The third instalment in David Fletcher’s three part series examining the experimental tanks of the First World War describes such oddities as cranes, bridges, and rudimentary amphibious tanks.
Fast moving tanks
Colonel Philip Johnson was the primary exponent of fast moving tanks. One of his early experiments involved a Mark V tank, No 9425 (seen above), a female machine, stripped of some of its original features and fitted with the 225hp version of the Ricardo six-cylinder engine. John Fowler & Co of Leeds then fitted an early version of Johnson’s wire rope suspension and flexible tracks. In this form it achieved twenty miles per hour but during an early demonstration in 1919, it showered the audience with wooden track inserts. It was a true experimental vehicle although it looks a bit of a mess. It ended its days in the original Tank Museum collection at Bovington.
Experimental Bridges and Cranes
The Experimental Bridging Establishment at Christchurch in Southern England was founded in October 1918. Early experiments involved a male Mark V* tank fitted with an internal winch to raise and lay the girder bridge designed to cross French Canal locks.
When the Armistice was signed the Establishment was reduced in size and placed under the command of Major G. le Q. Martel of the Royal Engineers.
Subsequently the new Mark V ** tanks were used, fitted with hydraulic lifting apparatus powered by a Janney pump driven off the engine. In addition to laying bridges it could be used as a jib for carrying anti-mine rollers, a demolition device or indeed as a crane; in effect a general purpose Royal Engineer tank.
In the picture shown, it is lifting the rear end of a Foster-Daimler artillery tractor, which weighed about 13 tons.
This is more of a drastic conversion than an experiment, it involved using the chassis of the prototype Gun Carrier fitted with a steam operated mechanical grab by Priestman Brothers of Hull.
In fact it seems that the vehicle was driven by the steam engine too. It was very slow, hardly walking pace, and it was steered by men walking alongside it. The machine was used by the Royal Engineers, both in Britain and France and looks impressive if not very aggressive.
The track frames appear to be all that is left of the original vehicle but notice the two large containers at the front, probably to hold water and coal and to act as a counterbalance when lifting a load.
Effectively the Medium D series were all experimental tanks since none ever entered regimental service. Not only fast, they were chronically unreliable, they were also amphibious but unstable in the water but they were very progressive for 1919 with the driver sitting above and behind the rest of the crew. Four were built by Fowlers, two by Wolseley Motors and possibly another by an unknown company. The tank shown here is believed to be one of those built by Wolseley Motors, not yet entirely finished, although the driver’s position can be seen on top, the other openings would hold machine-gun mountings.
A Mark IX infantry carrying tank was converted into a rudimentary amphibian. It was launched on Hendon Reservoir (also known as the Welsh Harp) reputedly on 11 November 1918 (Armistice Day) in the fog.
Air-filled drums, used by the Royal Navy and known as Camels were used to support it in the water with paddles fitted to the tracks to drive it along. Note also the raised superstructure at the front, with an outlet pipe from the bilge pump hanging over the side.
Known as the Mark IX Duck it is said to have broken down in the middle of the Reservoir and having to be hurriedly pulled ashore before it sank. Although it was stored at Dollis Hill for some time after the war it doesn’t seem to have been used again.
Find out more about tank development and First World War tanks in the books below.