The very first British tank and the first in the world at the same time derived from a number of projects dating back to the early 1915 stalemate. Then the first ideas advocated less for an armored fighting vehicle and more for a way to clear up barb wire, which was usually covered by direct, accurate machine gun fire.
A big wheel with spinning hooks mounted on the front of a Holt tractor was the preferred concept at the time. But the need to protect the driver and the evolution of military thinking led to the “land cruisers”, which ultimately never left the drawing board.
Despite its seemingly cute name the “Little Willie” was in fact a impressive war machine conceived to punch a hole in the German lines. It was officially named a “tank” to deceive any enemy intelligence on the project.The “Little Willie” was the origin of all the British tank development during World War One.
In fact, the original project initiated by the Landships Committee was picturing a vehicle capable of crossing any kind of trenches and destroying barb wire in the process.Therefore although Little Willie never saw combat and was redundant almost as soon as it was made, it represented a major step forward in military technology.
Without the lessons learnt from its construction and trials it would have been impossible to build the vehicles that would supersede it.The Tank Museum’s historian David Fletcher discusses Little Willie; the world’s first tank. Little Willie is on display at The Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset.