A hundred years ago today, a new era in warfare began as the first tank rolled off the assembly line. The prototype, nicknamed Little Willie, weighed 14 tons, had a speed of only two miles per hour, and frequently got stuck in trenches. But as the bugs were worked out, the tank transformed warfare.
The vehicle was the brainchild of British Col. Ernest Swinton and Maurice Hankey, the secretary of the Committee for Imperial Defence. They pitched the idea to Navy Minister Winston Churchill, who organized a committee to beging making a prototype “land boat.”
The project was veiled in secrecy, and workers were told that the vehicles were to be used to carry water to the battlefield. In keeping with the deception, they were shipped in crates marked “tank,” and the name stuck.
Work continued to work out the bugs, and a more refined version was first used on September 15, 1916, at the First Battle of the Somme. It wasn’t an immediate success, but further refinements were made, and at the first Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, the British fielded 400, capturing 8000 enemy troops.
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