MANUFACTURER(S): Foster & Company / Metropolitan Carriage & Wagon Company - UK
OPERATORS: United Kingdom
Detailing the development and operational history of the Tank Mk II Medium Tank.
Entry last updated on 2/16/2018.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
The breaking of the stalemate of Trench Warfare during World War 1 would not have been made possible without the contributions of the "tank" - then known as "landships". The British led the way in practical tank designs during the war with the French following and the Germans a distant third. The British method involved a rhomboidal shape with long-running tracks set about the hull sides, straddling the hull superstructure to create a sort of armadillo-type vehicle. Armor protection was barely adequate, less so after the Germans developed armor-piercing machine gun ammunition and artillery was the landship's greatest enemy threat. Its larger general threat, however, was poor engine reliability and uneven, soft terrain types which often doomed these early systems.
The Tank Mk I (known as "Mother" or "Big Willie") was developed from the lessons garnered through the one-off "Little Willie" prototype combat vehicle. Though hardly designed to tackle the enemy head-on, Little Willie was intended to cross 5-foot trenches and carry a modest passenger load of battle-ready infantry across all manner of enemy terrain and obstacles (defense was through machine guns and boiler-plate riveted armor panels). Little Willie disappointed in this respect but was an evolutionary step forward for armored warfare; much of its automotive components would be utilized in several upcoming British tank designs including the Tank Mk I.
Big Willie (Tank Mk I) was the first true British combat tank and produced in usable numbers where it could be used in force. The tank participated in the famous Battle of the Somme of 1916 though it was largely hampered by the terrain. Nevertheless, progress was assured and the stalemate of trench warfare soon gave way under the mass of coordinated infantry charges, artillery salvos and aircraft strikes spearheaded by the landship. The Tank Mk I was certainly limited in many respects but it proved the concept of armored warfare sound for the most part. Its greatest threat remained general unreliability and terrain.
Tank Mk II (Cont'd)
The "Tank Mk II" then appeared and was intended as an improved version of the Tank Mk I. However, it was largely the same creature with only subtle changes noted and the British Army was not entirely sold on the Tank Mk I as a primary combat tool, therefore limiting procurement of the Tank Mk II series to just 50 examples. As in the Tank Mk I series, the Tank Mk II was produced in two distinct versions - "Male" and "Female". The Male version was the primary cannon-armed variant while the Female was the machine gun-armed vehicle - intended to protect the Male versions while approaching enemy-held ground. Usually two females were assigned to every one male for this purpose and, thusly, all blind spots could be covered by the available machine gun fire arcs. Of the batch of 50, 25 were represented by Males and25 by Females. Production was undertaken by Foster & Company and Metropolitan from late December of 1916 until January of the following year.
As the Tank Mk Is proved rather lackluster in whatever action they saw, a bulk of Tank Mk II production would be reserved for training purposes. Tanks were wholly new implements for the time and training was a dire requirement for obvious reasons to learn the nuances of armored warfare. However, delays to the much-improved Tank Mk IV series forced the Tank Mk IIs to be shipped to the frontlines where they were used in combat alongside existing Tank Mk Is during the Battle of Arras (April 9th-May 16th, 1917). The Tank Mk IIs inevitably showcased the same limitations as the preceding Tank Mk I series concerning reliability and thin armor protection though they still proved of some value to a desperate British Army and Allied cause.
The upcoming Tank Mk III proved to be 50 examples of another trainer variant. These were never shipped to the frontlines and thusly never saw combat in World War 1. The Tank Mk IV finally entered production in May of 1917 and went on to see production peak at 1,220 vehicles. The Tank Mk IV went on to become the primary British Army tank of the war while the Tank Mk II fell to history.