Today in Military History: On Sept. 6, 1915, the world’s first prototype tank, the Number 1 Lincoln Machine, is completed at William Foster & Company in Lincoln, England. The 16.5-ton vehicle was designed to cross a 5-foot-wide trench. The requirements were established by the Landships Committee in July 1915 to break the stalemate of trench warfare. The committee was established in February 1915 by Winston Churchill, who at the time was the First Lord of the Admiralty. To ensure the secrecy of the project, the word “tank” was adopted in December 1915 and the committee renamed the Tank Supply Committee.
Work on the new vehicle, equipped with tracks built by Chicago’s Bullock Creeping Grip Tractor Co., began on Aug. 11. During construction, it was modified with tail wheels to improve steering. The vehicle had a two-man crew and was powered by 105 hp Daimler-Knight gasoline engine that displaced 13 liters, propelling it at a top speed of 2 mph.
It was to have been equipped with a Vickers 2-pound gun but was fitted with a dummy machine gun instead.
Testing of the prototype began on Sept. 9, and it was instrumental in refining the British Army’s subsequent tank design. The tracks were repeatedly modified to improve grip and the vehicle eventually came to be known as Little Willie, the derogatory nickname for Germany’s Crown Prince Wilhelm.
It had an unsprung suspension, contributing to a harsh ride, but the system worked.
To improve traction, production models — starting with the Mark 1 — had tracks that ran around the entire left and right periphery rhombus-shaped vehicles, giving them their iconic profile. Guns were mounted in sponsons on either side of the vehicles.
Early British tanks were either Male or Female models. Males were equipped with two 6-pound quick firing guns and three 8mm Hotchkiss machine guns, while Females had four .303 Vickers machine guns and one 8mm Hotchkiss.
By the end of 1916, Britain and produced 150 tanks, with another 1,300 in 1917 and nearly 1,400 built in 1918.
Little Willie was preserved and is now at The Tank Museum in Bovington Camp in England, which is the home of the Royal Armored Corps.