‘Lost’ tank blueprint saved for nation

Published: 27/02/2022

The ‘lost’ blueprint for the world’s first tank to see action has been secured for the nation by The Tank Museum in Dorset.

Thanks to the backing of Tim Allan, a former officer in the Royal Tank Regiment, the Museum was able to win the auction.

The plans along with the patent specification for the Mark I tank were purchased for a hammer price of £14,600.

Laidlaw Auctioneers in Carlisle offered the historic items which came from a private vendor whose family had owned them for considerable time.

A colour image of a blueprint of a Mark I tank.

The 44ins by 28ins blueprint is dated May 1916, just four months before the Mark I tanks had their first outing during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Somme Offensive during the First World War.

The documents have been described as the ‘birth certificate’ for the tank, an invention that changed the nature of modern warfare.

The Mark I tank was designed and manufactured by agricultural machinery company William Foster & Co of Lincoln.

The patent document describes the tank as “transport vehicles propelled by an endless moving chain track” and explained it was in the shape of a “lozenge”.

It reads: “The object of the invention is a vehicle which is specially adapted for use…under such conditions, the ground to be traversed is exceedingly difficult owing to the presence of obstructions, such as trenches, parapets, shell holes, craters and so forth.

“The casing as seen in the side elevation, approximately in shape resembles a lozenge or diamond standing on its edge. The high end is the front, whilst the low end is the rear.

A black and white photograph of a Mark I tank with crew around the bottom of it.

“The chain track or tracks extend entirely around the frame, so that the machine is arranged within the area enclosed by the track or tracks.”

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.

A colour image of a man (David Willey) stood in front of a Mark I tank.

“Bovington, where we are based, has been the home of the tank since 1916.

“This purchase was only made possible by the kind backing of Tim Allan and for this we are deeply grateful.”

Tim Allan CBE served as an officer in The Royal Tank Regiment, the oldest tank unit in the world.

The regiment still wears the First World War tank on its cap badge and is currently deployed in Estonia.

Tim said: “It’s a real privilege to be able to support The Tank Museum in their acquisition of this important piece of tank history.

“To me as Chair of the V&A in Dundee, I like to think we should show an example in our support to heritage whenever we can and I am particularly proud to be associated with the acquisition of something so close to my heart and own career.”

Auctioneer Paul Laidlaw, who regularly features on TV’s Bargain Hunt and Antiques Road Trip, said it was a ‘great result’ that the documents are in a museum.

He said: “Many auctioneers will go through their whole careers without handling an object that is so important it should not be in the hands of a collector.

“This should be accessible to everyone; it’s too good to be owned by an individual.

“This is our heritage or even world heritage and should be available for all to view.”

After the prototype tanks ‘Little Willie’ and ‘Mother’, the Mark I was the first actual tank to go into production and see service in the First World War.

Discover more about the history of the Mark I tank, from Historian David Fletcher on The Tank Museum’s YouTube channel.

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