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TOWARDS THE TANK PART 1: CHARIOTS OF IRON

September 28, 2016
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While The Tank Museum has been celebrating the centenary of the tank, it’s important to note that it didn’t come out of nowhere. To celebrate its ancestors, David Fletcher has put together the 12 part series ‘Towards the Tank’. Beginning with the chariots and finishing at the start of the 20th century, he describes the weird and wonderful armoured vehicles that eventually became the mighty tank.

JUDGES i:  V19

And the Lord was with Judah;

And he drave out the inhabitants

of the mountain, but he could not

drive out the inhabitants  of the

valley; because they had

chariots of iron

So what were they, these chariots of iron that Judah was unable to overcome, even with the help of the Lord? The truth is we don’t know but there is much we may surmise. The most obvious use of iron is for PROTECTION, against arrows, spears or slingshot. But that protection comes at a price: weight. It could make the chariot too heavy for horses to pull and it would be likely to sink into soft ground, so mobility would be a low priority. Then think of this. If the horses were killed what might become of the chariot; it is going nowhere. Of course, although the crew are protected they can still use their weapons, arrows, spears or slingshots in return so, up to a point the vehicle also has FIREPOWER.  The Chariots of Iron are associated with the Canaanites.

Chariots in Britain

Julius Caesar encountered British chariots during his first invasions of Britain in 55-54BC:

First of all they drive in all directions and hurl missiles, and so by the mere terror that the teams inspire and by the noise of the wheels they generally throw ranks into confusion. When they have worked their way in between the troops of cavalry, they leap down from the chariots and fight on foot. Meanwhile the charioteers retire gradually from the combat, and dispose the chariots in such a fashion that, if the warriors are hard pressed by the host of the enemy they may have a ready means of retirement to their own side. Thus they show in action the mobility of cavalry and the stability of infantry.

Caesar also tells us that British charioteers manoeuvred their vehicles with great skill and had the ability to turn around at full speed in an instant. He also says that charioteers would run along the poles – presumably between the horses – to launch their missiles.

Thus the British might be said to combine MOBILITY with FIREPOWER but lacked PROTECTION: the three key characteristics of the tank.

Read Part 2 on the Armoured Knight here.

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