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During World War I, British Tanks Were Designated as "Male" or "Female"

(Photo: Imperial War Museum)

How would a soldier know if his tank was male or female? It would be necessary to make an anatomical inspection. Heavy tanks with cannons were male. Lighter tanks with multiple machine guns were female. Bryn Hammond writes in Cambrai 1917: The Myth of the First Great Tank Battle:

The Mark IV tank came in two varieties: the ‘male’ was armed with two 6-pdr. Hotchkiss QF 57 mm naval guns and four Lewis guns, its ‘female’ consort had six Lewis guns . . . The ‘male’ version weighed 32 tons, whilst the ‘female’ weighed 28 tons.

Lieutenant Horace Birks of the British Army preferred to go into battle with a male tank. Hammond quotes Birks:

Everybody wanted a male tank. I was a junior officer. I got a female. The male tank was a thing because it had a gun and it was a more formidable weapon altogether. You could get out of it easier because it had quite a biggish door on the back of the sponson. But the female tank had doors [close to] the ground. And it was very difficult to get out of. If there was a fire or anything like that it was odds on that some of you would get hurt.

Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Swinton, though, thought that the female tank could be ideal under the right circumstances. Paul Kendall quotes him in Bullecourt 1917: Breaching the Hindenburg Line:

The female, which, in accordance with the laws of Nature, is the man-killer, carries nothing but machine-guns for employment against enemy personnel. Her special role is to keep down hostile rifle fire, to beat back counter-attacks and rushes of infantry.


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