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STORY OF THE TANKS.
DE MOLE'S REMARKABLE INVENTION. War Office Ineptitude.
(By E. Owyer Gray, Sydney.)
It is, of course, fairly well known that the war tank was really a Western Aus tralian invention. Those who would Eke to know the details of the occurrences in
connection with Corporal L-anceJot £. de Mole's travelling caterpillar .fort witl find them set out in the current issue of the 'Australian Motor Owner.' which gives the -whole story. The magazine does not, however, print the text of n certain striking letter from Perth, adtlresed to the British Minister for AVar on Septem ber 19, 1914. This notonJy informed the British Minister for War that the archives of his own department contained the plans for a perfect war tank, 'but foretold what tanks could do, exactly two years before the inferior Son-jme tanks appeared so belated! y on the battlefields. This letter is now made available for publication for the first time, and readi as follows: — 'The question of arir.nmenta being of paramount importance ? to ..armies .en gaged in this great war. may 1 suggest your placing the plans, specifications, and models submitted by .Mr. Lancelot die Mole in 1912, before a committee of experts, with u view to the adoption of traveling forts against, the. German forces? In ray humKe opinion no dead lier or more efficient war engine coutd be used than de Mole's caterpiMar.,fort, which oan travel over broken ground, climb. embankments, .span canals, streams and trenches with the greatest of ease, and which, if armoured 'and ninnriedi with small quick -firing' guns' and maxims, wil! quickly turn the most stubborn of armies, even if they -be most strongJy entrenched A line of moving fortresses— ^no dream er's fancy, but an idea which' can be ac tually materialised — adequately support ed) by nrtilSery, will enr^y everything be fore it, and save the infantry. Isincerely trust tha't you will appreciate the value of my suggestion. Should yon require the services of Mr.1 L'.deMoJe 'kindij.re quest the. Western Aiistra&an 'Govern ment to ' communicate ^wath Mr.'R.J. Anketell, resident engineer. Department of Public Works, Perth— -Xours; 'etc, G. \\\ D. Breadon.' v ^Mr. Breadori was a civil engineer; by ptc-fes-sibn. , He was-' a -man : of ? repute and capacity, .and shortly- «fter writing this remarkable letter; be' becahie^ a Com. mis.sioner for Munitions .'in India..' The letter ' had . no. effect'' w/hatever. Appar ently it went': into ?the-''?same sort ' of pigeonhole' as de' Mole's -plans in. .1912. To-day^it. accuses the' British -Minister for War in 1914, or his agents,' and .the accusation, -though if has a ?: particiiar apr-Kcation to 1914. goes back .to' 1012. ; \, Some Tragic Questions. . Here observe that on 'November 17.' 3011), a. British lioyal '^Commissiion ' on Awards to Inventors, presided- over by ?Mr. Justice &irgant, .declared:— 'De Mole nwde, and reduced to 'practical' shape, .'as far back as. the year 1912. a very .bril liant tank invention, which anticipated, and in. some respects surpassed, fihat ac tualSy put into use late in 1916!' Counsel for the -Minister, for -Munitions speeficah ?ly; admitted: ''De-. 'Mote's suggestions ivouCd. in the- opinion of present adivisers, have made a .better articJe. than those that went, 'into action:'- The- Chairman said to'him: 'Your suggestion- is sent ,^to the Government in 1912 nnd 1915. Then it gets pigeonholed. '- That -is .vour:mis fortune, but- not your fault.' ' But .wtat about his country's misfortune and the calamitous consequences to 'mankind? 'How' much, would' the' war 'have ' been shortened if Britain bad possessed' tanks from the beginning? Wouifl ;.there have been any. retreat from Mons? Would the war ever have beeoune, static? .Million's of men may have perished on .account of .this ineptitude, winch in fact . prolonged the -war -for years. Even if.' the British Minister for War, or his agent's, had acted 'promptly and with sense when Breadon's striking, fetter '. r«lcll'eIl^'I-on- itlon in October, 1914. the who.le^hJstoirjr of the war wotif d -Jiave been, 'altered^' and huge savings -woaC.d have been 'effeiteci.in human 'lives. Dead ' ineh tell rib talesi ?but live ones can— and this is one of them. ' It is time to' abolish pigeonholes and to substitute. searchlights.' Churchill's Historic Letter. , On, January . i-.: .:19io, Mr. Winston ChurchilJ, then .First Lord'- of tlie ' Ad miralty, wrote bis; 'historic letter to Mr. Asquith (of 'Wait and see' :fame) . on tins subject of mechanical -warfare.- ' In this he remarkedi:— 'T'he. question to be now solved is riot the long attack, over a- carefully prepared gJacis of fornici times, but the. actual getting .across of 100 or 200, yards of op«i-i space -and warp entariglemects. A& this was apparent more than two months ago, but no steps have been taken and' no 'preparations made. Yet it wouirt be quite easy 'to lit up tractors with armoured .shelters, iii ?w'hich men and machine guns: could 'be pi^aced, wJiich would be ^bullet proof. The caterpillar system would enable trenches to be'erossed qwite easily, end the weight of the .machines wouM destroy all: wire entanglements'. . These, engines could.. . . advance into th'eeneaiy!s trenches-, smash all obstructions, and- sweep the trenches with their machine gun: fire.' Mr.' Winston Cluirchi'l began his prac tical tank activities .afteT « Dukes' tan ner on February lit. 1915. when Major Hetherington and other3 suggested roll ing cars, with wheels the size 'of the Great Wheel at Eari's Court, but th- nbove letter shows that Tie had roceivcil inspiration before 'that elate. At the moment hie wrote his historic letter his co.league the Minister for War, or t:.- agents, had Breadon's letter locked away and ignored, whilst somewhere else in the War Office reposed plans for a perfect war tank travelling' on the. cater pillar system on. a dhain -track of- a tee! plates. It was only after spending mil .ions on the secret, evolution of an in fer'ior type of tank that 'Mother' and its adaptation appeared on the battle fields in September, 3916. The Birth of the Tank. The standard work on these subjects is 'Tanks, 1914-18,' ? by Sir A&bert 'Stern, long Director of the Mechanical Warfare Supply Department, and an original mem ber of Mr. Winston Churchill's cele'bratnd Landship Committee of 1915. so, de tested by the War Office t'hat it refused to give it the accommodation of 'an un tenanted room. Britain owed even the Somtne tanks, not to the War Office /mtf the miifitary authorities, ' who consist ently rdliiculcd and opposed all ideas of lamtohips or tanks, but to the grit, the commonsense, the courage, and the driv ing, force of Sir Albert -Stern, and the Naval Department. In his book Sir Al bert Stern writes: — ''Mr. d'Byncourt turned down -a proposed track of Bakta beltiing. an-l once more our hopes sank. Then on September 22 (1915) I received tlie following telegram from Lincoln: — To Stern, Room 50, S3 Pa.I MaKl— Ba- lata died on the test bench yesteroay morning. X'ew arrival, by Trittoa out of pressed pilate- Light in weight, but very strong. All doing w-eM, thank you. — Proud Parents.' That was the birth of the tank.' That s.tatem'ent is -what Mr. Winston Churchill once described as a termin ological inexactitude, only in the sense that it is 'historically untrue. The curi ous te.egraan of September 22, 1915. signed 'Troud Parents,' was not tbe birth of the- tank. It was onCy the birth of 'Mother' and its adaptations. The birth of the tank took place in Western Australia in 1912. But Sir Albert Stein is not to blame. He did not know de Mole's story when he wrote his book. That the Director of the Mechanica; Warfare Supply Department should never have heard of de Mole's tdnk is, however, just one of those mysteries which shouW have been probed and never was. De Moles ptans were not merely received and then pigeonho.ed. They were, on the contrary, examin ed, and deliberately rejected a: least three times — once before the war nnd twice (luring the war. or, to be exact, in 1913, 1916. and 191.8. Thero was also Breadon's letter of September. 1914, and a working model one-eighth of thi- natural size, which did no more in London than the plans and was eventun' ly fouml in what the London Press or 1919 described as 'the neglected cellar of a Government department.' In 1916 d-» Mole's tank was rejected by the Ad visory Committee of Scientific Experts. They' must have displayed some expert science to keep Sir Albert Stern ignorant of the fact that there was anything of the kind on the planet. But that he was ignorant of the existence of de Mole's tank can be accepted as sure. The Royal Commission of 1919 paid a high tribute to the driving force of Mr. Winston Churchill, and probably, he de
served it. But no tribute was paid to the driving force of Sir Albert Stern, who deserved it more, and was his teacher about tanks. It is regrettab!' to have to add that on October 16, 1917, Mr. Winston CuurchiM Weakly dismissoJ Sir Albert Stern from the Directorship i-f the Mechanical Warfare Supply Dc partment. at the biddine of Bretioli Generals, -whose stupidity in connection with tanks he had dared to oppose an.l expose; appointed Admiral Moore in h'S place, who up to the date of his appoint ment .had; never even seen a tank, and actually referred. Sir Albert Stern, '.o America for a proper development of tanks on a large scale. But it is now a matter of history that Sir Albert Sterr won through in' the end. De Mole's Ideal Tank. Dc Mole's tank was intended to 'be 37 tt. long, with a wheel base of 25ft., tra velling on a caterpillar track of ste*i plates. It had a double climbing face, and consequently could have reveres:! over the roughest' battlefields, which U* Somine tanks could not. It would Jia/r crossed a 10ft. trench with ease, either forwards or backwards. It had a higa under-body clearance to prevent bogging The chain track was fully protected, tra velling inside the armour instead of over the top.' The Somnie tanks were veiv imperfectly steered by moving the chai'« track- faster on one side than the other which imposed a strict limitation -- length, or they could not be steered n: all. In de Mole's tank perfect steerinj was secured, for the chain track coul-J iip moved hiterally, thus causing it t? conform to 'curves. This meant th.-it . there was no limitation to length, . ex cept that imposed by weight .and t!i-- borse-power of the motor engine used. At least three times de Mole offered his brilliant invention to Jus country foi nothing, ,-indi it -was refused. It is ter rible to think what might have occurred if de Mole had' been a man of the samr type as Grindell Mathews. When -.in ?June, 1913. the Director-General of 'Ar tillery wrote to him finally from the- War Office, London, definitely declining tbe in vention, andi stating 'it is not proposed to proceed with the matter,' some o* de Mole's friends .suggested to him thi»r lie should take copies of his .plans to tl-» German Consul in Perth. All was peace but-de Mole said. he would have no truck with- any -foreign' Government. Whnt. even the Sornme tanks arid their developments actually . did in the wa-- need not be stressed here. They-wcr* one of the chief factors in' the final v.' tory of the Allies. Lord Kitchene'rha(- no tune for them.1 As Sir Albert Steri. ?fhJ « VVUif \6° hus-y even to look at ?riiiiwS 1 e?°fuS at,i construction.. The chairman jOf -the -alleged Australian In ventions Board, sittins. in Adelaide dur nz tbe war.' was also too busy even Jo look atde Mo-Vs plans.' Field-SIarshi' ft .rol!s'ns H illB suI-Ported'.Stern. Whca the tanks appeared at, Delville Wood and l*o' ho°wm1 ba.f»?field« '» Septembei i.ub.-hc wrote: 'We take our objectives ^ere;the tanks advance. WherHhev do not advance^we do not take our obje^ & In -Mn3& r«ttT,-tbe wrote: '£L R&L aT'- ' ™**rty 'f e^avers.' \ untish -private wrote:. 'Before the tinkv fn«. i-°f fll% Ger,man gun emplacement* nE^ vbefo!'e abutt with a good shoi The 1919 Tank Awards. W?A ?r5iishv »»J«1 Commission V; Awards to Inventors accorded the Aui trahan credit and commiseration ^ which a grateful. Empire added latet'tt. Bustammg letters. .'CJB.E.' To the coa' flsTXi''''11 .^^'tonk -they.-alJotiea £18,000 incai*. But the; Commissioners ?prlf° lh°lCe-- .^ey^'ere tied' by 'tlv ^erms of their nppoiri.UnenV and coul.' «£a ,atvard-; on'y tor ''tanks actual! used by a Government department'- - that is, for 'Mother' and its adapt a tions or -to those who could show *a casual connection' between their con ceptions and those contrivances: TVa .-?onune tank aiwardces were Sir E dEyncourt, Sir W. .Tritton, Major WK fa- I«cut.-McFie. and Mr. S. Xesfleld. Acertined verbatim report of 'the Com missioir proceedings at' Queen Anne's Gate, » estminster, on November 3, 1919 shows that two of these Somme awardees had, whilst controlling official: positions, offered criticisms of de Mole's tank which -he felt he could riot properly put forward to the Commission as being a reasoned and proper report on the posi tion as it then 'was,' wnce 'the crit' cisms contained in that report are cri ticism, wliieh I ani advised are not jus tified.' . ? De Mole's Other Activities. De Mole conceived his great tank idea or travelling caterpillar fort, while en gaged in the iprgatiisatioh of heavy tran sport work in the-Soiiih-Western part of Western Australia in 1911. and 'he nrst sent his plans to - the British War Office in 1912. Caterpillar traction was already known. ; the ,. celebrated American Holt tractor being then on the scene. But the steering was 'awkward, 'and this was part of de Mole'* triumph. lie made, perfect steering quite easy. The lio'lt story is another instance of the ineptitufia of the British authorities on ?some important, occasions. . Thej1- gave to America for nothing .plans for which they had paid a prize, and which -they were exceedingly,. gkd- to use on. generous, re turn. In;.19t-2 de Mole invented an auto-, matic tele-phone' similar in oiieration tc. that now in use. 'but the postal /siuthori-' ties wouid not' cy.en give it a trial. The model of his rejected war' tank can 'je seen at the Melbourne War Museum. The British Museum wanted to buv 'it. -biii characteristically the Australian soWei refused to sell it. and 'presented it to tha Australian War Museum as a gift.. Just now de iMocl is a resident of -Cremornc-. Sydney, and is working out two big ide.is' in connection with heavy traffic. In s:x months' time .every city in Australia is likely to know all nlwut ilierii. and tlie country, too. He is a civil' engineer by profession, like -his father, who is- a citi zen of Adelaide.' His greatgreatgrand father was the -eminent engineer. Henry Maudesly, who invented the marine en gine, etc. ' A generous-minded man. Lancelot dc Mole makes no grievance of his wrongs. But 'the mourning 'millions will nover know what his wrongs cost the world in human lives, or how many of the dead, including 60,000 .splendid Australians, would have been saved if the ' Britisj) War Office had been wise, in time. . The man actually responsible fop iMe pigeon holing of the Australian corporal's tan it plans in 1912 and the definite rejection of June. 1913, was the man who pro longed the war for years. Who was he?