WWI tank rolls into Trafalgar Square to mark first use at Somme

A replica World War 1 Mk IV drives past Trafalgar square to mark the 100th anniversary of the first use of the tank in battle. Picture: AP
A replica World War 1 Mk IV drives past Trafalgar square to mark the 100th anniversary of the first use of the tank in battle. Picture: AP
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A replica First World War tank took up position in central London to mark 100 years since the weapon’s first use in battle.

Trafalgar Square hosted the Mark IV machine on Thursday - exactly a century since tanks were first sent into action by the British Army during the Somme Offensive in 1916.

Members of the Royal Tank Regiment stand on a replica First World War Mark IV tank in London's Trafalgar Square. Picture: PA

Members of the Royal Tank Regiment stand on a replica First World War Mark IV tank in London's Trafalgar Square. Picture: PA

Used at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, the conflict at the Somme saw almost 60,000 British casualties on the first day alone, and is often considered the bloodiest day in UK military history.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the “tank changed the face of modern warfare”.

“We remember the bravery of those very first tank crews and celebrate the world-leading innovation of our Armed Forces,” he added.

• READ MORE: Scotland marks 100 years since start of Battle of the Somme

A replica First World War Mark IV tank marks the centenary of an armoured vehicle's first-ever deployment during the Battle of the Somme. Picture: PA

A replica First World War Mark IV tank marks the centenary of an armoured vehicle's first-ever deployment during the Battle of the Somme. Picture: PA

“Those values remain hallmarks of UK defence today.”

During the First World War, in a bid to raise funds for the new tanks, the government sent the machines “on tour” around the country.

Often attracting huge crowds, Trafalgar Square hosted several of these “tank banks” where the wonder weapons were put on display.

Designed by Sir Ernest Swinton, they revolutionised British battle strategy and went from concept to combat in under two years.

A total of 1,220 Mark Series tanks were built, accommodating an eight-person crew and travelling at a top speed of four miles per hour.

Supplied by the Tank Museum, the replica weapon also rolled into Horse Guards Parade, where it was joined by the British Army’s latest Challenger 2 tank, crewed by members of the Royal Tank Regiment.

Able to trace its origins back to the first tank assault in September 1916, the Royal Tank Regiment is the oldest tank unit in the world.

Members from the regiment, which has been deployed on all major conflicts - most recently on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, could be seen standing on top of the weapon in Trafalgar Square.

• READ MORE: Scots sailor killed at Jutland had premonition of death

Lieutenant Colonel Tim How told the BBC that his predecessors in the first tanks which went into battle “set new standards of courage, determination and selflessness that we live by today”.

“They advanced into a maelstrom of shell fire and machine gun fire - they held their nerve and fought their tanks forward to get the infantry on to the objective and win,” he added.

“The pace of which it went, very slowly, being thrown around by the battlefield and battered by shellfire - the determination to press home that attack is bewildering by anyone’s standards.”

Even 100 years after their first use, the tank is still at the forefront of weaponry, with more than £3.5 billion set to be spent on developing the British Army’s most sophisticated tank ever.

Work on building the first Ajax armoured vehicles will begin next year and the 40mph beasts will become the first ever fully digital armoured fighting vehicle in UK military history.

Sir Michael added: “Our armed forces are in action in 25 countries across the globe and we are investing in the equipment of tomorrow.”

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