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Niergnes Tank Battle October 1918

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The small fight at Niergnes - La Targette (from the line on which the advance was made) was but a part of the larger battle of Catalet- Bony (27/09 to 09/10 1918) we see that some 82 tanks were used on 08/10. A company of the 12th Battalion started with four tanks L6 (Lily II), L9 (Lightning II),L12 ( Lochiel) and L16 (Lion). They were joined by L8 (Lukoie III) commanded by 2/Lt Carmichael (and not Lt Martell, actually a 2/Lt, who commanded L6) as stated by Williams-Ellis) . There was no L19 as described by Williams-Ellis and one assumes that he got mixed up with L9 which he fails to mention. L9 was commanded by 2/Lt Warcap (not Worsap as stated by Williams-Ellis as commanding L19) and L12 by 2/Lt de la Mare. The commander of L16 may well have been Captain Rowe as stated by Williams-Ellis (but given the latter’s general confusion over names and crews I wouldn’t be too confident of this).

L8 was hit in the rear by a British smoke shell before it could engage with the enemy but pushed on only to become ditched in a cellar. 2/Lt Carmichael doing a recce on foot was then captured by a group of German soldiers, however he persuaded them to surrender to him and handed them over to the advancing Lancashire Rgt. On returning to his tank he set a guard over it and evacuated the remainder of the crew. Although there are accounts of a German field gun being captured by a British tank crew and turned on the beutepanzers I can find no indication that this was the crew of L8 (who seem to have been busy enough). asWilliams-Ellis appears to have got the commander’s name wrong perhaps he has confused two different tanks and crews for it was 2/Lt Martell (L6)and an unnamed RA officer who manned an abandoned German gun and destroyed 2 beutepanzers. (see below)

The remaining 4 tanks achieved their original objective of capturing Niergenes but there was then a German counter attack with 7 beutepanzers accompanied by anti tank squads and troops armed with AT rifles. L6 (and not L8 as described by Williams-Ellis) was hit in the radiator and generally badly damaged so that 2/Lt Martel ordered his crew to evacuate it and take cover whilst he manned a German gun as mentioned above. L16 was knocked out by two simultaneous hits from beutepanzer 6 pounders. I can find no mention of its commander boarding L9 (or L19 as Williams-Ellis mentions nor of this tank having knocked out a beutepanzer). L9 and L12 were riddled by anti tank rounds. L12’s engine was knocked out and all the crew killed except for 2/Lt de la Mare and Corporal Steeb. L9 was evacuated by its crew, 2/Lt Warcap scuttling her with a demolition charge. The remaining beutepanzers were driven off by British artillery fire and (interestingly) anti tank rounds from captured German AT rifles. I can find no mention of any tank from C Company arriving to the rescue like the proverbial 5th Cavalry. The crew of L6 reboarded and this tank rallied.

Although the German tanks were equipped with 13mm AT rifles at that occasion, the tank knocked out by the "captured" (utilized would describe it more properly) field gun was a male, No.1 (Lt Paul) of Abt.15. AT rifles, however, were only carried by the female tanks. According to German sources (Volckheim) some 24 AT rounds were fired during that engagment.

Although the guns of the male tanks had a certain importance for anti-tank work, the most important weapon of any WW1 tank was the machine gun. There are a number of reports(German side) that stress the inaccuracy of tank guns because in a moving unsprung vehicle like the Mk.IV-Beute there wasn't any chance to hit whatever you aimed at. The same was basically true for the machine guns, but because of their higher rate of fire they were seen as much more dangerous (spraying effect). In the first tank v. tank battle the incapacitating hits were only scored when the tank was stopped and the gunners allowed to aim. It was "Nixe" that was hit this way.

There is no other account of any tank v tank action during the battle of Catalet-Bony although it is not impossible that other beutepanzers counterattacked British infantry once they had consolidated their positions and their supporting tanks had rallied.

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