September 15, 1916. Tanks are used for the first time in action, introduced by the British army in the Somme offensive at the battle of Flers-Coucelette. While the concept of an armoured vehicle had been around for centuries (Leonardo da Vinci even drew a prototype as early as the late 15th century), it was not until World War I that their development was pursued in earnest as an alternative to trench warfare. As British First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill set up the Landships Committee to design and produce an armoured vehicle fit for use in the challenging terrain of the Somme. The word ‘tanks’ became used as the factory workers making them were told they were producing ‘mobile water tanks’, and the term ‘landships’ was thought too descriptive and likely to inform the enemy of the army’s intentions. In their first deployment, 32 Mark I tanks (see picture) were used, with nine making across no-man’s land it to enemy lines. Although initially slow, cumbersome and not fully reliable, military commanders could see the potential benefit of tanks and throughout the war and after it, more resources were invested into their development.
Also on September 15: Napoleon’s army reaches the Kremlin in Moscow (1812); Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras all gain independence (1821); the Nuremberg Laws deprive German Jews of citizenship (1935); Konrad Adenauer becomes the first Chancellor of FRG, West Germany (1949); Lehman Brothers files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (2008)
Born on September 15: Ettore Bugatti (1881), Agatha Christie (1890), Tommy Lee Jones (1946), Paul Abbott (1967), Prince Harry of Wales (1984)