The Bovington Tank museum reports:
There are some tanks that fail to conform to what we expect, some tanks that are very different or don’t adhere to the norm in certain respects. Such tanks are always more interesting, but also very difficult to explain.
As an example I would like to offer the pair built by Vickers Ltd. in May 1924 and known as Tanks, Medium Mark I Indian Pattern, or sometimes as Tanks Medium Mark I\L although what L stands for we still don’t know.
They were not the first tanks to be tested in India; a pair of experimental Medium D tanks had been taken out to India by their inventor Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Johnson in 1922 but had failed to perform satisfactorily and later that same year another prototype tracked vehicle, a Dragon Field Artillery Mark I built at the Royal Ordnance Factory, Woolwich was also shipped out there for trials on the North West Frontier. It proved to be more reliable than the experimental Johnson machines, but woefully under powered.
However the two tanks built by Vickers had been designed for service in India and as such had some unique features. So what was it about these two tanks? Well to begin with the armament; instead of the 47mm, three pounder gun normally fitted to a Medium turret these two simply carried Vickers water-cooled machine-guns, normally two of them for which three mountings were provided, equidistant around the circumference of the turret. Whether this armament was specified by the authorities in India, or was thought up by the people at home we don’t know although it seems to be very paltry armament for such a large tank. Alright you can understand why it was decided not to fit a solid shot firing anti-tank weapon like the three pounder, it would have nothing to shoot at in India, but the gun is believed to have been capable of firing high explosive rounds although this was never done in Britain. In any case the tank was also available with a 3.7 inch, 15 pounder breech loading mortar for firing smoke rounds, and it is not clear whether this weapon could or could not also fire a high explosive round, and even if it couldn’t surely there was some other weapon available within the British armoury that could, and could be mounted in a tank? Even failing that the ability to fire smoke rounds might well be useful on the Frontier, either for shielding friendly forces or even unsettling the tribesmen. However no weapon heavier than a machine gun was carried by these tanks.
Then of course there is the matter of the physical layout of the tank. Although they looked very similar there were distinct differences between the Medium Tanks Mark I and Mark II. Take the drive train for instance. Although both Marks were fitted with the same engine, an Armstrong-Siddeley 90hp air-cooled V8, a petrol engine, driving through a clutch to a four-speed gearbox but beyond that they had different transmission systems. On the Mark I it involved a simple bevel box with two-speed epicyclics on the ends of the cross shaft which provided braking and steering in addition to a low ratio gear for hill climbing. In the Mark II, this had a two-speed epicyclic in direct line with the gearbox, which provided the emergency low gear, then on the ends of the output shafts from the bevel box a set of Rackham steering clutches which were cam operated and had a propensity to generate heat that was quite alarming.
The two Indian Medium Tanks appeared in 1924 which was about a year after the final batch of Mark I tanks had been built but a few months ahead of the appearance of the new model, the Mark II. Now a Mark I tank in Britain had an exposed suspension and a driver’s hood, the top of which was on the same level as the top of the hull. A Mark II, on the other hand, had skirting plates covering the entire suspension while the driver’s hood was raised up, so that the base of it was on the same level as the hull roof. In other words on the Mark II the driver’s hood formed a box on top of the hull, just in front of the turret. That is the simplest way to tell them apart.
However the two Medium tanks built for India had hull forms that resembled the Mark II although we assume that the transmission was built to Mark I standard, since they were described officially as Mark I. Mind you we don’t actually know that, but it seems a safe bet, for want of anything better.
The two tanks went from Vickers Ltd in Sheffield, where they were built, to the Mechanical Warfare Experimental Establishment (MWEE) for testing in October 1924 and were shipped to India about a month later. The two tanks arrived in India in January 1925 and were formed as a detachment under Lieutenant J T Crocker, Royal Tank Corps (later General Sir John Crocker). For four months they toured India, making a series of long road marches at the end of each of which they gave mobility demonstrations to local infantry in the area. There was one famous occasion where a tank failed to climb a steep shale bank and was overtaken by a horse drawn gun team. This clearly delighted reactionary members of the audience who were not keen on military mechanisation at the best of times. However this was not a mood exclusive to India. You would find old codgers with the same attitude in the Army in Britain. In any case India was not anti-mechanisation at the time, they already had fleets of armoured cars operating on the frontier, it’s just that these tanks were not suited to conditions out there.
In the end the two tanks were shipped back to Britain and ultimately scrapped, a brief but expensive failure. India would get tanks, about four years later but Light Tanks, far more suited to local conditions and with much more hard wearing tracks.
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