First use of tanks in battle

First use of tanks in battle

This Mark I 'Male' Tank broke down crossing a British trench on its way to attack Thiepval on 25 September 1916.

Tanks were used in battle for the first time, by the British, on 15 September 1916 at Flers-Courcelette during the Battle of the Somme. Two of the four tanks attached to the New Zealand Division were knocked out by German artillery fire during the day. 

Still mechanically unreliable, the tanks were rushed into action in small groups. Many broke down, and the Germans soon found ways to stop them. Some senior officers had advised keeping them under wraps until large numbers could be assembled to strike a decisive blow.

See also ‘Tanks of the First World War’ on Ngā Tapuwae.

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7 comments have been posted about First use of tanks in battle

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Posted: 24 Feb 2023

I note from a photo on another website that a British WW1 tank had the letter Z on its side as do the Russian tanks in Ukraine today. What is the connection?

Stephen Henry Reay

Posted: 11 Nov 2021

I know that my grand father Henry Reay was a tank driver volunteer in the first uk tanks. I know that he was captured and taken as a prisoner.. I know that he lied about his age. I know that he survived..

James Livingston

Posted: 06 Nov 2010

Hi I am doing a bit of research on the reasons why NZ war graves for the Great War overseas were not permitted to have inscriptions on them, although I am aware of several which have inscriptions. I have seen newspaper accounts of the anguish this caused, especially as the rule was changed after people had applied to have inscriptions done as per the government requests for inscriptions.


Posted: 01 Oct 2010

Hi James The First World War site is a work in progress and we are still to cover the major battles of 1918 - we do have a small feature on Le Quesnoy though: . Regards, Jamie Mackay

James Livingston

Posted: 01 Oct 2010

Why is there nothing about the Battle of the Somme 1918 when the NZ Division famously halted the German advance on Amiens on the old 1916 front line in March April 1918 then counter attacked eventually taking Bapaume and pushing on to Le Quesnoy after tha?

Everett Sharp

Posted: 12 Dec 2008

In September 1916 the (magnificant) NZ infantry were accompanied by Mk1 Tanks, not the Whippet tank as shown here. This did not enter service until 1918. There is a famous photo showing your infantry accompanying such a vehicle...but it was taken in 1918 Everett Sharp Military Historian Oxford University Great War Archive