3rd (Light) Tank Battalion account

Whippet and NZ troops

This account comes from the war diary:

About 1.0 a.m., 26th March, orders were received for “C” Coys., 3rd and 9th [Tank] Battalions to move to the Southern corner of MAILLY-MAILLET WOOD, where a dump of petrol, etc. was being formed.

By 6.0 a.m. only four Tanks of “C” Coy, 9th Battalion, had arrived, all the remainder having had mechanical trouble en route. “C” Coy., 3rd Battalion had arrived at HEUDECOURT at 5.30 a.m. and immediately continued their journey to MAILLET WOOD. All Tanks of this Company arriving there at 10.0 a.m. and loaded up as rapidly as possible with petrol.

Leaving orders for the company to move out as rapidly as possible to COLINCAMPS, the C.O. of the 3rd Battalion accompanied by Capt. Price, the Coy. Commander proceeded by motor car to reconnoitre the position in the vicinity of the Village. They arrived there about 10.30 a.m. and found the position on the front between BEAUMONT-HAMEL and HEBUTERNE TO BE VERY OBSCURE [emphasis in the original], a gap in our line appearing to exist between these two places. The only troops of ours to be found consisting of two small posts consisting of one platoon each on the outskirts of COLINCAMPS. The ground to the front and between BEAUMONT-HAMEL and HEBUTERNE being occupied by enemy patrols and machine gunners.

The Company arrived in the Village down the MAILLY-MAILLET Road about noon. The position was rapidly explained to Section Commanders and orders were issued for the tanks to turn to the right down the main street and debouch from the Village by the turning to the left. No. 9 Section (Capt. A.M. Henderson) and No. 12 Section (Capt. K.L. Purdy, M.C.) had orders to take the right flank and right centre respectively and repel any attack from the general direction of BEAUMONT-HAMEL, while No. 11 Section (Capt. C.E. Weber, M.C.) and No. 10 Section (Capt. W.S. Gates, M.C.) the left flank and left centre respectively, had orders to repel any attack from general direction of HEBUTERNE.

The Company arrived just in time. As the leading Tanks passed through the Village, the small body of Infantry who were holding the Village began to fall back before the enemy who was coming on.

The two leading Sections No. 9 and No. 12 who had been detailed to go to the right, left the road and turned to the right round the wood.

At this moment a party of the enemy about 300 strong advancing by detachments in close formation were about to enter the Village from the East.

The two Sections coming round the wood took this party completely by surprise. The enemy made no attack attempt at resistance but fled in disorder.

No. 9 Section succeeded in getting in between one party of the enemy and their line of retreat. This party surrendered to the Infantry who had by this time returned [sic. – likely the arrival of New Zealanders]. No. 12 Section pursued the enemy to the outskirts of AUCHONVILLERS inflicting a large number of casualties and capturing 4 machine guns.

The two Sections remained on patrol for about an hour, but no further attack was attempted and they returned to the Village about 3.0 p.m. Later in the afternoon the gap in our lines was filled by the arrival of a New Zealand Division.

The remaining two Sections on the left encountered very few of the enemy, but rendered useful work in clearing up the situation.

No. 11 Sections Tanks patrolled out towards HEBUTERNE and SERRE, and brought information that the front in that direction was held by the British, but that there was no continuous line and enemy machine gunners and snipers had crept in between and were sniping the runners.

No. 10 Section remained out in front of HEBUTERNE all the afternoon, and rendered assistance in rounding up these enemy posts.

By 3.30 p.m. the situation was completely restored, and all Tanks withdrawn into the Village.

The action was an admirable mechanical test of the medium “A” machine (Whippet) which acquitted itself well.

All the machines were on the move practically continuously for 16 hours, and went into action without any halt.

The fact that there was not a single case of mechanical trouble in any Tank during the whole of this time reflects great credit on all the Tank Commanders, leading drivers and the Company Engineer Lieut Hinds.

Robert Dunlop 2014 to date