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World War I: The Legend of the ‘Music Box’

The Mark A Whippet medium tank was an Allied tank of World War I. Its design and purpose was to take advantage of the armor of heavier Allied tanks and use their 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 the most successful Allied tank of the First World War. In particular, the Whippet was so successful that the tank was used in post-war conflicts in Russia and Ireland.

After extensive tank testing, the Whippet was approved in 1917, and the first tanks rolled off the production line in October 1917 and were delivered to Battalion F of the Tank Corps.

The Whippet, due to its speed and size, was intended for fast, forceful attacks.

Whippets’ baptism of fire came in March 1918 when the Germans launched the Kaiserschlacht, a final offensive designed to finally break through Allied lines. The Whippets’ most notable action was during the Amiens Offensive in August 1918.

Although the Whippets had proven their worth, the cooperation of the tanks and cavalry on the battlefield broke down. As they advanced, the Whippets could not keep up with the cavalry and when the Whippets were attacked, the cavalry could not support them. The tanks of the 6th Battalion assembled at Marcelcave on the night of the first day of battle. Of the original complement of 48 tanks, 40 were still in working order. While losses were being accounted for, Whippet number 344 called ‘Music Box’ was missing. The story of this tank and its crew is the greatest single tank action of the entire war.

The crew of the 344th Whippet under Lieutenant CB Arnold made the largest mechanical cavalry charge of the war. Setting out at zero hour on August 8 with the rest of the troops through that sector, they passed the railway at Villiers-Bretonneux and somehow became separated from the main force. Arnold became aware of a force of Mark V tanks and Australian infantry under German artillery fire. Arnold attacked without hesitation, first driving past the German guns and then to the rear peppering the gun positions with machine-gun fire. Arnold’s timely attack allowed the Australian infantry to advance. For the next 9 hours, Arnold and his crew attacked the German rear positions, infantry and tanks. They scattered an entire infantry battalion in a camp between Bayonvillers and Harbonnieres, destroyed an observation balloon and a transport column of the German 225th Division.

After a relentless attack on the Germans, conditions inside Arnold’s Whippet became so difficult that the crew used the mouthpieces of their gas masks to breathe. The destruction of ‘Musical Box’ came when the Germans cornered Arnold’s tank and set it on fire with artillery fire. Emerging from the burning wreckage, the driver was shot and Arnold and the rest of the crew were taken prisoner.

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