The poor old supply tanks are frequently overlooked but played a crucial part by enabling large amounts of essential material (such as ammunition, grenades, wire[barbed and telephone], rations, water and fuel) to be pushed forward. A company of supply tanks could transport what would take a battalion of men to carry and both faster (over broken ground) and with far far fewer casualties. The men who would have lugged the supplies would be freed for more active combat roles. One of the major problems as battles such as the Somme progressed was holding onto captured territory without adequate supplies of ammuntition and grenades in the face of determined counter attacks.
In some recent BBC material on the battle of the Somme it was said that in a number of places on the battlefield on that disastrous first day the heaviest and most horrific casualties were amongst the 2nd and 3rd waves. Many of these would be men burdened with carrying supplies ( a roll of wire, an extra set of ammo pouches etc). I have also seen accounts where the ability of troops to cross the fire zone as quickly as possible was compromised by the amount of kit and material they were carrying. The supply tank was one answer to this. It is notable that at the battle of Amiens supply tanks accounted for over a quarter of the total of vehicles deployed.
Mark I supply tanks - were these all ex male with steel sheets over the gun ports on the sponsons? Were any Females converted? Did any Mk Is have mild steel supply sponsons fitted (as per the mark IVs)?
Mark II supply tanks. I can find plenty of accounts of MK Is being returned to Central Workshops for conversion into supply tanks but none of Mk IIs or (heaven forfend) Mk IIIs in this role and yet I have seen it said that Bovingdon's Mk II at one time served as a supply tank. Is this true? Were any other Kk IIs also converted? (interestingly if it is true then neither of the sponsons on the Bovingdon tank can have been original (the original male sponsons would either have been removed or modified).
From the few photos available it would appear that Mk I supply tanks were all ex-male tanks. This would make sense due to the male sponson having a larger access door.
Females could be used by attaching male sponsons. However there was a problem with the frames flexing when tanks were transported without their sponsons and fitting different sponsons could have been even more troublesome. Not impossible though; see 5. below.
Bovington's Mk II did serve as a supply tank. It looks identical with the Mk II supply tank in "The British Tanks 1915 - 19" and may even be the same tank. In the photo below, note the height of the vision slits and the rivet pattern on the cab front showing it to be a Mk II.
It would be odd if other Mk II males weren't converted but not impossible. 785's current starboard sponson is from elsewhere but its original male sponson could have been the supply tanks sponson without the sheet steel covering the opening.
According to an email I received from David Fletcher, the original name for 785 was "The Flying Scotsman". The name appears (very faintly) in a photo in "Chariots of Fire". Unfortunately, I don't remember the page number. When Bovington restored 785, F53 was the number they found under the newer paint scheme which had the "HMLS Dragonfly" name. If "The Flying Scotsman" was an unofficial name, it tends to fit in with F Battalion's naming practice.
The mild steel sponsons for Mk IV tanks were able to be pushed inside for transportation just like the Mk IV males.
If all Mk I supply tanks were ex male it would explain why all MkI wireless were apparently all ex female (no males left to convert).
There are some chronological inconsistencies to be cleared up.
- 6th Battalion did not become 'F' Battalion until late Dec 1916. - F Battalion drew its first combat tanks (Mk IVs) on June 16th 1917. No supply tanks were issued at this time - 'F' numbers and names were allocated and painted on the tanks in the following two weeks - Supply tanks did not join the Battalion until 6th July 1917 after it had left Auchy (the Tankodrome) for the front and they arrived just before the battalion went into action. - When did F53 then get painted on the Bovingdon tank? - It would look as if having a Mk I with a name starting with an F being allocated to F Battalion as a supply tank was a coincidence (the name came before the the F)
Flying Scotsman was a name allocated to a Mk II male at Flers before supply tanks were thought of. As far as I can tell other coversions to supply tank didn't carry the name on and either got renamed or just had a number. (the earlier naming convention reflected the company id and not the battalion so carrying the names forward would have mixed two standards). Very peculiar. And I'd still like to know when the number was added to the tank given the dates in the 6th (F) Batt history (see my anti penultimate posting).
David Fletcher also mentioned this in the email. He mentioned that 6th Battalion's history was the most thorough and that neither name nor number showed up there.He did speculate that, when restoring the tank, perhaps what they saw as "F53" may have been "FS3". This also does not show up but was a possibility.
It's possible that it did keep it's old name. Not only would it fit in with the naming practice but also with the style of names for the supply tanks ("Fill Up" and "Follow the crowd"). Having such a fast name may have been ironic considering it's speed but would certainly appeal to Tommy humour, especially considering the "Flying Elephant"!