In 1915 the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, created a Landships Committee to tackle the problems of trench warfare.
After many experiments and false starts an agricultural firm, William Foster & Co. of Lincoln, was contracted to build a prototype machine based on some imported American tracks. When these failed the British designers came up with a new pattern which worked and these were fitted to the Foster’s Landship which was now known as Little Willie – said to be an uncomplimentary nickname for the German Crown Prince. The completed vehicle was running by the end of 1915 but by then a new design was under construction; known variously as Big Willie, His Majesty’s Land Ship Centipede or Mother it was the prototype for all British heavy tanks in the First World War.
Thus Little Willie was redundant, almost as soon as it was built, but it was used for driver training for a while, before being removed to Lincoln, then Dollis Hill and then to Bovington as part of the original Tank Museum collection. Little Willie was powered by a Daimler six-cylinder petrol engine but all of the internal fittings were removed many years ago. All that remains is the combined worm differential and gearbox although they are not in the correct place. At one time it also had a turret but this was taken off although the turret ring can still be seen.
Since it never entered service many of the statistics are little more than conjectural, things such as fuel capacity and armour thickness, particularly since the fuel tank is missing and plate from which the vehicle is built is not actually armoured. As contemporary photographs show the vehicle originally had a wheeled tail as a counterbalance and steering aid. All that remains, in its present state, is part of the hydraulic lifting mechanism and the pulleys.
Little Willie took part in two demonstrations, on 29th January and 8th February 1916 at Hatfield Park, Hertfordshire. Both served to prove that only the new machine Mother, was able to match War Office requirements.
Find out more about tank development and First World War Tanks in the books below.