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Flers and tanks

Flers and tanks https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/flers-and-tanks Tanks were slow and unreliable, but a couple quickly proved their worth and showed potential. Ngā Tapuwae Trails https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/sites/default/files/stop/media/Western%20Front-Somme%201916-Flers%20and%20tanks-National%20Army%20Museum-NAM%209765.jpg

Tanks were slow and unreliable, but a couple quickly proved their worth and showed potential.

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Flers and tanks

You are standing right outside the village of Flers. This farm road that you’re on - leads down from the New Zealand Monument on the skyline behind you, and this is where the New Zealanders were at 9.00 in the morning of 15 September 1916.

The New Zealand Rifle Brigade had seized the high ground, advanced to this area and were preparing to fight their way forward. Imagine them lying on their bellies, and looking through uncut wire at German machine gun posts in the buildings in front of you. They were stuck here because out in front of them was a trench-system known as the Flers Trench and the wire entanglements were blocking their way, making it impossible to cross. There was also a German machine gun post in a building on the edge of the village, that mowed down anyone moving forward.

The two tanks, D 11 and D 12, operating on this flank rumbled in and performed what is quite possibly the first co-ordinated attack between infantry and mechanised armour in the history of warfare. These slow, lumbering contraptions were viewed with scepticism by the soldiers, and rightly so, as they were untested on the field of battle and could barely go faster, cross-country than one and a half kilometres an hour. One soldier, upon witnessing a tank, dismissed the machine as a ‘cough lozenge with tracks’.

Tank D 12, under Captain Nixon, lumbered forward and Rifleman Dobson ran up to it - dodging German rifle fire - and managed to get inside handing over a message from his platoon commander, Lieutenant Butcher. He guided the tank over to where the machine guns were – in a farm building in front of you – the tank crashed into it – knocking it over – scattering the Germans in all directions. This is the first time in history that infantry requested tank support in action.

You can imagine the surprise and the shock of the Germans, who saw these tanks for the first time, rumbling through the lines and destroying their positions, belching smoke and firing their machine guns and six-pounders. At the same time, Tank D 11 proved its worth by moving forward, crushing the wire and suppressing the German machine guns with its gunfire. This allowed the New Zealand riflemen to flow through and fight their way through the buildings and help secure the village of Flers, allowing the rest of the Rifle Brigade to continue their attack in the open ground to your left front.

So, this really is a historic moment for the New Zealand Division. This is one of the first examples of tanks displaying their usefulness and shows the origins of mechanised armoured vehicles working with infantry - something which was to evolve and become standard practice as the war progressed.

How to get here

Getting there

Continue up the road. When you come to a T-junction turn right. Continue along this road for roughly 600 metres.

Stop before the road curves to the left.

Where to stand

Stand facing Flers so that the water tower is on your left.

GPS
50°2'59"N
2°48'49"E
Decimal GPS
50.04978
2.813861
  • The Mark I, one of the first tanks used at the Somme. 1916.
    The Mark I, one of the first tanks used at the Somme. 1916.Credits

    1987.2176, National Army Museum, http://nam.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/9765

  • A painting by Nugent Welch. 'Tank' 1918.
    A painting by Nugent Welch. 'Tank' 1918.Credits

    Archives New Zealand, Ref: AAAC 898 NCWA 402 http://warart.archives.govt.nz/node/449

  • Reinforcements cross the old German front line during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15 September 1916.
    Reinforcements cross the old German front line during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15 September 1916.Credits

    © Imperial War Museums (Q 188)

  • A tank coming out of action at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15 September 1916.
    A tank coming out of action at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15 September 1916.Credits

    © Imperial War Museums (Q 2489)

  • The ruins of the village of Flers. Battle of Flers-Courcelette. 15 September 1916.
    The ruins of the village of Flers. Battle of Flers-Courcelette. 15 September 1916.Credits

    © Imperial War Museums (Q 4272)

Stories & Insights

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Men of the Maori Pioneer Battalion take a break in a trench near Gommecourt. 25 July 1918.

Digging and repairing trenches and roads was vital work, but the Pioneers could also be called upon to fight.

As a Pioneer, Kōhere quickly developed a reputation for bravery and hard work.

Despite fierce German resistance, Inglis continued to lead his men forward during the attack.

Around one in seven of the 15,000 New Zealand men who fought on the Somme lost their lives, and many more were wounded.

Sending troops 'over the top' produced horrific slaughter.

Useful resources for those looking for more information.

A selection of First World War vocabulary and common phrases.

The Mark I, one of first tanks used in battle at the Somme, 1916.

Although clumsy and slow, the Mark I soon proved its worth in battle.

Take the next trail

The next Ngā Tapuwae trail is Somme 1918. Proceed to Euston Road Cemetery.
Link to the first stop

Decimal GPS:
58.8941060042426
-68.92675299999996
Sequence:
1
Decimal GPS:
69.88771936385766
-69.79599625000003
Sequence:
2
Decimal GPS:
72.7159773440205
-60.049908531250026
Sequence:
3
Decimal GPS:
74.44287456001997
-79.14426481250001
Sequence:
4
Decimal GPS:
75.02310249610612
-114.49017706250004
Sequence:
5

Stop Images

Sequence:
1
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.0262
2.791997
Sequence:
2
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.03975
2.80166
Sequence:
3
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.04978
2.813861
Sequence:
4
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.06261
2.813743
Sequence:
5
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.0804
2.799862