Ordered to War Office specifications in 1922, the Independent A1E1 finally appeared in 1926, to a revised design by Vickers-Armstrong. It took part in the special demonstration for the Dominion Premiers in November 1926. Trials at Farnborough revealed that it was very difficult to steer, due primarily to long ground contact and narrow hull.
Rebuilt on the advice of W. G. Wilson in 1928, it did not improve and also consumed an inordinate amount of engine oil. It was abandoned in 1935, by which time it had cost more than £150,000, and sent to Bovington, where it was reputedly used as part of the defenses of Bovington Camp in 1940.
The Independent has a number of unusual features; the nearside rear machine-guns turret is capable of firing in the anti-aircraft role by extra elevation of the gun. An American design of Inertia starter is incorporated, and there is a pointer device, driven off the turret ring, that shows the tank commander which way the main turret is pointing in relation to the direction of the tank.
It is claimed that in order to improve steering, sections from the barrel of a 16-inch naval gun were used to create extra strong steering brakes. Walter Wilson’s modifications to improve steering resulted in a major rebuild of the rear end, a change of drive sprockets and a strengthening axle between the sprockets.
In the 24th Tank Chat, David Fletcher looks at the rather unusual Independent A1E1, it is the only tank of its kind in existence.
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