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Tanks at Flers

Written by Mike
An Allied 'Tank' crossing a trench An Allied 'Tank' crossing a trench

The village of Flers is notable in that it was the scene of the first ever action involving the great British secret weapon - tanks.

Tanks had been under development for some time with a plan to deploy them for the first time in January 1917.  Despite considerable advice to the contrary Haig decided to press them into use at the earliest opportunity.  This action has been described as a desperate attempt to gain some victory to offset Haig’s earlier and many failures.


A tank weighed 28 tons.  It took one hour and one gallon of fuel to travel half a mile.  A 105 horsepower engine powered it.  It had a crew of eight; an officer in charge, a driver, a brakesman, two gearsmen and three gunners.

In their trials, the tanks had performed well.  They had been tested uprooting trees, over-running trenches and crushing barbed wire entanglements.  This meant that the earliest tanks pressed into service had already seen considerable use in testing and so were already suffering from significant wear and tear.

The tanks were brought up ready for the offensive at Flers on September 15.  They were parked back from the lines, closely guarded and shrouded in tarpaulin covers.  This appearance gave them the nickname ‘Mastodons’.  Officialdom spread the word they were a new form of water tank – hence the name ‘tanks’.

In the event 32 tanks were available for the attack – ten of which were to operate around Flers.  Their effect was remarkable - they struck fear into the Germans who fled before them.  One of the tanks was able to lead an advance right into the village of Flers, whilst three others attacked strong points and machine-gun nests to the east of the village.  The tanks had a dramatic effect causing the Germans to retreat such that by 10.00 all resistance had ceased.

Many of the tanks had been destroyed in the fighting – and in some respects their performance had been disappointing – but their effect on British morale had been enormous.  They had on the one hand terrorised the Germans and on the other inspired the British.

Flers is situated 13km northeast of Albert on the D197 Longueval to Bapaume road.




Mike McCormac has been a photographer since about ten years old.  He's a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and splits his time between living in Olney in the United Kingdom and a village in the hills near Paphos in Cyprus.

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