Made on the Western Front

This beautiful model of a Whippet tank has recently been donated to the Tank Museum by the nephew of the original owner – Tom Lowe.

With pins to look like rivets over a wooden core – the modelmaker shows in beautiful detail an example of a Whippet, or Medium A tank, from the First World War.

Tom Lowe, born in 1894 was a Grocer in the Harborne Area of Birmingham before he enlisted into the Motor Machine Gun Corps at Coventry in August 1915. Tom trained at Bisley and joined the Armoured Car Section in April 1916, before he was posted to Elvedon in Norfolk and joined C Section of the new tank force.

Tank Corps Workshops

Whether Tom Lowe actually made this copper Whippet model is unclear, but it was almost certainly made at one of the Tank Corps workshops in 1918 or 19. It suffered over the years with the inner wooden base structure rotting away and some smaller parts being lost.

His nephew rebuilt the model in 2019 with new wood and all the surviving available parts. Despite careful study there are no obvious marks on the tank to indicate where the metal came from – but it is tempting to think it is some reused material from around one of the Tank Corps training camp.

Copper Whippet Model, made during the First World War.
Copper Whippet model, made during the First World War.

We know Tom fought at Arras as he was one of three Corporals to be awarded the Military Medal on April 23rd.

His citation reads ‘During action on April 23rd(19)17 when his officer had been temporarily blinded by splinters and several of the crew wounded, and the Lewis guns disabled, this NCO displayed conspicuous courage and coolness, and managed to drive his tank back to its starting point.’

Black and white photograph of WWI tanks in a field, with two men standing in front of them.
Tank Corps Central Workshops, 1918.

Later in August of 1917 he joined the Mechanical School at Wailly, teaching new crews to operate the Mark IV, V and later Whippet tanks. Most of the instructors there were used to drive Wire Cutting tanks at the battle of Cambrai in November 1917 – so he probably fought in that famous Tank Corps battle too.

He later served as an instructor at both Bovington and back in France and he is recorded as catching the influenza strain that swept around Europe as the war ended.

Tom Lowe left the Army in March 1919 and later married and had two children before emigrating to Australia with his family in 1929. He died in Australia in 1955.

The Whippet Tank

The Whippet was a proposal by William Tritton, the Managing Director of Fosters of Lincoln, the builders of the first prototype tank – ‘Little Willie’ – and ‘Mother’ the first rhomboid tank that would go into production as the Mark I. Tritton thought a faster (and cheaper) tank could be produced to exploit the gaps the heavier tanks made.

The Whippet tank, in The Tank Museum's Tank Story Hall
Whippet tank, in the Museum's Tank Story Hall,

The vehicle was designed with two Tylor 4 cylinder side-valve petrol engines that could be locked together for forward movement and one throttle closed to slow the power to a track, with the other opened to speed the opposite track and turn a corner. This was a complex system for the driver to use leading to sometimes erratic motion and broken tracks.

The armour plate was just over half an inch and the barbette type arrangement held the three man crew and three Hotchkiss machine guns.

The first use of the Whippet was in the Spring of 1918 and the tank proved successful, but its production run was limited to 200 vehicles as newer medium tank designs (the B, C and D) were considered better bets.

See this Whippet model and hear from Curator David Willey, in the new The Inside Track series on The Tank Museum YouTube channel below.

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