Lusitania - Story of one Tank

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The LUSITANIA was a Mk II Tank used at ARRAS in 1917. Briefly, after attacking the Railway Triangle and Feuchy Redoubt (despite mechanical problems), she was abandonned due to magneto failure in front of the British positions on the evening of the 9th. It was destroyed by the British barrage on the 10th, before the crew was able to return with a replacement. Lt. Weber was awarded the MC, and Sgt. Latham the MM.

"C" Battalion's war history, quoted by David Fletcher in " Tanks and Trenches", lists Lusitania as C.47, belonging to 9 Co. "D" Battalion's war diary lists tank 798 as D.21, involved in the Bullecourt attack on April 11.

The Australian official history (C.E.W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, Vol IV) show wrecked tank positions at the end of the battle. Of the eleven tanks engaged, one was hit and disabled prior to starting, another soon after. Five were disabled in no-man's-land or the German trench system. Four tanks returned to the Australian front line, of which, two were disabled there and the other two disabled some distance to the rear.

Bean conducted extensive interviews and a review of German records after the war, and established that no tank reached the objectives of Riencourt and Hendrecourt; none had advanced past the second trench in the Hindenburg Line. Maj. W.H.L. Watson, of D. Co., wrote an account in his book "A Company of Tanks".

The 27th (Wurttemberg) Division had standing orders to concentrate their fire on tanks, and had been supplied with AP machine gun ammunition. The volume of fire which the tanks drew can be judged from participants' recollections of their shapes outlined in the darkness by sparks from bullet strikes.

Frank Mitchell, MC, (of the first tank vs. tank battle fame) wrote an account of Lusitania's action on April 9, 1917, in his book "Tank Warfare" (1933, Nelson, London):

"The Mark II.'s put up some wonderful fights, the most interesting being the Bank Holiday cruise of the Lusitania, commanded by Lieutenant Weber. When zero hour came, this officer was in a state of great anxiety, for his tank developed trouble in the secondary gears. The crew grimly set about trying to repair it, and after a three hours' struggle the good ship Lusitania was ready to put out to battle. No sooner had they started than an urgent message came from an infantry colonel: "A machine gun is holding us up. Please investigate." The tank crawled slowly towards the stubborn machine-gun position, .opened out with 6-pounders, and soon silenced its spiteful chatter. Then the infantry went forward with their new friend, following so closely that when the tank ploughed through the wire, and poked its wicked nose over the German parapet, it could not treat the trench to a dose of 6-pounder medicine for fear of hitting our own troops. But the remedy was not necessary, for the Germans, thoroughly scared at the sight of a 6-pounder gun wag- gling about in threatening fashion over their heads, threw up their hands and surrendered forthwith. The Lusitania then steered along the railway, treating a stronghold known as the Feuchy Redoubt to broadsides of 6-pounders and Lewis guns. Here the enemy decided not to wait for the tank's call, and quitting the redoubt, went to earth in a dug-out near a railway arch. This only made the Lusitania more determined. It made for the arch, but was so keen on the chase that the Commander overshot the mark and ran into our own barrage. Shells were falling thickly, and in a few minutes a British shell would probably have put an end to a British tank, so hastily it turned round and ambled back again until it came in touch with the advancing infantry. Then returning once more, it stood patiently by whilst the bombers ferreted the Germans out of their burrow. A high bank came next, but the Lusitania had become so hot with its exertions that it refused to take the steep slope. Lieutenant Weber decided to stop his vessel and give the engine a chance to cool down. Hardly had he heaved- to than the crew flopped down to sleep, completely drowsed by petrol and cordite fumes, tired out with lack of rest, and enervated by the great heat. When the engine became cooler, and the sleepers were aroused, the Lusitania clambered up the slope and, putting on speed, plunged into battle once more. Passing the infantry, it battered its way through more barbed wire and, blazing away with its guns, chased the enemy from another redoubt and rounded up two troublesome snipers. A little later on in the day came another S.O.S. from the infantry. Once more the Lusitania cruised up to an enemy trench and swiftly settled accounts with two machine guns. But by this time the battle-scarred ship was growing weary, petrol was running low, the magneto failed to function, and the tank came to its journey's end. This did not dishearten the crew, for they still fired away incessantly, causing heavy losses in the German ranks. Darkness came and they were still stranded; the engine could not be coaxed back to life. Against the steel sides the German bullets pattered like hail. Switching on their small cabin lights the crew strained again and again at the heavy starting handle, but without result The Germans redoubled their fire, aiming at the loopholes and chinks, through which the light gleamed treacherously. Soon the splash from their bullets became so un- comfortable that all lights were switched off. It was 9.30 p.m.; for twelve long hours the Lusitania had been cruising in troubled waters. Its petrol tanks being almost dry. Lieutenant Weber decided to abandon ship and return to our lines. But first of all it was necessary to find out where our lines were. The gallant skipper did not know if he was entirely surrounded or if the Germans were only immediately in front of him. Sergeant Latham volunteered to spy out the land Earlier in the day this sergeant had shown himself to be a man of great courage. Barbed wire, becoming en- tangled in the tracks, had dragged the camouflage net over the outlet of the exhaust, and in a few seconds the whole net was blazing fiercely. Without waiting for orders, Sergeant Latham got out of the tank, climbed on top under heavy machine-gun fire, and managed to throw the burning mass overboard. Now, creeping out of the sponson door, he crawled warily mto the darkness. Over his head British and German bullets sped their different ways. He came at length to a trench and, listening anxiously, heard the welcome sound of English voices. Softly he called, waited for a reply, and then clambered quickly over the parapet. The troops in the trench were astonished; they had only just taken over, and had not been informed about the tank out in front. Sergeant Latham told them to fire high, as the tank crew would be coming m shortly. If the sergeant had not managed to give a warning most probably they would have been mistaken for German raiders and shot dead. Next day, still keen on getting his landship safely back, Lieutenant Weber obtained a new magneto and set out with some of his crew. On their way they met a battery commander, who eagerly questioned them about the derelict. Not know- ing about the Lusitania, he had been heavily shelling that part of the front, and having made a direct hit on it, realized too late that it was a tank. He was much relieved to hear that the crew was not inside. Thus perished the Lusitania after an exciting and memorable maiden voyage. The commander and crew had done their best to avenge the foul torpedoing of their illustrious namesake,* and for their strenuous and gallant efforts Lieutenant Weber was awarded the Military Cross, and Sergeant Latham the Military Medal. April 9, 1917, is memorable, moreover, for something even more important than the Lusitania's adventures. Eleven tanks, operating with the Fifth Army, were due to attack Bullecourt on nth April, but on 9th April it was suddenly suggested that the tanks should go over without a preliminary bombardment. Only when they reached the German front line would the barrage come down to protect the advancing troops. This idea of a surprise attack without a warning bombardment, with tanks concentrated on a narrow front instead of being scattered in pairs over a wide front, was the first attempt to introduce those tactics which afterwards surprised and overwhelmed the German armies. It is a landmark in the story of tank warfare. The attack was fixed for the morning of the loth April, but on their way to their starting-points the tanks ran

  • The giant Cunard liner, Lusitania, was sunk by a German

submarine off the Irish coast on May 7, 1915, with a loss of i,X98 lives, including 124 Americans. This atrocity aroused the horror of the civilized world."

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