The full story of WWI’s ‘Tank Man’ is now told

The full, astonishing story of one of the first WWI tank commanders has been told for the first time in a new book.

‘Tank Man’ chronicles the early experiences of the tank in action through the letters and diaries of Cpt Bert Baker – a analytical chemist until the First World War began.

Bert won a Military Cross and bar for two actions that helped establish the tank as a game-changing weapon of war.

Until those actions many thought the experimental ‘land ships’ ought to be scrapped.

But Baker and fellow early pioneers were able to prove their value in the horror of the Great War.

Bert Baker in uniform – a lieutenant in the Machine Gun Corps

Bert’s grandson Jonathan Baker has painstakingly researched the story, which has been published by The Tank Museum in Dorset.

At the outbreak of war the 29-year-old hero Bert joined the army, served in the trenches, was commissioned as an officer then became a member of the new Heavy Machine Gun force prior to his selection for secret training.

His first tank action in 1917 followed the Third Battle of Ypres during which the tanks failed again to impress – as they had since their introduction a year earlier.

An opportunity to prove the invention had a future presented itself when a series of strongly fortified German gun emplacements near Ypres required taking.

A full-frontal assault was the only traditional way, but up to 1,000 men could have been killed.

Instead a plan was hatched to use tanks, which were to drive behind the emplacements and other fortifications and unleash their fire-power.

Already exhausted from fighting, Baker, along with his crew and 12 others were told to refill their tanks for an early start on 19 August 1917. Only seven would make the action.

Baker’s target was packed full of heavily armed Germans but he fired up to 40 6pdr rounds and the effect was devastating.

On his return Baker’s tank got stuck and he had to run for it, but the mission had shown that tanks could make a difference.

As the author notes: “The operation had been fraught, and not without pitfalls – but it had ended in a triumph for the tanks.”

Bert wrote in his diary after recovering from a hand injury he sustained: “Back to Bttn and told on arrival I’d got an MC for the show on Aug 19th. Very bucked.”

The citation for his efforts on the Ypres Salient at Cockcroft read: “He reached his objective… and, by getting behind it and firing his 6-pndr guns, he was able to drive the enemy out. Although his tank was ditched, he was able to inflict severe casualties on the enemy, who were running away. The remainder of the enemy surrendered to the infantry…”

With a new machine, Baker was then involved in a major action that really proved the tanks’ worth during the end of November 1917 – the Battle of Cambrai.

More than 400 tanks were assembled secretly under the cover of darkness for the early morning attack on November 20th.

The tanks made huge initial gains and the infantry followed them up. Baker’s tank was heading for Graincourt, but two big field guns required taking.

Baker’s tank took out one – possibly both of them – opening up the road to the target for the infantry.

He wrote to his sweetheart: “Have just finished a big battle. Am untouched as far as wounds go but very shaky, only natural being without sleep for 4 days. Had one night’s rest! Am now back in camp and very thankful to be alive. My bus has done one of the best stunts of the show. Two of us captured Graincourt and a battery of guns… We’ve had a glorious victory for the tanks.”

What is thought to be Bert’s tank with the captured Graincourt Gun

What is thought to be Bert’s tank with the Graincourt Gun

What is thought to be Bert’s tank, pictured in 1920 where it had remained after the action

He received a bar to his MC for his heroics. He continued to serve in the tanks until gunshot wounds brought his war to an end.

Bert and Miriam’s wedding 1918

After the war Baker settled in Staffordshire where he died in 1958, and his papers were later donated to the Tank Museum.

Bert Baker with the Graincourt Gun

The Graincourt Gun

Bert – in ‘uniform’ – with his five grandchildren and the Graincourt Gun. Jonathan is third from right

His grandson Jonathan said: “My grandfather had left a detailed record of his war in a notebook, into which he had transcribed extracts from a diary and from his letters home.

“I was able to trace all his movements over the whole four years of the war, and learn about the development of the tanks through the direct experience of one of the first men to fight in one.

“I decided to tell the two stories side by side, and give my grandfather’s heroics the credit I felt they deserved.

“I got the clear impression my grandfather rather enjoyed a large part of his wartime service.

“As so many others, he liked being in the military and being given experiences and responsibilities far removed from his civilian life.

“He had no complaints about the discomfort and privations of military life, and was lucky to emerge both physically and mentally unscathed.

“So many others were not so fortunate.  He picked up the pieces of his life, returning to his old job and starting a family.

“I do not remember his wartime exploits ever being discussed at home, so I was      amazed at what I later learned about them, and to find that we had a war hero in the family.  I am thrilled to have been able to bring his story into the light.”

David Willey, Curator of the Tank Museum, said: “Bert was one of the characters we focused on in our exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the first tanks.

“Jonathan has done some amazing research and a remarkable job to put Bert’s war into the wider context of the development of the tank in the First World War.

“He charts Berts engagement from being one of the first to go into action – through the periods that show how close the tanks were to being scrapped and the important actions that helped save them.

“We are the proud custodians of the Graincourt gun at the museum – the one Bert captured at Cambrai and towed back as a memento.

“The story takes you through the early days of the tank by looking at one man’s military career and his earlier civilian background – a book we are proud to publish.”

But the book here:




For more information contact Ed Baker at Deep South Media on 07788392965


About The Tank Museum

The Tank Museum (Bovington, UK) brings the story of tanks and their crews to life, with what is arguably the world’s finest collection of tanks displayed in awe-inspiring, modern exhibitions.

The museum houses some 300 tanks, representing the key battles of every major conflict since the First World War. Our moving exhibitions tell the story of this British invention; from the mud of the Somme, to the beaches of Normandy and the deserts of Iraq – featuring powerful stories from the soldiers that fought in them.

Highlights include the immersive Trench Experience and The Tank Story Hall – featuring key exhibits such as the first ever tank, the modern Challenger 2 and the notorious Tiger tank. New for 2020 is a major Second World War exhibition; “World War Two: War Stories”.

The Tank Museum is a registered charity and the museum of The Royal Tank Regiment and The Royal Armoured Corps.

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