The story of The Royal Tank Regiment is one of struggle, triumph and achievement. Its origins are a mere three-quarters of a century old, but those years have seen the stalemate of trench warfare overcome, the restoration of mobility and the establishment of the tank and mechanised forces, as a dominant factor in battle. The tank reaffirmed its position as the decisive weapon on the battlefield during the Gulf War.
The present Royal Tank Regiment, is the direct heir to the original armoured car pioneers of 1914, the Naval Brigade and the RNAS squadron which augmented the British Expeditionary Forces for the defence of Antwerp in August of that year.
The Royal Tank Regiment's formation followed the invention of the tank. Tanks were first used at Flers in September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme in World War I. At that time the six tank companies were grouped as the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps (MGC).
In November 1916 the eight companies then in existence were each expanded to form battalions still lettered A through H; another seven battalions, I through O, were formed by January 1918, when they all were converted to numbered units. On 28 July 1917 the Heavy Branch was by Royal Warrant separated from the rest of the MGC and given official status as the Tank Corps, meaning that by the beginning of 1918 the fifteen units were changed from letters to numbers as 1st Battalion to 15th Battalion, Tank Corps. More battalions continued to be formed, and by December 1918, 26 had been created. (At this time there were only 25 tank battalions, however; the 17th had converted to using armoured cars in April 1918). The first commander of the Tank Corps was Hugh Elles.
The Corps saw heavy action through 1917 and 1918, with special note being given to the Battle of Cambrai (1917), which the regiment continues to commemorate annually. During the war, four members of the Corps were awarded the Victoria Cross. However, heavy losses and recurrent mechanical difficulties reduced the effectiveness of the Corps, leading the Bovington Tank School to adopt a doctrine that emphasised caution and high standards of maintenance in equal measure.