Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_developing the ta

Who deserves the credit for developing the tank?

Source 5

Letter from D’Eyncourt to Churchill


CHAR 2/109/136 [29-31]

Simplified Transcript

Private and Personal.
Feb. 14, 1916.

Dear Colonel Churchill

I am very pleased to report the success of the first landship (we call them ‘tanks’). The War Office have ordered 100 of them using the design we tried out. Haig has sent some of his staff to view it. The machine is almost complete and meets the requirements of the War Office. The official tests of trenches and wire were easily overcome. Finally we showed them how it could cross a 9ft gap after climbing a 4ft 6inch vertical trench wall. It carries two 6-pounder guns which can fire right ahead or to the side. It carries machine guns and around 350 bullets. It is proofed against machine gun fire. It can be transported by rail and constructed ready for action at short notice. The King saw it and was astonished by its performance, as was everyone else. I wish you could have seen it.

To prevent delay, I strongly urged for more to be made as quickly as possible. As you know, it has taken a long time to perfect the machine, which I am sorry for. I can assure you no unavoidable delay has taken place, although I ordered 10 or so to be made for training purposes two months ago. Without your influence, it has been difficult to steer the scheme past its opponents and to make it happen. The most important thing now is to keep this whole matter secret and produce the tanks as a surprise.

I enclose a photo of the tank, which looks like a great monster; I hope it will scare the Germans. The back wheels form a rudder for steering, although it can also steer and turn independently of this.

In conclusion, congratulations on the success of your original project, and good luck in your work on the Front.

Yours sincerely,
E. H. T. d'Eyncourt.

Original Transcript

Private and personal.


Feb. 14, 1916.

Dear Colonel Churchill,

It is with very great pleasure that I am now able to report to you the success of the first landship ("Tanks" we call them). The War Office have ordered 100 to the pattern which underwent most successful trials recently. Sir D. Haig sent some of his staff, Lord Kitchener and Robertson also came, and 1st Lord and other members of the Board of Admiralty. The machine was complete in almost every detail and fulfils all the requirements finally given me by the W. O. The official tests of trenches, wire, etc. were nothing to it, and finally we shewed them how it could easily cross a 9ft. gap after climbing a 4ft. 6in. High perpendicular parapet. Wire entanglements it goes through like a Rhinoceros through a field of corn. It carries 2 6pdr. guns in sponsons, (a naval touch) which can fire right ahead and enfilade the trenches on the broadside. About 350 rounds of 6pdr. ammunition, also smaller machine guns. It is proof against machine gun fire. It can be conveyed by rail, (the sponsons and guns take off making it lighter) and can be put together ready for action and proceed independently at short notice. The King came a day or 2 ago and saw it and was greatly struck by its performance: in fact I think everyone was fairly astonished. I wish you could have seen it, but hope you will before long. It is no doubt capable of great development but to prevent delay, I strongly urged ordering at once good many to the pattern we know all about, and can produce quickly. As you are aware it has taken much time and thought to perfect the machine and get it in such a form that it is a practical manufacturing proposition. We tried various types and did much experimental work. I am sorry it has taken so long, but pioneering work with no precedent to go on must take time, and I can assure you that no avoidable delay has taken place: though when I saw the thing was right, I begged them to order 10 or so for training purposes 2 months ago. After losing the great advantage of your influence, I had considerable difficulty in steering the scheme past the rocks of opposition and the more insidious shoals of apathy, which are frequented by red herrings which cross the main line of progress at frequent intervals. The great thing now is to keep the whole matter secret and produce the machines all together as a complete surprise. I have already put the manufacture in hand, under the aegis of Mr. Ll George who is very keen; the Admiralty is also allowing me to carry on with the same committee, but Stern will be chairman.

I enclose photo, in appearance, it looks rather like a great antediluvian monster especially when it comes out of the boggy ground which it traverses well; and I hope it will scare the Bosches. The wheels behind form a rudder for steering a course and also absorb the shock over banks, etc, but are not absolutely necessary, as it can steer and turn in its own length with the independent tracks.

In conclusion, allow me to offer you my congratulations on the success of your original project, and wish you all good luck in your work at the Front.

Believe me, dear Colonel Churchill,

Yours very sincerely,
[Signed] E. H. T. d'Eyncourt.

What is this source?

This is a copy of a ‘private and personal’ letter from the Director of Naval Construction,Tennyson d’Eyncourt, to Churchill sent on 14 February 2016.

Background to this source

In January 1915 Churchill wrote to Asquith, the Prime Minister, about ways to break through on the Western Front. Throughout 1915 the Landships Committee of the Admiralty had been working on the project of developing armoured vehicles to solve this problem and finally, in February 1916, the first tanks were successfully trialled. By this time Churchill was out of government and serving on the Western Front himself. Tennyson d’Eyncourt had worked with Churchill at the Admiralty and was writing to update his former master about the progress of the development of tanks. The pressure was building on the British and French in 1916. The Germans began an offensive at Verdun and in July 1916 the British would start their own attack at the Somme to try to relieve pressure on the French.

Additional information

The design of the tank had been worked on and undergone many trials. The project had been given to the Navy because they had many engineers and workshops suited to the task and because Churchill was in charge of the Navy when the project began and was keen to progress it. The ’sponsons’ described in d’Eyncourt’s letter were bulges in the side of the tank which allowed guns to be mounted and gave them a wider range of fire.

Churchill later selected this document and had it copied as evidence for the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors on the origin of the tank explaining his role in the development of the tank.

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 is Tennyson d’Eyncourt reporting to Churchill?
  2. How successful has the project described in the letter been?
  3. Who is praised for making it happen?
  4. Why, according to d’Eyncourt, has it taken so long to bring to a successful conclusion?

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 tank trials have been very successful

The War Office believes the tank can make a big difference in the war

The Landship Committee has solved all the problems surrounding the development of the tank

With Churchill out of government it has been very difficult to push forward development of the tank

Tennyson d’Eyncourt knew that Churchill would be interested to learn about the progress in the development of the tank

Download table (PDF)
Download table (Word document)

Need help interpreting the source?

This source presents important information for historians and some questions. It is significant that it is a 'private and personal' letter. Secrecy was extremely important and the government would have wanted to make sure news of the tank did not leak out. As Churchill was out of government when he received this letter, the letter raises interesting questions about Tennyson d’Eyncourt’s motives: should he have provided Churchill with any of this information and, if not, why did he choose to do so? We also see that the Army and the Prime Minister Lloyd George have now become interested in the tank. Clearly there is excitement but the tank is still untried in battle.

Explore the guide to interpreting letters

Source 6

 Back to sources page

 Back to investigation page