Tractor to Tank: How 'Little Willie' Came to Be

The idea of an armoured tracked vehicle that would provide protection from machines gun fire was first discussed by army officers in 1914. Two of the officers, Colonel Ernest Swinton and Colonel Maurice Hankey, both became convinced that it was possible to develop a fighting vehicle that could play an important role in any future war. On the outbreak of the First World War Colonel Swinton was sent to the Western Front to write reports on the war. After observing early battles where machine-gunners were able to kill thousands of infantryman advancing towards enemy trenches, Swinton wrote that "petrol tractors on the caterpillar principle and armoured with hardened steel plates" would be able to counteract the machine-gunner. (1)
To maintain secrecy, Swinton coined the euphemism "tank", to describe the new weapon. However, he faced real problems from his boss, Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State of War. His style of leadership was very authoritarian and was reluctant to experiment. Swinton later argued that after putting the idea to Kitchener without getting any support he hesitated to press too hard because he dreaded a direct order to drop it. (2)
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