Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_developing the ta

Who deserves the credit for developing the tank?

Tanks on parade in London at the end of World War I, 1918. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand.

The First World War began in August 1914, and by the autumn of that year it had reached a stalemate. British and French troops faced German troops in lines of trenches from the English Channel to the Swiss border. Trenches provided security from artillery and sniper fire but they did not win wars. Infantry attacks led to devastating losses, since soldiers had little protection against artillery and machine guns.

In the years that followed the war a popular narrative developed that the commanders on each side had no new ideas and did not care about the lives of their troops. Very few historians now believe this, and there is plenty of evidence to show that the image of ‘Lions led by donkeys’ is a myth. Commanders certainly made mistakes, and thousands of lives were lost, but it is not true to say that commanders never came up with, or were not open to, new ideas.

A good example of this is the development of the tank. Many new weapons were eventually developed and used on the Western Front, but perhaps the most effective, at least from late 1917, was the tank. The success of the tank led many to try to claim the credit for its development and introduction.

Your challenge

We have a box of sources from the Churchill Archive for you to investigate.

  • The challenge in this investigation is to examine a range of documents and piece together the story of how the idea of the tank became a reality.
  • Your teacher will be able to help you with a recording framework and suggestions on how to present your work.

 Background information

The sources

Notes for teachers

Colour illustration, Cartoon image shows the British tank first used in World War I, which was at first very successful in attacking German positions, circa 1917 (Photo by Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images)