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Aug 7, 2018 26 tweets 5 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
100 years ago on the first day of the Battle of Amiens, a lone Whippet tank penetrated to the rear of the German lines where it roamed for ten hours, causing major damage and enormous confusion. #Amiens100
The following text is largely a contemporary account, based on the tank commander's own words, as recorded in the book "Fighting Tanks – An account of The Royal Tank Corps in action 1916-1919", published in 1929 and edited by G. Murray Wilson.
On 8th of August, Lt CB Arnold, gunner C Ribbans and driver WJ Carnie climbed into their tank named Musical Box, one of 8 tanks in the unit. At 0420 the formation departed, passing Villers-Bretonneux. The other 7 whippets all bogged down, leaving Musical Box on her own.
Lt Arnold moved his tank up behind some Australian infantry and MKV tanks. Shortly after linking up with the advance his area came under fire from a battery of German field guns. Two of the MKV's were smashed by the barrage.
At 48 rounds per minute the German battery was causing serious problems for the Australians. Arnold drove at top speed (8mph) across the front of the battery engaging them with his machine guns. The Germans shot over 30 rounds at him, all missed.
Arnold found cover, turned and mounted a flank attack and then passed at speed behind the battery, scattering the Germans and smashing their defences. The Australians were able to advance the quarter of a mile to take the German position with no further loss.
At this point Arnold allowed himself a breather: "I got out and asked an Australian Lieutenant if he wanted any help. He took a bullet in the shoulder during our talk." Now joined by Maj Ryeroft and Lt Waterhouse of his own Corps, they decided he must do some more damage.
"I then followed the railway east and came up with two of our cavalry patrols who were being fired at by a party of the enemy, hiding in standing corn. I dealt with them." Unknown to him by now deep inside the German lines, Arnold approached a German defended railway bridge.
"I dealt with that party who had taken up a position on the railway bridge." When Musical Box heaved herself on to one end of the bridge the Germans tumbled off the other end – at least, the few survivors did – and Arnold went on his destructive way.
"Proceeding east I entered a valley marked on my map as containing Bosche hutments. As I entered many were packing kit. When I opened fire crowds more appeared and ran for safety; I accounted for many of them. Ribbans went out and counted the slain, about sixty."
"I turned left from the railway and cruised across country, where lines of enemy infantry could be seen retiring. We fired at these from 200 to 600 yards range. As our cruise lasted an hour, we inflicted much damage." Arnold was now entirely surrounded by undiluted Huns.
"I did not see any more of our troops or machines after the cavalry patrols." Consequently he drew all the fire from every kind of weapon that the harassed Germans could bring to bear on Musical Box.
The Germans had put up such a storm of concentrated fire the fuel cans stored on top of the tank had been hit multiple times, the liberated fuel flowed into the fighting compartment. The crew, standing in pools of petrol, were forced by the fumes to wear their respirators.
So Musical Box was now a driving bomb, with the crew drenched in fuel, the slightest spark and it's would all be over. It was by now 2pm, ten hours from the off, ten hours of relentless action.
"I again proceeded east, and arrived at a large aerodrome with a captive balloon and a great quantity of horse-transport and motors." Musical Box became possibly the only tank in WWI to score an aerial kill. The transport and the Balloon were swiftly destroyed.
"Over the top of another bridge I could see a lorry coming in my direction." Musical Box hid in a hollow and waited. As soon as the lorry topped the bridge, the Whippet leapt forward and rammed it backwards into the ditch.
"The railway was now quite close, and I could see long lines of men retiring along it at ranges of 400 to 500 yards. I fired at them and did much damage. Leaving these in a state of panic, Musical Box looked round for more exciting quarry."
"Passing by a two-horse canvassed wagon, I knocked that out. Gunner Ribbans did some good shooting on the motor and horse transport, whilst I fired many bursts at 600 to 800 yards on the transport blocking the roads on the left. I turned quarter-left to a small copse."
At this point the left hand gun port was shot away by German fire. Lt Arnold pulled another machine gun off its mounting and stuck the barrel through the hole ripped in his tanks flank. Firing the machine gun from the hip he continued to deliver effective fire onto the enemy.
As Musical Box penetrated deeper resistance began to stiffen. Arnold didn't know it but it is conceivable that he would have overrun the German Army HQ which was extremely close by. His luck ran out. At last a field gun had got in a knock-out blow.
"Petrol was still running down the inside of the back door. When two heavy concussions closely followed each other, the cab burst into flames. As it was no longer possible to continue the action, I shouted to Driver Carnie to turn about."
Bailing out Lt Arnold realised that both the other crew members were still inside the tank, he rushed back and despite being on fire himself dragged both from the blazing wreck. British infantry later found the burnt out hulk of Musical Box.
Although being in no shape to try, they attempted to escape, but were all captured by the Germans, during their capture driver Carnie was shot dead and Lt Arnold sustained a bayonet wound. He was interrogated but steadfastly refused to talk.
Quite badly burnt and recovering from the stab wound, Arnold was sent to a German POW camp at Freiburg, where he found his Brother who had been captured earlier in the war. Lt Arnold received a DSO.
Ludendorff called the 8th August 1918 "The black day of the German army". A significant part of it might be down to this one tank. A Whippet MK A light tank named Musical Box.

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