Ordnance

Ordnance
Stokes Mortar - one of the simplest inventions

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Lincoln Tank

In his brilliant book, The Churchill Factor, Boris Johnson gave his take on the birth of the tank. Next year Lincoln will be marking its very particular role. This is an extract from War on Wheels about the early years of the tank.

The tank was a British invention, the first examples having been manufactured by William Foster and Co in Lincoln.

In 1915 Winston Churchill became horrifically aware of the stalemate of the Western Front and how young men were being slaughtered because, whilst mankind had invented bullets and shells, it had not yet found an effective defence against them. Thus time and again the order would come for an advance and time and again it would fail with horrific loss of life. What was needed was a machine out of HG Wells, a ‘Landship' protected by steel armour capable of travelling over trenches, mud and barbed wire. With Churchill’s influence it was the Navy who made the first prototypes.

The biggest problem was the sheer weight of armour. Eventually two alternatives emerged, one with a large wheel and one with caterpillar tracks. It was not Churchill himself who gave the orders for their production, since he was out of office following the disaster of the Dardenells. Contracts for the two alternatives were awarded to Fodens for the wheeled version and Foster for the tracked vehicle. The project was of course secret and it was let known that the factories were producing motorised water ‘tanks’ for use in Mesopotamia; the name though stuck. The tracked version proved vastly superior and over four thousand were produced.

When Churchill returned to office as Minister of Munitions, he resumed oversight of the project and so had a hand in the victory at the battle of Amiens in August 1918 when 600 British Tanks sent terrified Germans into headlong defeat. In time they recovered their cool, but crucially morale had been broken by this invention with which Churchill had had more than a hand
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