For many years it was widely believed that the eight tanks that fought in Gaza with E Company, Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps (later renamed the Palestine Tank Detachment) were a mixture of Mark I and Mark II tanks. However, this information may not be correct.
This seems to stem from Colonel J.F.C. Fuller’s 1920 book ‘Tanks in the Great War 1914-1918’. Fuller was the principal staff officer at Tank Corps headquarters in France during the war, and the chapters about Palestine were written with the assistance of Major Odo Forsyth-Major, the Detachment second in command.
As a result Fuller’s statement “The tanks engaged were Mark I’s and II’s” has often been taken at face value. Due to the small number of tanks sent to Palestine and their limited impact on the campaign there has been very little detailed study of this unit by historians. More recent research, however, has shown that all eight tanks were in fact Mark I vehicles.
Their names are not in question. They were: Sir Archibald, Otazel, Pincher and Ole Luk Oie (Male tanks) and War Baby, Kia Ora, Nutty and Tiger (Females).
The Mark II tank was intended for use in training, not combat like the Mark I. As a consequence the Mark II was built from mild steel, rather than armour plate.
This doesn’t show up in photographs but there are also visible differences between the two tanks, meaning we can tell them apart.
Mark II tanks featured a slightly narrower cab. As a result the row of eleven rivets across the front of it were not all the same distance apart – the outer pairs were much closer together.
On the roof the Mark II featured a raised observation hatch shaped like a cheese dish, and the rear of the tank had a bare appearance as the cover for the Mark I’s tail wheel hydraulic jack was removed, as were the wheels.
Another, less obvious difference is the shape of the track adjustment apertures at the front of the track horns. The Mark I’s are more rounded, the Mark II’s more squared off.
Although some of these photographs are of fairly poor quality they do allow us to identify the tanks as well as providing an invaluable snapshot of life in the Palestine Tank Detachment.
The Tank Museum has the only surviving Mark I tank in The Trench Experience and a Mark II in The Tank Story Hall. Find out more about these vehicles in David Fletcher’s Tank Chats.