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Birthplace of the Tank
Invented in Lincoln in 1916

Learn about its history and how you can see one today

Museum of Lincolnshire Life
Birthplace of the Tank

Lincoln’s history of aviation and engineering is well documented but the city was instrumental in the invention of a machine that saved thousands of lives during the First World War. 

By 1915, trench fighting was well established and the Great War had become a stalemate. If either side tried to cross No-Man’s Land the barbed wire would stop the soldiers in their tracks and the machine guns would have the final say. A way of crossing broken ground, crushing the wire and silencing the guns was in desperate need.

Prime Minister of Gretat Britain at the time, David Lloyd George, could already see how the outcome of this war would be decided when he said “this is an engineers war”.

On the 29th September 1915, military dignitaries were invited to come and see something interesting at the William Foster and Co Ltd factory on Firth Road in Lincoln. When the War Office dignitaries arrived inside a large marquee, they saw a wooden mock up of a new weapon: the tank. To say that the military were impressed would be a huge understatement and Fosters design team were told to have to complete machine ready for testing as soon as possible.

Birthplace of the Tank

The workers at Fosters astounded everyone when in early January 1916, around three months later, they announced that the prototype machine was now ready for whatever the military could throw at it - named Little Willie. Testing was undertaken in the peaceful surroundings of Burton Park near Lincoln and then the machine was sent for official tests in Hatfield Park in Hertfordshire.

The tank sailed through it all, taking trenches and boggy ground in her stride. The next stage of production aimed to create a tank that could traverse wider trenches and so the world's first fighting tank - named Mother - was born.

After Mother had proved her worth, the orders started to come in and Lincoln became known as ‘Tank Town’ (see above left). Machines made in Mothers image were soon leaving Lincoln for use in the world’s first tank battle on the 15th September 1916.

The Lincoln designed tanks were so successful that they began to be produced by factories across Great Britain in order to keep up with demand. The answer to the barbed wire had been found at a small, agricultural manufacturers in Lincoln and it was called the tank.

The people of Lincoln were proud of Tritton's invention, and indeed tanks were paraded through the streets of the city before they went out to war (see above right).

Without the tank, the stalemate of the Great War would have carried on, perhaps well into the 1920s, and thousands more lives would have been lost then and into the future.

Birthplace of the Tank

More than 100 years later, only a handful of Great War tanks survive today - one of which is a Mk IV female tank on show at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life.

The invention of the tank has been commemorated in Lincoln with the Lincoln Tank Memorial on the Tritton Road roundabout near the University of Lincoln (see right).

Words and images thanks to Richard Pullen of the Friends of the Lincoln Tank. Buy the 'Birth of the Tanks' DVD online.

Birth of the Tanks DVD

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