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TANK ATTACK AT NIGHT.
The following narration describes a night tank attack conducted during the World War which was unsuccessful and its failure can be traced to lack of preparation.
BRITISH NIGHT TANK ATTACK.
(See Sketch No.1)
Events as they occurred: At the time the orders were received the tanks were carefully camouflaged in a hedge in the ruined village of Bayonvillers, about 2 1/2 miles from the "Hospital." On the way up while crossing the terrain, a hostile plane appeared to the left. Cover was taken by some trees in the hope that the plane had not spotted them as it was still broad daylight. Reaching the rendezvous at 8:00 PM, the tank commander reported to the commander of the 37th Battalion. Here he was informed that the zero hour had been changed to 10:00 PM.
At the appointed hour the 3 tanks moved· forward in the twilight at the head of the infantry which followed in single file. It soon became apparent that the tanks could not move along the flanks as planned as the flanks were covered with dumps and old earthworks. It was decided that all three tanks should keep to the road. An infantry reconnaissance officer was responsible for the direction, especially for the exact point where the whole column was to turn north after piercing the enemy line. The tank commander was directed to accompany the infantry commander to be at hand if he wished to give any particular orders for the tanks.
The crossroads at La Flaque were reached as darkness fell. Opposition was anticipated at this point. To their surprise no opposition was met. This gave way to the feeling that the enemy had withdrawn his lines to a point farther back or that the tanks had been observed moving up in the daylight and that a trap awaited them. The night sky in front appeared peaceful and calm. If the enemy was in the vicinity he certainly heard the clatter and noise of the approaching tanks in this stillness. About a quarter of a mile from La Flaque the roar of an airplane was heard overhead, a downward whizz, a blinding flash and a terrific explosion. The unditching beam from the rear tank was blown high into the air and crashed back. Other bombs fell; this was the exact point where the enemy held his line. Flares immediately made the night as bright as day. Then hell broke loose, withering machine-gun fire opened on the tanks, causing the infantry which had been following close behind, to seek cover in the ditches.
The tanks replied with their 6-pounders and machine guns but without effect, for no targets could be seen. The peculiar feature was the lack of flashes to fire at. The accompanying infantry advanced by rushes. The hostile artillery now started to register on the tanks with shells exploding on the road and to the side of it. Due to the severity of the fire the tanks had halted and after a half-hour there was a short lull, except for desultory firing. The commander of one of the tanks reported to the tank detachment commander that the enemy had riddled his tank using antitank guns and armor-piercing ammunition. He was badly wounded and had stepped out of the tank to keep in touch with the infantry since nothing could be seen from within the tank.
The tanks started to move again and immediately were met by violent machine-gun fire causing the infantry to take cover again. Suddenly a runner came up with the message that the tanks were returning. No order had been issued for their return. This had to be countermanded by the tank platoon commander who had great difficulty in transmitting these orders to the tanks without being crushed as they were so close together. The colonel commanding the infantry battalion was killed and so was the commander of one of the tank while walking alongside his tank in an effort to keep in touch with the infantry. All but two of the crew had been wounded by the armor-piercing bullets which had perforated the tank. The second driver who assumed command has turned his tank to engage what appeared to him to be a strong point. This was the maneuver which gave the impression that the tanks were returning. The other tank also suffered and was now in charge of a corporal with most of the crew wounded.
As soon as the tanks again moved against the enemy the adjutant of the infantry battalion informed the tank commander that due to the heavy losses the infantry would have to retire in extended order. Reluctantly the tank commander gave orders for the tanks to face about for the return. This maneuver was quite difficult and every move started a fusilade of bullets.
After moving back about 150 yards the tank platoon leader was confronted by an officer from the 2d Battalion who brandished a revolver in his face, mistaking him for the enemy. So great had been the noise that the approach of the reserve tanks had not been observed. There was a hurried consultation with the reserve commanders, and it was decided to halt and await orders from the brigade commander. In the meantime the tank platoon covered the withdrawal of the infantry. Instructions were issued for the tanks to remain silent until the infantry had been withdrawn, then to return to their line.
The report of the tank platoon commander to the brigade commander admitted that the use of the tanks was a hindrance to the infantry who lost 900 of the 1,000 men in the battalion, incIuding the commander. Incidentally the friendly infantry along the line threatened to shoot the tank crew if they moved the tanks, as these vehicles were drawing so much hostile fire.
Source: Abstracts--Foreign Articles. Dec 1935, Review of Military Literature.
Cheers. Raúl M
Serás lo que debas ser o no serás nada. General José de San Martín.