Staff Writer (Updated: 6/24/2015):
There were some in the military ranks (particularly in France) that subscribed to the idea of an offensive method of waging war in which the light tank could be used in an effective offensive skirmish-minded role. Such a force would move both armor and men across the battlefield at speed and ultimately overwhelm enemy positions in the process. World War 1 brought about the use of armor in a variety of light- and medium-class roles but there were some that saw a future where medium- and heavy-class tanks would become the norm. When the war ended, others still pursued the idea of light tanks as effective battlefield solutions. The "tankette" was seen as a potentially effective and mobile machine gun carrier and reconnaissance vehicle. In practice, the type would be further evolved into a myriad of other forms including that of mortar or field gun tow vehicle and even a self-projecting smoke system. One such person to focus his attention on the tankette became British Major Gifford LeQuesne Martel.
Martel set to work from his own garage to produce a capable one-man "tankette". From his vision (and using his own finances), he constructed a working prototype. The pilot vehicle was completed in 1925 and combined a variety of existing components into one compact system. The engine was of a Maxwell-brand and the tracks were delivered by the Roadless Traction Company. The axle originated from a Ford truck. The main structure was comprised of wood and featured slab-sides completing a most utilitarian appearance. Martel then took his creation in front of the War Office and tried to sell the British Army on the idea of his light tank system. The War Office took note and teamed with Morris Commercial Motors to produce four such pilot vehicles (under the "Morris-Martel" name) for further evaluation. The first was made ready in 1926. The following year, a further eight vehicles were ordered with the intent of fielding a new trial group of light reconnaissance machines for the British Army. The order officially came to naught when it was discovered that a single crewmember could not effectively wield the steering controls and operate armament all by himself.
Martel then teamed up with Morris to develop a slightly improved form of the one-man tankette - resulting in a two-man design. Though the vehicle's appearance had not changed for the better, she now followed a more "crew-friendly" approach and attempted to fit whatever ergonomic measures could be found. The tracked system was dominated by the drive sprocket and idler straddling a pair of small road wheels. There was a further (larger) road wheel mounted to the rear via an extension of the main hull. The crew sat within an open-topped, high-profile superstructure. The vehicle was powered by a Morris engine of 16 horsepower and weighed in at 2.75 tons. Armament was a single light machine gun and performance equaled 10 miles per hour off road and 15 miles per hour on road. Despite the improvements, the second Morris-Martel design still lacked definitive qualities to consider her a viable solution but progress was made nonetheless.
Crossley and Martel teamed up to produce yet another tankette design once again revolving around the concept of a one-man system. This particular approach saw rubber tracks fitted as well as a Crossley engine of 14 horsepower. Again, a single light machine gun figured prominently as armament and top speed was 18.6 miles per hour from the 1.8 ton design. The design appeared in 1927 and attempted to fit more ideas into the original Morris-Martel attempt. The Crossley-Martel approach maintained some of the appearance of the Morris-Martel design before it.
Enter Carden-Loyd, Ltd
Carden-Loyd Tractors, Ltd, a firm headed by self-educated engineer Sir John Valentine Carden, became another firm to jump on the tankette bandwagon and took the base idea several steps further. The original Carden-Loyd one-man model was produced at Kensington in 1925 and a single pilot example was ordered by the War Office for evaluation.
The Mark I
The Carden-Loyd Mark I one-man tankette then followed and attempted to increase the original's speed and overall track life. She was fitted with a Ford Model T engine of 14 horsepower and weighed in at 1.6 tons, allowing for speeds of up to 15- to 31-miles per hour depending on whether a tracked or wheeled base was utilized (respectively). Fourteen steel road wheels dominated the track sides. The Carden-Loyd Mark II one-man tankette was essentially of the same mold as the Mark I but a new track suspension system was trialed. Four rubberized bogies replaced the original's fourteen steel wheels. The Carden-Loyd Tankette Mk III was another Mark I off-shoot fielding a new track suspension layout. By this time, however, the idea of a one-man tankette was beginning to wane and the prospect of a two-man system took center stage.