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January 12, 2018
The three digit number tells us Mark V* 9783 is being used for training.

The three digit number tells us Mark V* 9783 is being used for training.

Like all military and civilian vehicles before and since, First World War British tanks were given unique registration, or serial, numbers. 

Beginning with number ‘1’ would have allowed the Germans to easily work out how many tanks had been built, so this wasn’t done. Later sequences also contained gaps, making the German’s job even harder. Each tank kept its serial number throughout its life, regardless of any moves between units. They were most commonly painted on the side of the vehicle towards the rear.

This table lists the number ranges assigned to British First World War tanks (although not all these vehicles were actually built).

Mark I Male 701 – 775
Female 501 – 575
Mark II Male 776 – 800
Female 576 – 600
Mark III Male 801 – 825
Female 601 – 625
Mark IV Male 2001 – 2100
2301 – 2400
4001 – 4100
8001 – 8200
Female 2501 – 2900
4501 – 4700
6001 – 6200
Mark V Male 9001 – 9200
Female 9251 – 9450
Mark V* Male 9501 – 9700
Female 9751 – 9950
Male 10001 – 10300
Mark V** Male 10501 – 10650
Female 10701 – 10850
Male 10901 – 11500
Whippet A200 – A399

*altered on recommendation of Gwyn Evans (in comments).

Crew Numbers and Names

Mark V 9263, manned by crew P1 of the 16th Battalion.

Mark V 9263, manned by crew P1 of the 16th Battalion.

On paper Tank Battalions contained 60 crews and 48 tanks and were split into 3 Companies, with each Company split into 4 Sections.  Shortages of tanks meant that although Sections were intended to have 4 tanks and 5 crews, they could often only field 3 vehicles.

Crew Numbers identified the crew aboard each vehicle.  They were usually painted prominently around the vehicle for ease of recognition.  Unlike the serial number, they could change frequently.

The numbers were alphanumeric, identifying battalion and crew, so A24 was an A Battalion vehicle and J12 contained a crew from the 10th Battalion.  Although battalion names switched from letters to numbers at the end of 1917 the alphanumeric codes were kept.

Officially this number designated the 8 man crew not the tank – the amount of maintenance early tanks required meant that attempts to link crews and vehicles over the longer term weren’t practical, as there was no guarantee the same tank would be available.

As an example, this page from Major Philip Hamond’s notebook lists the members of crew F41 (the famous ‘Fray Bentos’), but contains no reference to which tank they crewed.

Crew F41 in August 1917. They could crew any available tank.

Crew F41 in August 1917. They could crew any available tank.

Crews usually named their tank, and these names almost always began with the letter of their battalion, for example N37 ‘Namur’ in 14th Battalion or C56 ‘Crusader II’ in C Battalion.  Roman numerals after a name tell us the crew were onto their second or third tank.

Training Numbers

Tanks used for training in Britain were assigned a two, or later three digit number, as they didn’t belong to a battalion.  Presentation tanks distributed around the UK after the war were almost all training machines, with their numbers often clearly visible on photographs.  This didn’t, however, stop the officer responsible for delivering the tank recounting tales of its exploits on the battlefield to the enthralled crowd!

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  1. My Great Uncle, Private Richard Ernest Bolton, 304410, C Coy 13th. Tank Battalion, was killed in action on 8 August 1918. He was one of just 5 men of the Battalion that died that day.

    Based on the original CWGC Grave schedule, it appears he was in tank number 9443 (a female), which was commanded by 2/Lt. Dower MC (he was initially posted missing but was a POW) and was 2nd. Tank in 12 Section which was commanded by Capt. Fletcher.

    2 questions:

    1. The tank C/S would have begun with an M but what would have been next?

    2. Is there anymore information available on 13th. Battalion and my Great Uncle?

    He was originally 8th. (Irish) Kings Liverpool Regiment. I cannot find his service record (destroyed in Blitz??). I have the history of 13th. Battalion (WO 95-115 2) but cannot find the War Diary on National Archives – does the Tank Museum hold these and individual service reords.

    Many thanks for any assistance.

    • Have a look at this website https://sites.google.com/site/landships/home it contains interesting information about Tanks in WW1
      I found this regarding your Great UncleRed Line

      The 4th Division now passed though the 3rd (OH).

      As arranged “C” company followed 8th Tank Battalion who passed through on the Green Line: five tanks followed the second phase attackers to the 2nd objective. (H13a) 9188 broke down just after crossing the Green line, it was repaired and rallied. (W25bg)

      Captain Fletcher took his section [possibly 9443, 9131, 9082] to help mop up Cerisy and Morcourt villages on the river edge. (H13a) 9443 and 9082 were both knocked out soon after crossing the red Line; (W25bg) 2Lts Dower and Fennimore were both wounded (W13a). These tanks were probably two of the three that were knocked out by a field gun firing from Chipilly north of the river (H13a) 9131 crossed the red line and then rallied. (W25bg)

      My Great Uncle Arthur Miller 13th Tank Battalion he was Killed in Action on 3/10/1918. I have found out his Tank was “Mudhook” nut serial numbers unknown

  2. I’m sorry, but the list of Mark IV serial numbers is wrong. The Males were 2001 – 2100, 2301 – 2400, 4001 – 4100 and 8001 – 8200. The Females were 2501 – 2900, 4501 -4700 and 6001-6200 (6121 – 6200 were never built due to the order being cancelled). However, of these, 4526 – 4550, 6021 – 6120 and 8121 – 8200 were built as Tenders (supply tanks). This gives us the well known totals of Mark IV production: 420 Male, 595 Female and 205 Tenders.

    For more information on the analysis that went into finally identifying the Mark IV serial number sequences, please refer to my article “Decoding Mark IV Serial Numbers Part 1” in “Tankette” Volume 49 Number 6.

  3. Was the notebook used by Major Philip Hamond in the article above normal for battalion commanders? Are these available in any archive? I am trying to find out what tank my grandfather drove. He was in the 10th battalion. His name was John Joseph Rowley 96594.

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