Richard Pullen reports on the ‘best tank never to see action’
When we think of the first British tanks of World War One, we usually think of the clunking, wallowing Mk I from 1916. The very first tanks were slow, heavy, and badly designed.
However, it must be added that the unfortunate design of the first tanks wasn’t the fault of its creators at William Foster and Co in Lincoln, the problems with the first tank were down to the lack of a suitable and immediately available engine and transmission.
The designers had been forced to use the 105hp Daimler Silent Knight sleevevalve petrol engine. It was great in its intended role for heavy haulage machines working on level ground, but terrible for use in tanks, revving hard while the vehicle clawed its way out of a shell hole through thick, wet clay at a 50° angle.
The design team at Foster’s were constrained by the choice and location of the engine, so the first tanks were a compromise, made from ‘off the shelf’ parts, rushed into battle before they were ready.