Chivalry Is Dead: How the Tank Transformed Warfare

Europe in 1917 was well on its way to committing suicide. The continent was bogged down in the grueling trench warfare that characterized much of the First World War. Both the Allies and the Central Powers lacked the means by which to penetrate the others' defenses. The only hope to end the stalemate lay in developing a way to cross the barbed wire-strewn areas known as “no man’s land.” To this end, renegade and military visionaries in Great Britain and France proposed breathing life into an old idea, one with the roots in ancient warfare. Opposing forces used mobile siege engines during both Roman and medieval times. Da Vinci drew up plans for an improved version of these devices in the 15th century. But technical limitations and the lack of enthusiasm among Europe’s tradition-bound military leaders prevented serious exploration of the idea until the early 20th century. RELATED: The Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Was Germany's 'Over-Engineered' Tank To understand this hostility to innovation, one must know something about Western military traditions. For centuries, intra—European combat was tempered by a loose code of chivalry that stressed honor and courage over efficiency. This attitude was still going strong at the time of America’s Revolutionary War with Britain. During that conflict, victorious battlefield commanders routinely invited their vanquished counterparts to join them in a sumptuous feast, complete with toasts to each others' martial virtues. Officers saw warfare as a noble contest between Christian gentlemen. They conducted their campaigns accordingly. Such niceties were already on the wane at the beginning of America’s Civil War. They breathed their last when Europe went to war with itself in the 1910s. By 1915 the British and French were seriously considering proposals to outfit farm tractors with armor and heavy guns. Winston Churchill, who was secretary of the British Navy at the time, was an early enthusiast of the idea. The UK held prototype trials in 1916. Impressed with what they saw, government officials placed an initial order for 100 of the primitive but imposing war machines. RELATED: The Sherman M4 Was the Little Tank that Could Early French designs were less than promising. This changed, however, when Louis Renault lent his considerable talents to the effort. The result was the Renault FT, a breakthrough weapons system that remains the template for all subsequent tank designs. The use of the term “tank” stems from British efforts to keep the project secret from the Central Powers. Intelligence officials told factory workers that they were building mobile water tanks for use in desert warfare. The name stuck, though it defied Churchill’s idea to call the new weapons “landships.” The tank’s baptism by fire occurred in 1917. Early results were mixed; the unwieldy vehicles were prone to frequent breakdowns and were susceptible to German armor-piercing bullets. Poor ventilation systems exposed crews to carbon monoxide emissions and gas from exploding powders. These shortcomings, along with Allied tactical blunders, blunted the tank’s effect on battlefield conditions. The Germans, initially terrified of the new weapons, soon developed effective anti-tank measures. Fortunately, Allied planners learned from their mistakes, transforming the tank into a more reliable and effective weapon. In 1918, the French used nearly 500 tanks at the battle of Soissons. Results this time were far more impressive. RELATED: This Full-Size Inflatable Tank is Perfect for Scaring Your Neighbors Strategists wanted to use even larger numbers of tanks in 1918. But the conflict’s sudden end nixed these plans. By this time, however, the old codes of conduct were in the past. As the 20th century advanced, warfare became ever more efficient and impersonal. Chivalry was finally dead, and a dark new era loomed over the globe. ____________________________________ Click Here to Read the Original Article on BoldRide

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