Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_developing the ta

Who deserves the credit for developing the tank?

Source 2

Minutes of a meeting in the office of D.N.C.


CHAR 2/109/136 [21-23]

Simplified Transcript

A meeting was held in the office of the Director of Naval Construction on Monday February 22nd 1915.
At the meeting were:
Director of Naval Construction
Colonel Crompton
Colonel Dumble
Major Hetherington

There was much discussion of the question of a large land ship. The main discussion was about its contact with ground, and whether this should be with wheels or some kind of pedrail wheel.

At first it was decided to make small models, one with wheels and one with a caterpillar track. Later it was decided to make them much larger so that they would be practical models and trials would show which was better. The working models would be about 25 tons. This was the estimated weight of an armoured vehicle for attacking a trench.

The two working models are almost identical. The machine with wheels has already been built for Admiral Bacon at Lincoln.

With a view to deciding the best design as soon as possible, we recommend:
1. Foster and Company’s works in Lincoln be ordered to build and test a model with wheels
2. Another model to be built with caterpillar tracks

Original Transcript

A Meeting was held in the Office of the D.N.C. [Director of Navy Contracts] on Monday 22nd instant (February, 1915.)

Director of Naval Construction.
Colonel Crompton C.B.
Colonel Dumble.
Major Hetherington.

Much discussion on the subject of a large Land Ship took place, confined mainly to the chief difficulty, i.e. the best form of making contact with the ground, whether by wheels or by some pedrail device greater in length and strength than any hitherto made.

At first it was decided to make small models, one with wheels and one with a caterpillar, but later it was considered better to make them of an appreciably size so as to be fairly considered as practical working models. Trials with these machines would determine the respective merits of the large wheels and the caterpillar. The weight of such working models was considered to be about 25 tons. This weight coincides approximately with the calculated weight of a machine suitably armoured against infantry fire and available for attacking and crossing a trench.

The two working models arrived at independently are almost identical in principle, wheels being used in one case and a caterpillar in the other. The machine with wheels actually exists at Lincoln at this moment as a number are being built for Admiral Bacon.

With a view to such eliminating trials at the earliest possible moment we recommend
[1] That one of the Tractors at Messrs Foster and Company's works, Lincoln, be selected for this work at once and that the Firm be instructed to carry out the Committee's recommendations.

[2] That the Committee be empowered to order a similar working model fitted with some form of caterpillar supporting and propelling device from such firms as they may suggest.

What is this source?

These are the notes from a meeting of the Landships Committee, which occurred on February 22nd 1915.

Background to this source

In March 1915 the stalemate in the trenches was continuing. Churchill and many others were keen to see whether new ideas could help to break the stalemate. Six weeks after his letter to Asquith, Churchill was trying to speed up his solution to the problem of attacking enemy trenches on the Western Front. The Landships Committee was set up, to meet and discuss the development of armoured vehicles secretly, as Churchill feared the Treasury and/or the Army would refuse to back his project. It is worth noting that most of the personnel involved are from Churchill’s department – the Navy.

Additional information

Pedrail engines have wheels but the wheels effectively have ‘feet’ on them. Flight Commander Thomas Hetherington of the Royal Naval Air Service saw a pedrail vehicle in action and suggested that the armed forces experiment with it. Big wheel type engines are what the name suggests. Both were designed to make the vehicle manoeuvrable but also to spread its weight so it would not get bogged down. Other key figures are mentioned in this document. The Director of Naval Construction was Eustace Tennyson d'Eyncourt. Colonel Crompton was a successful scientist and engineer who offered his services to the war effort. Colonel Dumble was a former Royal Engineer but now served organising transport in the Naval Division (a division of the army formed from naval staff transferred to land because the need for men was greater there than at sea).

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating who deserves credit for developing the tank. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level: details, facts and figures

  1. Who is present at the Landships Committee meeting?
  2. Who do they represent?
  3. What are they trying to decide?
  4. What decision has been reached?
  5. What action do they recommend?
  6. How soon do they want action?

Deeper level: inferences and using the source as evidence

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
The main problem holding up progress is how the new ‘land ships’ should make contact with the ground

The need for a prototype tank is very urgent

The Committee is trying to solve problems that no one yet knows the answer to

The Admiralty want to keep the Landship project secret

It is not surprising that it is the Navy pushing ahead with the development of the tank

The Navy were involved with the development of the tank because Churchill was keen to make progress and was able to give instructions to the navy

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Need help interpreting the source?

This is an intriguing source for historians. In it we see the secret Landships Committee, made up of Navy personnel, attempting to design and develop a weapon for land. This raises some interesting questions about why one of the early names for the tank was a ‘landship’. It is impossible to say whether this project would have gone ahead without Churchill’s support, but there is no doubt that his enthusiasm helped the Committee very much.

The later context of this document is that it formed part of evidence compiled by Winston Churchill for the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors about his involvement with the development of the tank. The document is part of a whole file of evidence (see CHAR 2/109) about various different people’s involvement with the origins of the tank.

Source 3

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