THE TANK MEMORIAL YPRES SALIENT
The TANK MEMORIAL YPRES SALIENT was funded, designed & created by former
Royal Tank Regiment crewman Mr Chris Lock and his wife Milena Kolarikova-Lock.
The memorial represents 243 fallen WW1 TANK CORPS commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Belgium.
Also commemorated is a single WWII ROYAL TANK REGIMENT soldier buried nearby.
The memorial is located in the village of Poelkapelle, Belgium.
It stands on the site of one of several so called tank cemeteries which existed in the salient by the end of the war. A British tank D29 DAMON II stood here for many years before being broken up for scrap by the occupying German forces during WW2.
The plot of land was kindly offered by the Flemish Government in conjunction with the Langemark-Poelkapelle Authority in perpetuity.
A small group of Belgian & UK based volunteers assisted whenever possible.
Mr Dirk Vinck of Elverdinge created the plan drawings for construction.
Symbolic donations were also received from:
Royal Tank Regiment Regimental Head Quarters, serving Royal Tank Regiment soldiers, Veterans, family members and from members of the public.
The on site Memorial Register/Visitors Book lists military and sometimes civil details as provided by the CWGC of all 244 tank soldiers commemorated by the TMYS.
The Memorial enclosure floor area is a plan of the fighting compartment of a British
MK IV tank showing all crew positions as well as the centrally placed engine.
A genuine WW1 MK IV tank armoured plate recovered from the battlefield is attached to the memorial structure for permanent display donated by Mr Johan Vandewalle.
The TMYS "Garden of Remembrance" is an integral part of the memorial and contains named poppy crosses, one for each of the 243 commemorated WW1 tank soldiers.
A single named poppy cross represents the commemorated WW2 tank soldier.
The crosses are fitted into wooden beams thus emulating the concrete beam system utilized by the CWGC and all are set in Flanders fields soil recovered from the battlefields where those commemorated fought and fell.
The flags of Great Britain & Belgium are permanently raised with the
Tank Corps/RTR flag being raised whenever required.
British Mk IV tank (Male) located today within the Military Museum in Brussels.
Male tanks were armed with 2 x 57mm or 6lb short naval quick firing cannons plus 3 air cooled Lewis machine guns whilst female tanks were armed with 6 (5 plus 1) Lewis machine guns. Both carried the newly provided unditching beam secured by chains on the roof mounted guide rail. Track extensions (spuds) would also appear in an attempt to assist tanks make headway in the deep and glutinous mud of the Ypres Salient battlefield.
The below tank or action images were taken during the 3rd Battle of Ypres or as a consequence to this particular battle.
The above images are typical concerning the Ypres Salient. Although the majority of armoured fighting vehicles were Mk 4 gun tanks, earlier Mk's were sometimes used in the roll of wire cutting, supply, signaling and tank recovery.
A lesser known vehicle used by the Tank Corps was the Gun Carrier:
this being originally designed to transport artillery however, they were often used by the Tank Corps for all sorts of work. One unfortunate vehicle received a direct hit with all 9 crewmen being killed or dying of wounds, hardly suprising when one realises the vehicle was often carrying live artillery munitions along with limited protection for some of the crew as seen above.
The constant shelling of the battlefield in 1917, concluding with the wettest summer in 70 years would condemn these tracked armoured fighting vehicles and their crews to a fate it is difficult to imagine. Men often drowned in the quagmire whilst the tanks themselves would sink deep into the morass only to be shelled to destruction.
A few bright moments such as the "Cockcroft", "Maison Du Hibou" and "Reutel" actions brought praise with pride however, the Tank Corps would have to wait for their moment of glory, that being of course the first phase of the Battle of Cambrai.
The TMYS hence commemorates brave men who offered great determination, gallantry and sacrifice whilst attempting to achieve the often impossible.
One such action would realise the very first VC to the Tank Corps, that being awarded to Captain Clement Robertson VC including a very fine award of the DCM to
Pte Cyril Sheldon Allen on the 4th October 1917 at Reutel.
Captain Clement Robertson VC.
Pte Cyril Sheldon Allen DCM.
Another such action would ensure that the crew of F41 FRAY BENTOS would win eternal glory at Gallipoli Farm near St Julian, Ypres on August 22nd 1917.
2 MC's, 2 DCM's & 4 MM's would ensure this singular crew and their Section Commander would become the most decorated composite tank crew for a dedicated action during WW1.
F41 FRAY BENTOS:
Gallipoli Farm, Ypres
22nd August 1917
THE MEMORIAL ALSO COMMEMORATES TANK CREW ENGAGED AS DISMOUNTED LEWIS MACHINE GUN TEAM MEMBERS & THEIR DEDICATED ACTIONS DURING THE GERMAN SPRING OFFENSIVE OF 1918.
Following the October 1917 Revolution, the Russians sued for a separate peace with Germany, allowing the latter to release troops from the Eastern Front to bolster the Western Front. General Luddendorf in effective control of the army realized that he would hold a temporary superiority in numbers over the Allies on the Western Front until the Americans arrived in force.
Kaiserschlacht, the "Kaiser’s Battle" opened with Operation Michael on 21 March 1918. Following a hurricane bombardment, the assault by German storm troopers punched a great hole through poorly prepared positions held by General Gough’s Fifth Army.
The British were forced back across the old Somme Battlefield and the debacle resulted in the dismissal of Gough, and forced Field Marshal Haig to place himself and his armies, with the other allies, under the overall command of General Foch, as Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies on the Western Front.
Having over extended his supply lines and meeting stronger allied resistance east of Amiens, Luddendorf called a halt to Operation Michael on 5 April.
Switching his artillery to the Lys front, south of Ypres, he opened Operation Georgette on the 9th April. This second German attack was made against Horne’s First Army and Plumer’s Second Army west along the River Lys, on a 12 mile front between La Bassée canal and Ypres and is often referred to as the Fourth Battle of Ypres.
Over the next few days sustained German attacks pushed the British line back, taking Neuve Chapelle, the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge, (including Hill 60) and Ploegsteert.
At this point Haig issued his famous order on the 11th April:
There is no other course open to us but to fight it out! Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end.
The safety of our homes and the freedom of man kind alike depend on the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.
The danger would be that the British army would break, be cut off from the channel ports and destroyed, leaving the French army to the mercy of the Germans.
Foch eventually realised he needed to shore up the British Line and provided French reserves. Plumer was given permission to pull back from Passchendaele Ridge, which had been won, at great cost just a few months before. There was severe fighting around Langemark and the Germans took Mount Kemmel in the south. As the fighting continued through April, the Germans again became overextended.
Finally the German attack ground to a halt and was called off on 29 April.
The BEF which included amongst others, the much praised Tank Corps dismounted Lewis Machine Gun teams. Ypres was saved yet again but the cost was high.
Some have known graves but the majority do not. Their names are to be found on the Ploegesteert and Tyne Cot Memorials to the Missing however:
All are commemorated collectively on the Tank Memorial Ypres Salient.
The above images represent the Tank Corps Lewis Machine Gun Teams who were infused into the standard infantry Divisions holding the line.
Communiques released by Corps, Divisional and Brigade Commanders as confirmed in the "The Tank Corps Roll of Honour Book" that this part of the Tank Corps WW1 history is no less powerful and glorious as any dedicated tank action story.
The casualty and gallantry award lists applicable to this engagement speak volumes.
Lest We Forget.
The WW2 RTR connection reveals itself further.....
Finally the memorial commemorates not only the single WW2 RTR tank soldier buried nearby but his WW2 RTR comrades in arms who fought at Ypres during the withdrawl to Dunkerque on May 28th 1940.
British military vehicles including a Vickers light tank such as also
seen in the above right image littered the roads leading to Dunkerque.
The 3rd Royal Tank
Regiment and its R&R connection with Poperinge and Ypres during
the latter half of 1944 requires no introduction. However, on reading
Taming the Panzers by Patrick Delaforce I was quite taken back to
3 x 3 RTR Mk 6 light tanks motored all the way down from Calais and
fought in the defence of Ypres, especially around Dickebusch on May 28th 1940.
The 3 RTR tank commanders
involved were Major Reeves, Lt Williams
& Sgt Cornwall. The DSO, MC
& DCM awarded in that order were well deserved indeed!
May 1940 burials: Dickebusch Old Military CWGC cemetery:
those who managed to escape and fight another day, these gallant men
did not. Today most rest in peace within military plots located in
civilian cemeteries or within the dedicated CWGC cemeteries such as this
one at Dickebusch near Ypres, this being the location where the 3 light tanks of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment under the command of Major Reeves DSO fought alongside others near Ypres.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall remember them.