. Every time they tried to rush through we ripped their ranks to bits. At last they gave it up. Very wise.

Sunday.- Good work of frightening Huns continued. Better day, better deed. Fritz didn't think that. blighters opened rifle fire on us at two hundred yards. It went like water off a duck's back. Fritz couldn't make it out. Kept up the fire, but got a bit nervy as the blessed old thing kept waddling up to him. Ladled out death as you might vamp out indifferent music from a hurdy-gurdy.

Fritz got fits. No fight left in him. Prisoners scared to death. Some of them acted as though they believed that we used our tanks for making sausages out of prisoners. We had a lot of trouble explaining that once they surrendered they were safe.

Finished an exciting week. Got plenty of fun, but one wants a good rest after a speel with a tank.



II - Story of the Tanks That Stormed a Castle
Told by Philip Gibbs, War Correspondent, in France

After the battle of Flanders the tank pilots have been able to tell the tale of their adventures after a spell of rest, badly needed by the young men, who crawled out of their steel boxes speechless, bruised and dazed.

For seventeen hours one of the tank pilots and his crew stayed out, fighting all the time, and for twenty-four hours another crew went through, not with incessant fighting, but bogged and unbogged, and struggling on and getting into action and slouching back after a good record of achievement.

The tanks have justified themselves again and won their spurs - spurs as big as gridirons.

In the battle of Flanders they had plenty of chance to show what they could do. The way of the allied advance was hindered by a number of little concrete forts built in the ruins of farmsteads, which had withstood the British gunfire. At Plum Farm and Apple Villa and in the stronger and more elaborate fortified points like Frezenberg and Pommern Castle and Pommern Redoubt the German machine gunners held out when everything about them was chaos and death, and played a barrage of bullets on the advancing Allies. Platoons and half platoons attacked them in detail at great cost of life, and it was in such places that the tanks were of the most advantage.

It was at Pommern Castle, east of St. Julien, that one of the tanks did its best. Do not imagine the castle as a kind of structure with big walls and portcullis and high turrets, but slabs of concrete in a huddle of sandbags above a nest of deep dugouts. On the other side of it was Pommern Redoubt, of the same style of defense.

The British were fighting hard for the castle and having a bad time under its fire. A tank came to help them and advanced under the swish of bullets to the German emplacements, lurching up the piled bags over the heaped-up earth and squatting on the top like a grotesque creature playing the old game of "I'm king of the castle. Get down, you dirty rascals."

The "dirty rascals," who were German soldiers, unshaven and uncovered in the wet mud, did not like the look of their visitors, who were firing with great ferocity. They fled to the cover of Pommern Redoubt, beyond. Then the tank moved back to let the infantry get in, but as soon as it turned its back the Germans, with renewed pluck, took possession of the castle again.

The men who were fighting round about again gave the signal to the tank to "get busy" so it came back, and, with the infantry on its flanks,' made another assault, so that the Germans fled again.

The Pommern Redoubt was attacked in the same way, with good help from the tanks.

Frezenberg Redoubt was another place where the tanks were helpful, and they did good work at Westhock.

One of them attacked and helped to capture a strong point west of St. Julien from which a good many Germans came out to surrender. Afterward some tanks went through the village, but they had to get out again in a hurry to escape capture in the German counterattacks.

It was not easy to get back in a hurry, as by that hour in the afternoon the rain had turned the around to a swamp and the tanks sank deep in it with the wet mud halfway up their flanks and slipped and slithered back when they tried to struggle out. Many of the officers and crew had to get out of their steel forts, risking the heavy shelling and machine-gun fire, to dig their way out; and in the neighborhood of St. Julien they worked for two hours in the open to debog their tank, while the Germans tried to destroy them by direct hits.

In a farm somewhere in this neighborhood no fewer than sixty Germans came out with their hands up in surrender as soon as a tank was at close quarters. The story is told that at another place the mere threat of a tank's approach was enough to decide a party of eight to give in. It is certain beyond all doubt that the German infantry has great fear of the "beasts."

In this battle there was not a single case of attack upon a tank by infantry, although we know that they have been training behind their lines with dummy tanks, according to definite rules laid down by the German command.

One fight did take place with a tank, and it was surely the most fantastic duel that had happened in the war. It was queer enough, as I described a day or two ago when one of the British airmen flew over a motor car and engaged in a revolver duel with the German officer, but even that strange picture is less weird than when a German airplane flew low over a tank and tried to put out its "eyes" by a burst of machine gun bullets.

Imagine the scene, that muddy monster, crawling through the slime with sharp stabs of fire coming from its flanks and above an engine with wings, swooping round and about it like an angry albatross and spattering its armor with bullets. It was an unequal fight, for the tank just ignored that waspish machine-gun fire and went on its way with only a scratch or two.

The tanks were in action around the marshes and woodlands by Shrewsbury Forest. Here there was very severe infantry fighting and the Germans made desperate resistance, followed by many counterattacks, so that the progress of the British was slow and difficult and the tanks helped them as best they could.

One trouble of the tanks is their limited vision, and this and the darkness before the battle were the cause of an unexpected collision, which adds to the strange history of the mechanical monsters, so that it is all beyond the wildest flight of imagination.

One of the tanks was crawling tip to get into position for attack, and unaware that it was bearing steadily down upon one of those light railway engines which I saw steaming along in the centre of the Ypres salient on the morning of battle. It was grunting and whistling so that it could be heard a mile away, but not a sound of it came to the ears of the pilot and the crew in the tank, where their engine also was laboring with rattle of steel. The tank bore on through the darkness and its mighty battering ram hit the light engine fair and square and knocked it off the rails. There were explanations and apologies and much tugging and heaving with all the powers of a tank before the engine was righted again and went on its way.



III - Story of the Tank That Fought a Railroad Engine
Told to the Montreal (Canada) "Herald and Star"

"Hi, Bodger! just keep clear of my weighing machine! It's only up to a quarter of a ton, and I'm not taking any risks." Temporary Captain Bodger, R.G.A., turned sadly away from the Ration Depot and lumbered back to his howitzers. He was an excellent officer, and his 8 in. shells reached their address in Boeheland with the precision of a postal delivery. But he weighed 280 pounds, and his girth was threatening his career.

Only yesterday he had walked five miles to a field artillery observing station in the trenches, whence he was to range on a new German redoubt, and had ignominiously failed to get through the tunnel. A party of grinning Tommies had taken 40 minutes to enlarge the entrance for him; the subaltern to whom the observation post belonged bad complained of his attracting the attention of the enemy's airmen by waiting outside, and the general, who unfortunately went by, had regarded him with a send-him-to-the-base look in his eye. Something must be done, but what?

Rodger had a light lunch of three chops and a plate of ham, trifled with some suet pudding and cheese, and ordered a second bottle of beer to assist his meditations. But the only idea that emerged was a transfer to Coast Defence, and this involved boat work, which his stomach loathed. With a regretful glance at the empty bottles. he went back to his work.

But in the meantime an intelligence of a higher order had been shaping his destinies. The Army commander, hearing the tale of the tunnel and the observation post, had remarked: "Sound gunner, is he? No use sending him to the Transport; lorries are overloaded already. There's one thing in this Army that's up to his weight, and that's a tank. Shift him over, will you?"

When the great man spoke things moved quickly, and in the batter Bodger met an orderly with a "memo," directing him to report at once to H. M. landship Mastodon for instruction. The kastodor was a new ship.

Her commander, a cavalry major, was pleased to get a good gunnery man who was also useful as -shifting ballast. Bodger took kindly to his new duties, and the tank steered sweetly under his sympathetic hand.

A week later the Mastodon took part in a minor push -a little affair of straightening the line.

There was a parapet to get over, and the Mastodon, according to custom, cocked up her tail and charged it.

Now if things had gone right the tail should have come down with a whump, throwing her nose up, and she should have cleared the bank like a porpoise jumping. But the glue-like mud piled under her belly, her tail remained up, her nose down, and she hit the face of the bank with a bump like a luggage train in collision. She backed out, but her tail remained high in air.

It was then that Bodger first distinguished himself. He squeezed through a door. Heedless -of the bullets which hummed round him, he swa.onied up the tail with the determination of a bull ~,ralrus and sat on the end of it. There was no mistake about the tail coming down this time. The Mastodon charged again, nose well up, and got over the bank, kicking up a shower of clods behind her.

Bodger stuck to his perch, though the shell-splinters whanged on the annour, and got off with nothing worse than a chipped ear. After this he became a tank enthusiast, and when his major was promoted Admiral of the Fleet and hoisted his flag in the Mammoth, Bodger succeeded to the command of the Mastodon. He painted her in a beautiful chromatic color-scheme, and fitted a larder and a cushioned beer-bin. He worked up his crew at gunnery till they could hit a Boche parapet while bumping across country. He enjoyed four solid meals a day and ceased to repine at his increasing weight.

The Big Push came on, and Bodger's Mastodon proved the smartest landship in the fleet, while at gunnery she could have given points to the Excellent. There came a day when we had pierced deeply into the German lines, and with it came Bodger's chance, which has made his name in the Land Fleet. He saw a locomotive half a mile in front dragging off a couple of howitzers along a light railway, and, regardless of his admiral's warning toots he made for it across the trenches.

Furious Germans tried to rush him as he ploughed through their lines but he held the Mastodon to her course, spouting flame on both broadsides. Field guns were hurriedly turned on him, but the shells missed or glanced from the armour. He headed off the locomotive by a bare 50 fathoms, and, reversing his starboard chain, jockeyed the Mastodon sharply round to meet it.

Now when a 6o-ton locomotive hauling double its weight of heavy howitzer, meets a ioo-ton tank, both all out, something is almost certain to happen. This time it was the unexpected.

The antagonists stood on their tails, locked for a moment like wrestlers, and then suddenly disappeared from view. The railway crossed a hollow road at the point of encounter and the bridge had given way. Down went the locomotive, wheels uppermost, with the Mastodon on top of it. The trucks with the monster howitzers lumbered up and pitched on top of the heap. But the tank, though dented like an old tin can, was little the worse, and the Germans, who expected to find a wreck, were met by shells and machine-gun fire.

There was no holding our men that day, and they pressed on well beyond the hollow road where the Mastodon had "brought up." When the leading battalion reached her they found Bodger lunching on deck, with a dozen bottles of beer standing ready for his visitors. He w.-s asked to describe his trip across the German trenches, but preferred to expatiate on the perfections of his cushioned beer-bin. "Only two bottles broken, and I believe one of them had gone flat!"

A new i,ooo-horsepower tank, carrying a 6 inch gun, is ready for launching, and Bodger will command her. "e is looking forward to steering her through the streets of Berlin.



IV - Story of the Battle Monsters at the Fall of Thiepval
Told by Percival Phillips, with British Army in France

The capture of the greatest Prussian stronghold between the Ancre and the Somme involved bard and bitter fighting. Nowhere on the western front have the Prussian troops made stronger resistance against odds or given greater trouble in their underground lairs,,dugouts and tunnels. We know now that the Prussian lines yielded many marvellous examples of catacomb work beneath the bills and valleys of Northern France for the shelter of their battalions. The British troops spoke to-day soberly and impressively of scenes in the buried fortress that lies below the blasted ridge.

Two "tanks" played an important part in the capture, but the greatest "tank" story of the day concerns another part of the line-the capture of Gueudecourt; and it is so unusual and so thrilling as to give it precedence over the exploits at Thiepval. This "tank" killed three hundred Prussians who tried to storm it.

The "tank" had assisted in cleaning up Gueudecourt, and infantry followed in its wake through the village, cheering mightily. The shallow cellar shelters held about f our hundred prisoners, who gladly gave themselves up, arid the business at Gueudecourt was easily finished. Then the "tank" started on a tour of its own in the direction of a hostile trench beyond the town. Its progress was a signal for other Prussian refugees lurking in the shell craters to signal their submission to the advancing monster.

Majestically the "tank" wallowed forward amid the fluttering of white handkerchiefs that dotted the field shell holes, and hastily scooped out one man from his hidinz place. These isolated ones would have been made prisoners in the "tank," but it had neither time nor accommodation. Bigger game lurked in the ground ahead.

It ambled on its lonely advance until a deep, broad fissure in the tumbled earth made apparent the lodging place for many armed men. The "tank's" intention was to sit astride of this trench as a kind of deadly jest, calculated to fill any troops with horror and play its machine guns freely about, but suddenly it halted its engines and stopped.

Instantly the Prussians swarmed out of the earth and buzzed around the "tank" like bees. You must give them credit for unusual courage, for although hidden batteries rained bullets at them they made desperate attempts to storm the travelling fort and to pierce its hide with rifle fire and kill the crew within.

They might as well have attacked a battle ship with spades. The machine guns whirled incessantly and the pile of dead Prussians grew steadily around the monster, but still there were rushes by these foolish men, who clambered to the steel roof and hoisted one another up in the hope of finding loopholes or joints in the armor of the strange beast.

Some of them carried dead men on their shoulders before they themselves were dropped by the hidden gunners. It was a fearful and indescribable sight-this futile combat of men with machinery. The "tank" fought stolidly.

Inside, the crew were filled with joy. Never in their wildest dreams had they conceived the possibility of having Prussians crowding forward to be killed. Never did gunners work their guns more heartily. All they asked was for more Prussians.

The strange tumult drew the attention of the infantry engaged in cleaning up odd corners throughout Gueudecourt. They ran to the rescue of the "tank," but it did not need rescuing. It was quite happy. The infantry took a hand and beat the Prussians off, or, rather, what was left of them. They took a few discouraged prisoners from a field of battle thick with corpses. At least three hundred Germans lay dead around that "tank."


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