Vickers Infantry Tanks No.1 & No.2

Vickers of Shefeld in those days was one of Britain’s main armament producers during the war, although it had never been involved in the production of tanks. In 1921, Vickers received a contract to develop and produce three light infantry tanks. It would be starting from scratch. Vickers established a tank design office in London, under the overall control of Sir George Buckham. Drawing up a new tank for a new concept of warfare was a considerable challenge. All they knew was that it had to be simpler, and more robust, than Johnson’s designs. Vickers built two prototypes of their Light tank which appeared in 1921. Te first of these, Vickers Tank No. 1, arrived at the Farnborough, on 17 December 1921, where a research facility was established at the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Armoured Corps. In 1928, it was renamed to MWEE (Mechanical Warfare Experimental Establishment). The tank later received a registration number: MWEE 7. It was built from plate, 6mm thick, riveted to an angle iron frame. The designers of the tank created a very compact fighting machine with a mass of under 9 tons. The entire crew was housed in the front of the tank, and the engine compartment was isolated. All the power train was housed in a separate compartment at the back of the tank. This was enormous progress compared to the “rhombus” tanks where the engine was placed in the middle of the hull. The Tank No.1 had a rhomboid hull, and had sprung suspension, but was nowhere near as adventurous as Philip Johnson’s system. It consisted of a series of individual units, up to four on each side, with a coil spring inside a tube, which acted on a bogie of four small rollers that ran along the track. It only offered minimum deflection, but was probably good enough for a tank that weighed about 9 tons and had a theoretical top speed of 15mph. It was powered by a Wolseley six-cylinder engine rated at 80bhp, a water-cooled unit which should have been powerful enough. However Vickers elected to use the Williams-Janney hydraulic transmission built by Variable Speed Gears. Te Williams-Janney system had been tried in tanks before and invariably found wanting. In theory it was the ideal system for tanks, since a gearbox was not required and steering could be achieved smoothly by manipulating a couple of hand wheels. Unfortunately it does not seem to have worked very well in the confines of a tank and Vickers were reporting transmission troubles even before the tank left Erith. Te number of the crew is not given, although it can hardly have been less than four. They occupied a roomy fighting compartment, although the commander and machine-gunners had to stand to their work, as only the driver had a seat. Vickers engineers equipped their with a fully rotating turret which fit all the tank’s armament, three Hotchkiss machineguns. The bearings that the turret rotated on were outside of the hull. This solution was used on subsequent Vickers tanks. Te turret itself was dome shaped, topped off by a raised commander’s cupola and with mountings for three air-cooled Hotchkiss machine guns around the periphery. There was a fourth position for a machine gun in the turret roof, for shooting at aero planes. Te turret appears to have been turned manually. Te design of the tracks was very unusual; each link appears to be formed from a shallow steel tray connected to its neighbors by two short pins and shackles. Te tray itself seems to contain a thin wooden insert, held in place by six rivets, and it all looks too flimsy to last very long. The Vickers tank was the first not to have been designed by Johnson’s Department of Tank Design and Experiment to be sent to the Tank Testing Section. However it was not there very long, being returned to Erith in February 1922. While there it was fitted with a more powerful Wolseley engine and new tracks with what appear to be a better gripping surface. It then went back to the Tank Testing Section in October 1922, but is listed as ‘stored derelict’ by the end of March 1923. At some stage while at Farnborough it is said to have been pitted in a race against Johnson’s Light Infantry Tank, which beat it convincingly. This was not surprising if the latter could achieve 30mph while the Vickers tank had a reported top speed of 15mph. However Fuller’s somewhat malicious claim that it was also beaten by a Medium C tank (top speed 8mph) probably gives a better idea of its poor progress.


Vickers Infantry Tank No. 1

The second prototype, Vickers Infantry Tank No.2, was ready in July of 1922. It received the registration number MWEE 15. The two tanks, Nos. 1 and 2 differed in their armament: No. 1 appeared with three ball mountings for Hotchkiss MGs in the turret sides while No. 2, carried a 3-pdr. gun and also had three Hotchkiss mountings for ground work and an additional position in the back of the turret roof for AA work. 50 rounds of 3-pdr. ammunition were carried and 6,000 rounds of SAA.

Vickers Infantry Tank No. 2