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First World War Mark IV Tank

The Development of the Tank

The first trenches of the Great War (1914 - 1918) were dug in the battlefields of France and Belgium by Christmas 1914, but the opposing forces soon became bogged down in the mud. The widespread use of the machine gun and shells led to high levels of casualties and this, along with the mud, made advance impossible. This was the problem which faced the Admiralty Landship Committee in 1915, who were given the task of developing ‘a machine, strongly armoured, carrying powerful guns, capable of negotiating reasonable obstacles in the battle area and crossing the opposing trenches’.

The Committee approached a Lincoln engineering company, William Foster & Co. Ltd. Fosters specialised in agricultural machinery, building steam engines, threshing drums and tractors. With Hornsbys of Grantham they had even experimented with caterpillar tracked vehicles. The Fosters team included managing director William Tritton, his chief draughtsman William Rigby and Major Wilson of the War Cabinet. The need for secrecy was so important that the team met in a room at the White Hart Hotel, Lincoln, now known as The Tank Room, and Fosters workers were informed they were making ‘watercarriers for Mesopotamia’, which they shortened to ‘tank’.

It took just 37 days to produce a prototype tank, named Little Willie after William Tritton. It was tested on waste ground near the factory, but the caterpillar tracks kept coming off, so the tank was redesigned with a track which went all the way around its body. This tank was known as Big Willie but renamed Mother. Tanks were in full production in Lincoln by 1916, the original designs being developed as expertise grew. The Whippet was lighter, designed to be fast and reaching speeds of 9 miles per hour; the Hornet, which was better armed having all-round field of fire, was the last tank to be designed in Lincoln, much of the production being outsourced to other engineering companies, although Fosters were called upon to build tanks in World War II.

Mark I tanks were first used at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, but they were limited in number and not used effectively. The Battle of Cambrai in November 1917 saw the first use of tanks on a large scale when an advance was made of 5 miles. The tank had changed the face of warfare.

At the end of the war Fosters returned to agricultural engineering work. The company was taken over in 1960 and the Waterloo Street Foundry later demolished, but the road which runs through the tank testing site has been named Tritton Road in honour of William Tritton.

Mark IV Tank Daphne

Daphne was built by the Metropolitan Carriage Works in Birmingham in May 1917, as by this time Fosters of Lincoln was contracting out tank production to other manufacturers.

Daphne was first owned by the Tank Corps F Battalion, who used her for training, but was then transferred to the 12th Company D Battalion, who named her. On the night of 21st/22nd August 1917, whilst waiting to go into battle at Ypres, Daphne was hit by a shell which damaged her roof and she was handed over to the Salvage Company.

Little is known of Daphne’s later wartime history until she arrived on a Gloucester park as one of the nation’s presentation tanks. Presentation tanks were awarded to the towns and cities which had raised the most funds for the war effort. During World War Two Daphne was sited on Hucclecote Airfield near to Gloucester and probably used as a pill box.

Daphne was transported to Bovington Training Camp, Dorset, in 1945, which later became Bovington Tank Museum. At some point Daphne was painted to look like Flirt II, probably because Flirt II was a famous and well photographed tank which saw action at the Battle of Cambrai. She was set up as a static exhibit as the gates to the camp. Her engine was removed and she gradually deteriorated.

In the 1970s the Lincoln Tank Group approached Bovington Tank Museum to ask for the loan of a First World War tank for display in the City of Lincoln, the birthplace of the tank. Ruston Gas Turbines agreed to finance the project and permission was granted on condition that the tank be refurbished and placed on public display. In the early 1980s the tank was restored by apprentices at Rustons.

In 1989, the tank was placed on display at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, where she remains to this day.

The Restoration of Daphne

Restoration work on Daphne took place between September 1983 and November 1985, when the tank was handed over to the City of Lincoln. The work was carried out by apprentices and Youth Training Scheme trainees at Ruston Gas Turbines in Lincoln, for the Lincoln Tank Group.

Daphne was dismantled and it was found that most of the deterioration was due to corrosion. The armour plate, floor, sponsons (gun platforms), track, rollers and gears were removed and many of the parts had to be replaced. It would have been too expensive to manufacture new parts from original materials, so alternative materials were employed, for example wood and fibreglass were used to make new tracks. Unfortunately the engine could not be replaced as an appropriate example could not be found. Despite the restoration work it is still possible to see indentations on the side of the tank, the marks left by machine gun bullets from the Great War.


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Last updated: 3 July 2018

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