Testing Testing 1, 2

The first major trial took place at Hatfield Park on 29 January 1916.  A series of trenches and obstacles had been dug by the 3rd (Mid Herts) Battalion of the Hertfordshire Volunteer Regiment with help from a company of Royal Engineers.  The tank crews were provided by men from Squadron 20 of the Armoured Car Division of the Royal Naval Air Service.  The trial was divided into 3 parts.  The descriptions of these 3 parts below are taken from Sir Albert Stern’s book The Log-book of a Pioneer.

Part I – Official Test.

1.   The machine will start and cross the obstacle specified ie a parapet 4 feet 6 inches high and a gap 5 feet wide.

Part II – Test approximating to Active Service.

2.   It will then proceed over the level at full speed for about 100 yards, and take its place in a prepared dug-out shelter from which it will traverse a course of obstacles approximating to those likely to be met with on service.

3.   Climbing over British defences (reduced for its passage) it will-

4.   Pass through the wire entanglement in front;

5.   Cross two small shell craters, each 12 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep;

6.   Traverse the soft, water-logged ground round the stream, climb the slope from the stream, pass through the German entanglement.

7.   Climb the German defences.

8.   Turn round on the flat and pass down the marshy bed of the stream and climb down the double breastwork.

Part III – Extra Test if required

9.   The “tank” will then, if desired, cross the larger trench and proceed for half a mile across the park to a piece of rotten ground seamed with oil trenches, going down a steep incline on the way.

My Mother’s a Centipede

The day after the unveiling of the mock up at Wembley in September 1915 work started at Fosters to make a prototype.

The now famous rhomboid shape was 10m long, 4m wide, 2.5m high and the length of each track was 18.5m.  The final design was completed in just 36 days and, as posted last month, it was first trialled on 3 Dec 15 in Burton Park, Lincoln.  The prototype tank was originally known as Big Willie although the tank’s name soon changed to His Majesty’s Land Ship (HMLS) Centipede.  The alternative name of Mother appeared at around the same time.

The very real issue of security reared its head again, this time in relation to the openness of the test grounds at Burton Park and Wembley and so a new test site was developed at Hatfield House near Welwyn Garden City.  Mother (aka Big Willie) was dispatched to Hatfield House by train on 26 Jan along with Little Willie and, having unloaded in the middle of the night, they both drove up to the testing ground.