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Forum Home > Memorabilia From the past. > Oldbury Tanks, WW1, 1916.

Alaska.
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Oldbury Railway Carriage and Wagon Company.




You can read about the History of the Tanks in many books, as well as on the internet, suffice to say, that once a design had been agreed on, from the experiments conducted by William Foster and Company, out in the wilds of Lincolnshire, the game was afoot. On the 12th February, 1916, Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co, received, at their Birmingham works in Saltley, an order for 75 Mark 1 heavy tanks. ( Male )  The male tanks were equipped with 6 pounder Armstrong guns, the female tanks with machine guns. The work was assigned to the companies Oldbury Works, Worcestershire, and the order was increased by 38, to 113, on 21st April. In total, the Oldbury works produced 38 male and 75 female tanks, which were all completed, and delivered, by 31st October,1916.



Wheels, frames ironwork, and other components came from the groups other factories, making it a very smooth operation. Even the testing was done in Oldbury. During this period, a modification in design was made, and on 27th July, 1916, an order for 25 Mark 11, heavy female tanks was received, and again, the work was assigned to the Oldbury Works. ( completed by 31st January, 1917. Battlefield conditions drove the designers to come up with a Mark 111 version, which again, with the order for 25 each of both types, was consigned to the works at Oldbury. This order was completed on 28, February, 1917, and having now proved their worth, if not their reliabilty, in Battle, the orders now increased.


Metro, had been  given an order for 1,000 tanks in August of 1916, but the order was under constant review due to the many modifications required, and the fact that Fosters, did not have the capacity to take on much of the extra work demanded. The Mark 1V production was partly split between Oldbury and Saltly, and by the end of the War, 320 male, and 320 female tanks had been made, plus 180 further tanks, which had been converted to tank tenders. There now came possibly the best tank of them all, the Mark V. Metro built 200 at the Saltly works, and 200 at Oldbury, completing the initial order on 8th June,1918. A further order for 2,000, subject to a great many changes in design were redisignated as Mark Xs and never built.  How they ever managed to carry out all the work, is a matter of conjecture, for in November 1917, Metro also received an order for an updated version of the Mark V, which bore the famous name, Mark V Star, heavy tank. 300 at first, then an added 400, in February 1918, and with a shortage of Armour plating, must have put some strain on the system, but by the armistice in November, 579 had been completed and delivered. In December, with the War over, but an occupation of enemy territory to carry out, 432 male, and 200 female tanks had been finished, the remaining 68 of the order being completed on 14th March, 1919. The two sites of the company, at Oldbury and Saltley, had between them , built over 2,133 Heavy Tanks, a contribution to the War effort scarcely known about today, and the story doesn't end there.



Overloaded with work, when the Company were given a further order for 450 Medium B female Tanks, on 15th October 1917, the order was passed to Patent Shaft and Axletree, at Wednesbury.  The order was revised in February 1918, 200 being cancelled, and further alterations and shortage of armour plate delayed production. Come the Armistice in November, and 19 had built in the works, all the Tanks being shipped off to Oldbury for testing, and the order was finally completed in February, 1919 when the last of 50, rolled out of the works and onto railway flat cars. Patent Shaft had been given a further order in February, 1918, for 200 Medium C tanks, but this was later cancelled. Metro had also built, in 1916, a Mark 1 Gun Carrier, and it was completed in January 1917, but the design was dropped, and it went for scrap. Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon, and Finance, wasn't the only company to build tanks during the war. Wm Foster, Whitworths, Coventry Ordnance, Mirlees Watson, Wm Beardmore, North British Locomotive,  ( these four in Glasgow )  John Fowler and Kitsons, both in Leeds, Vickers, and the Royal Arsenal in London, all did the same, giving a grand total of 3,031 Tanks. The bulk of which came from,or were made from parts supplied by the Black Country firms. Not a bad record that, concidering that Metro was a Birmingham Company.



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 27, 2014 at 4:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404



Just to finish the subject with a bit more history. The driving force for the use of such vehicles during the War, came from The Royal Navy, and not, as many believe, from the Army. The Navy had a very large reserve of men at the start of the War, and it was proposed that they could use some sort of armoured " Landship ". The use of the word ' ship ' of course, meant that the Army had to take a backseat. Many Naval personel were involved in both design and testing of the weapons that were produced, and indeed, throughout the War, the Navy were responsible for testing, transportation, and the delivery of each Tank to the war zone.



This is why so many sailors were stationed in, and around the Black Country, for the duration of the conflict. The picture shows a crew loading a Tank aboard a railway flatcar, possibly the Saltley works of Metropolitan Carriage. Some of the Tanks never made it to the war zone though, and some that did, never fired a shot in anger. The end, when it came, was a surprise, and a great relief to millions, the world over, and dispite the undoubted benefits of a tank in battle, they were worthless in peace time. The last picture shows a Mark V Star, heavy tank, being broken up for scrap in 1920. The only place they were built, was at the Oldbury, Worcestershire works, and it's a fair bet, that this is the location of the photograph. It's a male tank as well, for the holes in the side of the outer frames, are for the storage of the ammunition, used by the 6 pounder, Armstrong Guns.



If your relative fought part of the war in the Tank Corps, he had to put up with a great deal of discomfort, not to mention creeping towards enemy lines at 2mph while being shelled. The next conflict would also involve tanks, but a far different version than these monsters, and of course, a lot faster.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 29, 2014 at 3:42 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Now some folk have asked, why they haven't heard much about this war effort in the Black Country. Thats because the whole project, from the start of the war, was kept under wraps. Not even the men and women who helped to build these early machines, actually knew what they were for. The secret of course would be well and truely out once they were used in action, and many at the time felt that 1916, was far too early. Events proved them right.


The British Army used armoured trains during the Boer War in South Africa, and experimented with armoured cars. Due to the state of the roads, and unreliabilty, a need for some kind of tracked vehicle was recognised early on, which of course didn't stop a few unsuitable designs when World War 1 began, such as the one below.



You wouldn't have stood much chance in the face of massed machine-gun fire in that, would you. Tracked vehicles had been about for some time, but coming up with something that would cross the trenches taxed the minds of many. Needless to say, the Navy had another go at mechanical warfare, this time with a quick firing gun.



What the bus company said about the use of one their chaissis, isn't recorded. You can laugh now at the lack of awareness of the mud and mire of the trenches, but the basic idea of mobility is present in this picture. Fosters, in the wilds of Lincolnshire, produced a test design that actually worked, although the tracks at this stage, wouldn't cross a very wide trench.



It suffered from the fault of all the other Tanks produced, it was woefully underpowered, and far too heavy. Of all the designs produced during the course of the War, by far the best was one called the " Whippet ". Mostly built at the Salty works, in Birmingham, it was lighter, a bit faster, and more nimble on it's tracks than the heavy Tanks. Non of the finished Tanks in the Blackcountry, left the factory with any armourment fitted, most had the side pods, ( sponsons )  removed prior to shipping by rail, as the Trains couldn't pass each other with such a wide load, or even get through tunnels. There are not many photographs of the production lines prior to 1916, as I said, it was a fairly well kept secret. Indeed, even today, not many know about the Oldbury story, which can be attested too by a certain Mr F, from Oldbury, suddenly discovering he has a passion for the subject. ( after reading the above article of course ) I have no doubt it will soon appear in a future issue of a local magazine, under his own name as usual, for why should he break the habit of a lifetime, and give anyone else any credit. Back to the Tanks, and on the battlefield they had mixed fortunes. Introduced too early, and not in enough numbers, they failed to achive any headway. The Germans, as the battle flowed back and forth, got their hands on the broken down or damaged Tanks. These they tried to repair, and put back into action with their own markings, carefully taking some apart to copy the design. Noting the damage from shell fire, they then made the mistake of fitting their own design with even more heavy armour plating, which of course, made them even slower. They did get it right by 1939 though, which is more than can said for us. The last picture speaks for itself, an abandoned tank in no-mans land, made in the Black Country, and lost in the mud of Flanders.





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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 15, 2014 at 2:02 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

As the War flowed back and forth, across the sticky mud of the Somme, some of the Tanks were recovered and repaired. Not always by the British I should add. The Germans, presented with examples of the enemies secret weapon, took full advantage, and once repaired, used them against their former owners. This produced mixed results, for it was decided to mount heavier weapons on the captured Tanks. This slowed them down even more, and at about 2 mph, made them an easier target for the British heavy artillery. I have just the one colour photograph in the topic, and the 2nd one below, demonstrates the progress made in refining the film and camera. It also shows what the effect was, when an early Tank was hit several times with heavy shells.



I believe the picture was taken when hostilties had stopped, for some of the trees are begining to show new growth. Just another rusting reminder of the War to end all Wars.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 27, 2015 at 5:02 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

The battle of Arras, in 1917, was a bloody affair, which again used Tanks in the intial assault. The War Camera men roamed the battlefield,  the equipment was crude and heavy, and only when the firing stopped could they set up the camera to take shots like the one below.



It looks like a Mark II, stuck in a ditch, which was too wide to cross at the time. The driver would not have known this, for very little detail was given to them about where they were expected to go, until the actually event. The crew are standing about, some of them trying to dig out the vehicle from clay, and two small columns of men, one on the way to a bit of R & R, and the other, presumable  much needed re-inforcements for the front. Interestingly, in the background are three small groups of soldiers, what many have taken to be digging trenches. They are not trenches, but the graves of fallen men who were mostly buried where they fell, there being no time to transport them to a proper graveyard. ( They were marked, and after the Armistice, given a proper resting place. ) The second picture shows several Mark Vs, supporting an American Infantry Advance, in 1918, part of the Allied advance that ultimately ended the War.



The strange device on the top, was called a " Crib ", made of wood and dropped into trenches and ditches which otherwise would have been too wide for the Tanks to cross. They were, under shell and machine gun fire, virtually useless. for it would have meant instant death for any crew member who poked his nose through a hatch. The last picture matches an earlier one of a Tank being broken up, but this time it's the Germans doing the breaking.



The Tank was probably captured either on the Somme, or from Arras, and taken back to Berlin, where it was repainted, and displayed. No doubt to bolster the moral of the population who were experiencing the same food shortages that ours were. I will throw in a little bit of history at this point, for there is a vast difference between an Armistice, and a complete surrender. The Germans never Surrendered, indeed, there were many who urged the fighting to go on. This resulted in the Germans scuttling their High Seas Fleet at Scarpa Flow, sinking almost all of their U-Boats, destroying a large number of Aircraft, ( sawing up the propellers and wings was a favoured method ) and dismantling heavy weapons for scrap for their own factories. This left of course, unfinished business so to speak, to be resumed 20 years later, when they were in a much better position than we were.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

April 5, 2015 at 3:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

On a more lighthearted note, there are some pictures I come across that demand a humorous caption. The cartoonists had a ball at the start of the War, especially after the episode of playing football and fratanising with the enemy. All forms of humour were stamped on by the top brass, but this one seems to have escaped. If the infantry could play football in the mud, the Tank Corps could do as well. Here they are, depicted in 1918, vastly enjoying themselves at a game of See-Saw, with a MK V Tank.



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 4, 2016 at 11:05 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Well, it's a hundred years since these monsters made an appearance on the field of battle. They may not have contributed as much as was expected, that would come in the next conflict, but as an experiment in what could be achived, in a short period of time. it was certainly a success. The Black Country can be proud of it's efforts to win this War, even if the Tanks themselve fell a bit short of the mark at times. Especially when it came to deep mud. large holes, ditches, and wide trenches.



The Tank in this picture has the name Hyacinth painted on the front, and true to it's name, it seems to being well and truly planted by the long suffering Infantry. The second picture displays another stranded Tank, this time it seems to be digging itself deeper into the soft ground, maybe to escape the lethal hail of shell fire it will attract when the enemy spot it's vunerable position. Frankly. I don't blame them. Happy Birthday Mr.Tank.



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 10, 2016 at 12:51 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

ip

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 2, 2016 at 4:42 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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