Talk:Little Willie

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new article(Uber555 23:44, 21 February 2006 (UTC))

I have first hand documentary film evidence of tanks being tested at the Wm Foster & Co site which is now Tritton road in Lincoln. In the film there is a section concentrating on Little Willie, painted on the side is "Little Wille Built Sept 1916" this appears to contradict the articles statement that Little Willie was completed in December 1915.

The 1915 date is correct; the month is more dubious. September 1916 was of course the month tanks were first used in combat; this seems a probable explanation for the mistake.--MWAK 16:44, 19 December 2006 (UTC)

Track Plates[edit]

The article states that the tracks that Tritton designed were later used on the Medium Mk A (Whippet). They were also used on the British Heavy Tanks Mks I to V*.

Hengistmate (talk) 10:55, 3 October 2011 (UTC)

Tracks and track plates aren't the same thing. The Tritton track plate was used for both. Tritton's fish-bellied re-design of the lower guide rails and their rollers wasn't used on the rhomboid tanks, but did re-appear on the Whippet. Andy Dingley (talk) 01:17, 1 November 2011 (UTC)

I came across this article while trying to understand the relevance of Little Willie.

In the matter of tracks, etc.

"Tracks and track plates aren't the same thing." Well, e pluribus unum, although the likes of Stern, Swinton, and so on, and various authors use the terms rather arbitrarily, to mean individual plates, linked plates, track assemblies, running gear, etc. It is a pity they did not have the benefit of such precise advice. In fact, in the Youtube video David Fletcher refers to "the kind of track that Tritton and Wilson developed," while indicating a single track plate. He seems to use the terms fairly loosely. I shall bring this to his attention the next time we speak

"Tritton's fish-bellied re-design of the lower guide rails and their rollers wasn't used on the rhomboid tanks."

I'm afraid it was. I hope these references are up to the standard you demand:

"This was a successful design and was used on all First World War British tanks up to the Mark VIII" - from the Wikipedia article.

"The design proved so reliable that it remained basically unchanged for the rest of the war." John Glanfield, The Devil's Chariots.

"This new - and much simplified - form of track and suspension became standard for all British tanks produced in World War I." Ellis & Chamberlain, British Tanks Mk I-V.

"The new track system worked. It meant they could be made much longer and configured to run round the perimeter of the entire vehicle, as Wilson wanted." Christie Campbell, Band of Brigands.

The fish-belly profile, which can be traced back at least to the Batter design of 1888, was incorporated by Wilson into the design of Mother and all the subsequent rhomboids. One wonders whether it was entirely Wilson's idea, since it can be seen in Foster's original Centipede of 1913.

IIRC, on a hard surface the length of track in contact with the ground compared to the overall length was, approximately: Mks I-V 4' 7" (26'5"); Whippet 4' 0" (20ft). When the vehicles were sunk to the belly, the figure was 17' 0" in both cases. This phenomenon was the result of the fish-belly design. It produced a reduction in ground pressure of over 50% when sinkage was 6". There are figures available for the Mks V*, V**, VII, VIII, and IX, the Gun Carrier, and Medium Mk B, should you require them. Of course, the figures for the Mk V* are somewhat different, since it was an ad hoc design, and the fish-belly profile was somewhat compromised by the insertion of the extra panels, but the original principle was reinstated in subsequent types.

Drawings that clearly illustrate the above can be found in numerous works on the subject. Try Fletcher's Landships (pp 50-59) or British Tanks 1915-1919 (throughout) or Glanfield's The Devil's Chariots (Appendix 1) .

". . . but did re-appear on the Whippet."

The Whippet track assembly (I hope the meaning of that is clear) was, indeed, similar in profile to that of Little Willie, although 66% longer. However, the fish-belly had never been absent.

While we're scrutinising this article for accuracy, and, naturally, striving to improve it in the interests of the project, perhaps you could offer your opinion on the assertion that Little Willie was "after a concept proposed by (Tritton's) designer William Rigby," throw further light on the "secondary gearboxes near the engine," comment on the suggestion that it the name H.M.L.S. Centipede was Swinton's idea, and explain the disparity between the metric and Imperial lengths of the vehicle given in the Infobox which suggests that one includes the steering tail whilst the other does not. Or is that too trivial?

Hengistmate (talk) 12:21, 8 January 2012 (UTC)

As an aside - as yet no article on David Fletcher (military_historian) CBE, not even a section under Bovington Tank Museum. GraemeLeggett (talk) 12:57, 8 January 2012 (UTC)

Mark I, with flat rails, sitting forward onto the belly curve
Pullen has a reasonable description of this. Otherwise go to Bov or Lincoln and look directly - you might even get to talk to Fletcher
One of the reasons why the rhomboids didn't need fishbellying is that their rhomboid shape was itself approximate. They weren't a sharp-cornered parallelogram, but the corners were heavily rounded - particularly that lower corner. Their balance was such that the tanks naturally sat slightly forwards, so that their flat rear rail was lifted clear of the ground (on a hard surface) and their weight was on the curved area of the rail, thus having the same effect as the deliberate fishbelly. For the I - III it thus wasn't a problem and the tanks steered fine (as well as the steering gearboxes would allow anyway).
It's possible that the IV had some deliberate fishbellying, but I'd need to spend time with decent drawings to comment more.
Where it started to go wrong was with the V. Despite having Wilson's gearboxes, the V steered badly on hard surfaces and had a reputation for being difficult to handle when loading at railheads. One solution was to lay a wooden carpet of old railway sleepers, to allow more sideways track scrub (WWI track plates had little grip on concrete anyway). On mud it was fine.
With the lengthened Vs, the tadpole tail and the V*, the lesson of fish bellying had been totally forgotten (or never communicated outside a handful of people, mostly at Fosters). These two models just didn't steer. The V** had Wilson's involvment back in the design and this certainly did use fishbellying to make them steer better than the V*.
The IX had forgotten it again too (remember that mark numbers aren't a simple indication of chronological sequence - the design work at Armstrongs pre-dates the V*/V**), and these were regarded as almost unloadable onto rail wagons, or unsteerable when laden. To handle their extra weight when loaded with supplies the tracks were deliberately flat (to reduce ground pressure on hard surfaces) and the unframed hull sides were known to distort further when loaded - no fully-loaded IX was ever demonstrated moving.
Where the "architects" of the British tank were involved, even on projects like the Flying Elephant, they seem to have remembered the importance of fishbelly. The problems arose after the real experts were thinking about fast Mediums and the design of the later Heavies had passed on to others.
My comment at the top was a brief comment for a talk page, and wasn't intended as referenced canon for direct addition to an article. However the invention of fishbelly, and its sometimes omission for some of the less successful Heavies, is an important part of the historical development of the British tank. Compare it to both German designs (long, flat, poor steering) and the French only dodging the issue on the Schneider by it being so short. Andy Dingley (talk) 13:45, 8 January 2012 (UTC)

Thank you for your lengthy, but by no means verbose, reply. I shall, if I may, confine myself to those parts of it that have some bearing on the original point.

I am having difficulty with the logic of the argument. You appear to say that the rhomboids did not need fish-bellying because they already were fishbellied. Or that there is a difference between a deliberate fishbelly and a coincidental one. It's hard to say. Either way, it seems to me that the consequence is a fishbelly.

Allow me to quote Glanfield, discussing the rhomboids: "The bottom arc of each track was the footprint equivalent of a giant wheel . . . The track's curvature also limited the number of shoes in ground contact, thus reducing drag when steering, saving power, and tightening the turning radius." That seems to me to be very clear. Although Wilson vehemently denied that there was any attempt to mimic a wheel of a specific radius (a claim made by Williams-Ellis, IIRC), I think that Glanfield's description explains the point to the general reader.

Or you could try David Fletcher's British Mark I Tank 1916. It sometimes seems that Mr. Fletcher's reliability as a source depends on who is quoting him, but he says, "Viewed in profile it will be noted that the track frames were not flat, where they ran along the ground, but gently curved. This meant that on a hard surface no more than eight track links per side (from a total of 90 that comprised a complete loop) were in touch with the ground so that the tank might turn easily. On soft ground, however, more links pressed into the surface, thus gradually reducing the overall ground pressure, but this made it increasingly difficult to turn, due to the lateral resistance of the soil." I smell fish fishbelly. And since we know that the hull profile remained unchanged from Mother to the Mk V, we can conclude that the above applies in each case.

What is meant by "sat slightly forwards" I cannot determine. If it means "leaned forwards," then that has, to borrow an expression, no real engagement with the facts. The assertion that "their flat rear rail was lifted clear of the ground (on a hard surface) and their weight was on the curved area of the rail" is diametrical to the actual case. The rear rail was not flat. The vehicles rested on that part of the track on which they were designed to rest; the flat bit, amidships. Wilson went to great pains to ensure that the tanks rested on their calculated point of balance. The horizontal surfaces were . . . well, horizontal, and the rear tail was not flat but a gentle curve. That can clearly be seen on the many, many photographs of the period. It can actually be seen in the photo you have kindly enclosed in order to help me understand what a Mk I looks like. (As I'm sure you realise, it isn't actually a Mk I; it's "Mother," but since the shape was the same, it serves its purpose) The only circumstance I can find in which a tank "sat slightly forwards" is when the fascine was carried on top of the cab, its 4-ton weight moving the point of balance forward.

"the lengthened Vs, the tadpole tail and the V*": this is confusion at a rather fundamental level. I know of no "lengthened Vs", apart from the example fitted with a tadpole tail. The first tank to be lengthened by the insertion of 3 extra panels amidships (i.e. above the flat section of the track) was a Mk IV. The length of the flat section was thus increased by 6 feet. At best, one Mk V was lengthened in this fashion, experimentally. All Mk V*s were new builds, with modified rear cupola and the increased length of track ground contact. The tadpole tail was trialled on Mks IV and V, aft of the flat section of track, and therefore not increasing contact. The V** reverted to the principle of minimal ground contact; the vehicle was thus 6 feet longer than the Mk V, but the track contact length increased by only 1' 5". The lengthened Mk IV was Workshops' idea and had its disadvantages, but the profile was still a long way from the Holt-based units with which you compare it. Wilson's V** design restored the situation.

The efficacy of these various measures and the handling characteristics of the various vehicles would, I am sure, make for an interesting discussion elsewhere and on another occasion, but they have no bearing on on the original, very simple point.

It might further illuminate matters if I explain that, contrary to what one might expect, the Whippet had a greater ratio of track ground contact to overall length (20%) than the Mks I-V (17% appx), the V** (18.5%), the Mk VII (15%), and even the Mk IX (18%). On the V* it was almost 33%, for reasons laid out above.

Luckily, there are sources that explain much of this in a nutshell. Try Fletcher's The British Tanks 1915-19, pages 119, 140, and 161-2, where he explains on three separate occasions the origins of the Mk V*. The first of these also shows a very useful diagram of the point of balance of various Marks, in which none of them seems to be sitting forwards at all. One assumes that Mr. Fletcher chose the drawings carefully and approves of them. They are, after all, copies of the Bovington plans. Spending time with decent drawings is an excellent idea.

I think we've covered everything here. I apologise for the verbosity, but kitchen-sink responses such as this, and others, do require a good deal

A fish

of separation of wheat from chaff. I have read on Wikipedia that persistence and verbosity are no excuse for basic inaccuracy. I am grateful for the recommendation of useful introductory works on the subject, and the tourism tips, but I would suggest that in future discussions clue be assumed.

The chronology is, if I might say so, nothing to do with it. And, of course, as you probably forgot to mention, one French design did have a fishbelly; the M1917 Saint-Chamond project.

Again, I apologise for the length of this reply, but it has been rather forced upon me. I feel that I must address all the points you make, irrespective of their relevance, lest anyone form the impression that any have not been addressed because they are correct. Hengistmate (talk) 22:23, 11 March 2012 (UTC)

Crew, etc.[edit]

The question of the crew is hypothetical, since the vehicle was only ever test-driven. No crew numbers were actually specified for the No. 1 Machine or Little Willie while they were under construction. Stern says the armament "consisted of" a 2pdr, a Maxim, and "several" Lewis or Hotchkiss guns to be fired through the portholes, but as none was fitted, that was all notional. However, it implies that the crew in practice would have been 6 at the least.

On the other hand, Little Willie didn't need four men to drive her, since there were no secondary gears to be operated. They were introduced only in the much heavier Mother.Hengistmate (talk) 16:03, 11 March 2012 (UTC)

Good point. I missed that :o).--MWAK (talk) 12:15, 13 March 2012 (UTC)


Length as given in feet (26' 6") and meters (5.87m) does not match. Which is correct? Is 26 feet 6 inches optimistic for Little Willie?Everiverever (talk) 14:39, 20 April 2012 (UTC)

Hi. One is with the tail wheel, and one without. Have been trying to confirm exact measurements of each, but it's turned out to be surprisingly elusive. It can't be far away. Will report back asap. Hengistmate (talk) 14:44, 20 April 2012 (UTC)

B T White has 26 ft 6 in (8.08 m) for Little Willie with the improved tracks and steering wheels. (p18) Tank Museum give 5.87 m for it as it stands now without its steering tail. GraemeLeggett (talk) 17:54, 20 April 2012 (UTC)

Ok, the stats have been clarified, thxEveriverever (talk) 17:18, 6 June 2012 (UTC)


I have a hunch the song "Little Willy" by the British rock band Sweet was about this tank. No matter what they did, Willy kept getting stuck in the trenches and they had to leave it behind. Any thoughts on this? Freedom2choose (talk) 06:05, 18 January 2013 (UTC)

Edits 2 Feb 2014.[edit]

Swinton says that the name "Centipede" was already applied to the wooden mock-up of the rhomboid when it was shown to him on Sept 19th. (Eyewitness, p147). Perhaps this is confusion with his introduction of the codename "Tank".

Btw, there does not seem to be any primary evidence that this vehicle was ever called the No. 1 Lincoln Machine

Also removed hanging modifier. Hengistmate (talk) 14:09, 2 February 2014 (UTC)

Height Discrepancy.[edit]

There's a problem in the infobox. The height of the vehicle is given as "2.51 m (8 ft 3 in), 9 ft with dummy turret." Arithmetic states that the height of the turret must therefore be 9 inches. It is obvious from photographs that that can not have been the case. The photograph of the men working on the turret suggests that it was in excess of 2 feet. Does anyone have figures that might be more plausible? Hengistmate (talk) 11:28, 5 February 2014 (UTC)

I have a source that gives the original design height as 10 ft 2 in. But that's before the suspension changes which might have altered the height. GraemeLeggett (talk) 13:32, 5 February 2014 (UTC)

What's the source? Hengistmate (talk) 16:09, 5 February 2014 (UTC)

I've got 10' 2" from Stern, p 30.Hengistmate (talk) 16:26, 5 February 2014 (UTC)

Turret, guns, etc.[edit]

I'm a little reluctant to say that the dummy turret "mounted" a machine gun. We know from the photograph that it had provision for a weapon, and that Stern says, "The armament consisted of one 2-pounder automatic gun . . . . one .303 Maxim, and several Lewis or Hotchkiss automatics, to be fired through the port-holes," but he does seem to be speaking theoretically. There is no clear statement that a machine gun was fitted. However, in the three known photos of the turreted machine outdoors, the tarpaulin covering it does seem to be supported by something forward of the turret. I have grave doubts that they would have gone to the trouble of incorporating a real gun. Maybe a dummy or something to represent a gun of some kind was attached? I think the body copy should reflect that, as well as Stern's mention of other machine guns. Hengistmate (talk) 10:08, 6 February 2014 (UTC)

AIUI (from conversations at Lincoln), there was a trial with the 2 pounder. There was a concern that the turret ring mounting would be inadequate to handle the recoil, as had already been a problem for some armoured car mounts that had been satisfactory with an MG but jammed with anything bigger. Several 'fortress' mounts that were in use at the time hadn't been designed to tilt as well as to support recoil. If the heavy turret was off-vertical, this could tilt its weight on the ring and then jam it when fired. One of the turret bearing designs considered was able to resist this, having been designed for naval use. It was then realised that the "spider" it used to space the bearings apart now blocked access into the turret from beneath – which just hadn't been a problem for a deck-mounted naval gun. Andy Dingley (talk) 11:45, 6 February 2014 (UTC)

I dare say. Mr. Dingley remains eager to share both his knowledge and his opinions. However, talk pages are for discussing the article, not for general conversation about the article's subject (much less other subjects). The above comments are not relevant to the editing of the article. Moreover, an alleged private conversation constitutes original research. It's not even a widely circulating view. The question is whether it is more accurate to say that the turret mounted a machine gun or that it had provision for a machine gun, and whether the weapons that Stern describes should be mentioned in the article. Keep discussions focused on how to improve the article. Comments that are plainly irrelevant are subject to archival or removal. Hengistmate (talk) 00:36, 11 February 2014 (UTC)

I would refer you to the case of Arkell vs. Pressdram. Andy Dingley (talk) 01:06, 11 February 2014 (UTC)
Mr Dingley is recounting a narrative which he is aware of relating to the subject. He is speculating a bit, but then you were too in your interpretation of there being something being under the tarpaulin in the photos, or in assuming that the builders would not gone to the effort of fitting a weapon. He is not indulging in "Whoo, Little Willie is da coolest" which is what the restriction on discussing the subject on the talk pages is chiefly aimed at. Perhaps it would serve the article better if we could ask Andy if knows where the other part in his conversation got their information from. GraemeLeggett (talk) 12:56, 11 February 2014 (UTC)
I have no idea where the other party (whose name I don't recall) got their ideas from, but as we were standing in a group with David Fletcher, I wouldn't rule them out of hand. If I had sources, I would have added this to the article. As I don't, I'm merely suggesting avenues for further research. Andy Dingley (talk) 13:10, 11 February 2014 (UTC)

Edits 4 July, 2014.[edit]

Stern talks of the gun being on rails, not the turret.(Letter to Tritton, 3rd Sep, 1915, Logbook of a Pioneer, p 31.)

The rest is a bit of a jumble. Main reason for abandonment of the turret was LW was overtaken in priority by Wilson's new design ("Mother"), so work on the turret was stopped and the aperture plated over. Hengistmate (talk) 16:08, 4 July 2014 (UTC)


Little Willie was not Little Willie until unofficially named so by a person or persons unknown upon its arrival at Hatfield Park in January, 1916 (Swinton, p168, citing The Tank Corps Journal). Therefore, there cannot be a "later form" of Little Willie, because the machine was in its final form when given that name. The rhomboid was, acc to Swinton, named "Big Willie" at the same time, but that does not seem to have stuck for very long.

What Little Willie was called up to that point is open to debate. Many sources state that it was called "The Number 1 Lincoln Machine," but there seems to be no primary evidence for that. Stern calls the first prototype the "Bullock Machine," and the second the "Tritton Machine." Tritton, who should know a thing or two about it, says, "Since it was obviously inadvisable to herald 'Little Willie's' reason for existence to the world he was known as the 'Instructional Demonstration Unit' (Popular Science Monthly, July 1918). None of the principal characters in this story seems to use the term. Was there a "Number 2 Lincoln Machine"? Why call something the Number 1 unless there is or you expect there to be a Number 2? If so, what was it, and why are there no published references to it?

Swinton also states (p167-8) that the two prototypes were both called "Centipede" (the pre-War trademark name of all Fosters' chaintracks) when demonstrated together at Hatfield Park on January 29th, 1916.

There is more than enough evidence here to support the assertion that the term "Number 1 Lincoln Machine" is debatable; not that there is no primary evidence to support it, but that there is enough secondary evidence to contest it.

I hope that if I continue to work very hard I shall one day come to understand the significance of Little Willie. In the meantime I shall edit the article judiciously in order to reflect the available evidence.

Hengistmate (talk) 11:14, 2 September 2014 (UTC)