Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_developing the ta

Who deserves the credit for developing the tank?

Source 8

Newspaper Article: The Black Day of the German Army


CHAR 8/675/17-18

Simplified Transcript

We cannot really say that any one person invented the tank. But there was a moment when the government ordered tanks to be built, and as a result we got a very effective machine.

The idea of an armoured fighting vehicle was not new.

The writer HG Wells had already written about the idea in 1903.

The general principles of the idea were obvious.

We had bullet proof armour and mechanical engines.

But there are two distinct points:
(a) Somebody had to give the authority to build tanks
(b) Somebody had to solve the enormous challenges of actually building a tank which worked.

The man who is responsible for building the tank was Mr Tennyson-d’Eyncourt.

Without his expert knowledge it could not have been built. Under his guidance were Sir William Tritton and Major Wilson.

But I was the person who gave the government support and money to make it happen.

Original Transcript

There never was a person about whom it could be said “this man invented the tank”. But there was a moment when the actual manufacture of the first tanks was definitely ordered, and here was a moment when an effective machine was designated as the direct outcome of this authorisation.

There was no novelty about the idea of an armoured vehicle to travel across country and pass over trenches and other natural obstacles while carrying guns and fighting men.

Mr H.G. Wells, in an article written in 1903, had practically exhausted the possibilities of imagination in this sphere.

The general principles of applying the idea were fairly obvious.

Bullet-proof armour had been carried to a high point of perfection by various hardening processes. The internal-combustion engine supplied the motive power.

There are however, two things to be kept distinct:
(a) The responsibility for initiating and sustaining the action which led to the tanks being produced, and
(b) the credit for solving the extremely difficult problems connected with design apart from the main principles.

I consider that the responsibility for the mechanical execution of the project was borne by Mr Tennyson-d’Eyncourt.

Without his high authority and immense expert knowledge the project could not have been carried to success. Under his guidance, invaluable services in the sphere of adaptation and manufacture were rendered by Sir William Tritton and Major Wilson.

But I sanctioned the expenditure of public money in reliance upon Mr Tennyson-d’Eyncourt’s knowledge and his assurances that the mechanical difficulties could be solved.

What is this source?

This is an extract from a newspaper article written by Winston Churchill, published in March 1940.

Background to this source

This is part of a series of articles written by Winston Churchill and published by the Sunday Chronicle in March-April 1940 about aspects of the First World War. The articles were drawn from Winston Churchill’s published account of the First World War, which was called ‘The World Crisis’ and had been published between 1923 and 1931. Topics include U-Boat warfare, the Western Front, Verdun, the Naval Strategy to win the war, the experience of fighting, and in this case the role of tanks in 1917. When war broke out in 1939 Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, in charge of the Navy. Churchill had held this position in the First World War. He also had experience in the army.

Additional information

At this time the Second World War was going badly for Britain. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was under a great deal of pressure. Many people wanted him to stand down and they wanted Churchill to become Prime Minister and lead the war effort.

Churchill had an extravagant and expensive lifestyle which he mainly funded through writing books and articles. He was well represented by his literary agents who managed to negotiate huge fees for Churchill’s work and often found ingenious ways for him to reach large audiences through publishing the same article in different countries, or re-using his existing work as we see here.

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 Churchill writing for here?
  2. What does Churchill say were the main two challenges of developing the tank?
  3. Who does Churchill say is mainly responsible for developing the tank?
  4. What does Churchill say his own role in the scheme was?

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 is making no claim to have invented the tank

Churchill is stressing the importance of the tank in modern warfare

Churchill is staking a claim to be Prime Minister in 1940

Churchill had a high profile in 1940 and it was likely that his articles would be popular

Churchill is trying to reassure the public by reminding them that Britain was victorious in the previous war against Germany

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Need help interpreting the source?

In his article, Churchill writes that ‘I was the person who gave the government support and money to make it [the tank] happen.’ Though this is an important statement for our investigation, historians usually need more to go on than a single line! However, the context and purpose of this line are very telling. These articles appeared in a Sunday newspaper in 1940 and would have reached a large audience. But it’s likely that in 1940 Churchill wouldn’t have had time to write long articles looking back on the events of the First World War. We cannot be certain, but it seems likely that Churchill (perhaps prompted by his literary agents) saw an opportunity to enhance his profile by publishing the article and also to demonstrate that he had good judgement.

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