Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_developing the ta

Who deserves the credit for developing the tank?

Source 3

Approval to build prototypes


CHAR 2/109/53

Simplified Transcript

19. I think that I am entitled to take the credit for making the decision of the 26th of March to spend a great deal of public money on this project which was not guaranteed to be a success and which was not backed by any senior military or naval authorities. In fact, I took the decision even though it was not within the scope of my Department or my position in government. If the project to build tanks hadn’t worked, if tanks hadn’t been used in the war by the military authorities, and if I had been called to account for my decision by a Parliamentary Committee, I would not be able to deny that I had wasted public money on a project which was not my business and that I had not consulted the relevant military advisers about it.

Original Transcript

19. I conceive that I am entitled, so far as the question of initiative is concerned, to rest myself wholly on this decision, which I gave on the 26th of March, to spend this large sum of public money on a project so speculative, about the merits of which no high expert military or naval authority had been convinced. The matter, moreover, was entirely outside the scope of my own Department or of any normal powers which I possessed. Had the tanks proved wholly abortive or never been accepted or never used in war by the military authorities, and had I been subsequently summoned before a Parliamentary Committee, I could have offered no effective defence to the charge that I had wasted public money on a matter which was not in any way my business and in regard to which I had not received any expert advice in any responsible military quarter…

What is this source?

This is an extract from the account of the development of the tank which Churchill prepared for the Royal Commission on War Inventions in 1919.

Background to this source

The Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors (the Tomlin Commission), was set up after the First World War to consider all inventions used by the Government in the war. This is an extract from Churchill’s submission about his involvement setting out the context for the order he gave to the Landships Committee to continue building prototype tanks.

Additional information

The Landship Committee was an Admiralty attempt to break the deadlock on the Western Front. Meetings throughout February had led to plans for 18 prototypes, both 'caterpillar' and 'big wheel' versions, in an attempt to find an effective solution.

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. What does Churchill say he deserves the credit for in this paper?
  2. In accounting for his actions, does Churchill show that he followed the rules for a government minister?
  3. What does Churchill think could have gone wrong?
  4. If the tank had not been a success, what would Churchill have been blamed for?

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?
Churchill believes that he was responsible for an important decision to develop the tank

Churchill feels government ministers don’t need to follow rules about spending public money

Churchill feels government ministers don’t need expert advice

Churchill feels that his instincts are right

Churchill was prepared to accept the consequences of his decision

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Need help interpreting the source?

This source is written from a retrospective viewpoint when Churchill already knew that tanks had made a significant contribution to the war. It raises interesting questions for historians about Churchill’s leadership and risk-taking. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill championed other technologies which weren’t as successful as the tank and had also championed the disastrous Dardanelles campaign. Yet he did succeed in getting things done and energising those around him. Was Churchill a better leader in wartime because he was prepared to take risks and follow his instinct when the stakes were high?

Source 4

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