Tanks and the Great War
"THE MYSTERIOUS 'TANKS'. OUR LATEST MILITARY WEAPON. In the army it has been whispered for some days past that a development of the armoured car...had successfully passed the experimental stage, and was likely to be employed during the next phase of the great offensive... those who had seen them referred to them mysteriously as 'tanks', while the soldiers who had helped to handle them named them humorously 'Willies'".
The Times said the nature of the ground over which the new machines had to operate, would make them no ordinary vehicles, and "of the precise quality of their utility we are told nothing", it said, but "the gratifying fact seems to be, that our inventors have not hesitated boldly to tread unbeaten paths...unearthly monsters eased in steel, spitting fire, and crawling laboriously but unceaselessly over trenches, barbed wire, and shell craters, which, had they been conceived by imaginative novelists, would have been regarded fantastical."
In October 1914, Swinton discussed the idea with Lieut‑Col Hankey ‑ Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defense. Hankey wrote a paper advocating the development of a 'machine gun destroyer' and put it before Kitchener who showed little interest and said, "such vehicles would easily be shot up by guns". Several days later Hankey put the proposal before Mr Asquith ‑ the Prime Minister ‑ who sent it to Churchill, who wrote back saying, "I entirely agree with Col. Hankey's remarks on the subject of special mechanical devices for taking trenches. It is extraordinary that the Army in the Field and the War Office should have allowed nearly three months of trench warfare to progress without addressing their minds to its special problems."
Asquith asked the War Office to investigate the idea of building a machine‑gun‑destroyer. A committee was formed; a Holt tractor was adapted; and a half‑hearted trial got underway; and when the device became stuck in the mud, "the skeptics ... welcomed the chance to abandon the project", causing the War Office to conclude that,"Any use of the caterpillar for the attack of trenches seems to be out of the question".
"The Caterpillar." This attractive card printed in colour and published by Gale and Polden carried on the reverse the following printed caption, "The famous 'Caterpillar' Motor Tractor, designed for work on roads, over broken ground, or across country. This remarkable engine will easily cross soft or rough ground, where no other type of vehicle could pass, owing to the peculiar manner in which it lays its own track. This revolving track is of steel, with rails on the inside, on which the driving wheels run. It is petrol driven, and is capable of a speed up to 12 miles an hour."
If the Army was not interested in developing a "machine gun destroyer" - the Navy was! In February 1915, Churchill gathered together a team of technical experts and set up the Admiralty Landship Committee. However, the War Office and the Admiralty were soon working together on the project.
Several ideas for a war winning vehicle were put forward including a navy proposal which envisaged a 300 ton "Land Battle Ship", powered by a 800‑h.p. submarine diesel engine, carried on four huge 40‑foot wheels, and armed with three gun‑turrets, each housing two 4‑inch naval guns.
Someone suggested building a vehicle they called the "Elephants Feet" ‑ a device which waddled forward on feet suspended either side of a Bullock tractor.
Another suggestion was for the "Foster Bridge", a machine which crossed trenches by laying down a portable bridge which was recovered after crossing.
Several of the proposals looked promising, but none lived up to the requirement expected, so the Landship Committee set out a plan of "definite performance requirements for an armoured fighting vehicle." The requirements were: that it should have cross country capabilities; be capable of climbing a vertical step of 4 feet 6 inches; and cross a trench 10 feet wide. In July 1915, the engineering firm of William Fosters of Lincoln, was invited to design and build an experimental machine.
Why were Fosters given the contract for building the first "machine gun destroyer" ? Probably because the firm had already done valuable work
for the Army soon after the start of hostilities, when the government had asked
it to solve the problem of transporting 15‑inch Howitzers around the Front. A postcard recorded one of the guns in action.
'Little Willie' & 'Big Willie'
In 1915, after the establishment of the Landship Committee, Churchill, obviously impressed with Fosters previous work with caterpiller tractors, urged Tritton to try again at developing a trench crossing machine and "deal with it as best he could" A Major W.G. Wilson, "a gentleman of high scientific attainment", was seconded from the army to assist Tritton. Their brief was, "to design a machine, strongly armoured, carrying powerful guns, capable of negotiating all reasonable impediments of the battle area and crossing the opposing trenches."
Fosters were instructed to incorporate into the new machine, "a pair of American caterpillar tracks [which would be] placed at their disposal." The orders they were given were "definite as to their aims", said Tritton, "but vague and inadequate as to their means of fulfillment".
Fosters were aware that for the project to go ahead quickly, unit parts ‑ not designed for military machines, but from their own stock ‑ would have to be used for the prototype. A Daimler engine, gear box and general power plant were incorporated into the design, which consisted of a rectangular box shaped hull weighing about 18 tons, with Bullock chain tracks fitted on either side. A two wheeled 'tail' was fitted at the rear of the machine to assist with steering. It was completed in less than 40 days, christened Tritton but later re‑named Little Willie. It was put through its paces at official trials in September 1915, but, unfortunately when crossing trenches the tracks became detached. A Balata belt track was fitted ‑ it too failed. But the next day Tritton cabled the Landship Committee, "Balata died on the test‑bench yesterday morning. New arrival by Tritton out of Pressed Plate. light in weight, but very strong. All doing well, thank you. ‑ Proud Parents."
With its new track Little Willie underwent trials at Burton Park and was acknowledged by most of those present to have been "quite a success." However, the Lincoln designers were not satisfied with the performance of the chain tracks and the type and number of guns and their fields of fire were also causing problems. Back at the drawing board Major Wilson came up with the answer ‑ the machine should be a rhomboid shape and, "the track should be carried all around the machine instead of on two side girders, thereby enabling the use of a forwardly projecting nose for climbing and at the same time accommodating the guns in a sponson on each side."
The machine was ready for its official trials at Hadfield Park and on 2nd February, in front of a large gathering, including Kitchener, Lloyd George (then Minister of Munitions) and many senior military and naval officers, it performed splendidly. Recalling the day Lloyd George said, "I remember the feeling of delighted amazement with which I saw for the first time the ungainly monster bearing the inscription "H.M.L.S. Centipede" on its breast, plough through thick entanglements, wallow through deep mud, and heave its huge bulk over parapets and across trenches."
Those present at the trials voted the machine "an outstanding success", having achieved "even more than it was asked to accomplish", but were adamant that "large numbers would be required to make a decisive impact during an offensive." They were later alarmed when the War Office ordered only 40, when "an order of hundreds, if not thousands", had been expected. Lloyd George intervened and increased the total to 150.
Produced under the utmost secrecy Fosters machines were originally going to be named 'Landships' or 'Landcruisers', but it was then thought that this would reveal their true purpose. Swinton said that when they were covered with tarpaulin sheets during transportation by rail, their shape resembled a water 'cistern', 'container' or perhaps a 'reservoir'. The name 'Tank' was chosen.
On one occasion when a make‑believe tank walked out of the camp gate it was observed by a Major Watson, who recalled, "it was immediately surrounded by a mob of cheering children, who thought it was an imitation dragon or something out of a circus. It was led away from the road to avoid hurting the feelings of the crew and to safeguard the ears and morals of the children. After colliding with the corner of a house, it endeavored to walk down the side of a railway cutting. Nobody was hurt [and the] dummy tank was sent back to the carpenters for repairs."
Half of the first 150 tanks were 'male' and half were 'female'. The males were armed with four machine guns and two 6‑pound naval guns, each mounted in a sponson fitted on the side of the hull. Female tanks operated with five machine‑guns. The original plan for deployment envisaged that male and female tanks would work in pairs, the latter to repulse any charge by enemy infantry, while the former would attack the wire and machine‑gun and strong points.
By early 1916, it was generally agreed by those involved in the tanks development, that the success of the first tank offensive would be due to surprise and that large numbers of them would take part and "on no account should they be used in driblets as they were manufactured". Haig agreed.
By August 1916, the massive Allied Somme offensive had faltered and Haig was desperately looking for a solution to break the impasse and decided to use the 60 or so tanks already built. Hearing of Haig's decision, most of those involved in the secret landship project were horrified at his sudden change of plan. Lloyd George, (now War Minister) "energetically protested" about their premature use. The new Minister of Munitions, Montague, visited GHQ in what was a vain attempt to persuade the Commander‑ in‑Chief not to use the tanks yet.
Tanks on the Somme
As well as their official numbers, tanks also carried names. For example, some of those in C Company were known as Champagne, Chartreuse, Chablis, Cognac, Cordon Rouge and Creme de Menthe, the latter becoming famous. Tanks in D Company had names like Die Hard, Dracula, Daphne, Delilah, Dolly and Dinnaken, which also became well known.
By the morning of the 15th only 36 machines had reached the start line and instead of being grouped en masse, they were "spread thinly along the front." Their task were to destroy strong points and provide support fire for the infantry. At 0515 hours a solitary tank ‑ DI ‑ commanded by Captain H.W. Mortimore lumbered forward and destroyed a German machine gun post on the east side of the bitterly fought over Delville Wood. Minutes later it was joined by two companies of infantry who captured the objective.
As the tanks crashed into and over the German trenches, their numbers started to dwindle as enemy action and mechanical problems took their toll. However, one crew member thought it was great fun and said, "Hun bullets are rebounding from our tough sides like hail from a glass roof two or three Huns are brave enough to creep on the back of the tank from behind. We open a small trap‑door and shoot them with a revolver. It is almost like playing hide‑and‑seek as we travel backward and forward along the trench."A volume of the British Official History of the Great War recorded that "in certain localities the moral effect of the new engine of war was considerable." In one case "some Germans thought that the smoke from a tanks exhaust was the discharge of gas and strove to adjust their gas masks as they ran away." The History continued, "The Germans fought bravely and well. Some surrenders, it is true, were induced by the great havoc wrought by the British bombardment, and local panics were caused by individual tanks; but there was no sign of widespread demoralization." A German prisoner complained that the action of the tanks that day, "was not war but bloody butchery".
The biggest British success on 15th September was an assault by seven tanks on the village of Flers, which was, said Haig, "powerfully organized for prolonged resistance." During the attack four machines suffered direct hits, But the remainder pushed on to the outskirts, smashing through machine‑gun posts and fortified houses. The lead tank was D17 - Dinnaken, commanded by Capt Hastie, who drove it down the village high street followed by a number of infantry. The scene was witnessed from above by a British areoplane pilot who sent a message which was reported in British newspapers the following day ‑ "A tank is walking up the High Street of Flers with the British army cheering behind." Haig was jubilant and later said, "In the course of one days fighting we had broken through two of the enemies main defensive systems and had advanced on a front of over six miles to an average depth of a mile. In the course of this advance, we had taken three large villages...All this had been accomplished with a small number of casualties in comparison with the troops employed."A scene of the aftermath of the destruction of Flers and the defeat of the Germans there, was deemed worthy of recording on a postcard in the Daily Mail series of 176 cards.
Tales of Strange Creatures
By 18th September, the success of the 'new armoured machines' was being widely reported at home and the public wondered what they really looked like. Mr Beach Thomas of the Daily Mail said they were "like blind creatures emerging from the primeval slime. To watch one crawling round a battlefield wood in the half‑light", he said "was to think of 'the Jabberwock with eyes of flame' who came whiffling through the talgey wood and burbled as it came."
In the Daily Chronicle Phillip Gibbs called them "ICHTHY0SAURUS CARS...But their real name is Tanks. I have seen them and walked around them, and got inside their bodies, and looked at their mysterious organs, and watched their monstrous movements."
In the Daily Express, Percival Phillips said the tanks "astonished our soldiers no less than they frightened the enemy", and spoke of "the delightful story of the Bavarian Colonel who was carted about for hours in the belly of one of them, like Jonah in the whale, while his captors slew the men of his broken division."
The aforementioned Beach Thomas further wrote, "I came across a herd of them in a field...I sat down on the grass and laughed until tears came into my eyes...For they were monstrously comical, like toads of vast size emerging from the primeval slime in the twilight of the worlds dawn." What were they called now that they had appeared? Among names given to them were Mysterious Monsters, Diplodocus Galumphants, and Polychromatic Toads. Swinton said the Germans called them "Schutzengrabenvewrnichtungpanzerkraftwagon."
As newspapers reported the tanks success, their artists drew impressions of what they thought they looked like - based on the war correspondents reports. At first, most of the illustrations were fanciful and nothing like the truth and postcard artists fared no better in their first depiction of tanks than their newspaper colleagues.
In September 1916, the British public had no idea of what a 'tank' looked like, but the infantry who followed them into battle that month obviously did ‑ and welcomed them. One soldier who was there, said, "Old Mother Hubard they called her and other funny names as well ... There she was, gronin' and gruntin' along, pokin' her nose here and there, stopping now and then as if she was not sure of the road, and then going on, very slow but over everything...the way she shook her wicked old head and stopped to cough. It was a circus ‑ my word! The last I saw of her was when she was nosing down a shell crater like a big hippopotamus with a crowd of Tommies cheering behind!"
The Mystery Revealed
By December 1916, photographs of tanks had began to appear in the illustrated papers. For example, on 9th December The War Illustrated carried four photographs of the "Mysterious Monsters on the Muddy Somme." The same pictures appeared on cards in The Daily Mail Canadian Official Series. They were produced in two finishes. A 'Photogravure Series', with words on the back printed in brown, and a glossy 'Real Photographic series, with words in green. Both series were 'passed by [the] censor', and published by the Pictorial Newspaper Co. London.
"THE TANK THAT BROKE THE RANKS". The picture on this card in the 'Canadian Official Series', also appeared in The War Illustrated on 9th December 1916, above this caption, "A mail‑coated leviathan spitting fire as it goes. A 'tank' crawling over the desert of war steered by its invisible crew, whose bravery is akin to that of submarine men bringing their craft into position during a naval action." This famous picture has appeared in many publications where it has also been described as, a "Rear view of heavy MK1 tank, C5 Creme de Menthe, which had its tail-wheels damaged by artillery fire during the battle on Poziers Ridge. It was Capt Inglis's tank." Tail-wheels assisted in steering the machine. They were operated by a wheel in front of the driver and acting like a rudder were supposed to turn the tank in a circle of about a 60 yard radius. However, when the tanks went into action in the mud of the Somme, "the wheels were a complete failure" and by November 1916, they had been removed from most of the machines.
"RESCUED BY A BRITISH TANK." Edgar Holloway did the original coloured painting of this postcard picture. Both crewmen are seen wearing brown leather 'helmets' ‑ designed to protect them against the effects of metal 'splash' which often occurred inside a tank when it was hit by small‑arms fire. Some men did not like wearing the leather helmets as the shape was similar to that of a German steel helmet and it was not unknown for crews who were forced to abandon their tank - to be fired on by their own comrades.
"A CROWD OF GERMANS HOLDING UP THEIR HANDS TO SURRENDER". This card carries a picture by Frederic de Haenan. It depicts a scene from 25th September 1916, when a tank about to cross a seemingly deserted German trench, stopped, and "suddenly a little crowd of men seemed to spring from nowhere, all with their hands up. The demoralized Boches remained where they were as though petrified, and did not move until our infantry took charge of them."
The Third Battle of Ypres
The British Army had defended the Ypres salient since October 1914 and was frequently under attack on two sides. It was an area of heavy clay, shell holes and waterlogged ground - caused partly by the Belgians, who early in the war had opened the dykes in the north and let in the sea to try and halt the German invaders.
In June 1917, Haig ordered a breakout
from the salient. It was to include tanks. The offensive began with 13 days of
heavy artillery bombardment from 3,000 guns on an eleven mile front. It rained
heavily the night before the attack making the ground completely unsuitable for
tanks. Brigadier General Hugh Ellis in command of the machines, expressed his concern
about the ground conditions, only to be told "guns were the big thing, and
tanks must take their chance." General Hubert Gough's Fifth Army of nine
divisions were to make the main attack. Their first objective was the German
third line two miles away. From there an assault would be made on the
Passchendaele ridge two miles further on. Having taken the ridge the Fifth Army
would advance 12 miles to Roulers with the cavalry following close behind ready
to exploit the breach. That was the plan.
The attack began at 3.50 am on 31st July in mist and drizzle and as the 216 tanks set off from the start line ‑ some were in trouble almost immediately. Stuck in mud and shell holes they were an easy target for the German guns and by midday over half were out of action. The infantry were more successful and took their first objective and 6,000 prisoners. By mid afternoon - as the British pressed on to Passchendaele Ridge - the Germans launched a counterattack and Goughs Fifth Army was pushed back. By the end of the day its fighting strength had been reduced by half. Tank casualties were worse than those of the infantry, with only 19 machines still operational.
Raining heavily for the next four days the battlefield turned into a swamp littered with dead and strewn with derelict wrecks. Some tanks were submerged in the mud, others had their tracks shot away and some were now little more than burnt out shells. It was not surprising therefore, that the region became known as the 'Tank graveyard' and when Haig's Chief of Staff visited it soon after the battle, it was said that he broke down and wept and said, "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that."
After the disaster that day, a number of printed‑photographic
postcards were produced depicting British tank casualties there. Most of the
cards were French and carried a short caption in French and English. The Germans were pleased to take photos of damaged and burnt out British tanks and crew members - and release them as real photographic postcards.
The Battle of Cambrai
Almost a year after the appearance of the tanks on the Somme, the now named Tank Corps, was given permission to launch a full scale attack. But where to direct it? One of the targets considered suitable was at Cambrai. It was here, near the river Scheldt that a major German communications centre was located and where four railways and several main roads and waterways converged. The area lay seven miles behind the well‑fortified Hindenburg Line, and defences in that sector were particularly strong, (sometimes up to five and a half mile deep) with concrete dug‑outs and massed batteries of machine guns and "areas of barbed wire, with nowhere less than 50 yards thick." It was an important target but the cost in lives and materials it was reckoned would have been huge. For instance. it had been estimated that it would take five weeks of artillery bombardment of the German positions to cut through the wire at a cost of some £20 million in ammunition alone.
Opposite the above mentioned sector of the Hindenburg Line, General Sir Julian Byng's Third Army was dug‑in. It was an area of open countryside and firm ground which until then had seen little action ‑ in fact an ideal place to launch an attack with tanks. Byng was confident he could smash through the dense lines of barbed wire, but the sheer size of some of the German trenches presented a problem. Many were 16 feet wide and almost as deep, certainly too large a gap for a tank to cross. The Central Workshops of the Tank Corps looked at the problem, and soon came up with an answer about how to force a crossing. It would provide the tanks with fascines, large bundles of brushwood weighing about two tons and bound with thick chains. Each tank would carry a fascine on its nose and by means of a special internal triggering device, drop it into an enemy trench ‑ thus forming a 'bridge'. A number of official photographs were taken of tanks loaded with fascines, but seemingly non appeared on contemporary postcards or maybe they did!
On 20th November 1917, six infantry divisions with two more in support and three held in reserve and 376 fighting tanks and nearly 100 more specially equipped for other purposes, waited on a six‑mile front in Byngs' sector of the front. At 6.20 a.m. one thousand guns opened up a creeping barrage on the Hidenburg Line. As the shells landed on the German trenches the tanks rolled forward followed by the infantry.
The Corp commander, Brigadier General Hugh Elles was in the lead tank
Hilda, which was flying the Tank Corps colours of brown, red and green
symbolizing the tank‑fighters slogan, "Through mud, over blood, to the green
fields beyond." A crew member said, "It seemed almost to good to be true [we
were] rumbling forward over marvelous going, no craters in the ground, no
shelling from the enemy, and our infantry following steadily behind."
As the tanks reached the first of three belts of wire ‑ each 50 feet deep ‑ "it neither stopped our tank nor broke up ... but was squashed flat", he said, allowing the infantry to cross without difficulty. All along the front "the Germans were sending up SOS rockets."
The Battle of Villers-Bretonneux
In 1918, a new type of tank - designed by William Tritton in 1916 - came into service. It was the light medium MK A Whippet. Armed with only light machines guns, it had a top speed of 8 mph and a range of 80 miles. Its purpose was to exploit any breach in the enemy line. Instead of having tracks fitted around its hull ‑ as on previous tank designs ‑ the Whippets tracks were fitted around a chassis, on which was mounted the engine room and fighting turret. The Whippet was soon to prove its worth on the battlefield.
On 21st March 1918, the Germans launched a massive offensive against the British Third and Fourth Armies. The attack was on a front of 54 miles. The British trenches were overrun and within days the Germans had advanced 20 miles. Whippet tanks were sent into action for the first time and were successful in preventing the Germans from penetrating a four mile gap which had been opened up in the line held by the Third Army at Serre. By nightfall the immediate danger had passed and the British line north of the Somme had been stabilized. However, over the next two days the Germans advanced in the south, until they were about ten miles from Amiens, where the British and French lines met and the site of an important railway junction.
On 24th August the Germans
launched a surprise attack on Villers-Bretonneux, using for the first time 12
of their own newly built AV7 tanks. At 6 am, after an intense bombardment
of high explosive and gas shells, British troops saw fearsome shapes coming
towards them through the fog. The German tanks caused the same fear and havoc
to the British as their tanks had done to the Germans at Cambrai in 1917. (The
A7V was twice as heavy as a British tank and carried a crew of 18) The British
Official History recorded that "wherever tanks appeared the British line was
broken." The Germans took Villers‑Bretonneux and headed for the village of
Cachy. The situation was becoming desperate so three Mark IV tanks ‑ one male
and two females ‑ were dispatched there and ordered to hold the village at all
costs. The females, armed only with machine guns were hopelessly outgunned and
were hit several times and forced to withdraw. The remaining vehicle was left
to fight the AV7s on its own. A gunner ranged on one of them and scored three
direct hits. His commander said, "it was splendid shooting for a man whose eyes
were swollen by gas and who was working his gun single handed owing to the
shortage of crew." While the damaged German tank was ditched and abandoned by
its crew the others "slowly withdrew and disappeared in the direction of
Their success in the first tank against tank action, rallied the British infantry who were even more heartened when seven Whippets roared into view and charged at full speed across the open undulating country that was so ideal for tank movement. What followed was a massacre. "[The] enemy troops were mown down by the relentless firing of 14 blazing machine guns [or] crushed to death as the tanks ran over them...their tracks literally covered in blood and human remains."
The Germans, demoralised, abandoned their attack on Cachy. That night Australian troops recaptured Villers‑Bretonneux and the German drive towards Amiens was halted.
The Battle of Amiens
Below are five 'OILETTE' cards by Raphael Tuck & Sons. They were 'Officially Passed for Publication' probably in 1917. There are five cards here which are thought to be from a set of six. Four of these cards depict Whippet tanks.
Over the next few hours the landships made good progress. In the village of Marcelcave, Lieutenant Percy‑Eade's tank knocked out six machine gun positions and then attacked a battery and put the gunners to flight. All along the front the Germans were taken by surprise and overrun. By 11 am, on a front of three divisions, the second objective had been taken ‑ but not without some losses. Twenty five tanks were either ditched or knocked out and nine out of ten tanks of A Company were destroyed and others were lost in the fierce fighting. Some crews were found unconscious in their machines from carbon monoxide poisoning.South of the Somme a gap of eleven miles was made in the German line, Cavalry Corps and Whippet tanks went through the breach and up to the third objective. A tank commander said, "Steaming up the long southern track they came headed by a regiment of Lancers", and "as far as the eye could reach there were trotting columns of horses. While in the middle track, battalions of horse and field artillery were arriving at a gallop...A cloud of dust on the north track heralded the Whippets...going hell for leather for the next objective. The whole spectacle was one which none of us ever expected to see in France and one we would never forget."
As the British advance slowed down a little it allowed the Whippets to push ahead and successfully penetrate almost eight miles into the German lines, causing immense havoc. One named Musical Box, became a legend in the Tank Corps because of its remarkable exploits that day. It was commanded by Lieutenant C. B. Arnold, with Driver Carney and Gunner Ribbans making up the crew.
By the end of the day the British line had advanced over six miles and the German Army had suffered its heaviest defeat since the war started, loosing about 27,000 men and more than 400 guns and large numbers of other weaponry.
Tanks had led the advance in almost every sector and their biggest achievement had been "in sharply reducing the numbers of Allied infantry casualties." An officer commented, "The tank is a saviour of flesh and blood. which lets the enemy spend his fury destroying metal instead of human life."
As the German Army retreated, General Erich Ludendorff, said the Allied advance could not have happened without the contribution made by the tanks on 8th August, and called that day "the black day of the German Army in the history of the war." His confidence in shreds and his troops' morale falling, Ludendorff finally acknowledged that the war could only be ended by negotiation.
The Battle of Amiens was followed by further successes, one of the most important involving tanks was on the Hindenburg Line, when on 28th August the great defences were breached. The last British tank action took place on 5th November 1918, when eight Whippets helped a guards brigade to advance by the Forest of Morval ‑ which the BEF had passed on their retreat from Mons in August 1914.
In October 1919, at the Old Hall, Lincoln's Inn, a Royal Commission held its first meeting to decide who was the inventor of the tank. In due course its recommendations were published and a joint claim by William Tritton and Major Wilson, was the favourite. The finding of the commission was that, "To these two claimants...we attribute the credit of designing and producing in a concrete practical shape the novel and efficient engine of warfare known as the 'tank'; and it is to them, that in our judgment, by far the largest award should be made. We recommend that there be awarded to these claimants jointly the sum of £15,000."
The Commission also awarded Colonel Swinton £1,000 for his part in the development of the tank. Perhaps it would have been fair for the Commission to have awarded the writer H.G. Wells something too.
In 1903, a year after the Boer War had ended and thirteen years before the birth of the tank, Wells wrote a story titled 'The land Ironclads' which appeared in the Strand Magazine. It was a tale about "two fighting sides...locked in apparent stalemate" on a battlefield of trenches, when there appeared in the dawn light, "a large and clumsy black insect...the size of an iron‑clad cruiser, crawling obliquely to the first line of trenches and firing shots out of its portholes in its side...and displayed along the length of it feet...flat, broad things, reminding one of the...legs of caterpillars...the thing was putting down its feet one after the other and hoisting itself further and further over the trench...until it was all over...The elaborate lacework of the trenches and defenses, across which these iron turtles, fourteen of them, spread out over a line of perhaps three miles, were now advancing as fast as a man could trot and methodically shooting down and breaking up any persistent knots of resistance."
In 1932, Swinton said he had read, 'Mr H.G. Wells marvellous forecast ‑ 'The land Ironclads' when it first came out in 1903 "but looked upon it as pure phantasy and had entirely forgotten about it."
Lloyd George also had something to say about the tanks after the war. It was this. Bitterly condemning their premature use by Haig in 1916, he said the British had committed as great an error as that made by the Germans in 1915, "when by their initial use of poison gas on a small section [of the British line] they gave away the secret of a new and deadly form of attack, which had it been used for the first time on a grand scale, might have produced results of a decisive character." In the same way, he said, the British had "sold the great secret...for the battered ruin of a little hamlet on the Somme ‑ which was not worth capturing."