Lieutenant-Colonel Ernest Swinton was one of the leading men in the development of the Tank Corps, going on to recruit hundreds of tank men who served in the First World War. Read his story in the first of a three part series on the creation of the Heavy Section of the Royal Machine-Gun Corps.
Swinton had, since early September 1914, been acting as ‘Eyewitness’ in France, a sort of official reporter writing press stories for publication in Britain. Before then he had served as Deputy Director of Railways, but he’d been a strong advocate of the machine-gun since the Boer War. And since Britain had only adopted the weapon in modest numbers, while the Germans had acquired hundreds of them he had switched his attention to machine-gun destroyers and began bombarding his seniors with ideas and suggestions about them.
Campaigning for Machine Gun-Destroyers
However as a regular Army officer Swinton would not go outside normal channels. He thought of approaching Churchill, who was already deeply involved, but would not because Churchill represented a rival service; the Royal Navy. Nor would he lay his ideas before the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, when he had the chance because that meant going over the head of Lord Kitchener, the man who he regarded as his ultimate boss. Swinton was called back from France in July 1915, renouncing his ‘Eyewitness’ job, to take up a position as Assistant Secretary to the Dardanelles Committee, which had been the Committee of Imperial Defence where Swinton had worked before the War. Captain Maurice Hankey, Royal Marines, the normal secretary was travelling out to Gallipoli to see things for himself, he would return at the end of August.
Being something of an enthusiast for the machine-gun destroyer idea, Hankey encouraged Swinton with his project, which was about the time that the War Office took an interest in the Landships Committee and from then on Swinton became more intimately involved, so, for the next seven or eight months Swinton continued as Assistant Secretary to the Dardanelles Committee while becoming more and more involved in Landship development until, in about March 1916 he was appointed to the command of the new ‘Tank Detachment’ in Britain with the rank of acting Colonel.
That was when his recruiting duties actually began.
Read the next section on Swinton’s recruitment methods here.