World War One: The Legend of ‘Musical Box’

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The Medium Mark A Whippet Tank was an allied tank of World War One. Its design and purpose was to exploit the armour of the heavier allied tanks and use its speed and mobility to gain a tactical advantage on the battlefield.

The Whippet Tank is considered to be the most successful British tank, and some would say most successful allied tank of the First World War. In particular, the Whippet was that successful, the tank was used in post-war conflicts in Russia and Ireland.

Following extensive trials of the tank, the Whippet was approved in 1917, and the first tanks left the production line in October 1917 and delivered to F Battalion of the Tank Corps

The Whippet, due to its speed and size was intended for fast hard hitting assaults.

The Whippets baptism of fire came in March 1918 as the Germans launched Kaiserschlacht, a last ditch offensive designed to finally break through allied lines. The Whippets’ most notable action was during the Amiens offensive in August 1918.

Although the Whippet’s had proved themselves, the cooperation of tanks and cavalry on the battlefield broke down. While advancing the Whippets could not keep pace with the cavalry and when the Whippets were attacked, the cavalry could not support them. Tanks of the 6th battalion gathered at Marcelcave in the evening of the first day of battle. From the original compliment of 48 tanks, 40 were still in running order. Whilst accounting for the losses, Whippet number 344 named ‘Musical Box’ was missing. The story of this tank and its crew is the greatest single tank action of the entire war.

The crew of Whippet number 344 under the command of Lt. C. B. Arnold performed the greatest mechanical cavalry charge of the war. Moving off at zero hour on the 8th August with the rest of the troops across that sector, they passed the railway at Villiers-Bretonneux and somehow became detached from the main force. Arnold became aware of a force of Mark V tanks and Australian Infantry under fire from German artillery. Arnold attacked without hesitation, first passing in front of the German guns and then to the rear peppering the gun positions with machine gun fire. The timely attack by Arnold allowed the Australian infantry to move forward. For the next 9 hours Arnold and his crew attacked German rear positions, infantry, and wagons. They dispersed a whole battalion of infantry in a camp between Bayonvillers and Harbonnieres, destroyed an observation balloon and a transport column of the German 225.Division.

Following unremitting attack upon the Germans, the conditions inside Arnold’s Whippet became so difficult that the crew used the mouthpieces of their gasmasks for breathing. The destruction of ‘Musical Box’ came when the Germans cornered Arnold’s tank and set it ablaze with artillery fire. Baling out of the burning wreck, the driver was shot and Arnold and the remaining crewman were taken prisoner.

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