When we think of Special Operation Forces today, we think of Delta Force, SAS, SEALs, Rangers — you name it. Men drilled to perfection and kitted with the best technology the West has to offer. Any unit that’s classified as SOF has the capability to do some sort of Special Operations — missions that the conventional forces can’t or won’t perform.

But SOF is a quite recent classification in warfare.

A century ago, amid the horrors of World War One trench warfare, a unit, with the help of a ground-breaking (literally) invention, was created to conduct missions that the conventional forces couldn’t perform.

The Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) was created in 1916, following the invention of the tank. According to our contemporary criteria, the Royal Tank Regiment was a SOF unit in the sense that it could conduct missions that the rest of the army couldn’t — i.e., bridge the gap between the British and German trenches.

Although the first tanks were used in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, it wasn’t until the Battle of Cambrai, one hundred years ago this week, that the tank really made its debut.

On the morning of November 20, 1917, 476 British Mark IV tanks shot through the morning mist and shattered the German lines.

Their aim was to breach the powerful Hindenburg Line, the last cushion of defense between the Allies and Germany, and thus help end the war.

Although they had a promising start, the Germans promptly counter-attacked and drove them back.  The battle lasted until early December; the war wouldn’t end until almost a year later on November 11, 1918.