Tuesday 29 July 2014 by John Holloway. No comments
Education at the Memorial, News

Thank you to everyone who submitted their guess for last week's Collection Detection. As promised, here is the answer:

Front view of the mobile shield. REL/12494

It is a mobile shield or “one man tank”, behind which allied soldiers on the Western Front could creep forward while protected by bulletproof steel.

By 1914, advances in technology had revolutionised warfare, with new weapons such as the machine gun giving defenders a vital advantage. The fighting on the Western Front, as a result, had bogged down into static trench warfare. Military planners looked for new inventions that might provide a breakthrough.

The mobile shield was one such device. The thick angular front of the shield protected the soldier from enemy fire, while the two large wheels allowed the shield to move in front of the soldier as he advanced. Two swinging covers hid a pair of slots through which the soldier’s own weapon could fire.

They were found to be useful for getting close to, and cutting, the coils of barbed wire that stretched across No Man’s Land and prevented attackers from advancing very far. They were also popular with snipers, who could use them as cover and relocate quickly. Generally, however, they proved too heavy and ill-suited to the highly uneven ground of the battlefield.

This Mark IV 'Female' tank toured Australia in 1918. Crashing through buildings for excited audiences, it was used to raise money for the war effort. Read the full story of “the Monster”. RELAWM05040.001

Though not as successful as many hoped, some strategists remained convinced that some kind of armoured vehicle was the key to a breakthrough in the trenches. In early 1916, by combining the concept with the new technology of tracked wheels and the combustion engine, a device finally existed that could cross trenches, barbed wire, and seemingly any terrain: the ‘tank’.

Despite early tanks being similarly disappointing, Australian Major General John Monash was a keen supporter of their use in 1918. At the Battle of Hamel he showed that, properly used, they could be devastatingly effective. By the war’s end, it seemed trench warfare had been dealt a fatal blow by the latest generation of armoured vehicles and 'combined arms' tactics, ushering in a new age of mechanised warfare.

Major General John Monash recognised the potential of the tank early on, even when many of his colleagues were inclined to dismiss them as novelties. ART02986