British Tank Factory 1917, Photo Copyright and courtesy of the Imperial War Museum
Before the First World War, the horse was the main means of moving supplies, equipment and troops. The use of the internal combustion engine vehicle was seen as something still experimental and an unknown by some. There were some limited experiments with various vehicles before the outbreak of war. At the outset of war, many thought railways of various sizes were the answer, but this gave little or no flexibility.
It was interest from Russia who formed armoured car units and looked to the UK to supply vehicles which really brought the British into looking at firm vehicle orders. These consisted mostly of 3 main types. The Austin Armoured Car, Lanchester 4x2 Armoured Car and the Rolls-Royce Armoured Car.
Still in their livery of red and cream (but later painted khaki), 900 B Type buses were supplied by The London General Omnibus Company during WW1. After initially serving without any modifications, it was soon found that the glass windows on the lower deck were prone to breakage - the glass was therefore removed and replaced by planks nailed to the sides of the vehicle. Some were converted into mobile pigeon lofts to house the pigeons used for communications along the front lines. They served until the end of the war when they were used to bring troops home.
The Mark 1 Tank entered service in August 1916; it had been developed by the British Army during the First World War, and was the world's first combat tank. The word “tank” comes from a code word used to keep the development a secret. With the exception of the few interim Mark II and Mark III tanks, it was followed by the largely identical Mark IV, which first saw combat in mid-1917. A separate Tank Corps was formed around the same time, before that they had been under the control of the Machine Gun Corps. The grounds of Hatfield House were a testing site for tanks during their earliest development. Later models followed throughout the war and later designs started to resemble the shape of tanks used in WW2.
The Mk 1 Gun carrier, was the first example of what is now called ‘self-propelled artillery’. They were fitted with a 60-pounder (5-inch) field gun or a 6-inch howitzer. Ultimately these gun carriers were only used as supply tanks, but it was calculated that a single tank had the same carrying capacity as 291 human porters. 2 were produced as salvage tanks and fitted with cranes.
It was considered by many that the very fact that such weapons existed, meant that it was unlikely that war would ever happen in the same way again (a war to end all wars). Steps made through the League of Nations to stop some nations building up large amounts of military equipment in the end came to nothing.