How do people make inventions? It's very simple: everyone looks at some kind of blatant absurdity, but they believe that it should be so. There is one person who sees that this is absurdity and offers to correct it. This is what happened to the British Colonel Ernst Swinton, who at the very beginning of the First World War was sent to the Western Front to write reports on the hostilities. Seeing how effective heavy machine guns were on both sides, he realized that where people were powerless, tracked tractors protected by armor would help. They will be able to successfully resist machine-gun fire, and the infantry will be able to move after them.
Having seen enough of the war, in October 1914, together with Captain Tullock and the banker Stern, he raised the issue of creating self-propelled "armored forts" for the British army. However, it is likely that this idea had occurred to him before. After all, he took part in the Anglo-Boer War, where he saw British steam tractors, covered with armor, transporting British soldiers in armored "wagons" under the shots of Boer rifles, and made sure that, yes, indeed, in this way, the soldiers could well be protected! Well, and by that time he received a very good education: he graduated from the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, that is, he was a very educated person.
Swinton later wrote that: “The main defense force of the enemy lies in the skillful combination of barbed wire obstacles and machine-gun fire. Looking at all this, I constantly thought about how to resist this force. And after two weeks of such deliberations, I came up with the idea of an armored vehicle, which was supposed to be self-propelled, have armor that protects against enemy bullets, and weapons capable of suppressing enemy machine guns. The car had to move across the battlefield, despite the trenches, break wire barriers, and overcome escarpments."
He wrote a letter to Minister of War G. Kitchener, but apparently, it did not make an impression on him, since he did not answer it, as well as to the same appeal from Admiral R. Bacon. After wandering around the offices and seeing that the new was making its way with great difficulty, Swint decided to contact Colonel Moritz Hankey, through whom he proposed his idea to Winston Churchill, then His Majesty's Minister of the Navy. Churchill reacted to it in a completely different way and already in February 1915 organized a special "Committee on Land Ships" under the Royal Naval Aviation Service (RNAS), the purpose of which was to develop a military machine, which had not yet been seen by the world. It included Colonel R. Crompton, A. Stairn (co-owner of the banking house "Stern Brothers" and at the same time a lieutenant of the armored car service R. N. A. S., who headed the department of tank supplies) and many officers of the RNAS. The date of the creation of the Committee is considered to be February 15, 1915, and its members gathered at their first meeting on the 22nd. Interestingly, each member of the Committee had his own opinion on what the "land ship" should look like to destroy enemy machine guns, his own project, and each made the maximum possible effort to promote it. However, very soon it turned out that not a single project meets the harsh requirements of the war! So, for example, "tanks" were proposed that had an articulated tracked chassis and one common frame, capable of crossing any trench, any ditch, but very little maneuverable. Huge high-wheeled combat vehicles were also offered and were rejected as good targets for artillery. Well, of course, everyone understood that even the construction of one single prototype would entail many technical problems. However, the activities of the Committee were not in vain, since the requirements for the future combat vehicle were formulated in the disputes. In particular, it had to have bulletproof armor, it had to be able to make turns while moving at full speed and have a reverse gear. As for overcoming obstacles, it had to force funnels up to 2 m deep and up to 3, 7 m in diameter, ditches 1, 2 m wide, break through wire barriers without much difficulty, have a speed of at least 4 km / h, fuel supply for 6 hours of travel, and a crew of 6 people. This vehicle was to be armed with a cannon and two machine guns.
To implement the project, at the suggestion of the Admiralty and RNAS, the 15th Joint Army and Navy Committee was created, headed by the director of fortification and construction works, Lieutenant General Scott-Moncrief. All work was coordinated by Colonel Swinton, who at the same time received the post of secretary of the Reich Defense Committee.
Now, instead of impressive, but technically complex and economically unreasonable projects, the developers again returned to the idea of a tractor chassis. The booked three-track "Killen-Straight" tractor was tested and it turned out that such a decision was successful, but that the tractor chassis was not quite suitable for a promising machine.
Technical support was sought from William Fostrer & Co in Lincolnshire, which assembled Hornsby tractors. In fact, these were real tracked steam locomotives, and they were used as transporters for heavy field artillery.
The Committee set the following tasks for the firm: take the power unit from the British Foster-Daimler tractor, and use the chassis from the American Bullock tractor delivered to England in early August 1915. The manager of the company, engineer William Tritton, was responsible for the work, and the lieutenant of the volunteer reserve of the Navy, Walter Gordon, was appointed to assist him.
A strict regime was introduced at the enterprise, so that specialists, for example, were forbidden to leave it without permission, and at the slightest suspicion, employees were fired. The work was carried out in a great hurry, since the allocated money was running out, but a ready-made sample was still not made. However, Triton and Wilson coped with their task quite successfully: in just 38 days they designed a tracked combat vehicle, which today is considered to be the very first tank in the world. The prototype was named "Lincoln Machine" No.1, but there is also such a name as "Tritton tank", which is also correct, considering that he was its main creator.
British engineers tried as much as possible to use ready-made tractor units, designed the car according to the principle of "children's designer" and … it turned out to be quite justified. So, the Bullock chassis was taken because it was distinguished by its extreme simplicity. He made turns using the front steering wheel located in front, so his track drive was very simple. But on the tank, such a design move was not very appropriate, so the steering wheels were placed on a separate trolley on the back. The undercarriage included 8 track rollers, 5 support rollers in each track. The steering wheel was in the front and the driving wheel was in the back. The "rigid" suspension, acceptable for a tractor, was not very comfortable for a tank, but it was very simple.
The hull design was chopped box-shaped, vertical armor and a circular turret with 360 ° rotation. It was planned to install a 40-mm Vickers-Maxim automatic cannon in it. Well, in general, the "Lincoln Machine" No.1 had a traditional device: a control compartment in the bow, a combat compartment in the center, and an engine compartment (with a Foster-Dymer engine with a power of 105 hp).) - in the stern. As for the crew, it was supposed to consist of 4-6 people.
The very first version with a tower was initially considered as the main one, but then the tower was removed, and the hole for it was sewn up. Most likely, the scheme of weapons with onboard sponsons seemed to the officers of the British Admiralty more reliable (two guns instead of one!), Since many of them saw a kind of "land cruiser" in the tank.
Tests of the prototype began on September 10, 1915, but did not end very well. With a vehicle length of 8 meters and a mass of 14 tons, its cross-country ability was not very good. Although the top speed of No.1 at 5.5 km / h was, albeit slightly, but slightly higher than the required figure.
But it immediately became clear that half measures could not be enough. So Triton and Wilson redesigned the chassis. All rollers, idlers and drive wheels, and a track of about 500 mm wide track links were also attached to the box frame as before, but now the shape of the track has become a little different, and screens with cutouts were installed inside it to remove dirt falling on the tracks. For a long time, the design of the caterpillar was chosen, since three options were proposed: a caterpillar with tracks on a cable, a tape made of surrogate rubber reinforced with wire and a caterpillar made of flat tracks. As a result, the type was chosen, which was then used on all heavy British tanks of the rhombic design.
The wooden mock-up of the new model was completed on September 28, 1915, and by the end of November, an improved version of the tank without a turret was also assembled. The name "Little Willie" was given to him by the employees of the company, who saw that he was somewhat reminiscent of his creator. The mass of the tank was 18,300 kg. The engine power did not change, as a result of the tests the tank showed a maximum speed of only 3.2 km / h when moving forward and 1 km / h when reversing.
But its running characteristics have improved somewhat. Now he could overcome a ditch 1, 52 m wide (for No. 1, this figure was only 1, 2 m), a vertical wall up to 0.6 m and an ascent within 20 °.
In this form, it met almost all the requirements of February 1915, but then in the fall the situation changed again - the army command from France demanded that tanks be able to force a ditch 2.44 m wide, and a wall 1.37 m high, that the machines on a tractor the chassis seemed almost overwhelming. So Tritton and Wilson redesigned the project again, redesigned the hull and redesigned the chassis. This is how the history of the "diamond-shaped" tanks began, the first of which was the "Big Willie". But they decided to leave "Little Willie" as a souvenir for posterity. In 1940, it was not scrapped, and is currently on display in the tank museum in Bovington. True, today it is practically just one box without internal "filling".
Many believe that the use of "Little Willie" on the battlefield could be of far greater benefit to Britain than its heavy tanks. It could be produced in much larger quantities than large and heavy "diamonds". Further improvement could significantly affect its armament (for example, an automatic 40-mm cannon could be replaced with a 57-mm one). And the improvement of the suspension and gearbox to increase the smoothness of the ride to 7-10 km / h, which would give the British the first truly universal tank. However, even with a 40-mm gun, it could act very well on the battlefield if the designers added two more onboard sponsons to its hull for machine guns.