Recently discovered, this highly detailed largescale technical plan of the tank used in its design and construction got away just below estimate at £14,600 on February 25-26. It was accompanied by an equally unique patent specification.
Saleroom owner Paul Laidlaw said: “The museum bid on the phone. There was further phone interest and a private commission under-bid. It’s great that it’s ended up in a public collection.”
He added that the 2ft 4in x 3ft 8in (72cm x 1.12m) blueprint and patent were consigned for sale by a private seller and that the documents had never previously been offered on the market.
Breaking the stalemate
The introduction of the tank by the British in 1916 was an attempt to break the stalemate of trench warfare.
Following the prototype tanks ‘Little Willie’ and ‘Mother’, the Mark I – built in a highly distinctive rhomboidal form – was the first actual tank to go into production and see service in the First World War.
The patent document describes tanks as “transport vehicles propelled by an endless moving chain track” and explained they were in the shape of a “lozenge”.
The blueprint is dated May 18, 1916, just a few months prior to the first use of the tank on the morning of September 15 during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Somme Offensive.
The tank was designed by William Ashbee Tritton, director of the agricultural machinery company William Foster & Company of Lincoln, and Lieutenant Walter Gordon Wilson, and manufactured by the Metropolitan Carriage Wagon & Finance Co.
The patent was prepared on pro-forma stationery of Marks & Clerk, Consulting Engineers & Chartered Patent Agents and runs to some 20 pages of typewritten text with pencil annotations and corrections.
Extracts of the specification include: “The object of the invention is a vehicle which is specially adapted for use in connection with military operations and more particularly a war zone.
“Under such conditions, the ground to be traversed is exceedingly difficult owing to the presence of more or less artificial obstructions, such as trenches, parapets, shell holes, craters and so forth.” The Tank Museum curator David Willey said: “We are obviously delighted to add this blueprint and draft patent document to our holdings of First World War Tank material. We already have the best collection of remaining First World War tanks and our archive has a substantial number of drawings and manuals along with photographs, war diaries and personal accounts.
“This blueprint is the only one known for a Mark I, so we would like to think we are the most appropriate place for these items. Bovington, where we are based, has been the home of the tank since 1916.” The museum collection was established in Dorset in 1923 (after a suggestion by Rudyard Kipling) and opened to the public in 1947.
Support for the purchase came from Tim Allan, a former officer in the Royal Tank Regiment. He is now chair of the V&A in Dundee.