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World War I The war to end all wars.

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  #16  
Old 05 Aug 17, 06:28
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Originally Posted by MarkV View Post
She built two which were ready for testing in early 1919 but the Allied Commissioners demanded their immediate scrapping. Completion had been a long process because of problems in making thin armoured plate
Depends on who you look at. Some sources say the two weren't complete and were finished after the war and then scrapped.



I'm inclined to believe that's as far as they got before being scrapped, which means they really never were.
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Old 05 Aug 17, 13:06
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Originally Posted by T. A. Gardner View Post

I'm inclined to believe that's as far as they got before being scrapped, which means they really never were.
Jeez... I am inclined to agree.
Look at the width on those things, how would they even have moved them to the front?
I doubt river barges would have brought them all the way there from Krupp-land.
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Old 05 Aug 17, 13:19
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Jeez... I am inclined to agree.
Look at the width on those things, how would they even have moved them to the front?
I doubt river barges would have brought them all the way there from Krupp-land.
The tank in the front was called Ribe and a number of sources state that it was completed whilst the second one was 90+% complete. They were designed to break down into modules for transport to the front where they would be reconnected. The Allied Control Omission oversaw their destruction at the factory. Hitler apparently had a non working replica made in 1942 but for what purpose is unknown
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Old 06 Aug 17, 13:42
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Could I distract for a moment and ask for recommendation of a concise, up to date account of the development and introduction of the tank/AFV to the battle field?
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Old 06 Aug 17, 18:20
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Could I distract for a moment and ask for recommendation of a concise, up to date account of the development and introduction of the tank/AFV to the battle field?
Concise is difficult in the confines of a forum like this and I suggest getting hold of John Glanfield's book The Devils Chariots. However the idea of a powered (as opposed to human or animal power) armoured and armed vehicle goes back to the Crimean War when proposals for armored steam traction engines mounting light cannon and with with blades on the wheels were first proposed. A similar machine was suggested to the Federal government in the ACW (in this case it appears to have been an enlarged and steam powered version of Da Vinci s Mann powered idea. However it was not until the South African War when armoured vehicles first appeared on the battlefield.. A number of Fowler traction engines were armoured and fitted with up to three armoured trailers which allowed them to deliver either artillery pieces or rifle squads through Boer rifle fire (See attached).

In the early 20th century a number of armoured car designs were manufactured in Britain, France, Italy and Austria. The author H.G. Wells wrote a short story The Land Ironclads which presaged the tank. A Mr Mole from Australia even designed a tracked vehicle and sent it to the War Office in London (it was ignored).

When WW1 broke out armoured cars proved effective in the early fighting in Belgium. These initially were improvised RNAS and Belgian Army . At a dinner party in London a Commander Hetherington who had been involved in the RNAS effort in Belgium suggested the building of huge landships. One of the other guests was a certain W S Churchill who happened to be in charge at the Admiralty. He set up the Landships Committee which eventually led to the first tanks seeing action on the Somme in 1916.

This is a grossly truncated account which ignores developments in France and Germany (but I did warn you). There are not that many experts in WW1 tanks but I would modestly claim to be among that number - and I will post more as time goes by.
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  #21  
Old 06 Aug 17, 21:20
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Originally Posted by jf42 View Post
Could I distract for a moment and ask for recommendation of a concise, up to date account of the development and introduction of the tank/AFV to the battle field?
Tanks: 100 Years of Evolution by R.M. Ogorkiewicz capably covers both British and French tank genesis and usage in World War I in two chapters and was published in 2015, so it fits both your criteria. If you want more detail, you wouldn't err by seeking out The British Tanks 1915-19 by David Fletcher (2001) or The French Army's Tank Force and Armoured Warfare in the Great War: The Artillerie Spéciale by Tim Gale (2016).
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Old 06 Aug 17, 23:37
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This one comes very close. The A7V-U. One prototype was built but never tested as the war ended before that could happen.

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  #23  
Old 07 Aug 17, 04:27
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Originally Posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
This one comes very close. The A7V-U. One prototype was built but never tested as the war ended before that could happen.

No it was tested and rejected. It retained the Holt suspension and this was found to clog with mud very quickly. A second version which retained the all round track but had smaller sponsons and a simpler suspension was never tested
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Old 07 Aug 17, 07:12
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Evolution of the tank and tank tactics Part 1

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Originally Posted by jf42 View Post
Could I distract for a moment and ask for recommendation of a concise, up to date account of the development and introduction of the tank/AFV to the battle field?
OK I will cover this in detail but in the form of a serial - en route I will cover many of the "paper "tanks that arose in the process so it remains appropriate for this thread. Here is part 1

Introduction

The First World War is not normally remembered as a tank war, yet on August 8th 1918 the British army committed more than 500 tanks of various types (fighting, supply, command, wireless etc) to battle at Amiens. This was the start of a series of hammer blows that effectively broke the German Army and forced that country to request an armistice. Without this the war would certainly gone on through well into 1919 with even more carnage and destruction. In their submission to the Reichstag, strongly urging the immediate seeking of an armistice and peace terms, the German High Command, headed by Hindenburg and Lunendorf, specifically refer to the mass use of tanks by the Allies as a major cause of the German military collapse

"Two factors have had a decisive influence on our decision, namely, tanks and our reserves.
The enemy has made use of tanks in unexpectedly large numbers. In cases where they have suddenly emerged in huge masses from smoke clouds, our men were completely unnerved.
Tanks broke through our foremost lines, making a way for their infantry, reaching our rear, and causing local panics, which entirely upset our battle control. When we were able to locate them our anti-tank guns and our artillery speedily put an end to them. But the mischief had already been done, and solely owing to the success of the tanks we have suffered enormous losses in prisoners, and this had unexpectedly reduced our strength and caused a more speedy wastage of our reserves than we had anticipated”


Whilst they were to some extent using the tanks as an excuse for their own failings nevertheless there is some truth in this.

An enemy’s citation of a particular weapon as a major cause of their defeat is a powerful endorsement of its importance and effectiveness. The following figures compiled by Major General J.F.C.Fuller also help to put the contribution of the tank in context.
‘As regards casualties the comparisons are amazing. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme July 1st 1916, when no tanks were used, the British casualties were approximately 60,000. On the first day of the Battle of Amiens when 415 (fighting) tanks were used they were slightly under 1,000. Between July and November 1916, the British casualties per square mile of battlefield gained were 5,300; during the same months in 1917, at the Battle of Third Ypres, they were 8,200; and in the same period in 1918 they were 83. In the third period alone were tanks used in numbers and effectively.’

Again Fuller was partial but there can be no doubt that tanks did have an effect.

Despite this many historians have relegated the use of tanks to a matter of minor importance, indeed one history of the battle of Amiens fails to mention the use of tanks at all.

The truth of the matter is that in 1916 with the introduction of an armed, armoured and tracked vehicle capable of negotiating the battlefields of the time the British Army had created a war winning weapon but it was to take them nearly two years to develop the appropriate techniques, tactics and strategy to make effective use of it. The British Army was an institution quite capable of learning but in this case it had to do so in the face of obstinacy, self serving and sheer recklessness, often in high places. In the process many tank crews were sacrificed. To understand how this came about it is necessary to look at the original evolution of the tank itself.

One of the lessons that is still relevant today is how many of the long term problems were the result of a failure to carry out a coherent assessment of the dilemma the tanks were called upon to resolve before the process of designing the first tanks even began. In other words rather than saying ‘ here is the problem, these are the broad strategy and tactics necessary to overcome it, now let us develop the technical tools and weapons to achieve this’ the progenitors of the tanks effectively said ‘ we know we have a problem, here is the weapon to overcome it.’ The soldiers then had to devise tactics for its use learning from the mistakes made on the battlefield, it took almost two years and many casualties before arriving at the approach that saw success in the last part of 1918.

The Flood of Ideas

As early as 1915 it was readily apparent that the Western Allies faced a serious dilemma. The battle lines had congealed into strips of fortifications stretching from Switzerland to the Belgian Coast. Any attack on the enemy had to be a frontal assault against troops dug in behind barbed wire, armed with repeating rifles and machine guns and covered by artillery of all calibres. A frontal attack against a protected enemy has always been an act likely to result in heavy casualties for the attackers (as the Union troops at Fredericksburg and Cold Harbour could have once testified) but the addition of twentieth century technology had made this an even more costly exercise. In 1915 the cost of taking a German front line trench was a 50% casualty rate (killed or wounded) in the rank and file (the casualty rate amongst junior officers was an horrific 75%). This was an issue that concerned the Allies much more than the Germans as, apart from the savage assault on Verdun (intended to bleed and eventually enfeeble the French Army), their general policy between 1915 and the start of 1918 was to stand on the defensive on the Western Front whilst concentrating on defeating Russia in the East. To relieve pressure on their Russian ally and force Germany to make a peace acceptable to the Allies it would be necessary for Britain and France to breach the German defensive system. It was generally recognised that to achieve this with infantry supported by artillery alone would cost many lives (although it was not until the shock of the Somme offensive in 1916 that it was realised just how many) even if it could be achieved at all.

It was inevitable that a number of enterprising minds should seek solutions to the stalemate, brought about by military technology, through the introduction of yet more machines of war. A flood of ideas ensued. Some did not merely border on the lunatic but crossed that boundary and were deep in the realms of fantasy, others required the application of technologies not yet available (as a young George Patton remarked having been asked to review one such scheme ‘if only we had an atomic engine!’)
Nevertheless a number had sufficient merit to warrant further investigation and even experiment and in Britain a process developed that was to lead, through a body sponsored by Winston Churchill (then 1st Lord of the Admiralty) and known as the Landship Committee, to the production of the first tanks.

The Landship Committee was formed, at Churchill’s behest, on the 20th February 1915, effectively its initial role was to examine and oversee the testing of various proposals, usually involving some form of armoured vehicle) many of which were instigated by Churchill himself who was always open (sometimes too much so) to new ideas. From there it gradually expanded its role until this included commissioning the construction of the first tanks. The story of how the Landship Committee developed, the politics and intrigues involved, some of the highly individualistic personalities involved with it and the technical challenges and solutions considered is in itself enough material for at least one book and at least one very worth while account has all ready been written. The Landship Committee does not appear to have had formal terms of reference, this was in some part due to Churchill’s wish give it a low profile so as not to bring its work to the baleful attention of the Treasury or the resentful regard of the War Office. Both these organisations contained senior people to whom the very concept of a Landship was anathema. This lack of formal focus was to leave the Committee free to consider a wide range of options and may have assisted in creating the atmosphere of intellectual adventure that allowed the, for its time, unorthodox characteristics of the first true tank to be identified and adopted. However on the downside it meant that no real consideration was given to exactly how the new weapon was to be used.

Most chronicles of the development of the first tank and of those schemes that fell by the wayside tend to concentrate on the mechanical issues, for example how designs with big wheels gave way to those with caterpillar tracks. It is interesting to step away from this and look at the way in which the way in which the various proponents envisaged the manner and purpose of the deployment and use of the new weapon. When we do this we can see a plethora of different views and priorities reflecting the lack of a common understanding as to what it was supposed to do and the problems it would need to overcome. To use today’s terminology the project lacked any proper statement of functional requirements. It is true that some basic technical requirements were drawn up in terms of matters such as the width of trench to be crossed and the height of obstacles to be climbed but there appears to have been no clear initial statement of the role or roles that it must be able to perform on the battlefield.

Ignoring matters such as the means of traction and concentrating on function the various solutions offered can be grouped as follows:

 Wire cutters and crushers, these were intended to clear the barbed wire away from in front of the enemy positions so as to provide lanes of attack for the attacking infantry,
 Armoured shields and transport, intended to protect and carry infantry across no mans land and into the enemy’s front line trenches,
 Mobile block houses, meant to place armoured machine gun positions close to or in the enemy front trenches so as to provide the attacking infantry with covering fire and rallying points,
 Machinegun destroyers, their purpose was to eliminate the enemy machine gun positions so as to give the infantry a better chance of crossing no mans land safely, and
 Behemoths which seem to have had no specific purpose other than to be very big, carry lots of guns and provide magnificent targets for enemy artillery.

The first four of these categories each show a concentration on one part of the overall problem of how to break the German defences and make the general assumption that once the infantry had reached the German trenches the job was done. As we shall see later, although the initial assault across no mans land was often a horrific period of concentrated carnage it was just the beginning of the attackers difficulties. Each of these solutions had its own specific tactical and strategic shortcomings.
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Old 07 Aug 17, 07:50
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Evolution of the tank and tank tactics Part 2

Wire cutters and crushers

Although the use of barbed wire as a tool of war rather than one of agriculture was relatively new in 1914 but the principles behind it were long established. The use of entangling obstacles to slow up and pin attackers whilst the defenders brought their fire power to bear was a long established feature of siege warfare. One such device was the abatoise consisting of felled trees laid with their branches facing the attacker. In the middle of the 18th century a British attack on the French fort at Ticondaroga was foiled by the extensive use of this defence, suffering heavy casualties, and Wellington made extensive use of the same in the lines of Torras Vedras defending Lisbon. The use of chevaux de frise (spears or pointed rods hammered through balks of timber) for the same purpose dates back at least to medieval times. What was different about barbed wire was the ease with which industrialised nations could produce vast quantities of the stuff and the relative ease with which it could be transported and deployed. It was not long before the approaches to both Allied and German trenches were defended by extensive belts of barbed wire. Clearing it with artillery often ploughed up the ground making the attackers approach more difficult and blast often merely moved the wire rather than cutting it.

A number of machines designed for wire cutting or crushing (the two were rarely combined in one device) were built and tested by the British and the French. Some were unmanned with a few also being remotely powered and controlled. In the case of the unmanned devices their range was limited, allowing the device to reach the German front lines (if lucky) but little more.

Lemon’s Wheel was a British device. Although a very long way from the final concept of the tank the results of its trials were communicated to the Landship Committee and so may have had some influence on their thinking (even if only by eliminating some possibilities). In effect it was a rotating barrel like contrivance that could be spun up and then launched from the British front line. It was intended to flatten the barbed wire in its path before exploding at the end of its run. In trials it proved to be singularly ineffective as it had insufficient energy to travel very far, bounced over sections of wire and those sections of wire that were flattened tended to spring up again after its passage.

Another approach examined by the British was the use of armoured road rollers to crush wire (and cave in trenches). Although these were heavy enough to crush barbed wire, to the extent that it stayed crushed, and cave in trenches they lacked sufficient ability to negotiate the terrain and would become ditched very quickly (even when coupled in pairs so that one could pull or push the other clear). This failure of the technology masked a major tactical shortcoming to this approach. Had it been possible to deploy such wire crushers they could have been used in one of two fashions. They could have trundled back and forth clearing wide areas of wire and giving the enemy ample warning of exactly where the attack was going to be mounted and of its imminence (always assuming that the German artillery would allow such an activity to survive for very long, which was most unlikely). Alternatively they could have been used to cut lanes through the wire with the infantry following behind. As was discovered later in some early tank actions, columns of men, in the open, following slowly moving armoured vehicles provide first class aiming points for artillery and are in any case easily enfiladed by machine gun and rifle fire.

The French also experimented with wire cutting and crushing machines going so far as to armour a small number of Filtz wheeled agricultural tractors, fitting them with wire cutters and a single, very limited traverse, machine gun. These were actually deployed but proved singularly ineffective not being able to cross the broken ground of the battlefield. A more outré machine was the huge Boirault wire crusher of 1914 consisting of five huge rectangular frames rotating round a pyramidal frame. Wire flattened by this would certainly stay flattened but the machine was incredibly slow (about 1 kph) and effectively unsteerable (it could only be turned by the crew dismounting and raising it on jacks). A smaller armoured version with limited steering was produced in 1915 but this was still a relatively large machine and equally slow. It is difficult to see how these machines could have been used. They might have been used prior to an attack to flatten wide swathes of the wire, loosing every element of surprise and presenting an almost unmissable target for the German artillery, or alternatively they could cut lanes through the wire before the infantry attacked, showing the Germans exactly where to position their machine guns for best effect. With such a slow speed they could not be used to spearhead an infantry attack through the wire, not unless the attackers were prepared to mill around behind the machine and provide extra targets for the enemy.

The French also looked at remote controlled devices - in some ways similar to the German Goliath remote demolition machine of WW2. These were controlled with a command wire (and sometimes powered through an electric cable) which would have severely restricted their range. However they could not carry enough explosive to have a significant effect on barbed wire entanglements.

The tactics inherent in the design of all of the wire cutters and crushers shared the same basic flaw – that is that getting ones troops across and into the enemy’s front line trenches was the be and end all of the matter. it wasn't, that was only the beginning of the problem.
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Old 07 Aug 17, 09:19
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Evolution of the tank and tank tactics Part 3

Armoured shields and transports

Ever since men started lobbing or projecting missiles at one another (whether they be rocks, sling shots or arrows) the shield has been a major part of the soldier’s armoury. Initially personal weapons of defence, from ancient times shields were developed into devices for protecting whole units of infantry. Shields mounted on wheels and pushed by groups of attacking soldiers became a regular feature of both classical and medieval warfare – especially in siege conditions. By the renaissance period some shields became quite complex being pushed by horses and mounting small cannon. It was perhaps inevitable in that siege to end all sieges that was the Western Front that this form of protection re-emerged. At first these were simple bullet-proof shields mounted on wheels that were intended to be pushed in front of the infantry, as they crossed no mans land. A typical design was the Tudor shield, six feet high and twelve feet wide, which would provide cover for 25 infantrymen and was mounted on a pair of artillery wheels. Vickers had already produced an infantry shield designed to protect thirty men and balanced on a single central wheel. Both British and French designers worked on such a relatively simple concept. As was the case in medieval times, simplicity began to give way to complexity, one British proposal being for the Tudor shield to be mounted on a Pedrail tractor and fitted with a machine gun.

Mobile shields, whether ancient or modern, can be tactically limiting. These limitations would have been exacerbated by the conditions under which World War One was fought. In order to be proof against the modern rifle they had to be fitted with armour plate and this is not light. The Tudor shield for example weighed 1,000 lbs (nearly half a ton) and the Vickers was probably heavier. Pushing such devices by hand across the broken ground of no mans land would not have been a trivial task, especially since attacking British infantry were often already burdened with additional weight such as extra ammunition, grenades, wire cutting equipment and all the other paraphernalia necessary to enable them to both take trenches and hold them against counter attack. Mounting the shield on a tractor might make moving the shield easier but would create additional problems in getting sufficient numbers across the British front lines and in place for the attack. Any infantry shield, whether hand pushed or motorised, would face the problem of ground clearance. If the bottom of the shield is too close to the ground then progress will be blocked by even the smallest irregularity in the terrain, raise it high enough to cope with the rough going and the infantry’s legs are exposed to rifle and machine gun fire. In any case progress would be halted by tree stumps or posts and the shield would be unlikely to be able to penetrate bands of barbed wire. Mobile shields would need to be steered around most obstacles which in turn raises a new problem for any significant deviation from an approach at ninety degrees to the enemy’s front line could expose those sheltering behind the shield. In any case trench systems were never nice geometrically precise straight lines and were also sometimes guarded by saps thrown forward to provide advanced flanking machine gun nests that could be occupied when an attack was launched, so that the shield could never provide complete cover.

The infantry shield would have had the effect of creating a clumping of the attackers that would make them very vulnerable to artillery and trench mortar fire, especially air bursts against which the shield would provide no protection.

Shortly before the formation of the Landship Committee, Churchill expressed the following wish;
“I want something that will straddle a trench and enfilade it with machine guns and then you let men out rapidly and you take the trench”.
Whilst this requirement may at first sight appear quite a modern requirement it is in fact almost as old as organised warfare itself. One can imagine a satrap of ancient Persia commanding his engineers thus;
“I want something that will overtop a wall and enfilade it with arrows and then you let men out rapidly and you take the battlements”.
And his engineers would go away and build him a siege tower. Modern artillery meant that walls had been lowered to become the parapets of trenches whilst the firepower of the defenders had multiplied many fold but what Churchill was asking for was in essence a siege tower, albeit lower and much much better armoured than any ancient or medieval siege engine. Consequently much effort was expended by British engineers in designing a modern equivalent of the siege tower by means of which troops could be carried safely across no mans land and into the German front line trenches. One design even used a system of cables and anchors to winch itself forwards in an unconscious replication of the way which some ancient siege towers dragged themselves up to the enemy walls. Designs included both wheeled and tracked vehicles. Typical of the wheeled designs was Tritton’s Trench Tractor.

William Tritton was the managing director of Fosters of Lincoln, builders of large traction engines. He was to become one of the two main architects of the first tank (for which he was later knighted). His Trench Tractor with 15 foot diameter wheels was intended to carry seventy men, however given that the rear, troop carrying,section was 28 feet long and only 8 foot 6 inches wide at its broadest point (and much narrower between the wheels) with a total floor space of 150 feet (giving each soldier only sightly more than 2 square feet) it is difficult to see how so many could be accommodated, and especially not with their kit. Between thirty and thirty five seems a much more realistic number. It is also difficult to see how troops could have dismounted quickly from such a narrow vehicle where the positioning of the huge wheels blocked any means of exit from most of the side.. If straddling a trench the drop from the tractor to the floor would have been in the order of 12 feet, some sort of ladder would seem to be in order. Given that Tritton’s drawings show no provision for arming the vehicle (and in such packed confines there would probably be no room for a gunner or gunners to operate) the troops would have had to dismount under fire from the occupants of the trench they were assaulting. The Trench Tractor never progressed beyond starting the building of a full sized wooden mock up.

Tracked vehicles can be represented by Col Crompton’s Mark I & Mark II Landships. Col. Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton was a pioneer of powered land transport for the military having been instrumental in the introduction of steam powered military road trains in India as early as 1872 and been heavily involved in the introduction of armoured traction engines in the Boer War. The MK II s was Crompton’s second landship design, the first not being articulated, and consisted of two identical armoured bodies (each about 21 feet long and 12 feet wide) mounted on a tracked system known as pedrail. (an unarmoured prototype of this unarticulated Mark I, was tested in 1915 and found impossibe to steer, articulation was suppoesed to resolve this). The Mark II was intended to carry about 50 men. Drawings of the intended armoured version suggest that exit would be through large lifting flaps on the side, allowing rapid dismounting. The design shows no element of armament (although Crompton’ idea was that the carrier would park parallel to the trench so that the attackers could through grenades through the side hatches) so that, as with the Trench Tractor, dismounting from the Crompton machines would have had to be done in the face of relatively unsuppressed fire from the trench being attacked and any supporting machine gun positions.. Steering remained a problem and the armoured versions were never proceded with.

Initial plans were for a fleet of landships of 150 vehicles. In the case of the Crompton machines this would have had a total carrying capacity of 7,500 men assuming that there were no mechanical breakdowns (which was extremely unlikely). To put this into context on the first day of the Somme some 66,000 British soldiers went over the top in the first wave alone. The total number in the first days attack was about 110,000. The numbers at the Third Battle of Ypres were of a similar magnitude. The armoured carriers were not an answer to the problem of taking wide swathes of the enemy’s line. At best they might have played a part in making raids on the German trenches.

Even with such small numbers there would have been some significant limitations on the deployment of these machines. Firstly they were too large to be transported intact by train to the front and would have had to be carried in sections and assembled in the rear of the British positions. Secondly tracks would need to be created to allow them to make their way to their jumping off points for the attack, this would include building ramps to allow them to cross British trenches. At what point in this process their ‘passengers’ would be assembled and taken on board is not clear but it would have to be done. It is unlikely that all this activity would have gone unnoticed by the Germans who would be both forewarned and able to turn their artillery on the attack before it
had even cleared the British front line. The thinking behind both the infantry shields and the armoured transport shared a common misconception about the tactics needed to break the deadlock on the Western Front, this was that getting one’s troops into the enemy’s front line trenches was the end objective. If the shades of Vauban, Cohorn and the other great siege engineers of the past had been available to advise they would have pointed out that with a fortress with deep defences breaching the outer lines was but the beginning of the attackers’ problems as the Germans had taken the art of defence in depth to entirely new levels.
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Evolution of the tank and tank tactics Part 4

The idea of a moveable fort was not new, early siege engineers would sometimes build protected structures on rollers that could be inched forward until they dominated some aspect of the enemy’s fortifications and could harass the defenders with missile fire (arrows, sling shots light catapults etc.). Some times this was done to cover other siege works or an assault. In the American Civil War the Union forces sometimes used armoured railway carriages armed with cannon for this purpose. A locomotive would push one forward to a position where it could bring its gun to bear on the Confederate defences (this was usually done under cover of darkness) and then pull back out of rifle range leaving the wagon to act as an advanced blockhouse.

The same concept resurfaced in World War One. Tritton’s design for a second Trench Tractor was described by him as “ an armoured wagon or fort”. This was an unorthodox design, even when compared with some of the more outre projects presented to the Landship Committee. A huge armoured tricycle tee shaped in plan, mounted on 15 foot wheels and armed with two machine gun turrets at the front it was driven by an electric motor. Behind it trailed an electric cable connected to a generator driven by a traction engine behind the British front line; it carried a plough that buried the cable behind it (how the plough would have fared when passing through a barbed wire entanglement remains unknown). There was a rectangular driver’s position at both ends of the vehicle allowing it to reverse away from danger without having to turn (although how the plough and cable would have coped is unclear). This fort would drive up to, over or into the German front line positions using its machine guns to suppress fire from its defenders and allowing British infantry (a few of which it would have transported) to take and occupy the trench. Thereafter it would act as a strong point and rallying place to resist German counter attacks. Tritton’s second machine was never built, even in mock up. This was still very much a ‘siege engine’ approach. Tritton’s machine would have been very much limited to attacks on the German front line trench by its electric cable which would have both defined its range and restricted where it could go (it would have been unable to cross German trenches ahead of the infantry as this would have exposed its power cable to attack, a well placed grenade would have immobilised it).

The French also experimented in 1915 with a mobile pillbox that was electrically powered with a trailing cable connected to a generator behind the lines. This was a smaller, simpler machine without any trench crossing capability and was probably intended as a means to work a machine gun forward to suppress snipers or the like. It looked very like the German mobile pillbox the Fahrpanzer, originally developed by Grunson pre war for use in fortresses but used in WW1 to set up strong points as needed but in the unmechanised German Army horse drawn. At least one prototype was built but it does not seem to have been deployed.

Using a remote generator as a power source, whilst saving weight in the attacking machine, would have been highly risky. The cable itself was a weak link in the system as it could easily have been damaged by shell fire. The unarmoured generator could equally be put out of action in the same manner. Any failure of either component would leave the vehicle immobilised in no mans land.
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There's always the Burstyn Motorgeschultz...



One of the earliest tank designs, but never produced.
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Originally Posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
There's always the Burstyn Motorgeschultz...



One of the earliest tank designs, but never produced.
Will be coming to that - less than meets the eye
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Evolution of the tank and tank tactics Part 5

Machine gun Destroyers

At some point (probably May or June 1915) there was a growing realisation within the Landship committee and its advisors that the siege engine approach was not going to provide the answer. How this came about remains unclear but it is possible that a prescient comment by Robert Macfie may have acted as a stimulus for this change in thinking. Macfie was a Scots Canadian aviator and engineer. Adventurous and innovative in thought he suffered from an enormous ego couplesd with an irascible and prickly personality that must have made him not so much difficult to work with as impossible.. His total unwillingness to give any of his co-advisors to the committee credit for anything appears to have rebounded so that nobody gave him credit in return. However in histories of the development of the tank he is recognised as being an early and persistent advocate of the use of tracks rather than wheels, producing a number of designs and models. However his identification of the limitations of the tactical approaches so far explored may have been of at least equal value.

In mid April 1915 Macfie had written, “I am aware that machines are proposed which will be armoured against rifle and Maxim fire which are to carry parties of soldiers to the trenches, whereupon doors are opened and the men pour out. I would submit that this plan fails to deal effectively with the enemy’s artillery, and that further, only the front line of the enemy’s trenches can be dealt with this way”. Macfie envisaged parallel columns of heavily armed and armoured vehicles breaking right through the German trench lines to allow cavalry and horse artillery to pour through and harry the enemy’s rear. The big break through that would allow a resumption of a war of manoeuvre in which the cavalry could be loosed upon the enemy was a dream of many British generals and others in the mid war years. Macfie’s vision would have chimed with this. Macfie’s concept had partly moved away from the ’siege warfare’ approach but had still not fully grasped the full extent of what was possible with armoured vehicles not merely creating a pathway for the mounted arm but actually replacing it.

By May 1915 Col. Crompton was talking about adding pom poms (shell firing repeating guns) to his landship design so that it could perform the role of a roving machine gun destroyer and by June of that year he had received an official (and secret) requirements specification for such a vehicle. These were entirely technical (speed, range, bridging capability, armament, weight, crew capacity etc) and contained no definition of the role the landship was indeed to perform. If there was such a definition, upon which presumably the technical specification would be based, it was not passed on to the engineers who were to build it or, indeed, to the soldiers who might use it (it is interesting to note that some major British public sector computer systems are still created in this way today).

Crompton created and submitted his Mk III design, this was still articulated but now fitted with a pair of continuous caterpillar type tracks for each section. Notes on the drawings suggest that it was planned to use the American company Bullock’s patent Creeping Grip track units. Both sections were to have super imposed turrets fitted with light cannon (probably pom poms) and machines guns mounted in the hull. It would seem that the two sections could be separated and operate independently which would have made it the only ‘tank’ capable of conducting a pincer movement all on its own. The role of troop carrier was now at best secondary with capacity for no more than ten soldiers. Probably as a result the design of the Crompton Mk III was for a vehicle much narrower than the Mks I and II, this would have made it much easier to deploy to the appropriate part of the front using the French railway network.

It was to no avail for in August 1915 Crompton was ordered to hand over all prototypes, drawings and other work to William Fosters Ltd where Tritton and Captain Wilson would have sole responsibility for developing the new weapon. As is well known it was this team that finally produced the vehicle known as ‘Mother’ which became the prototype for all British heavy tanks of World War One. Macfie had also designed an armed, armoured and tracked landship. If built this would almost certainly been superior to Crompton’s machine gun destroyer design in terms of its ability to cope with the terrain of the Western Front but inferior in its fighting capacity. The positioning of the tracks would have made it impossible for the driver to have had any view directly ahead of the vehicle (his forward view would have been much the same as that of the driver of a large steam locomotive and he would have had no real side vision) and the positioning of the sponsons (which would have carried any armament) right to the back would have made it near impossible to cover targets in the path of the landship unless the driver (who might not be able to see them himself) yawed the vehicle considerably. It would however have been able to cover its rear extremely well.
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