British tanks 1915-18, manufacture & employment

Childs, David J (1996) British tanks 1915-18, manufacture & employment. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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For far too long it was accepted that the higher echelons of the British Army, that is the War Office and GHQ, France, were reactionary, that they were anti-technology and cavalry oriented. In the past decade historians have gone some way to challenge this view, but not far enough. Much of the "traditional versus progressive" school of thought, in regard to the tactical employment of the tank, still survives. This thesis will attempt to continue the roll-back. It will not, however, confine itself to the tactical employment of the tank, but will instead suggest that to gain a more complete picture of the Army's support for the tank development programme in World War One we have to examine the manufacture of the tank too. No one has acknowledged the role of the War Office in pushing for the creation not only of the first Tank Committee, but every subsequent committee thereafter. The original Tank Committee, the "New" or "Advisory" Tank Committee, The Tank Directorate and the Tank Board were all set up under the aegis of the War Office. True, the War Office had a great deal to gain in establishing these bodies in their attempt to wrest control of the destiny of the tank from "civilian" hands at the Ministry of Munitions, but it was these bodies, particularly the Tank Board (established in August 1918) that facilitated the crucially important liaison between the users of tanks in France, that is to say the Tank Corps, and the producers at the Ministry, the Mechanical Warfare Department (MWD). Without War Office involvement in this way (and, of course, the continued orders for more and better tanks from the War Office) it is inconceivable that the tank would have reached the level of technical sophistication, and therefore usefulness, that it had by late 1918. Ironically, if we persist with the "progressive versus traditional" scenario, we see that the "progressive" group, which consisted of the MWD and the Tank Corps, was in actual fact constantly at odds with itself over the design of the machines and the availability of spare parts for the whole period of the war. We can suggest, therefore, that the most damaging of the divisions that existed within tank circles in World War One lay not between the "progressive" and "traditional" camps, but across them, clearly dividing the "progressive" camp itself. The continued existence of a struggle for control ( note control and not survival) of the tank between the War Office and the MWD ( which was at its most intense during 1917), and the constant "battle of the spares" waged between the Tank Corps in France and the MWD, further call into question the accepted wisdom that when Lloyd George handed over the reins of the Ministry of Munitions to Edwin Montagu in July 1916, he had largely resolved the nation's munitions problems. R.J.Q. Adams cites a tank pioneer who believed that" as Minister of Munitions he [Lloyd George] saved this country from dire disaster". Adams admits that such a claim was "extravagant" and that no one man "won the War ", but this thesis will suggest that the successful development and manufacture of the tank owed considerably more to his successors, particularly Addison, and to Churchill and support from the Army than it did to Lloyd George's own actions. Finally, regarding the "reactionary" nature of GHQ, this thesis calls in to question the originality of J.F.C. Fuller's "Plan 1919", so often cited as the way forward in terms of the tactical employment of the tank, and suggests that by 1918 such plans were common currency among the upper echelons of the Army, and that Fuller's own scheme was but one of many. Further, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that GHQ had far-sighted plans for the employment of tanks once greater mechanical reliability had been achieved. But greater reliability was a matter of design and manufacture, not tactics. The role of the British tank on the battlefields of WorldWar One was, therefore, not dictated by the limited imagination of those at GHQ, but rather by the inevitable problems associated with developing and mass producing a highly complex and unique weapon at a time of total war.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Military studies, military history
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Strachan, Professor Hew
Date of Award: 1996
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1996-71736
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 May 2019 09:31
Last Modified: 24 Jun 2022 10:39
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.71736

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