History’s First Tank Attack

Craig Moore explores Elveden Estate in Norfolk, once the most secret place on Earth and the former training ground for some of the very first tanks

The 6pdr shell holes that pierced the brick walls of the farmhouse are clearly visible

Near the Suffolk and Norfolk county border, not far from Thetford and the A11, you will find signposts for the Elveden Estate. In 1916, the estate was ‘the most secret place on Earth’ as it became the location of the first tank training ground. The existence of the newly constructed armoured tracked fighting machine had not yet been released to the public for fear of the enemy finding out. The army wanted the existence of the tank to be kept secret until their first deployment on the battlefields in France and Belgium.

To prevent curious locals from wandering into this new military training ground, it was called the ‘Elveden Explosives Area’. Special passes were issued to troops and contractors with this printed on them. Word was spread that new dangerous explosives were being tested, and that trespassers would likely die.

The area was large and it took around 700 soldiers just to mount the perimeter guard. More were brought in from line regiments in surrounding camps for special occasions when extra security was required. The Royal Defence Corps supplied 450 men, with the rest from units like the Hampshire Regiment, and even a troop of Indian cavalry on horseback were used at one point.

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