Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_developing the ta

Who deserves the credit for developing the tank?

The sources have been carefully selected from the Churchill Archive to lead to discussion and argument surrounding the invention of the tank. They represent a small selection of sources from the Archive. One way in to the sources might be to ask students to classify them – letters, official papers, telegrams, etc. - and then rank them by how useful they are. It is much better to use the whole collection of sources rather than split them – it is essential that students get the ‘big picture’ to be able to answer the question.

Activity 1

You might ask students if the sources provide an answer to the question posed by this Investigation:

Source Churchill deserves credit for the tank Other person(s) should be given the credit Reasons why the source is strong or weak evidence about this particular issue– (e.g. date of source, typicality, purpose)

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Activity 2

Source 10, the private letter to Churchill by D'Eyncourt, describes the 'finished product' of the tank, or at least as finished as it was in February 1916.

  • From Source 10 produce a list of the characteristics of the tank (e.g. it carries 2 6pdr. guns; can cross a 9ft gap; and so on).
  • Use the other sources to find out at what stage of the process, from January 1915 to February 1916, each of these characteristics was arrived at, and what alternatives the Landships Committee was considering. That way you should be able to decide when, according to these documents, the tank was invented. You might explore the whole file on the tank in the Churchill Archive [CHAR 2/109/136] to see if you can add more information to this process. The documents in CHAR 2/109/136 were all part of evidence selected and collated by Churchill about the development of the tank: you might consider whether this should have any effect on our interpretation of them. You might carry out a similar process by asking when, according to these documents, on the timeline from January 1915 to February 1916, was progress on the tank quickest, and when it was slowest. Do either of these periods coincide with Churchill's tenure at the Admiralty?
  • Finally, you might split the sources into those written by Churchill, and those not written by Churchill. Which set of documents best makes the case for Churchill as inventor of the tank?

Activity 3

Most of these documents refer to the period 1915 when Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, was deeply embroiled in the Dardanelles Campaign - a costly failure for which Churchill took most of the blame and lost political office. In fact, for most historians, the Dardanelles Campaign defines Churchill's First World War. And yet here we have him playing a key role in the development of the tank - one of the great successes of the First World War. How do these documents, taken as a whole, alter our perception of the part played by Churchill in winning the war?

To help with this you might ask students to compare the Investigation, 'What went wrong at Gallipoli?' with this Investigation covering a very similar time period. Finally, you might ask what went 'right' with the tank and what went 'wrong' with Gallipoli.

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