Little Willie
Overview
 
Little Willie was a prototype in the development of the British Mark I tank
Mark I tank
The British Mark I was a tracked vehicle developed by the British Army during the First World War and the world's first combat tank. The Mark I entered service in August 1916, and was first used in action on the morning of 15 September 1916 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, of the Somme...

. Constructed in the summer of 1915 through a close cooperation of the military and industry of the United Kingdom, it was the first completed tank prototype in history. Little Willie is the oldest surviving individual tank, preserved as one of the most famous pieces in the collection of the British Bovington Tank Museum
Bovington Tank Museum
The Tank Museum is a collection of armoured fighting vehicles in the United Kingdom that traces the history of the tank. With almost 300 vehicles on exhibition from 26 countries it is the second-largest collection of tanks and armoured fighting vehicles in the world.The Musée des Blindés in France...

.
Little Willie was designed from July 1915 by the Landships Committee
Landships Committee
The Landships Committee was a small British war cabinet committee established in February 1915 to deal with the design and construction of what would turn out to be tanks during the First World War...

 to meet Great Britain's requirement in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 for a war engine able to cross a 5 feet (1.5 m) trench.
Encyclopedia
Little Willie was a prototype in the development of the British Mark I tank
Mark I tank
The British Mark I was a tracked vehicle developed by the British Army during the First World War and the world's first combat tank. The Mark I entered service in August 1916, and was first used in action on the morning of 15 September 1916 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, of the Somme...

. Constructed in the summer of 1915 through a close cooperation of the military and industry of the United Kingdom, it was the first completed tank prototype in history. Little Willie is the oldest surviving individual tank, preserved as one of the most famous pieces in the collection of the British Bovington Tank Museum
Bovington Tank Museum
The Tank Museum is a collection of armoured fighting vehicles in the United Kingdom that traces the history of the tank. With almost 300 vehicles on exhibition from 26 countries it is the second-largest collection of tanks and armoured fighting vehicles in the world.The Musée des Blindés in France...

.

Number 1 Lincoln Machine

Little Willie was designed from July 1915 by the Landships Committee
Landships Committee
The Landships Committee was a small British war cabinet committee established in February 1915 to deal with the design and construction of what would turn out to be tanks during the First World War...

 to meet Great Britain's requirement in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 for a war engine able to cross a 5 feet (1.5 m) trench. After several other projects with single and triple tracks had failed, on 22 July William Ashbee Tritton, director of the agricultural machinery company William Foster & Company of Lincoln
Lincoln, Lincolnshire
Lincoln is a cathedral city and county town of Lincolnshire, England.The non-metropolitan district of Lincoln has a population of 85,595; the 2001 census gave the entire area of Lincoln a population of 120,779....

, was given the contract to develop a "Tritton Machine" with two tracks, after a concept proposed by his chief designer William Rigby. It had to make use of lengthened tracks and suspension elements (seven road wheels instead of four) provided by the Bullock Creeping Grip Tractor Company in Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

. When the tracks arrived, it transpired, they were very crude.

On 11 August actual construction began; on 16 August Tritton decided to fit a wheeled tail to assist in steering. On 9 September the Number 1 Lincoln Machine, as the prototype was then known, made its first test run in the yard of the Wellington Foundry. It soon became clear that the tracks were so flat that ground resistance during a turn was excessive. To solve this, the suspension was changed so that the bottom profile was made more curved. Then the next problem showed up: when crossing a trench the track sagged and then would not fit the wheels again and jammed. Tritton and Lieutenant Walter Gordon Wilson
Walter Gordon Wilson
Major Walter Gordon Wilson was an engineer and member of the British Royal Naval Air Service. He was credited by the 1919 Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors as the co-inventor of the tank, along with Sir William Tritton....

 tried out all sorts of alternative track design, including Balata belting and flat wire ropes. Tritton, on 22 September, at last devised a system using pressed steel plates riveted to links and incorporated guides to engage on the inside of the track frame. This system was unsprung, as the tracks were held firmly in place, able to move in only one plane. The track frames as a whole, however, were connected to the main body by large spindles, allowing for a modicum of movement in relation to the hull. This was a successful design and was used on all First World War British tanks up to the Mark VIII
Mark VIII (tank)
The Tank Mark VIII or Liberty was an Anglo-American tank design of the First World War. Initially intended to be a collaborative effort to equip France, the UK and the US with a single tank design, it did not come to fruition before the end of the war and only a few were produced.-Early...

, although it limited speed.

Description

The vehicle's 105 hp Daimler
Daimler Motor Company
The Daimler Motor Company Limited was an independent British motor vehicle manufacturer founded in London by H J Lawson in 1896, which set up its manufacturing base in Coventry. The right to the use of the name Daimler had been purchased simultaneously from Gottlieb Daimler and Daimler Motoren...

 engine, gravity fed by two petrol tanks, was at the back, leaving just enough room beneath the turret. The prototype was fitted with a non-rotatable dummy turret mounting a machine gun; a Vickers
Vickers
Vickers was a famous name in British engineering that existed through many companies from 1828 until 1999.-Early history:Vickers was formed in Sheffield as a steel foundry by the miller Edward Vickers and his father-in-law George Naylor in 1828. Naylor was a partner in the foundry Naylor &...

 2-pounder gun was to take its place, with as secondary armament six Madsen machine gun
Madsen machine gun
The Madsen was a light machine gun developed by Julius A. Rasmussen and Theodor Schoubue and proposed for adoption by Captain Vilhelm Herman Oluf Madsen, the Danish Minister of War and adopted by the Danish Army in 1902...

s. The main gun would have had a large ammunition store with 800 rounds. It was considered by Tritton to use an open-topped superstructure, with the turret being able to slide forward on rails. In the front of the vehicle two men sat on a narrow bench; one controlling the steering wheel, the clutch, the primary gear box and the throttle; the other holding the brakes.

Most mechanical components, including the radiator, had been adapted from those of the Foster-Daimler heavy artillery tractor
Artillery tractor
Artillery tractor is a kind of tractor, also referred to as a gun tractor, a vehicle used to tow artillery pieces of varying weights.-Traction:...

. Two more men were needed to adjust the secondary gearboxes near the engine. As at least two more had to operate the armament, the crew could not have been smaller than six. The maximum speed was indicated by Tritton as being no more than two miles per hour. The vehicle used no real armour steel, just boiler plate; it was intended to use 10 mm plating for production.

Little Willie and Big Willie

Wilson was unhappy with the basic concept of the Number 1 Lincoln Machine, having conceived of a better design on 17 August, and began the construction of an improved prototype on 17 September; for this second Mark I prototype, later known as "His Majesty's Land Ship" (HMLS) Centipede or "Mother", a rhomboid track frame was fitted, taking the tracks up and over the top of the vehicle, the rear steering wheels were retained in an improved form, but the dummy turret was removed and replaced by side sponson
Sponson
Sponsons are projections from the sides of a watercraft, for protection, stability, or the mounting of equipment such as armaments or lifeboats, etc...

s holding the armament.

Number 1 Lincoln Machine was rebuilt with an extended (90 centimetres longer) track up to 6 December 1915, but merely to test the new tracks in Burton Park; the second prototype was seen as much more promising. The first was renamed Little Willie, the scabrous name then commonly used by the British yellow press to mock the German Imperial Crown Prince Wilhelm; Mother was for a time known as Big Willie, after his father Emperor Wilhelm II
William II, German Emperor
Wilhelm II was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918. He was a grandson of the British Queen Victoria and related to many monarchs and princes of Europe...

 of Germany. That same year the cartoonist William Kerridge Haselden
William Haselden
William Kerridge Haselden was an English cartoonist and caricaturist.He was the second of five children of Adolphe Henry Haselden and his wife Susan Elizabeth...

 had made a popular comic anti-German propaganda movie: The Adventures of Big and Little Willie. In January 1916 Little Willie, now without any turret, contended with Mother for the first production order; its inferiority in crossing trenches decided against it.

Later the track system of the Medium Mark A Whippet was directly derived from that of Little Willie.

Though it never saw combat, Little Willie was a major step forward in military technology, being the first tank prototype to be finished (the development of the similar French Schneider CA1
Schneider CA1
The Schneider CA1 was the first French tank. It was inspired by the need to overcome the stalemate of the trench warfare of the Great War.-Caterpillar development:...

 started earlier in January 1915, but its first real prototype was only made in February 1916).

Today

Little Willie was preserved for posterity after the war, saved from being scrapped in 1940, and is today displayed at the Bovington Tank Museum
Bovington Tank Museum
The Tank Museum is a collection of armoured fighting vehicles in the United Kingdom that traces the history of the tank. With almost 300 vehicles on exhibition from 26 countries it is the second-largest collection of tanks and armoured fighting vehicles in the world.The Musée des Blindés in France...

. It is basically an empty hull now, without engine, but with some internal fittings. There is damage to the hull plating around the right–hand vision slit, possibly caused by an attempt at some point to tow the vehicle by passing a cable through the slit. This would have torn the tank's comparatively thin steel plating.
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