Winston Churchill Establishes The Landships Committee

It was Churchill who, on Colonel Swinton's urging (and backed by Hankey), sponsored the establishment of the Landships Committee to investigate the potential of constructing what amounted to a new military weapon.

The name of the committee was derived from the fact that, at least initially, the tank was seen an extension of sea-going warships - hence, a landship.

This first tank was given the nickname 'Little Willie' (soon followed by 'Big Willie') and, as with its predecessors, possessed a Daimler engine. Weighing some 14 tons and bearing 12 feet long track frames, the tank could carry three people in cramped conditions. In the event its top speed was three miles per hour on level ground, two miles per hour on rough terrain (actual battlefield conditions in fact).

On the outbreak of the First World War, Colonel Swinton was sent to the Western Front to write reports on the war. After observing early battles where machine-gunners were able to kill thousands of infantryman advancing towards enemy trenches, Swinton wrote that a "petrol tractors on the caterpillar principle and armoured with hardened steel plates" would be able to counteract the machine-gunner.

Swinton's proposals were rejected by General Sir John French and his scientific advisers. Unwilling to accept defeat, Colonel Ernest Swinton contacted Colonel Maurice Hankey who took the idea to Winston Churchill, the navy minister. Churchill was impressed by Swinton's views and in February 1915, he set up a Landships Committee to look in more detail at the proposal to develop a new war machine.

Churchill created the Admiralty Landships Committee chaired by sub expert Tennyson d'Eynecourt, and included Commander Briggs and the brilliant engineer Lt. Wilson. Work began at the William Foster Company by a team of engineers led by Wilson. The Company manager at Lincoln, William Tritton, made a significant contribution by modifying the caterpillar tread patented in 1901 by Alvin Lombard and used on farm tractors in America by Benjamin Holt. The team by Aug. made the first prototype, "Little Willie," and a second prototype "Mother" that had a rhomboid shape. These early models were known as "centipedes" or "landships."