Did you know that the very first tank in the world was nicknamed ‘Little Willie’? It doesn’t sound very threatening compared to what we know about tank warfare today. This very first British invention was the result of a number of different projects that date back to 1915. It was during this year that a stalemate had occurred in the First World War. The original plans were less about designing an armoured vehicle and more about finding a way to clear up barbed wire whilst being protected from machine gun fire. Initially, these clear-ups were performed by night operations, but these proved too dangerous.
Other ideas included armour protection carried by the soldiers, but these proved ineffective against bullet fire, causing injury to arms and legs that were unprotected and concussions. Tractors with a spinning wheel of hooks was another proposed concept but it proved too hard to protect the driver.
The nickname might have sounded harmless but ‘Little Willie’ was much fiercer than the name suggests. The name ‘tank’ came into being as an attempt to deceive enemy intelligence about the reality behind the vehicle’s design and purpose. This tank was the precursor to all tank development during and since World War I. The Landships Committee has the vision for a vehicle that could cross any kind of terrain or trench and destroy barbed wire as it moved. If you’ve ever fancied driving one of these amazing armoured vehicles, then you should definitely think about it.
The Landships Committee was a small commission of the War Cabinet founded in 1915. It was headed by Sir Winston Churchill, and also included politicians, engineers and officers. Their primary purpose was to produce an armoured vehicle by the end of 1915. Originally, the concept came from Colonel Ernest Swinton and was later championed by Winston Churchill who saw the importance of turning the tide of the war in their favour through the use of such vehicles.
The component that caused the most trouble during production was the track, which originally was just a strengthened tractor track. Due to the extreme weight of the vehicle and the amount of mud, the traction resistance was too much for the small engine to bear. Towards the end of 1915, they were working on a system of steel plates riveted to links held firmly in position and connected to the main body with large spindles. Weaponry consisted of one Vickers 2-pound gun with 800 rounds and 6 Madsen 7.7mm machine guns.
It was decided to rebuild the first prototype with a longer track and the model was given the name ‘Little Willie’ as a joke about Germany’s Imperial Crown Prince Wilhelm. The second prototype was called ‘Big Willie’ after his father but never made into production.
In the modern day and age tanks are not seen as much out and about, but you can even have a go at Tank Driving with day experience companies such as https://www.armourgeddon.co.uk/tank-driving-experience.html, so you too can experience the power of tanks.