Monday, May 12, 2014

World War I and Tanks

Birth of the Tank

It was called the War to end all wars

The Great War was a struggle between Europe's great powers, which were grouped into two hostile alliances.

The number of men mobilized by both sides: the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey), and the Allied Powers (Britain and Empire, France, Belgium, Russia, Italy, USA), totaled over 65 million.

When the fighting was finally over, no-one could tell exactly how many had been killed but historians estimate that up to 10 million men lost their lives on the battlefield - and another 20 million were wounded.

As well as all the great powers of Europe being involved, the war also extended into Asia and Africa.

The Battle of Marne that took place between 5 and 14th of September, 1914 is generally accepted as the beginning of the Trench Warfare.

Another outcome of the Trench Warfare is the area between the opposing forces' trenches called the No Man's Land.

"Hideous Landscapes, vile noises... Everything unnatural, broken, blasted; the distortion of the dead, whose unburiable bodies sit outside the dug-outs all day, all night, the most execrable sights on earth..." 
British Poet Wifred Owen, February, 1917

End of 1914 sees the trench line stretching from the North Sea on the western end to the borders of Switzerland on to the east with a length of larger than 750km's.

The trench war soon converts to a deadlock situation with neither side offering superiority to break the lines of the other side.

Studies start on both sides for a solution to dissolve the dread lock. The Landships Committee that was formed by the War Cabinet in February 1915 was one of the workgroups who tried to come up with a vehicle to overcome the trenches and endure the deadly machinegun fire while doing that. The committee was named the Landships because it was formed by the Admiralty!

Many ideas were evaluated by the committee.

Hetherington Big Wheel

Tracks spread the weight of the vehicle over a much greater area, enabling them to have better mobility on soft soil conditions. The only available solution with better soft soil traction than the wheels in UK at the time was the Pedrail. The Landships Comittee authorizes the design of a pedrail vehicle. However, the prototype built was so complex that vehicle started falling apart on its first trial run.

Pedrail Vehicle and Pedrail Wheel.

The caterpillar tracks were widely used in agriculture in United States at the time. There were even some vehicles that are used as artillery tractors in British Army from Holt tractor company. 

Holt Artillery Tractor

The Landships committee sends an engineer to States and also procures some sets of caterpillar tracks and other equipment. The development effort starts with some initial test beds.

One of the first designs was created by combining the track set and chassis from US Killian-Strait company and the armored body of a Delaunay-Belleville armored car. 

Killen-Strait Tank

However the trench crossing capability was not deemed satisfactory.

The studies showed the most suitable track design for the aim was being offered by Bullock Tractor Company of Chicago called Bullock Creeping Grip.

These tracks were integrated on an armored chassis and the vehicle is called No.1 Lincoln Machine. The testing that began on September 1915 resulted in not so favorable results. 

No 1 Lincoln Machine

The development work proceeds and December 1915 saw another new vehicle called Little Willie. But the trench crossing capability was not still at the desired level.

Little Willie

Walter Wilson who is a member of the LandShips Committie and a  Royal Naval Air Service Engineer comes up with an idea of the tracks circling the hull in a rhomboidal shape to maximize the trench crossing.

The first vehicle was completed in January, 1916 and named "His Majesty's Land Ship Centipede". The tests this time were successful.

His Majesty's Land Ship Centipede

After the completion of the testing and evaluation phase, the War Department orders a batch of 100 tanks that are now type classified as Mk 1 Tanks.

©2014 Warfare Technology

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