28 JUNE 1940, Page 7



THOUGH it may seem strange, nevertheless it is a fact that the first tank operation ever planned was naval in character: it was to use the Mark I tank of 1916 in a landing operation on the Flanders coast. Though it came to nothing, a year later this project was revived, vast preparations being put in hand to carry it out This operation was to coincide with our attack at Ypres directly Roulers was occupied, when tanks were to be landed between Nieuport and Ostend. As Roulers was never taken, this second scheme was abandoned like the first; yet, as we are today threatened by invasion, it is of some interest to examine the problem as it faced us twenty-three years ago.

Between the points selected for the landing the water was shallow, the beach was wired and flanked by a sea-wall some twenty feet high, which was capped by a heavy granite coping-stone. Beyond it were the enemy's guns and machine- guns in great strength, and still farther inland were innumer- able dykes and canals. This, then, was what the Mark N tank —a crude machine weighing 3o tons—was asked to do: to land from the sea, mount the sea-wall at a slope of about one over two, climb over the coping-stone which projected two feet outwards from the wall, destroy the enemy's machine- guns, and then haul up guns, lorries, tractors and scores of tons of ammunition and supplies. The initial landing was to take four minutes.

To carry it out, huge pontoons—some 600 feet long— carrying tanks, troops, guns, vehides and stores, were to be pushed by two monitors to the beach. Once grounded, the leading tanks, each equipped with a ramp fixed to its nose, were to crawl off their pontoons, and up the sea-wall. Then, directly the forward end of the ramps struck the coping-stone they became detached, when the tanks, which had wooden spuds fitted to their tracks, walked up ;hem like a cog-wheel moving along a ratchet. It was a clever scheme and the first of its kind.

Though such an operation is still feasible, from the naval point of view it would be vastly simplified could the tank float itself ashore. Consequently, towards the end of the last war, when we were faced by the possibility of having to cross the Rhine, this simplification was tackled by myself and others. As it was known from calculations that a hermetically-sealed tank of 36 tons would just float with its roof flush with the surface of the water, the method adopted was as follows. The engine having been cased in to render it water-proof, two large caissons were lashed to the sides of a tank, which gave it sufficient buoyancy to be warped over a river. On arriving at the far bank, once the caissons were unlashed, the tank took to the shore. Though this method was primitive it was effec- tive, and in October, 1918, I crossed over the Brent Reservoir (the Welsh Harp) in the first tank which ever floated. Once the war was over, experimental work in water-cross- ing machines was carried on by Colonel Philip Johnson, C.B.E. (head of the Tank Design Department) because I was of opinion that, as all our foreign operations of war must in their initial stage take the form of landings, a true amphibian tank, if it could be produced, would prove invaluable. This resulted in the introduction of an experimental floating machine, the medium D—which required no caissons. In 1921, if I remember rightly, it propelled itself by means of its tracks across Fleet Pond. Then came economy and it was abandoned. • Before this foolishness—one of scores which dogged our tanks, and for which quite recently we have paid dearly—put an end to the water-crossing machine, I accentuated its im- portance in a lecture given at the Royal United Service Insti- tution on February 11 th, 1920, in which I said: " Let us all, this time, get into our astral shells, for this is a naval as well as a military question. We see a stretch of weary sand—it is the Baltic coast. We see curious ships racing through the Skagerrak. They are now standing out a mile or more from the shore, for the water is shallow. There is a rumbling sound, then from their prows squat objects splash into the water—they are moving rapidly towards the beach ; from the water they crawl on to the sands ; they are tanks, and Warnemunde, iso miles from Berlin, is ours. . . .

" From the surface tank-carrier the next step is the sub- marine tank-carrier—a kind of sea-serpent which spews monsters on to the beach. What would Oiaus Magnus think of this, he who wrote of sea-serpents fashioned of skin and blood? Think now what such possibilities mean to us islanders. No longer will our sailors belong to the Great Silent Fleet, but to a fleet which belches war on every strand, which vomits forth armies as never did the horse of Troy, and which will swallow them up again if the land appears unpropitious and carry them safely home beneath the ocean. Think of the naval bases seized and the landing places pro- tected. Think of the channel which separates us from Europe. It has been called a ' ditch '—it may become a veritable tube railway for hostile armies."

Whether the Germans are prepared for such a mechanised under-water attack I doubt, because, in spite of all their thoroughness, they are not an inventive race. This is proved by the fact that their entire tank tactics in this war have been evolved from British origins, which we had not the wisdom to develop. Yet the fact remains that, in 1931, Messrs. Vickers-Armstrong designed and put on the market an efficient amphibian light tank, which could move itself through water by means of a small propeller ; therefore, Germany may well have such a machine. Fifty or more could easily be trans- ported in a specially built vessel of the whaler type, and in a calm sea launched on to an enemy's coast. But such a vessel demands command of the sea ; yet, when this is not possible, these weapons could easily be transported in fast motor- boats.

Whether this will be attempted no man can say, but it is a possibility which we should examine and prepare against. Nevertheless, one thing is fairly certain, namely that should a mechanised invasion be attempted, no medium or heavy tanks will be landed until command of the sea is won. Therefore, it is the light tank—amphibian or non-amphibian—which we must be prepared to meet, and no light tank yet made is proof against existing anti-tank fire. For us, this definitely simplifies our defensive preparations ; because, seeing that recently we have lost so much equipment in France, were it possible for our enemy to land tanks of a more formidable nature, our power to resist him would certainly be lessened.

Setting aside the likelihood of an invasion on the grand scale so long as we hold the command of the sea, what are the probable objects of small forces of invading tanks? The answer is: (1) to create panic; (2) to upset our preparations, and (3) to destroy or damage our coastal landing-grounds, anti-aircraft defences, seaports and other vital points, either single-handed or in conjunction with parachutists and air- borne troops.

What we should do in order to frustrate (r) and (2) does not concern me here ; but as regards (3) I am of opinion that our most formidable means of defence is to meet tank by tank. For this purpose we have at our disposal large numbers of light machines armed with anti-tank weapons, and as such invading tanks they may meet will almost certainly be few in number, it will not be necessary to concentrate them in large groups. Instead, I suggest that they should be split up into small detachments, and that each vital point—according to its size and importance—should be garrisoned • by one or more: each group working in co-operation with such Regular troops, Local Defence Volunteers and aircraft as may be allotted to each point. Meanwhile, the heavier machines should, I think, be kept in support or reserve at central positions in rear of these mechanised outposts. If this is done, I see no reason why the tank raider should not be defeated with impunity.