The Tank Corps was formed on 28th July 1917, and its new cap badge was approved by King George V on the 11th September. The badge chosen was one of twelve designs submitted. This post will look at the military reasoning behind the new name and badge.
It also publishes a selection of the 12 cap badge designs presented to the King. Please find the full selection of rejected cap badge designs here.
What is a Corps?
Throughout the British Army units with similar roles have traditionally been grouped into Corps or branches of service. A Corps doesn’t take part in combat itself, instead it serves to coordinate the manning, administration and training of units within. Examples include the Royal Engineers and the Royal Army Medical Corps.
The First Tank Men
Many of the original tank crewmen were recruited from the Motor Machine Gun Service, as soldiers in this force were both trained on machine guns and experienced motorists, two vital skills for tank crews.
Tanks were first used on the 15th September 1916 at Flers-Courcelette. By this time the crews had transferred to the Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps, and wore the MGC cap badge. Tank drivers came from the Army Service Corps.
Although their performance at Flers was mixed Douglas Haig, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France, stated two days later that tanks had fully justified their existence.
Two days after that, at a War Office conference, it was agreed to order 1000 tanks and a potential unit structure was devised for their use.
The Need for Independence
There were indications even at this early stage that the tank force was expected to develop in the same way that the Royal Flying Corps had. Early similarities included plans to call what became Tank Battalions ‘Wings’, and to adopt the concept of the Aircraft Park – a central depot where tanks could be received from the factory, issued to units and repaired.
The RFC was seen as something of an elite force, with a level of organizational independence from the rest of the Army. This was necessary as aircraft had very specific requirements as far as logistics, reconnaissance, transport and maintenance were concerned.
Tanks were much the same. On the battlefield they tended to operated dispersed in small units, but when out of combat both crews and vehicles benefited from being concentrated together so that their unique needs could best be met.
In contrast infantry, artillery, machine gun and engineer units were permanently integrated into Divisions, and generally operated and trained together. Tank units only joined with Divisions during battles and even then worked alongside, rather than within, their structure.
Reflecting this, as early as the 9th October 1916 General Headquarters had recommended the Heavy Section should be renamed the Tank Corps.
Between then and the 28th July a headquarters was established, a training and support infrastructure was formed, new tank units created and thousands of soldiers joined the force. By the time it was finally adopted the new name reflected what was already clear: The Tank Corps had earned its place as a distinctive and separate force.