Gun Carrier Mark 1 (Mk 1)
Self-Propelled Artillery (SPA)
The British Gun Carrier Mark 1 is recognized as the first true purpose-built Self-Propelled Artillery gun platform.
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Design of the Gun Carrier Mark 1 followed along with conventional thinking when considering the "lozenge" shaped tanks appearing in World War 1. However, the Gun Carrier Mark 1 lacked the decidedly lozenge shape though it did maintain much of what made the Mark 1 tank a perceived success including riveted construction and long running tracks as well as a steering wheel "fish tail" system. The hull featured a boxy fixed superstructure which carried the engine, crew and primary armament - the latter in a front open-air compartment. A pair of wheels extending out at the rear of the vehicle acted as the tank's "rudder" when turning the vehicle about. A crew of four personnel were required for basic functions and consisted of a vehicle commander, an onboard mechanic to manage the engine and two personnel trained to handle the gears. Additionally, the gunnery crew traveled along to make their field gun ready to fire when called upon. The driver and was situated within a front-set armored cab alongside the armament mount. An armored cab straddled each side of the gun mount. The wheels for the artillery piece were separated from the gun during transport and mounted along the rear sides of the vehicle.
The Gun Carrier Mark 1 was completed with a single Daimler gasoline engine developing 105 horsepower, this fitted to a rectangular compartment at the rear of the vehicle. This allowed for a top speed of nearly 25 miles per hour in very ideal conditions. Considering the terrain types the carrier was to manage, this speed was optimistic at best. Overall weight for the vehicle was approximately 8,820lbs. She sported a running length of 16 feet, a width of 5 feet and a height between 7 feet and 9 feet overall.
Once in place, the gunnery crew would unload the armament, attach the wheels to the gun carriage and make the gun ready for fire. While this may have seemed a rather time consuming concept, it was advantageous when compared to the dozens of men required to transport a single artillery system, applicable supplies and ammunition stores across uneven terrain. The mechanized nature of the Gun Carrier Mark 1 certainly simplified the delivery of field artillery to an extent.
However, in the end, the Gun Carrier Mark 1s left little impact on the course of World War 1 where stalemates still ranged supreme and the tactics utilized by tanks today were still in their infancy. It is believed that none of these gun carrier systems ever fired a shot in combat despite there being the strength of some 48 vehicles - these divided into two companies of 24 vehicles each - delivered to the British Army. The two remaining vehicles out of the original 50-strong order were modified to serve as "Gun Carrier Crane" systems intended to support allied tanks in an engineer fashion. These versions showcased a heavy-duty crane at their front ends and saw their two armored cabs removed altogether. An improved version of the original Gun Carrier Mark 1 appeared as the Gun Carrier Mark 2 though this only evolved into a half-completed prototype and nothing more.