On 3 December 1915, as he headed off to France to serve as a soldier, Winston Churchill wrote a paper on ‘Variants of the Offensive’.
He introduced the idea of armoured vehicles that used caterpillar tracks. On Christmas Day 1915, Sir Douglas Haig, who had recently taken over command of the Expeditionary Force in France, read this paper and decided that he wanted to know more about the caterpillars mentioned.
Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Elles was sent to England to find out what was going on in the darkened rooms of Whitehall and the factories of Lincoln.
On Christmas Eve 1915 an Inter-Departmental Conference was called to consider “The Present and Future Situation regarding the Provision of Caterpillar Machine Gun Destroyers or Land Cruisers”. Swinton was the secretary. Decisions made at that meeting included:
- The Admiralty agreed to supply the War Office with 100 6-pr guns for the experimental vehicles.
- The War Office agreed to consider raising a preliminary force of 75 officers and 750 men.
After the meeting as he was writing up the minutes Swinton gave some thought to the terms landship and land cruiser. He was concerned that these words were too descriptive and thus lacked the required level of operational security.
Lt Colonel W Dally-Jones photographed later in 1917
He chatted the issue through with Colonel Dally Jones and alternative names were mentioned. They used D’Eyncourt’s 4 Nov 15 suggestion of ‘Water Carriers’ as their start point and quickly dismissed alternatives including ‘container’, ‘receptacle’, ‘reservoir’, and ‘cistern’. But when one of them suggested ‘tank’ the simplicity instantly appealed and the name was born.
The case was taken back to Fosters, suitably engraved and put on display in the factory. A photograph of it appears in their 1920 book ‘The Tank-Its Birth and Development’
On 3 December 1915 the first trials of Mother took place in Lincoln and, according to Stern, were “very successful”.
One of the tests that had been ordered by d’Eyncourt was the firing of the 6 pounder gun to see what effect it would have on the crew and the sponson. When Maj Hetherington attempted to fire the gun it misfired. The gun was elevated so that the cause of the misfire could be investigated when it went off, sending the shell in the direction of the Cathedral which was only about a mile away.
After two hours of searching however the shell was found, safely buried in a field. The conclusion reached by all was that a bigger test facility would be needed.
Picture courtesy of Richard Pullen