Ok. Ok. So yes I was a little playful when it came to the title of this post. But hey, I could quite easily of entitled it “Take a Little Willie, play with it and see how it develops and what you can get out of it.” But of course I am far too refined for such base humour. And besides , who am I to instantly send most of the clan into thoughts of their boyhood years?
And after all, isn’t this website meant to be all about Tanks? I hear you comment. Well yes this website is all about tanks and in fact this feature (of which this particular post is the first) is all about looking at the history of tanks and of tanks through history. But actually you can’t really consider the history of tanks without considering the statement I made earlier. “Take a Little Willie, play with it and see how it develops and what you can get out of it.”
Meet ‘Little Willie’…
See! Now you understand that I am not just being base or crass.
The one pictured is still on display at the Tank Museum in Bovington UK and dates back as far as 1915 (1916).
The Admiralty Landships Committee (Est 1915) under Winston Churchill were behind it’s concept which was actually constructed by William Foster and Co. in Lincoln. The intention was actually less about it being an armoured fighting machine and more about it dealing with and clearing away the obstacles of barbed wired which in turn were also covered by machine gun posts. But it (or more accurately it’s successors) soon developed into a way of punching a whole in the German forces defences. And – in the same interest of accuracy of information – it was originally designated as being a ‘tank’ in order to deceive any enemy intelligence on the project. But take a look at it. Whilst it looks as much like a water tank as it does a military tank, and it may not have had any real armament it is easy to see it’s tank like qualities.
Here is an old B& W Picture of it.
Its concept in terms of design actually came from Col. Ernest Dunlop Swinton KBE, CB, DSO. and was and idea supported and promoted by Col. Maurice Hankey GBC, GCMG, GCVO, PC, FRS (who latterly became Lord Hankey). But the actual engineering and design are pretty much down to one William Tritton (Managing Director of William Foster & Co.) and one Walter Gordon Wilson CMG.
But it was a design which – although considered the origin and predecessor of British Tank development – encountered huge problems with it’s track system and especially in respect of steering. And so tail wheels (as shown in the picture below) were installed in order to aid with steering.
And for the record, and quite interestingly, (although you can’t see it in the pictures above) there was a plan to place a turret on the top of it. But it is perhaps its (now extremely recognisable) ‘track system’ which actually carries the most glory in terms of the development of tanks as a form or armoured frighting vehicles.
The story of Little Willie is actually very interesting and you can find out more details about it by visiting the ‘Tanks Encyclopedia’ page on it or by visiting the ‘Wikipedia’ page on it. And credit is assigned to them for much of the information contained within this post.
‘Little Willie’ is thought by many as being the very first British Tank. Although there is much argument about who actually invented the tank (personally I would have much sympathy for Leonardo da Vinci’s claim to that. And if you go to the YouTube page for the following video about ‘Little Willie’ you will see (what is a very bold claim) that Little Willie is the ‘World’s First Tank’.
But actually – despite all the arguments about who invented what first, Little Willie is without doubt an important and essential part of the development of British (and subsequently of other nations) tanks.
And what makes it extremely relevant at this time is that it is in fact the forerunner of the Mark I tank which so many of us are playing at the moment as a result of the latest update.
So there you have it. I hope you found this post about tank history interesting as I am hoping to do others in the future. But until then (and since the temptation is too great to resist) don’t worry. Even if you have a Little Willie, playing with it can bring developments. 🙂