King's College London
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The Transforming technology of war

The birth of the tank

Newspaper cartoon image showing Winston Churchill on floor with military toys including a prototype tank which fascinates him. Caption: Major-General Sir Ernest D Swinton in his new book "Eye-Witness" tells us it was Mr Winston Churchill who first appreciated the "Landship"Churchill with prototype tank

With the rapid establishment of trench warfare, cavalry was proving of little value to the British Expeditionary Forces.  How to break out of stalemate?

In the Admiralty, Winston Churchill formed a committee in February 1915, a half-year after hostilities began, to develop an idea of author H G Wells to create a 'landship' to provide protection on land equivalent to a battleship. 

The committee's engineers - inspired by Ernest Swinton who had observed armoured tractors equipped with caterpillar tracks - had produced a prototype tank by September 1915. 

Tanks, introduced in 1916, were first able to play a decisive role in the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. During the 1920s and 1930s, General John Fuller, who helped plan that battle, developed innovative ideas along with journalist and historian, Basil Liddell Hart, for the strategic deployment of mechanised units on the battlefield.  

The 'cavalry' of World War Two would be machines. 

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