Sir William Tritton had designed the original ‘Chaser’ tank; the Medium Mark A popularly known as the Whippet. Tritton had personally visited the Western Front in 1917 to speak with crew of his tanks and get their reflection and suggestions. He also got a first-hand chance to see the terrain over which his tanks were being used and this left a deep impression on his mind.
The original Whippet, the Medium Mark A, even before production was complete was being seen as needing replacement. A follow-on design to incorporate the feedback from the troops and the requirements of the War Office. The two prospective replacements for the Whippet were semi-rival designs in this regard and were the Medium Mark B which was the design on Major Walter Wilson and the Medium Mark C designed by the designer of the Medium Mark A, Sir William Tritton.
Wilson had already started on his ‘B’ design and as a result, Tritton from the firm of William Foster and Co. with his chief engineer, William Rigby started to put together the ‘C’ design following a request by Admiral Moore on 3rd January 1918. Drawings were ready by 14th February and these were accepted as a design by the War Office on 19th April 1918. Construction then began on a prototype which was ready in the August of that year. Despite having started design and construction after Wilson, Tritton’s machine was ready one month prior to Wilson’s and was nicknamed ‘HORNET’ at some point. Quite why the military authorised two replacement designs to go ahead is unclear as is the switch from a fast hunting dog to a stinging insect for the name inspiration although a large aggressive insect with a very unpleasant sting certainly fits the bill for the role. It is possible the intention was to produce both in order to compare them for performance and order the better of the two or it could just be indecision or desperation to make sure they got one functional design.
The Medium Mark C was a large tank, completely unlike the Whippet it was to replace, she was actually larger and taller than the Mk.V and 2 tons heavier than the Medium Mark B of Major Wilson. Centennial WW1 POSTER
The distinguishing features of the Medium Mark C are the very large box structure at the front which housed the commander and two machine gunners and the driver. Despite the lack of a turret the commander was equipped with a fully rotating cupola for improvised vision and a map table to assist in navigation. No radio was fitted but semaphore was provided for and the crew could communicate by means of speaking tubes. Previous tank designs suffered from terrible ventilation in particular of engine fumes and carbon monoxide from guns. The Medium Mark C separated the crew from the engine fumes with the bulkhead and large fans were also fitted to provide fresh air for the crew compartment although in event of a gas attack etc. the crew would have to resort to gas masks. Other innovations for the Mark C included the ability to add sulphonic acid to the exhaust to create a smokescreen just like the Medium Mark B. For The driver though was located centrally and was provided with a large flap which could be raised for better visibility when driving in a non combat area or road march while the rest of the crew used any of the 11 view ports provided around the tank. In keeping with the design of the Medium Mark A the Mark C used 7 Timken bearings on the main roller bearings which took the greatest load and non-timken bearing rollers fore and aft of these. Medium Mark C Hornet during trials probably on the William Foster test field in Lincoln. Little Willie can be seen in the background of one of the shots
Consideration was given to creating both a Male and a Female version of the Medium Mark C just like there had been for the Medium Mark B. The Medium Mark C Male planned to have a single 6 pounder L/40 gun facing forwards and the female just machine guns with provisional plans for the production of 4000 female and 200 male tanks in case the war had continued into 1919. The new tanks required by the War Office were to be medium tanks though which meant machine guns only. So, in the end, no ‘male’ or ‘female’ versions were made and the Hornet was just armed with 4 Hotchkiss machine guns. Rear view of a Medium Mark C rear door which is open and the rear machine gun position (to the left of the exhaust pipe)
Unlike the Medium Mark B of Major Wilson which was suffered from production delays the Medium C ‘Hornet’ prototype had been completed on schedule and subsequently received a production order for 200 machines (later increased to 600). By the time of the Armistice in November 1918 though no vehicles had actually been completed. 36 machines which were in various stages of construction though were finished and delivered to the 2nd Battalion, Tank Corps. A further 14 vehicles were constructed from the spare parts and materials which had been assembled for production. The remaining balance on the order was cancelled and no more Mark C’s were to be made. Layout of the Medium Mark C Hornet
Very clean Medium Mark C, [this photo shows signs of a contemporary ‘touch up’ removing the background] Photo: Beamish Archive
Hornet on trial in test ground of William Foster and Co. Ltd. The state of the ground is obvious from the amount of mud all over the hull. More vehicles can be seen in the sheds in the background. Photo: IWM
Medium Mark C, standard livery 1919.
The new engine
Early in 1917 following problems with engine deliveries Colonel Albert Stern had engaged Harry Ricardo to develop a tank engine capable of 150hp, using no scarce metals like aluminium (which was prioritised at the time for aircraft production) and could run at sharp angles of tilt (35 degrees) for up to 100 hours on low grade petrol. The engine had to be compact but the design of the tank allowed for a wider and much taller engine than before. This allowed Ricardo to develop a rather tall 6 cylinder engine with long stroke pistons. Once completed this engine could actually produce 165hp at maximum speed (1200rpm) which allowed for a 10% overload on the engine for short periods without damage.
Stern ordered 700 of these engines from 5 separate engine makers immediately for the tanks like the Hornet which weren’t even in the design stage at the time. Stern felt that this step in ordering engines for tanks as soon as possible would remove the problems of supply which were holding back tank production. The British War Office however, was decidedly unimpressed with such foresight, production management and strategic thinking, and ordered Stern’s bosses at the Ministry of Munitions to cancel this ‘wasteful’ order forthwith. Stern therefore doubled the order to 1400 engines. This was the character of that man. The engine bay in the Mark C was large, large enough to fit this engine and like Major Wilson’s tank had also learned the lesson of isolating the crew from the engine by means of a firewall.
The Oldbury trials of March 1917 had showed the value of the epicyclic gearbox which further developed by Major Wilson would find much tank use in later years. These engines and gearboxes were to find their way into the Mark V in July 1917 and prospectively for the VI heavy tank but no orders for the Mark V were placed until November that year. When the engine was finally made though more aluminium was allowed to be used in the manufacture permitting the engine to be lighter than originally thought.
The Medium Mark C Hornet, was a better tank overall than the Medium Mark B, but unlike the Mark B she was neither sold nor deployed outside of Great Britain. Medium Mark C’s during the 1919 Victory Parade, London
The Medium Mark C’s made an appearance at the Victory parade in London in July 1919 and a single vehicle was modified with wire handrails to form an unforgettable and rather hazardous amusement ride for visitors at Bovington Camp in July 1921.
Medium Mark C amusement ride, Bovington July 1921 Medium Mark C’s deployed to the streets of Liverpool in August 1919
Medium Mark C’s deployed the Glasgow in 1919 and stationed in the Salt Market (the city’s cattle market)
The only action the Medium C ever saw was a brief deployment of approximately 6 tanks of which at least 3 were Medium Mark C’s to Glasgow in January to March 1919 after a period of civil unrest but were withdrawn without a shot fired. Likewise to quell a public disorder at least 4 tanks were deployed to the streets of Liverpool in August 1919 but again left within firing a shot. One vehicle was put on outdoor display at the Imperial War Museum at the Crystal Palace, London between 1920 and 1924 before she was towed to Cricklewood for breaking. Imperial War Museum Crystal Palace, London 1920-1924 Medium Mark C being towed to Cricklewood. Photo IWM
The Medium Mark C instead formed the backbone of the Royal Tank Corps from 1924 to 1925 until it was replaced by Vickers tanks. As the Medium Mark C’s were phased out they went to stores or training. In 1930 six vehicle were sent to the Mechanical Warfare Experimental Establishment (M.W.E.E.) for development work on an armoured recovery vehicle. Two examples were sent to Bovington camp for storage but like the Medium B were not saved but cut up for scrap before WW2. There are no surviving examples.
Medium Mark C Bovington ~1920 showing its ease of crushing barbed wire entanglements. Photo: Tank Museum
Medium Mark C Hornet serial number H2272 stuck in a roadside ditch in the 1920’s providing an interesting view of the top of the vehicle
The Medium Mark C smoke generating tank
The World War One tank killer was artillery and later in the war direct fire from German field Guns. The Allies found out that a defence to this menace was the deployment of a smoke screen by artillery bombardment using white phosphorus shells or to start the battle early under the cover of mist or fog. If the advancing tanks could not be seen by the enemy’s artillery spotter, then their artillery and anti-tank fire was not accurate. Unlike tanks in World War Two the metal monsters of the Great War were not fitted with smoke grenade launchers.
In 1925 British scientists at the War Office Technical Chemical Department at the Experimental Station based in Porton Down, Wiltshire, started work on developing a system that could be fitted to a bullet proof tank that could advance toward the enemy and generate a thick and expansive smoke screen that could not only hide the attacking tanks moving across no-man’s-land towards enemy trenches but also the infantry, making it harder for the enemy to find a target they could shoot at accurately.
The Medium Mark C smoke generating tank had a large 360-gallon oil emulsion container fitted on its rear roof.
Before the use of white phosphorus to deploy smoke screens became the norm, other methods were first tried. A British War Office report WO 189/3600 details how a special oil emulsion was experimented with. The principle of ‘oil smoke’ is the vaporisation of oil by heat. This was done by spraying an oil emulsion into the hot exhaust manifold of a tank’s engine. By this method, no back pressure or negative effect is produced that will harm the engine.
A British Medium C tank was used for the experiment. A large rectangular welded sheet iron container that was 5ft 6in long, 2ft wide and 2ft tall was fitted to the rear section of the tank roof. It could hold 136 gallons of oil emulsion and is marked ‘A’ on the photograph of the tank. The oil pump could force through one gallon of liquid per minute at a pressure of 100 lbs per square inch through the brass spray nozzle. It was mounted and coupled up to the engine fan in front of the exhaust manifold and is marked ‘C’ on the photograph.
The 360-gallon oil emulsion container is on the left of this photograph and the liquid was pumped into the Exhaust manifold to produce a thick cloud of smoke.
A pipe led to a pressure gauge placed by the driver’s seat that allowed him to see at a glance whether the pump was working properly or not. An opening and closing stop cock lever was fitted externally to the pump. The smoke was started or stopped by the driver operating a handle placed by the driver’s seat next to the engine controls. It actuated a rod which moved up or down thus shutting or opening the stop cock lever on the top of the tank.
The device was tried out in a field and a good thick dense oil smoke cloud was obtained. The generated smoke was deemed to be harmless to both personnel and machinery. The amount of oil emulsion carried in the container was found to be sufficient for a two-hour continuous run.
Royal Tank Corps Journal, November 1926
Medium Mark C, Charlie Clelland
Glasgow Digital Library
David Fletcher “British Tanks 1915-19”, Crowood, 2001
Peter Chamberlain and Chris Ellis “(AFV Weapons Profiles No.7) Medium Tanks Marks A-D”, Profile Publications, 1970
Medium Mark A Whippet, David Fletcher, 2014
Medium Marks A to D by Christopher Ellis and Peter Chamberlain
Medium Mark B Tank, David Fletcher, Wheel and Track 42 – 1993
Medium Mark C Tank, David Fletcher, Wheel and Track 43 – 1993
Landships, David Fletcher, 1984
WO 194/3600 National Archives at Kew
Medium Mark C ‘Hornet’ specifications
26’ long, 9′ 6” high, 8’ 4” wide (7.92m x 2.9m x 2.54m)
Total weight, battle ready
20 tons (19,182kg)
4 (commander, driver, 2 x machine gunners
6 cylinder Ricardo producing 150hp at 1200rpm
track and bearings only
140 miles (230km)
4 x Hotchkiss machine guns with 7200 round, service rifles and cup grenade launchers. (Lewis guns could also be used)
50 (200 ordered 1918, 36 in service, 14 assembled from parts)
The Medium Mark A Whippet was still in production when serious thought was being given regarding a new improved machine. The British War Office desired a new machine for service in summer 1918, to embody the role of the Medium Mark A but with specific improvements. The role was to be that of exploiting breaches in the enemy lines to disrupt and destroy behind the front line. In order to achieve this, trench crossing, which was limited in the Mark A, was to be increased but the overall length minimized partially to aid transportation of the machines by rail. The initial requirement for the new tank was for 380 machines with 40 intended for training purposes. Production was supposed to reach 650 machines to fill the perceived need for ‘medium’ tanks.
Wilson’s New Whippet
Major Walter Wilson (credited post war as the co-inventor of the tank with Sir William Tritton) started his own work on a replacement for the Mark A in July 1917 and focused on the needs of the British War Office for improved crew comfort, cross country mobility, and improved fighting ability. To improve mobility, Wilson intended to use a new 4 cylinder in-line version of the equally new Ricardo 6 cylinder 150hp engine. The 4 cylinder version was only rated at 100hp but was shorter in length than the 6 cylinder version. Orders for the 4 cylinder engine were placed with the firm of Messrs. Mirlees, Bickerton, and Day Ltd. in August 1917, but at just 100hp this new machine could barely manage just over 6 miles per hour (~10 km/h) which made it slower than the Mark A. This new machine received the designation of Medium Mark B.
Tritton’s New Whippet
The Mark A tank from Sir William Tritton (credited post war as the other co-inventor of the tank) of William Foster and Co. Ltd. in Lincoln was a novel design but it also had some significant shortcomings. Tritton, like Wilson, had been tasked by the War Office to prepare an improved tank to replace the Whippet. As it turned out, both designers’ vehicles ended up looking nothing like the preceding Mark A. Tritton countered with his own design. By all accounts, the rivalry between the two was fairly good natured but that would not mean that the design work would not be taken seriously. The new vehicle from Tritton was designated the Medium Mark C Tank. The two designs ‘B’ and ‘C’ are sometimes confused but the C can be readily differentiated from the B by the much taller superstructure cab and the raised upper hull running along the back between the tracks.
Production of Medium Mark B tanks was slowed, however, by production capacity for the new Ricardo 150hp engines (6 cylinder) which were taking priority over the 4 cylinder version. Those engines were destined for the existing Mk.IV tanks. The Wilson epicyclic transmission was also intended to be utilized in the Mk.IVA variant. These transmissions though were also needed for the Medium B. Very few Mk.IV’s were upgraded to the MK.IVA but despite this, the program caused significant delays to Medium Mark B production. Worth noting is that the Mark B utilized a single engine compared to the Medium Mark A’s two engines.
Males and Females
The original idea for the Medium Mark B called for ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ versions of the machine, the females being armed with machine guns and the male version with an unspecified type of 2 pounder guns. The Male version was canceled in March 1918 and without a male counterpart, the Medium Mark Bs were not referred to as ‘Female’ machines.
Layout of the Medium Mark B
Suitable for an acrobatic midget
The original British War Office plan called for the engine as far back as possible, moving the center of gravity to the rear and improving trench crossing capabilities. However, in order to ensure a sloping rear deck, the engine ended up further forward than intended and created a very cramped space for the crew.
Additional work was needed with the engine and transmission as the combination of the Ricardo 100hp engine and the Wilson 4 speed epicyclic transmission was reportedly very unreliable. The engine was divided from the crew compartment by a steel bulkhead, protecting the crew from much of the heat and fumes and from potential engine fires. The bulkhead was fitted with two small doors which led into the cramped space to work on the motor.
This was the most significant thing about the machine. Despite the advantage of having a steel bulkhead separating the engine area from the crew space, access through the small sliding doors was extremely tight. So cramped and difficult in fact that, according to General Duncan, the work of servicing this engine was “only suited to an acrobatic midget.” When it could be done, the actual servicing reportedly took three times longer than other vehicles as well.
The prototype Medium Mark B was completed by the Metropolitan Carriage Wagon and Finance Company of Birmingham, England in September 1918, beaten by Tritton’s Mark C machine by a month. Subsequently, Wilson’s B machine was sent on trials.
Medium Mark B ‘Whippet’ during trials at the Metropolitan Carriage Wagon and Finance Co. test ground in Birmingham, England. The superstructure is remarkably clean considering how dirty the rest of the vehicle is from mud. Major Wilson is in the center with the cane and to his right with a pipe and hands in his pockets is the famous engine designer Harry Ricardo. Photo credit: IWM
The General Staff had waited to examine the Medium Mark A’s performance in combat before placing orders for production of the Medium Mark B and the trials of the Mark B showed that despite its ungainly appearance, it was a capable machine and worth ordering into production. Some 450 machines were on order by the middle of 1918, presumably also conditional on a suitable performance at the trials.
Orders were placed with three manufacturers, Metropolitan Carriage Wagon and Finance Company (M.C.W. & F. Co.) of Birmingham which was contracted for 100 machines, and the North British Locomotive Co. (N.B.L. Co.) in Glasgow and Coventry Ordnance Works in Coventry (C.O.W.) were both contracted for approximately 100 machines each. A fourth firm, Patent Shaft and Axletree (P.S. & A.) of Wednesbury also received a production contract but this was canceled before any were produced. Coventry Ordnance Works was the first company to finish a machine, and between these three firms some 102 vehicles were produced.
By the time of the armistice in November 1918, only 45 tanks had actually been completed and the outstanding tanks on order were canceled. Other sources state that the ‘45’ was the in-service number and that actually 102 had been finished with the other 57 awaiting acceptance by the Army. Another source states that just 23 vehicles were completed, delivered and tested by the time of the Armistice and 79 more finished afterward, of which 22 were accepted for service (making the total 45) and the remainder (57) being scrapped. Either way, the production and acceptance into Army service number is still 102 machines.
The remaining production vehicles that had been finished but not delivered were scrapped and some of the finished vehicles were sent to Bovington Camp for training, where they remained from 1919 to 1921. Six machines were sent to Russia in May 1919 to assist in the fight against the Bolsheviks and a small number were sent to Ireland in late 1919 as replacements for the obsolete Mk.IVs.
Early Mark B on trials on the testing ground at Dollis Hill, London. Of note in the background is a gun carrier hull, floating experimental tank (possibly Mark IX) and a crane vehicle. Photo credit: IWM
Early Coventry Ordnance Works built Medium B – note the lack of the curved rail above the sponson, and the machine gun ball in the side sponson, a feature omitted on later Medium Mark Bs
It is surprising that, despite the obvious shortcomings, any of the Medium Mark Bs were ordered at all. Tritton’s Medium Mark C was finished sooner and was more capable than the Mark B machine. Additionally, the Mark B was underpowered for a medium tank, being 2 miles per hour slower than the medium tank it was meant to replace. The commander had very poor visibility, no cupola, no turret and had to rely on a series of vision slits to see.
On the positive side, the Mark B was significantly easier to steer than the Mark A machine and the driver, instead of being in a tight position with a long engine in front of him, had a better high central front position, making it much easier to see. It was also significantly easier to drive, unlike the Mark A which had two engines requiring continuous driving adjustment to stay in a straight line. The original design with seven machine gun positions was overkill, considering a turret with twin machine guns could likely have done the job just as efficiently.
The Medium Mark B had a large fighting box equipped with 5 Hotchkiss ball mounted machine guns, 2 forward, 1 left, 1 right, 1 rear, plus a roof hatch which could be fitted with another machine gun. Yet another machine gun was located on each side in small sponsons which doubled as the access doors to the fighting box. Those sponson mounted machine guns were abandoned later on when it was realized that mud falling from the tracks would render them useless. No radio was fitted in the Mark B but they were fitted with a semaphore system for communication.
Brand new Medium Mark B finished at the works in the North British Locomotive Company, Springburn, Glasgow. (1600 series)
Medium B built by Metropolitan Carriage Wagon and Finance Company (MCW & F Co.) The sponson machine gun is omitted in this later variant and it has an additional large curved steel section above the sponson door to prevent a fully depressed machine gun from being hit by the tracks. All the 1200 series serial numbered tanks were built by MCW & F
One of the advantages of the rhomboid shape design of early British tanks was that they could mount an unditching beam (a large baulk of timber) on a chain. In the event of becoming mired in the mud, it could be fastened to the tracks and would drag under the tank providing sufficient traction for the vehicle to extricate itself. To surmount the small cab at the front, vehicles used rails over which this beam could travel so it would be able to clear the cab. No such rails were provided for on the Medium B which had a very pronounced cabin. This cabin, therefore, negated the benefits of the rhomboid shape and having the tracks running over the top of the machine, but with none of the benefits of a turret.
Two views demonstrating the unditching beam which was slung over the back of some tanks and the rails over which it would be dragged to get the front of the tank. This unditching system was not possible on the Medium Mark B design due to the cabin.
The problem of unditching the tank remained unsolved but, like other vehicles, it could have spuds attached to the 22.5” wide, 6mm thick steel track plates to improve passage in heavy mud. It is worth noting that this same problem over an obstructed track run over the top of the machine was encountered 20 years later, during the initial design of what became the Churchill tank.
Very clean Medium Mark Bs serial numbers 1607 and 1212 respectively undergoing trials, showing the differences made to the area around the sponsons and the semaphore device – Photo of #1212: Beamish archives
The Medium Mark B was considered a superior tank to its Mark A forebear, but still significantly limited in terms of mobility and armament. By the time the vehicles were built and available for use, the war against Germany was over and the need for them had waned. Britain had a surplus of tanks, huge war debts and other matters to attend to. Of the 102 vehicles built, just 45 (see earlier comments regarding confusion over actual numbers) were accepted for service and the remainder were scrapped.
A row of Medium Mark Bs in storage post war.
C.O.W. built Medium Mark B in service with the Royal Engineers (hence the ‘R.E’ crossing a pontoon bridge)
Combat and Post WW1
Remarkably, despite its many failures, some machines did see combat. Some were sent to Dublin, Ireland to assist in maintaining order during the Civil War. They arrived with C Company, 17th Battalion Tank Corps where no doubt the name ‘Whippet’ has helped confound many people subsequently looking for the Medium Mark A ‘Whippet’. If they left the barracks though it was infrequent.
Early Mark B
Mark B in the standard green livery
Russian Mark B in winter paint
Medium Mark B ‘Whippets’ ‘Latgalietis’ and ‘Vidzemnieks’ in service with the Latvian Army. Photo: virtualriga.com and Latvian War Museum Collection
Medium Mark B ‘Latgalietis’ during training in Latvia. Photo: Latvian war museum collection
Medium Mark B ‘Latgalietis’ in Latvia in storage. Photo: Latvian war museum collection
Three vehicles were issued to the North Russia Tank Detachment (which comprised of six tanks) and sent to Russia in August 1919 to assist in the fight against the Russian Bolshevik forces. One served with the White Russian forces but was later abandoned and dumped in the River Divna along with a Mk.V, and both were hauled out by Bolshevik forces. The remaining two were handed to the Latvian Army in October 1919 who retained one vehicle as late as 1926. One of those vehicles was recaptured by Russian Bolshevik forces and ended up in Red Army service. It is unclear whether it was that Mark B or the one fished out of the Divna River which ended up in the inventory of the Red Army in 1925. That vehicle was unarmed but in running condition presumably for training purposes, and later scrapped.
Medium Mark B in Red Army service. Photo: landships.com
Despite the Medium Mark B being canceled and replaced by the more successful Medium Mark C, one remained in British Army service as late as January 1941 at the Royal Engineers Experimental Bridging Establishment at Christchurch, Dorset. A Medium Mark B had been there since late 1918, which is caught on film.
Medium Mark B in use at Christchurch as part of the load testing of a Mark III Inglis tubular bridge. The engine and much of the top deck and at least one of the machine gun ball-mounts appears to have been removed. Photo: IWM
The size and weight of the vehicle were used to test bridge loading and presumably this tank was scrapped during the war. No examples of the Medium Mark B are believed to survive. One, which had been destined to be preserved at Bovington, was scrapped instead.
One of the last remaining Medium Mark Bs outside at Bovington Camp, date unknown. Photo: landships.com
Medium Mark B ‘Whippet’ by Eugene Sautin and Robert Robinson
Medium Mark A Whippet, David Fletcher, 2014
Medium Mark B Tank, David Fletcher, Wheel and Track 42 – 1993
Medium Mark C Tank, David Fletcher, Wheel and Track 43 – 1993
Medium Marks A to D by Christopher Ellis and Peter Chamberlain
One more river to cross, J.H. Joiner
Medium Mark C, Charlie Clelland
Kā sauca tankus un bruņumašīnas Latvijas armijā by Dr. Juris Ciganovs
National Archives of Latvia
Walter Wilson; Portrait of an Inventor, A.Gordon Wilson
Medium Mark B ‘Whippet’ specifications
6.95 x 2.82 x 2.55 m
22ft 10in x 9ft 3in x 8ft 4in
Total weight, battle ready
4 (commander, driver, 2x machine gunners)
Ricardo 4 cylinder water cooled petrol, 100hp at 1200rpm
Wilson 4 speed gearbox
Tracks and rollers
6.1 mph (~10 km/h)
65 miles (105 km)
Early version: 7+1 Hotchkiss machine guns with 7500 rounds
Service rifles and cup grenade launchers
Late version: 5+1 Hotchkiss Machine Guns
service rifles and cup grenade launchers
6 – 14 mm max.
45 in service
Latvia – 2
Russia (Bolshevik) – 1+1
Russia (White) – 1
United Kingdom (1917-1918)
Medium Tank – 200 Built
From idea to production
The Whippet tank is what its name implies; a Whippet, a breed of fast hunting dogs used for chasing prey down and catching it. ‘Fast’ here being comparative. Compared to the much larger and heavier British tanks of WW1, the famous ‘rhomboid’ shaped machines, these really were Whippets.
Designed to effectively emulate the role of scout and cavalry, push ahead, harass the enemy and to use machine guns to sow confusion, the Whippet was intended to work with those heavier tanks and not to replace them.
The tests at Oldbury of the new Whippet design had met with approval. Some 200 Whippets were soon placed on order with this new polygonal style upper body. The goal was to have them delivered to France by the end of July 1917 and a further order of 200 was placed that summer which was canceled about 4 months later. Of these first 200 machines, only 166 had been completed by the summer of 1918 and it was into the autumn before the remaining 34 arrived. All 200 vehicles were assembled at the Wellington Foundry works of William Foster and Co. Ltd. The name ‘Tritton Chaser’ was gone. This was now ‘The Whippet’ or officially the ‘Medium Mark A’. They were to face the trials of combat very soon after they arrived in France.
Whippet A301 on show to the crowds at the Lord Mayor’s Parade pictured outside the High courts of Justice, London probably 1919. Photo: BNF
The Tritton Chaser had morphed into a similarly looking but larger ‘Whippet’ tank. This production vehicle was noticeably different to the rebuilt Chaser. The basic shape was the same but that curved exposed front fuel tank now had an angled armored cover. The distinctive open mud chutes on the side were slightly redesigned and there were now four roughly rectangular shaped openings. A fifth small circular one at the rear behind the fourth mudchute was for accessing the drive chain and the covering plate is sometimes missing in photographs. Another change was that those 16 Skefco roller bearings were now reduced to just 6 on each side. They bore of the most of the weight from the tank.
Factory fresh Whippet tank with just 2 of the four machine guns fitted. Photographs nicely show the changes made to the suspension arrangement and mud chuting. The small ‘arm’ seen projecting from the front is a steel arm used for attaching the canvas mud guard. Later Whippets would also have a small section of angle steel attached to the area around the front mudchute. This vehicle is actually the very last prototype prior to authorized production. Photo: IWM
Whippets under construction at the Wellington Foundry works of William Foster and Co. Ltd, Lincoln. Photo: IWM
Early design of production model Whippet tank, still with a horizontal exhaust outlet. This is curved upwards on production vehicles. Photo: IWM
One of the first production models, serial number A202, which was built in mild steel ‘soft plate’ (see door). Pictured here near to Albert, France in April 1918. Why this unarmored and unarmed early production Whippet is there can only be speculated on. Photo: IWM
Additional front metal bracket added to some Whippets the purpose of which is unclear.
These 200 vehicles were each assigned a serial number from A200 up to A399. The first Whippets to arrive in France were delivered in December 1917 and were involved in combat from then on. In April 1918, Tritton visited the front once more and discussed the Whippet and possible improvement which may have been mainly connected to the conditions inside the vehicle which were unpleasant. The heat and fumes from the engine, the fumes from the machine guns all meant that the vehicle could become stiflingly hot and tiring for the crews to operate. On top of this, the exhaust was vented on the side of the vehicle ahead of the crew space meaning, as it traveled forwards, exhaust gas could both obscure the view of the crew and re-enter the vehicle making the conditions inside even worse. The only relief from these conditions would be to open the small roof hatch which was intended for the commander to use when guiding the vehicle or the large rear door. Obviously keeping those open in combat was extremely hazardous.
Asymmetric layout of the Whippet tank. Note how the polygonal cab structure protrudes over the track run on the left hand side of the machine
The 7.72 liter 45hp Tylor engine as fitted to the Whippet tank. This side valve water cooled unit was manufactured by the Tylor Company of London and was also used (singly) on the War Department AEC Y Type 3 ton truck
In service, some Whippets were fitted with large wooden stowage boxes on the back supported by an angled steel strap fastened to the cab of the tank. These boxes would provide some much needed stowage for the crew and may also have helped in carrying additional cans of petrol. Many vehicles in service are festooned with petrol cans to extend the operational range of the vehicle.
Whippet tank next to a row of sponsons, Tank Corps Central Workshops, Teneur, France, Spring 1918. The photo provides a nice view of the engine access panels as well as the wooden stowage boxes. Photo: IWM
Two views of Sir Edward Patrick Morris, the Prime Minister of Newfoundland (Canada), on his visit to the Tank Corps Gunnery School at Merlimont, France on the 2nd July 1918 examining A326 showing the wooden stowage box and steel spud strap clearly. A326 was later stripped for spares and all but scrapped by August 1918 but was later one of the Whippets sent to Russia in 1919. Photo: IWM
A220 carrying piles of kit on the back, several petrol cans suspended from the top of the mud chutes and items strewn over the front too. The 3 rectangular items on the right of the cab next to the exhaust are wooden track spuds although these are more commonly seen carried at the back. A lot of vehicles can be noted to have a steel strap riveted hanging around the sides of the cab on which to hang items. A220 was later captured by the Germans and subjected to various trials sporting a large black cross on the sides. Photo: IWM
Nice study of the rear of Whippet A267 ‘Cork II’ pictured April 1918 near Albert, France showing the usual method of hanging the wooden track spuds and a typical assortment of kits stowed wherever the crew can put it. The vehicle on the left has a towing cable around the nose. Photo: IWM
A290 (probably) heavily festooned with an array of kit and clad in petrol cans. (A290 was known as ‘Cherubim II’) Close examination shows the use of small black stripes near to the vision slots which were added with the intention of making the targeting of the vision slots harder for enemy snipers. Photo: IWM
Black false vision slits (which have faded – look bottom left and top right of the ‘9’) as shown on A259 Caeser II at Bovington. Note the rudimentary additional vision/pistol port provided in the superstructure. Photo: tank-hunter.com
A233 ‘Crossmichael’ pictured at Biefvillers, near Bapaume, France on the 24th of August 1918 is relatively uncluttered but with a towing cable fastened the tight right hand side. Photo: NAM and IWM
Whippet in service at Demiun near Amiens, France showing stowage boxes at the back, the canvas mud guards in pace and multiple cans of petrol strapped to the nose of the tank. A single track spud is hanging from the cab on which two of the three crew are riding to avoid the unpleasant conditions inside. There was no such relief for the driver. Photo: IWM
Tales of daring do
The Medium Mark A Whippet was to see its first combat on the 26th March 1918 at Mailly-Maillet, north of Albert, France. It had been considered to send Whippets to the Army in Palestine too but that didn’t happen. The Whippet tank was to enjoy some notable combat actions most famously the actions of Musical Box (A344), and Caeser II (A259).
On the 8th August 1918, near to the town of Villers-Brettoneux, France, Whippet A344 known as Musical Box was about to become a legend. In command of the tank was Lieutenant C.B. Arnold. It began an attack with 7 other vehicles, which for one reason or another being stuck or suffering mechanical failure. This left Musical Box on her own to support some Australian Infantry and Mk.V tanks attacking the German lines. Musical Box attacked a battery of German field guns, which was somewhat suicidal at best but scattered the Germans with its machine guns allowing the Australian infantry to advance into the German position.
Lt. Arnold pressed on regardless for several hours resulting in the dispersal of a large segment of a German infantry division, a transport column and even an observation balloon. The combat had caused the cans of petrol carried on Musical Box to be perforated leaking petrol dangerously into the tank so much so the crew were having to wear their respirators. Eventually, Muscial Box was crippled and set on fire by a direct hit from a German gun and the crew bailed out. The driver was shot but he and the machine gunner were captured. Lt. Arnold survived the war as a POW having inflicted a loss on the Germans far out of proportion to what could be expected.
Burnt out remains of A344 Musical Box pictured the day after the incredible fight with Australian soldiers of the 15th Brigade and some German prisoners.
On the 29th August 1918, Caeser II (now preserved at the Bovington Tank Museum), commanded by Lieutenant Cecil Sewell, was with the 3rd Battalion Tank Corps at Frémicourt, France. During this action, a fellow tank had slipped into a shell hole, overturned and caught fire trapping the crew inside. Sewell stopped his tank and ran out across open ground in full view of enemy fire digging out the door of the tank so the crew could escape a horrible fiery death. His own driver was wounded in this time and he went to his aid but was hit by enemy fire while doing so. Nonetheless, he got to his driver and while rendering medical aid was hit once more, this time fatally by enemy fire. For his heroism and total disregard for his own safety Lt. Sewell was awarded the Victoria Cross.
A final and more minor note of interest is that in combat in March 1918, A226 ‘China II’ resorted to borrowing a single infantry Lewis gun to replace battle damaged Hotchkiss machine guns, so, on at least one occasion, a production Whippet did use a Lewis gun.
Despite the Whippet having been designed and been up and running as a prototype in a very short time the pressures of mass production had meant that delivery of the Whippet was rather slow. The tank itself wasn’t really of any use in combat until 1918 and although the Whippet was proven to be quite useful in combat the flaws in the design were apparent. The machine guns were prone to jamming and the armor was vulnerable to anti-tank rifle fire. The steering was awkward at best and dangerous at worst.
The habitability of the vehicle was very poor and the poor driver had his work cut out steering and getting a good view of the path ahead. The Germans, though, who had captured at least two fully functional vehicles, were by all accounts impressed with the speed. Obvious parallels are drawn between the German LK II vehicle, which was still in the pre-production phase at the time of the Armistice, and the Whippet. Quite how much influence it had on the design is still debated.
One particular variant of the Whippet which sadly led to nothing was a modification carried out in 1918 by Colonel Philip Johnson. The unsprung Whippet with the 6 Skefco roller bearings was modified by means of fitting leaf springs transversely beneath the hull. The twin 45hp Tylor engines were replaced with a single V12 Rolls Royce Eagle petrol aero engine and the Walter Wilson designed transmission from a Mk.V just visible in the lines of the rear of the vehicle.
The new larger engine is shown by the much larger front hull shape with the lines of the original size still visible. With this new spring suspension and much more powerful engine this vehicle was capable of 30 mph (48 km/h) and retained the same polygonal superstructure of the original. Sadly this machine was a dead end for the Whippet as it was just too expensive, Colonel Johnson though went on to other projects.
Colonel Johnson modified Whippet showing expanded engine area for the Eagle engine. It’s possible the nose says A214 which would make sense as A214 was severely damaged at Bray, France including the loss of the engine so this prototype could have been rebuilt using that wreck and other parts. Chamberlain and Ellis however state this vehicle was modified in two stages, first the spring suspension and then later the engine area which would invalidate this theory. Photos: Beamish Archive courtesy of the author and IWM
One final oddity for the Whippet in British service is this vehicle which was handed over to Commander Baynton Hippisely RN for some experiments in Bath, England.
Baynton Hippisely pictured in 1908, then an officer in the North Somerset Yeomanry. Photo: Public Domain
Bayntun Hippisley was born in July 1865 and retired from the Army in 1913. His family was well-to-do with an estate at Ston-Easton, near Bath in Somerset. At the outbreak of WW1 Hippisley, who was considered an expert and pioneer in the use of wireless telegraphy was recruited by Naval Intelligence. He was given the rank of Commander (RN) (Temporary rank listed 17/12/1915) and set to most secret and vital work intercepting wireless communications from German U-boats and Zeppelins.
During the war, he was personally issued a Whippet tank for “tests of a secret nature” on his estate. The vehicle concerned is recorded by him as being A381 which is known to have served with the 6th Battalion Tank Corps in October 1918 when it received some damage and was immobilized. The nature of the experiments Cmdr. Hippisley conducted is not clear and the vehicle had no obvious external differences to a standard Whippet save for some bullet scars. It’s possible that he was primarily occupied with wireless work with it but with the end of the war he seems to have made use of it more as a tractor on the estate maintaining the engines and hauling timber and trees or pulling them down etc.
Commander Hippisely’s Whippet A381 at his estate
The vehicle remained with him until March 1936 when he states that he received a letter from the War Office officially disposing of it and giving it to him as a free gift. He had already received for his war service an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1918 and in 1937 the CBE (Citizen of the British Empire). The tank appears to have been the last operational Whippet tank too when sadly in 1942 at the request of the Ministry of Work and Planning it was sent for scrap for the war effort.
Disposal and new life
Despite the success of the Whippet in combat and the potential work like that of Colonel Johnson had shown, the Whippet wasn’t going to be built anymore. Tritton already had his own improvements in mind and the Whippets left over after the shooting war on the Western front ended in November 1918 were progressively decommissioned. Many were scrapped or sold off. 17 vehicles were deployed/sold off to the white Russian anti-Bolshevik forces but to little avail with an initial 6 sent to General Deniken followed by 11 more in July 1919. Either destroyed or captured during this bitter civil war, at least one vehicle was rearmed by Bolshevik Russian forces with a 37mm gun.
Russian Whippet rearmed with a short barrelled 37mm cannon in place of the forward facing machine gun. Noteworthy is that this vehicle still retains on the nose the White-Red-White British markings. The markings were also commonly repeated on the front ‘horns’ of the vehicle on both sides and on the top of the engine to assist aircraft. On the horns, the vertical bands are 1ft (30cm) wide each.
A371 Sphinx in use by Russian forces showing the signs of wear and tear as well as the surprisingly large size of this tank
In Russian service, the last of the Whippets disappears in about 1922 presumably to scrap although in Russian service they were known as ‘Tylors’, or ‘Teiylors’ after the brand of engine.
One of the first Mark A in operations, in March 1918.
A late Whippet, A259 “Caesar II”, now in the Bovington tank museum.
The A347 “Firefly” of the sixth battalion, B company, one of the numerous “X-companies” attached to larger units made of heavy Mk.IV and V during April-May 1918. This one is now displayed at the Royal Museum of the Army in Brussels.
Whippet with rear storage
White Russian Whippet “Sphinx” with Wrangel’s 1st tank division, 2nd Det. South Russia 1920.
Captured “Red” Russian Gun Whippet rearmed with a 37mm gun, winter 1920
As previously mentioned, the Bolshevik Russian forces had made use and modified their captured Whippets. The Germans who had captured at least two fully functional vehicles in 1918 put them both to use. One (A220 shown previously) was subjected to numerous trials. The other vehicle, Whippet A249, which had been captured at Bray, France (South of Albert) in March 1918, was shipped back to Germany where it ended up in the service of the Freikorps following the armistice.
A249 in Freikorps use January 1919 in Berlin. The building behind is the Eden Hotel in west Berlin. Photo: Rainer Strasheim, British Tanks in German Service Vol.2, 2011 Tankograd No.1004
Another view of Whippet A249 in Freikorps service in Berlin post war. Note that the large skull and crossbones has been painted over the large black cross on the side. A249 was eventually taken back into allied hands in 1919 and presumably scrapped.
A variety of views of Whippet A220 captured by the Germans along with A249 at Bray in March 1918. Subjected to a variety of tests this vehicle was presumably taken back by the Allies the end of 1918.
Whippet to Africa
One vehicle was purchased by the government of South Africa. A387 was intended to be a memorial and to be used for fund raising events and was named ‘HMLS Union’. HMLS Union however was to be no idle memorial. She was used as a tank during the Rand Rebellion in South Africa of 1922 where it was committed during the assault on the headquarters of the rebels. During this it became either stuck or broke down and was subsequently recovered by means of a steam truck.
HMLS Union is the focus of attention as she heads into action during the Rand Rebellion 1922 Photo:samilitaryhistory.org
Following the restoration of order HMLS Union appears to have gone back into retirement until 1939 when she answered the call of empire once more in one final hurrah for King and Country. She came back to serve but was never deployed to combat, thankfully because HMLS Union is one of the very few surviving Whippet tanks and is currently on display in Pretoria.
The entirety of S.Africa’s armoured force in 1939 at the outbreak of World War 2 consisting of 2 Vickers Crossley armoured cars, 2 Medium Mk.I’s and HMLS Union. Photo:samilitaryhistory.org
Whippet of the Rising Sun
In September 1918, a further 4 Whippet tanks, A370, A386, A390, and A391 were sold to the Japanese complete with some track spuds. The only notable change made was the addition of a separate hatch for the driver allowing him a better view during a road march.
A390 during river crossing exercises. No armament appears to be fitted.
Three unidentified Whippets (the fourth is out of shot) in Japanese service on a road march. All vehicles display a small Army emblem Star on the nose and are fitted with the standard Japanese army 8mm machine guns. Note the view of the modified drivers front plate which is now a moveable hatch improving vision and no doubt ventilation too. Closer inspection shows what appear to be hoops of some description around the exhaust possibly to help keep netting off it. A tow cable is neatly fastened to the right hand side of the lead tank.
A very detailed photo of an unidentified Japanese Whippet with what appears to be an extemporized running board on the right hand side held up with straps. The metal brackets for the canvas mud guards are still fitted so this modification may be more to do with carrying troops or stores than to prevent mud being thrown up.
Colourised picture of A386 in Japanese service, presumably shortly after delivery as the British markings are still on show.
Japanese Whippet being put through its paces. Possibly at Narashino which is East of Tokyo Photo: Shimoharaguchi
Nice lineup of Whippet tanks arranged behind a row of Renaults at the Imperial Army Academy, Tokyo. Photo: Shimoharaguchi
Close up of a very clean Whippet in Japanese service showing the modification to the driver’s plate and the Japanese machine guns fitted. Photo: Shimoharaguchi
These Whippets remained in Japanese service until 1922 when they were scrapped presumably worn out despite having been provided almost new from the UK in 1919. There was no license to produce them in Japan anyway and they were large, under armed and rather clumsy.
A final operation
With the First World War effectively over the British deployed some 16 Whippet tanks to Ireland in 1919 due to ongoing troubles with rebel Irish activity. The 16 Whippets sent were part of B Company 17th Armoured Car Battalion of the Tank Corps and were stationed at Marlborough Barracks in Dublin. In celebration of the end of World War One, a parade was held in Dublin in July 1919
Dublin victory parade July 1919. Four Whippets took part; A230 GOFASTA [Go Faster] previously known as ‘Cynic II’, A378 GOLIKELL (Go Like Hell), A351 Fanny Adams, and A289 Fanny’s Sister. Noteworthy is the fact that two of the vehicles still retain the full engine deck paint White-Red-White markings for aerial observation purposes. The official guide was that a 1 foot White, 2 foot Red, 1 foot White band of color was able to be seen at 1800 feet and was to be painted on the roof of the cab. Here painted on the engine cover is clearly larger than that officially recommended.
B Company on patrol against rebel Irish activity in County Clare November 1919. These photos are sometimes noted as being 1920 but the one on the left appears in the November 26 1919 edition of the Belfast Telegraph. Photo: BNF
By May 1922 it seems all of the Whippets deployed to Ireland were withdrawn as Ireland descended into civil war.
A failed sale
The British still had some surplus Whippets available in July 1924 and had negotiated a somewhat exorbitant price of £5000 per vehicle for 3 tanks to the government of Romania. The vehicles were to be officially sold as ‘scrap’ from left over war stock but the Romanians estimated with just 2-3 months work they could be in service. The deal though never took place as the British government inexplicably never approved the sale.
The name ‘Whippet’
It is perhaps a testament to the success of the Medium Mark A that it is almost completely referred to as ‘The Whippet tank’ rather than by its official name. The first use of the name ‘Whippet’ is on the front of the Tritton Chaser itself and such a success the vehicle was that during the war even the later Renault were sometimes called a ‘Whippet’ tank too.
Contemporary postcard passed by the War Censor (Author’s collection)
In a British parliamentary debate in July 1927, Viscount Sandon asked the Secretary of State for War if he would “consider restoring the designation whippets, as used officially during the War for small tanks, in place of tankettes, unless the former term is still used to represent a particular type?” The reply from Commodore King was that “The nomenclature of the various types of tanks is under consideration.” The name Whippet though generally drops out of use by WW2 although can still be found on occasion referring to light vehicles including the occasional armored car. There was even an official British suggestion in 1940 to regroup light tanks into a ‘Dog’ class of vehicles by which time all the Whippet vehicles were officially marked as ‘obsolescent’.
British Mk.VIb on exercise recorded in the press as a ‘Whippet’. Photo: The Press, 1938
Despite 200 being built, today there are just five surviving Whippet tanks in Belgium, the USA, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
A284 was previously at Aberdeen Proving Grounds and may currently be in storage
A387 known as HMLS Union (His Majesty’s Land Ship) is at the Army College in Pretoria, South Africa
A259 formerly of C Battalion, known as ‘Caeser II’ is presently at Bovington Tank Museum, Dorset, UK
A231 known in service as ‘Carnaby’ formerly of A Company, 3rd Battalion, is held at CFB, Borden, Canada (incorrectly showing serial number A371 which was known as ‘Sphynx’ and was captured in Russia in 1919 and still in Russian service in 1924)
A347 known as ‘FIREFLY’ is held at the Royal Museum of the Army, Brussels, Belgium
Col. Johnson’s Whippet
3 – Driver, Commander, Machine Gunner (although a second machine gunner may have been in place on occasion)
3 – Driver, Commander, Machine Gunner (although a second machine gunner may have been in place on occasion)
In 1916, the British Army had started using tanks in battle in an attempt to break the deadlock of trench warfare. These large lumbering Heavy Tanks were slow and unable to exploit weaknesses in enemy lines or a breakthrough. What was needed was a new ‘Medium’ Tank, and the Lincolnshire firm of William Foster and Co., the brains behind the Heavy Tanks set to work on a new Medium vehicle. By February 1917, this new vehicle, known as the Tritton Chaser or ‘Whippet’ was ready in prototype form. Two hundred of these Whippet tanks, officially known as the Medium Mark A were produced. This manual dates to the early days of the Whippet as it was being produced for the Tank Corps. A guide to the operation and maintenance of this new, smaller, and faster tank.
The First World War’s fierce battles saw the need to develop military technology beyond anything previously imagined: as exposed infantry and cavalry were mowed down by relentless machine-gun attacks, so tanks were developed. Stunningly illustrated in full colour throughout, Tank Hunter: World War One provides historical background, facts and figures for each First World War tank as well as the locations of any surviving examples, giving you the opportunity to become a Tank Hunter yourself.