One of the problems of introducing a revolutionary new form of warfare to the battlefield is that there is no previous experience with which to build on. Such was the case with the tank in 1916. There had been nothing like it before and this meant that within the ranks of the very first tank units long-serving soldiers, officers and NCOs had the same experience in the tank as the rawest recruit.
What they did have however was a cadre of dedicated officers who believed in their newest weapon and the potential it offered to break the enormous stalemate of the western front. One such officer was Lt. Col. Ernest Swinton who is remembered in the British Army as the “Father of the tanks”. Swinton did more than simply push through the concept of the tank. He outlined the first operating principles for the tank in how it should be used and devised a set of “tank tips” written in plain language so that everyone from a Private to a public schoolboy Colonel could understand them.
Incredibly these tips are still taught in modern tank schools around the world.
Swinton’s Tank Tips
- Remember your orders.
- Shoot quick.
- Shoot low. A miss which throws dust in the enemy’s eyes is better than the one that whistles in his ear.
- Shoot cunning.
- Shoot the enemy while they are rubbing their eyes.
(Refers to taking advantage of the enemy’s surprise by the sight of these metal monsters trolling towards them. Indeed in the tank’s first use the Germans appeared to stare at them for several minutes before reacting!)
- Economise ammunition and don’t shoot a man three times.
- Remember that trenches are curly and dugouts deep – look round the corners.
- Watch the progress of the fight and your neighbouring tanks.
- Remember the position of your own line.
- Shell out the enemy’s machine guns and other small guns and kill them first with your 6pdrs.
(Relevant to “male” tanks armed with 6 pounder guns whose job it was to suppress the machine gun nests that had killed so many infantry in previous battles. “Female” tanks were armed with machine guns and were designed to tackle the enemy infantry directly.)
- You will not see them for they will be cunningly hidden.
- You must ferret out where they are, judging by the following signs; Sound, Dust, Smoke.
- A shadow in a parapet.
(Refers to an enemy laying in wait)
- A Hole in the wall, haystack, rubbish heap, woodstack, pile of bricks.
(Again refers to possible enemy positions)
- They will usually be placed slantways across the front and to shoot across the wire.
- One 6pdr shell that hits the loophole of a MG emplacement will do it in.
- Use the 6pdr with care; shoot to hit and not to make noise.
- Never have any gun, even when unloaded, pointing at your own infantry, or a 6pdr pointed at another tank.
- It is the unloaded gun that kills the fool’s friends.
(18 & 19 refer to cases of negligent discharges and these rules were carried over from the cavalry.)
- Never mind the heat.
- Never mind the noise.
- Never mind the dust.
(20, 21 & 22 refer to conditions inside a World War I tank.)
- Think of your pals in the infantry.
- Thank God you are bullet proof and can help the infantry who are not.
- Have your mask always handy.
(The tank crews were at just as much risk of gas attack as the infantry.)