Could you imagine a military without tanks? Probably not. Virtually all militaries around the world have their own tank units of some sort. Regardless of whether it was the T-14 Armata, Challenger 2, M1 Abrams, and even those strange ones like the Antonov A-40 Krylya and praying mantis, these tanks could be traced back to their sole ancestor: Little Willie. We often hear it being credited as the very first tank that was built in 1915 by Britain. This was only partially true.

Lincoln No. 1 Machine

Little Willie was indeed the world’s oldest tank. What others don’t normally mention was that this first tank was not a combat vehicle but rather a prototype as a proof of concept that was crucial in the later creation of the rhomboid tanks that saw the trenches of World War I.

Even before World War I broke out, the idea of a tracked armored vehicle had been floating around the minds of different militaries from different countries, but none really took the initiative to create one. In 1915, Britain finally made the first move when it established the Landship Committee. During that time, the best source of knowledge and experience about tracked armored vehicles was the Royal Navy, which makes sense when you think of it. A warship back then was an armored box that contained a powerplant, weapons and a crew. That is what a tank does too.  That was why most of the committee assigned were naval officers. At the same time, the agricultural machinery William Foster & Co. was contracted by the committee to design a vehicle.

Lincoln Machine. (niet toegeschreven, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The company initially bought a pre-built track unit from the Bullock Creeping Grip Tractor Company in the United States to assemble what would be known as the Lincoln No. 1 Machine. Its production started in August 1915 and was finished and ready for testing by the next month.