French Tank Development during WW1

French tank development began shortly after the creation of Little Willie, but the one thing to note about French tank development was that the French were not designing their tanks under one ministry like their British allies, rather all of their designs were being produced by multiple little committees and companies that competed with one another for resources. This led to two things:

  1. French tank development was wild and chaotic, because of the amount of competition and design differences from the different committees.
  2. Tank development in France had arguably more innovation than the British, you had radically different tank designs from France than in Britain–who derive most of their designs on variations of the Marks series.

Out of all of the companies, one came to be the forefront of early French tank development, the Schneider company. Within 2 weeks of introducing the concept to a French artillery officer, the chief engineer at Schneider designed the Char d’Assaut (Assault Tank) Schneider CA1 (Shown below)


Though the CA1 was for the most part a riveted metal box with guns, at least the French had put some functional style into it compared to say Little Willie and the German A7V, aside from the standard armament of the 75mm gun short barreled gun on the right side flanked by machine guns, the front of the tank was slanted with a metal rebar to cut through barbed wire, and was able to carry 6 men.

Remember when I said that the French had multiple companies and committees all vying for resources/funding? Another tank was developed shortly after the CA1 by FAMH–a competitor to Schneider, originally designed to be partly based on the CA1 but was blocked by the designer of the aforementioned tank due to patents, known as the Saint-Chamond Heavy Tank (shown below):


This thing was similar to the CA1 in weapons loadout (1 75mm and 4 machine guns), but it was  larger, delicate, and more unwieldy in rough terrain (look at how small the suspension/track was compared to the rest of the tank!), often breaking down and leaving its 9 man crew dead in the water.

Unfortunately, both of these tanks were not successful in on the front and production for both stopped, the few remaining remained in service throughout the war.

***This does not mean however, that the French stopped tank development outright, in 1916 the French would later produce a tank whose design would forever revolutionize the way tanks were built and set the standard for all tanks all the way to today, more in the next post.***

Sources used:

British Tank Development during WW1

Due to overconfidence by British command, the Mark series of tanks had mixed success on the battlefield. Incidents such as the Battle of Arras–where a combination of bad weather, horrifically bombed out terrain and lack of combined arms coordination led to below average performance by the tank brigades assigned to breach the entrenched German lines–and the 3rd Battle of Ypres–which occurred for similar reasons–cemented the and emphasized on the fact that the British were still new to tank warfare and required more specialized tanks to support the other assault elements (infantry, artillery etc.)


After the Battle of Ypres, the British began to improve their tactics in addition to creating specialized variants of their tanks to address a wide variety of conditions:

Improvements in Tactics:

  • 1917 near town of Cambrai: 447 British tanks attacked German lines.
    • Before the attack, artillery began a shorter than usual barrage so as to not create so many craters so the tanks had an easier time traversing terrain.
    • The Allies were able to gain an extraordinary 7 miles of land, but were unable to hold it because the tank brigades had taken so many hits that the occupying forces were left with no support.
      • During WW1, it was extremely common to lose many lives in order to gain and lose (at most) up to a few feet of land, such was life in the trenches.
    • Effect: This led to increased interest in tank design and improvements in combined arms tactics, whereby all elements of a military force worked together in an assault or defensive maneuver. Many of these new developments would form the foundation of armored warfare–and would be used and modified–up until the Cold War.

Specialized Tanks:

  • The First World War also produced a need for mobile artillery, where you combined powerful fixed artillery with the treads of a tank, alleviating logistics because you can now move entire artillery pieces without having to assemble them on site
    • This was particularly important because aircraft were also in their infancy, being used as spotters to look for stationary gun emplacements, once the gun emplacements were spotted the planes would transmit via 1 way radio signal back to the artillery emplacements to fire on those coordinates.
      • On a related note: Aerial dogfights came about when planes were sent to shoot down the spotter planes.
    • New development: Self-Propelled Guns (SPG)
    • The British developed the Gun Carrier Mark 1, based on the chassis of the Mark 1 tank (shown below)gun_carrier_mark_i
  • Combat Engineering Vehicles (Both the British and French did this)
    • The conditions of the WW1 battlefields combined with tank innovation naturally led to the development of vehicles designed with the sole purpose of either digging new trenches, laying bridges, carrying large and heavy loads, mine clearance, and to salvage other tanks that were lost in No Man’s Land.
      a Mark IV Salvage Tank

      ***A thing to keep note: Do you wonder why all of the British tanks were largely the same? That’s because all tank development was put under the authority of one the Landship Committee, and all design decisions/resources were put through the same minds, same criteria, and same approval. I.E. British Tank Development was largely centralized under one ministry.

Sources used: (for Mark 1 Gun Carrier picture)

Sidetracks: The Mark 2

After the Mark 1 there were various improvements to the basic model,  such as the Mark 2, but the Mark 2s had thinner armor alongside the Mark 3, and were deployed with overconfidence by the British military. The Mark 2 was used mostly for training purposes, only 50 were built.

But on a personal note: Who in their right mind would put the fuel storage of an armored vehicle in the FRONT, where they would be shot at the most? And why were the escape hatches so difficult access?

Video lecture courtesy of David Fletcher of the Bovington Tank Museum.

Supplementary Source:

Big Willie and Trial by Fire

Although Little Willie satisfied the requirements set forth by the Landship Committee, there were still improvements to be done. As a result, engineers designed a new tank based on new criteria put by the War Office. The resulting prototype was affectionately called “Big Willie” (shown below).


Big Willie had quite a few differences and improvements from its predecessor, namely it had tracks that ran all the way around the hull, and also had sponsons–half turrets located on the side of the vehicle–carrying a 6-pdr gun, in addition to a rear set of wheels to improve steering capabilities (only slightly though, remember that these things were SLOW), and was capable of carrying 8 men.

Satisfied, the British immediately called for the construction of 100 Mark 1 Tanks (these were production models of Big Willie) which later increased to 150.

In a ratio of 50/50, the Mark I was divided into genders, where the gender of the tank determined its weapon loadout:

  • Male tanks were merely copies of Big Willie, armed with a pair of 6-pdr guns and machine guns.
    • Designed to spearhead breaches into German lines and destroy emplacements
  • Female tanks, on the other hand were armed with heavy machine guns and regular machine guns
    • These were designed to support and protect the infantry, who would often use them as cover.

Initial Battle Reports:

The first tank offensive had mixed results. Because the tank was still in its infancy, the tank crews were largely inexperienced and had little training. Several tanks were destroyed outright by enemy shelling.

However, this did not mean that the tank was unsuccessful as a design. There were at least 2 incidents where Mark 1s were successful on the battlefield:

  1. In 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, 3 Mark 1s were successful in overrunning a German machine gun emplacement, with the German soldiers posted there running in terror at the sight of the armored-metal-boxes-with-guns coming at them.
  2. Another Mark 1 tank,  Crème de Menthe, was successful in supporting a British raid on a German-occupied factory.

Conditions inside of the tanks were extremely harsh, here were the reasons why:

  1. The inside of the tank was hot
  2. The crew was constantly choking on exhaust fumes, carbon monoxide, and cordite from weapons fire.
  3. The armor plating was extremely thin (12mms of armor at maximum), and were riveted rather than welded or cast
    • a) The reason why this is harsh is because weapons fire directed at the tank could hit the rivets, dislodging them and causing them to bounce around inside the crew compartment, often injuring or outright killing the crew, a mere bounce could be dangerous.
      • b) To combat this, tank crews often wore medieval style chainmail/leather, which was heavy and cumbersome.
  4. There was inadequate ventilation of any of these tanks.

Combining the above conditions, many of these tanks were knocked out or rendered inoperable simply because the crew fainted from the lack of air and extreme heat.

Here is a video lecture by David Fletcher of the Bovington Tank Museum on the Mark 1




Sources used:

Initial Beginnings and Little Willie

The first tanks were developed during WW1 in response to the horrific trench conditions of the Western Front. Both the Entente and the Central Powers had fought to a stalemate in trenches that were difficult to breach by the opposing side. An early idea came in as early as 1914 when a British Lieutenant Colonel named Ernest Swinton proposed adding extra armor plating to an American artillery tractor that could serve as a linebreaker, but the idea was temporarily set aside until 1915. Meanwhile, the French were attempting to use similar designs so as to traverse and the vast fields of barbed wire setup to limit troop movement.

On February 1915, the First Lord of the Admiralty in the British Navy, Winston Churchill formed the Landship Committee, a collection of automotive specialists and military engineers, to pursue research and development into armored vehicles designed to replace cavalry and break the stalemate at the trenches.

The initial criteria for the armored vehicle were as follows (

-a traction capable of crossing craters and trenches more than 1 meter wide and 2 meters deep under trench conditions.

-capable of carrying heavy firepower to breach enemy fortifications and trench lines

-armored to be heavily resistant to most conventional weapons.

After several failures and prototypes that never made the production stage, a breakthrough was achieved in the form of “Little Willie” (circa early 1916), the first completed tank prototype in history.

Below is a lecture by the Tank Museum’s Historian, David Fletcher, regarding the creation of Little Willie




Welcome to this blog, the working plan is to use it to give an overview of the history of armored warfare from its inception during the First World War to the Second and beyond, and how the creation of the tank and its related technologies forever changed the way wars were fought.

Be warned, this is a student project so consider it accordingly.

Posts will be categorized under tags:

Main Content: The meat of the matter, where most of the research info will be compiled

Sidetracks: This is where I’ll be able to talk about or post information/video links on particular tanks that may or may not be related to the main content simply because there is not much to say. Keep an eye on it though because you might find something interesting 🙂

Just for Fun: Won’t be utilized often, but incase the tags up above don’t describe it.