Both sides were desperate to develop an armoured fighting vehicle capable of smashing through the enemy trenches. Yet it was the British who led the way in tank design, unveiling ‘Little Willie’, the first completed tank prototype in history, on 8 September 1915.
Almost exactly a year to the day later, tanks saw action for the very first time when 36 British Mark Is went into battle at Fiers-Courcelette on the Somme. They were tortuously slow and prone to breaking down, but a third broke through enemy lines and left a huge psychological dent on the bewildered German defenders.
By the battle of Hamel in July 1918 – where, used in conjunction with artillery, planes and infantry, they helped secure victory in just 93 minutes – tanks had become an indispensable part of the Allies’ armoury. They would return to the battlefield with even more devastating effect as the Nazis swept across Europe 20 years later.