The First Tank Battle - the story so far

November 02, 2020

The First Tank Battle - the story so far

From the logs of: Willhelm Stüben – Prvt first class. 15 September, 1916

 

I remember the brightness, it blinded us at first, and then came the thunder... a sound so loud you felt it with your entire BODY. A shock wave of force that somehow made me feel as if I were in a small box some unimaginably huge giant had .. nudged. Everything felt jostled just to the back, and I was left with the feeling that I'd moved, but I hadn't.

And then it happened again. And again. The hairs on the back of my hand stood up and hot sparks were shooting off the barbed wire barricade, which most certainly would have set the wooden braces on fire if it hadn't been so damp from the rains.
Johan, the Corporal, was the first I saw to act. He rolled forward to his feet using the weight of his backpack to lever himself up . Keeping low, he duck walked over to the Sargent to hear more clearly his orders. He needn't have bothered as one could tell by simply looking at him that the Sargent was having some sort of Epiphany. Or Seizure.

 

Our Battalion had been defending General Hindenbergs' line, outside the village of Flers. for 15 days straight, and we had yet to see relief, which we were told would arrive 'any day now'. My friend Fritz had died of the Spanish Influenza the year prior and Piter had taken a bullet in the neck within seven days of out first deployment. He had always been an unlucky fellow.
And now, here I was sitting in a muddy trench awaiting the next push, which we were told would arrive about the sane time as reinforcements. in my filthy gray uniform and stifling leather helmet, ...

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From the Diary of Lieutenant Harold 'Morty' Mortimore on the Field 15 September, 1916

 

Seems me and the boys are to take 'Daredevil' out for a drive today! And wearing the queerest suit you've ever seen!! The chaps at HQ had shown us how this would protect me and my crew from the weapons backlash. Jimmy was going to pilot the thing, and I was to man the new 'surprise addition' of Churchills' made behind Major General Swintons' back. We had just transferred in April and had very little experience with machine guns much less this shiny thing. I happen to know they BOTH Swinton AND Churchill felt it was too early to deploy such a weapon too soon. But as we out numbered the entrenched fiends, it was decided (by someone OTHER than Churchill or Swinton) to deploy about forty or so of our armored surprises. The suits gave us the appearance of otherworldly beings, with great snouts for our breathing in case the fiends resorted to Gas warfare, and to protect ourselves from the sparks that would prove as deadly as a bullet if we were not so protected.
'Grounded' was what that civy technical advisor- Tesla, I think his name was, called the protection. Safety was always first he said, and with proper procedure, there would follow minimum risk. There was an outer skin of a material that reminded me of thinner wellies, and smelled the same, and threaded with a bright, coppery, thread (which turned out to be ACTUAL copper). The view screens in the suits and on the tank allowed a clear, although narrow view. But Mr Tesla showed us that aim wouldn't be a problem as the Boche had set up a long metallic barrier along the front of their trenches.

The bloody things squeaked when you walked!!, but I suppose stealth wouldn't be an issue in such garb. Not with all the other noise of war.

 

From the logs of: Willhelm Stüben – Prvt first class. Cont.

 

The trench I was in was just over two and a half meters deep, so I crept as low as possible while heading to the fallback point. SOMETHING new was happening and panic had taken reign of some of my comrades. Some were completely immobilized with fear by the light and the sound... and now the smells. The smells of burning flesh. I knew the sickly sweet odor too well. I passed another soldier on my way North, and, thinking him another immobilized recruit, I pulled at his sleeve to get down. He fell over, stiff as a post, the top half of his head gone, and in it's place a blackened smoking stump.

I recoiled in horror into another soldier, grim faced, steadied me and growled low, “Keep moving unless you want the same”.

 

As I marched on I continued to see the monstrous results of this new attack: Here was a Corporal slapping at himself, as if he was afraid to burst into flame, there, a man hunched over covering his face with both hands in squat position rocking back and forth screaming his eyes had burned out.

 

More than a few of us reached the fallback point, a larger area had been carved out to allow room for easy access to the machine gun turret and a mortar station preparation for firing the weapon was underway. There was another flash but no sound followed this time, and we all flinched. Then we looked expectantly at the young artilleryman setting his weapon and stabilizing the tripod that held it steady.

By the look of him, he was strait out of the academy. Whether he had joined voluntarily or was conscripted was unclear to me. it usually wasn't. Men carried themselves differently on the Field of Battle. This young man couldn't even be shaving by now. and his large eyes showed more than a little fear.

I had had some training myself with this weapon, mostly by way of observation in a previous engagement, and I could see by his handling that he was unsure of himself. I was about to assist when there was a bright flash behind me. Instinctively I hunched my shoulders up bracing for the BOOM I had been conditioned to expect. The already-nervous boy handling the mortar was NOT so conditioned as he nearly dropped the missile when it finally came.

 

And then we heard what at first sounded like multiple engines approaching, with clankings of chains and a deeper rumble, that was felt as vibrations from beneath the our feet. A large chunk of wood, part of the barricade from above gave me a stable shelf from which to brace myself, as I dared a glance over the lip of the trench, and I saw where the light was coming from: from across the field came what looked like armored tractors, with multiple wheels surrounded by a flexible plated metal belt. Some seemed stuck or they had stopped for some reason, while some rolled with purpose forward.
I had thought the protrusions mounted on swivels would be guns of some sort, and they were. What can only be described as lightning sprayed out, as that was how it looked, and seared the ground, causing the small explosions of escaping steam.... great pieces of ground sprayed into the air in jagged lines.

I heard a scraping sound and turned to see a on of the machines closer than I had noticed before, turning it's wand-gun our way. Before I could shout a warning, the lightning came, I felt every muscle contract, and I fell into the Abyss of unconsciousness.

 

 

From the Diary of Lieutenant Harold 'Morty' Mortimore on the Field 15 September, 1916 cont.

 

I hadn't had the time for a proper run-through of the crew, and that is most assuredly due to Churchill's impatience to see the new weapon used in battle. Jimmy, I knew could handle the steering, and the brakes and other controls out of his reach would be handled by the new chap, Willens.
I saw others getting suited up, and having noticed me, one of them gave a wave. It was Coles, getting D15 ready. Not a very dashing moniker, but he isn't the swiftest of the bunch, either. There also were Basil and George, each commanding a tank of their own. Those two have been thick as thieves since before I met them.
We were, all of us anxious to get going. Our orders and our objectives were fairly simple; gain as much ground as possible so that the infantry could follow in relative safety. If possible get to the village of Flers. I began running through my mental checklist getting ready; we had charges for the weapon ready, The Mark 1, with its forward tilted profile, seemed ready to go, like a beast trembling to be released. Trailing it was a rudder-like structure that was meant to make sure we didn't turn too sharply, and destroy the treads. We had had some practice maneuvering and we felt them a waste, and that, in the field they would most likely fall off. That's the story we agreed upon, anyway.
The orders were given and I closed the hatch and sealed it. I then settled in my position as Commander and, for this mission, Head Gunner. I checked the dials on the Tesla mkIV (sp) Electron Dispercement unit, already shortening it in my mind to 'TED'.
After I was certain the – TED was ready to fire, I gave the order to advance, and Daredevil lurched forward, given the impetus of its engines. Once I was sure I was well out of range of any backfire the weapon might have, I gave it a test shot. The results were astounding.

 

From the Diary of Lieutenant Basil Henriques 15 September, 1916

 

As I go through the final checklist of preparing the Mark 1 and crew, I find my thoughts wandering to my wife, Rose, and my very good friend George. Rose, for the queen she is, insisting we marry right before I shipped out, and George, who I've known my whole life and think of as a brother.

Rose was going to be Mrs Basil Henriques, and that was the end of that. We've known each other for quite a while, and it was inevitable. Not that I mind!!.
George MacPherson is another issue. I've known George even longer than Rose. We went to school together and have always been friends, but lately he's been given to bouts of melancholy that I have no cure for. It may have something to do with this Great Conflict, but I think it something else. When we were being trained in the new weapon, and saw what it did to the test targets, something changed in him. He seemed haunted, and when I would ask what thought flew through his mind, he would smile and say he's shew'd that bird away. We had a saying: “Many thoughts will fly through your head, but don't let the bad ones nest”. I feel he may have missed one.
One night I woke to see him sitting up in his bunk, studying the plans for the Tesla gun with one of Mr Teslas ColdLights. He didn't seem to be so much looking AT the plans as THROUGH them. He didn't notice me and I thought it best to leave him to sort it out.

Rose, who is far more blunt than I, would have told George that war is war, and people die in wars. But since I, being the soldier, know it's not so black and white on a personal scale, when it's YOU that's doing the killing. Or the one being killed.

 

From the Diary of Sargent William Coles 15 September, 1916-

 

Let's get this straight for the record. I am where I am today because here because I WANTED to be here. I came from a small town where nothing happened and I wanted out. I'm tired of people and their assumptions. I signed up after conscription was announced, true, but does that make it any less heroic?

I was picked to join in the special training and deployment of the Mark 1, the very first vehicle of it's kind. There were in all about 100 of us broken into 6 man crews. The specs originally called for eight men, but with the modifications that have been made, it required fewer men to operate. I shall be manning the gearbox and brakes.
I've been assigned to now six-man crew of the D15, and have to wear this ridiculous outfit that Czech designed. I feel like a shiny, rubber ghost!! I felt a lot better about it after we fired out weapon, as small bolts of lightning cascaded to the copper grid installed as a first line of safety.
The thing FLASHED and BOOMED as we rolled forward, melting the enemy wire, and sending powerful bolts of doom at the enemy!! I saw a soldier grabbed and lifted heavenward, as if by the Hand of God himself, and fall to the Earth, a blackened husk.

 

As I looked in awe through the thick, darkened, visor-ed view screen, In the wonder of the moment I failed to see the hand signs of my pilot to brake. There was a sudden shock wave that sent our massive vehicle sideways, but intact. It shuddered and tilted slightly when what I can only assume was a mortar detonation close by. But the armor held!! The engine, or perhaps the outside tracks or wheels had been damaged, for we no longer had any movement. We were stuck.

And so I write these word so that, in case the worst happens, that my story will be known, and that I made a mark. The engine is ticking loudly as it cools. One of my fellows says he thinks it sounds like machine gun fire.

 

From one of the training briefings given by Nicola Tesla:

 

There are several effects that will occur when this weapon is fired, and it's best you be prepared. Well, I suppose that is why I am here to show you, yes?

Because the Electron Emitter will be firing over 27,000 volt/amperes, you will not see the 'split' lightning until the beam is well over 30 meters. This splitting will cause small and larger sonic 'booms' where the parts of the stream break the sound barrier.
I have seen some of the effects of electricity on animals through Mr Edisons' awful demonstrations he filmed. I am loathe to release such inventions myself, but I have been assured that the faster this conflict is over, the more lives saved.

The metal of the barbed wire barricades, will heat up and throw sparks around the 20,000 volt mark, but when the metal begins to melt, the sparks will stick and burn through most anything not metal itself.
If a soldier wearing the usual complement of metallic objects were to be struck directly, the force could, conceivably burn straight through, if a strong enough ground point were close. Or perhaps even thrown bodily, carried along with the stream, dead seconds after being lifted.
Any pockets of groundwater, would be instantly turned to steam, and would quite literally explode, causing more 'Booms' and spraying hot earth and scalding steam in every direction. This dirty water will also increase the grounding effect, so that in turn the electrical effects would increase.
Whats that? O, well I suppose if any of the opposing soldiers lacked sufficient grounding, perhaps standing on wooden planking from one of the barricades....





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