The ballad of the wedge: Martel's wedge
Revelations of John the Evangelist, 6: 4
History armored vehicles. It has always been and will be in the future that a certain person sees farther than others and understands more than others. And also, if he is well versed in technology, then he may well create something that then turns into a trend and gives a whole direction to the development of industry or military affairs. In England, such a man was Sir Giffard Le Quin Martel.
During and immediately after World War I, he served in the Royal Engineering Service. During this period, he was actively involved in the development tanks and ... bridges. But his very first development was ... a light single-seat tank. That is, if the British had problems determining who is the "father" of their tanks, then there is no disagreement regarding the tankette. He was her father!
Martel at the wheel of a four-track all-terrain vehicle that he built at his home while serving in India
Major Martel began work on his car in January 1925. He analyzed the events of the Great War and came to the conclusion that the main problem now is to protect the infantryman and enable him to move forward, while having enough firepower to destroy the enemy. So the tank appeared, but Martel had his own thoughts on this matter.
He believed that a tank united several soldiers into one large moving target, and a large target is always worse than a small one. In his opinion, there were two possible options for protecting moving targets on the battlefield. The meaning of the first option was to evade enemy shots due to high speed and maneuverability. Another option was to dramatically increase the tank's armor protection. Moreover, Martel considered the latter option quite possible from an engineering point of view. However, while serving in the post-war British army, which experienced a constant lack of funds, he realized that the lack of funding would impede the implementation of this plan. After all, building a large tank with heavy armor would require powerful engines, which would undoubtedly increase its cost to a level much higher than the amount that the Treasury could finance.
And then Martel suggested a third way. What if we turned the tank into something small, prioritizing the most minimalist design in its creation? Having created a single-seater tank, immune to rifle fire weapons enemy and armed with a light machine gun, British armored units could significantly outnumber any of the enemy's anti-tank weapons. Similarly, the small size made it possible to significantly simplify and reduce the cost of creating such a machine with good mobility characteristics, as well as making it difficult to detect on the battlefield.
Martel wedge for one person
As a result, he began to develop a project for a completely new class of vehicles, which he called "Wedge". And already in February 1925, he began building it in his garage.
The Martel wedge prototype is made of wood and painted gray. On later models, the large rear wheels were replaced by smaller wheels with solid rubber tires.
The prototype single-seat wedge was powered by a 20 hp Maxwell gasoline engine mounted at the front of the vehicle and connected to an axle taken from a Ford vehicle. The tracks and suspension were purchased from Roadles Traction LTD, and the large spoked rear wheels were from an old Federal truck. The hull was made of wood, but Martel tried to add additional ballast inside, approximately equal to the weight of the armor. The work was completed in August, and the first tests revealed some minor problems, such as too weak damping of the rear wheels.
At the time, Major Martel lived at Brown's Cottage at Camberley. And in this city was the headquarters college of the British army. One afternoon, Captain B. Liddell-Hart, who worked for him, was walking through the countryside, and ... came across Martel, who was driving around his makeshift tank. He stood dumbfounded and watched him move confidently over rough terrain. Returning home, he wrote an article for the Diley Telegraph. This article, published on August 28, 1925, brought the idea to the attention of the world.
Almost all British tanks up to this time were large and relatively slow-moving vehicles. Here, in front of Captain Liddell Hart, stood a tank that he said was about the size of a horse but with superior mobility. The tank had an embrasure from which it was possible to shoot from small arms, for example, a light machine gun. And he liked the car so much that he invited Martel to show it to the cadets of his college.
The result of these demonstrations was that the Ministry of War ordered two such machines to Martel. As a manufacturer, he offered Morris Commercial Motors LTD. Thanks to this, both cars received a proprietary 16 hp engine. Moreover, of the two tankettes that will be made, one had a single hull, and the other had a two-seater. Well, it is clear that the two-seater version had a slightly wider body. But the chassis were identical in both cases.
In addition, the company's specialists thought that the chassis without an armored body could be sold separately as a tractor. Thus, when the chassis rolled off the assembly line, an armored body designed for one or two people could be put on it, or a tractor body could be installed. Such a scheme could theoretically bring significant profits.
But it turned out that the chassis was completely unsuitable for use as a tractor, so this cunning plan did not lead to anything. The reason lies, most likely, in the different functions of tractors and tanks. A tractor needs the ability to pull objects such as plows and trailers, while a wedge heel needs speed and maneuverability. Thus, the tractor gearbox must operate under completely different loads than the wedge gearbox.
The first single-seater vehicle was built in February 1926, and its hull was made of 8 mm mild steel. When weighed it, it turned out to be 1 ton more than its projected weight of 2 tons. To reduce this weight, an upgraded chassis was developed and the armor thickness was reduced to 6 mm. Tests on the ground showed that the weight of 3 tons was not a big problem, so the thickness of the armor was again increased to 8 mm, which corresponded to the armor of the then standard British Vickers Medium tank.
Martel's double wedge on trials
After trials in 1926, the War Department finally settled on the design of a two-seater vehicle. In December, 8 of these two-seaters were ordered. But they had competitors: 8 Carden-Loyd Mk.IV machines. In August and September 1927, both machines were tested together. Also, these tankettes were used during the 1928 maneuvers.
However, having lost the civilian market, Morris did not want to spend money on further development of the Morris-Martel tankette. And since the military did not have money for two tankettes, the championship remained with the "Cardin-Loyd".
But "Cardin-Loyd" happily took up the development of a new machine on its own, relieving the War Department from the financial burden. This in-house development soon led to the successful creation of the Mk.VI tankette, which became the basis for the emergence of tankettes around the world.
What was the world's first wedge heel from a technical point of view? She had an engine in front of the car, and a fighting compartment behind it. The radiator was located in the front, under the hood. The nose section of the bonnet was sloped, with louvers. The transmission was located behind the engine, passed under the fighting compartment and was connected to two leading sprockets. The exhaust pipe ran on the left side of the fighting compartment, outside the armor. The leading sprockets were in the back. The undercarriage was complemented by two small support wheels with double rubber rims. It is unclear if a pendant was attached to them. Above the two support wheels there was a mud chute designed to prevent dirt from the tracks from entering them.
In the fighting compartment on the right was a shooter armed with a .303 "Lewis" machine gun, which could fire from it through the embrasure. It is not known how much ammunition may have been stored on board. The driver was on the left. The seats of both tankers could be raised and lowered. The driver had a viewing slot through which he monitored when he was driving behind the armor. Whether it was protected by bulletproof glass is unknown.
There were two wheels in the rear of the tank. They were intended to prevent the tank from overturning backwards when driving on slopes or over rough terrain. These wheels also served as an additional means of controlling the wedge. At that time, other British tanks were controlled by braking one of the tracks. However, this meant that the tank slowed down due to a stop of one of the tracks, and half of its engine power was wasted (the differentials of the Kletrak system were not yet invented), and this led to significant wear on the brakes, clutch and tracks.
On this wedge, the rear wheels could be used as steering wheels when driving on roads or when making turns with a large radius. This could be done without the use of brakes, without losing engine power and reducing the wear of the track tracks. True, such a control system was more complicated than the usual one, and also had more weight.
In front of the fighting compartment, two headlights were placed on the sides. At the rear of the car, two splash guards were placed, going from the fighting compartment to the rear wheels.
Although the Morris-Martel tankette remained an experimental machine, it nevertheless gave rise to the very idea of the tankette and became the founder of a whole direction of development of the BTT in the interwar period. Her descendants will take part in the wars that preceded World War II, as well as at the very beginning.
Eventually, the idea of a wedge heel died. Nevertheless, a small vehicle with a crew of two, created on its basis, became one of the most produced armored vehicles in history and one of the most successful - it was the famous British armored personnel carrier "Universal".
To be continued ...
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