The Mark V Tank saw the first big change in the design of British tanks, with a new engine, transmission and steering system that allowed it to be controlled by one man for the first time, although conditions inside the tank were still terrible. It played a major role in the fighting in 1918, operating alongside the more numerous Mark IV.
There were two different designs for the Mark V Tank. Work on the first probably began late in 1916 and may have been ordered into production by Lloyd George at Christmas 1916. Design drawings exist dated to 9 June 1917, and a full size wooden mockup was ready at the Metropolitan Works on 23 June 1917. This version of the tank was still a classic rhomboid tank, with guns in sponsons, and the track all the way around the fuselage. It would have been powered by a new Ricardo engine and used Wilson’s epicyclic gearbox. It had a larger driver’s cab than on previous designs, and had a rear fighting compartment armed with a machine gun. However this design would have involved a great deal of disruption throughout the supply chain for tank production, and it was replaced with the second version of the Mark V.
This second Mark V was much more similar to the existing Mark I and Mark IV tanks. It kept the same overall shape, allowing the use of many common components. However it introduced the new engine and transmission that had originally been designed for the Mark IV, but not used on that tank.
The most significant changes on the production version of the Mark V were to the engine and transmission. The 105hp Daimler engine and the complex transmission of the Mark I had been adapted because they were available, but efforts to replace them with something better soon got underway.
The new engine was designed by Harry Ricardo, a talented engineer who appears to have been drawn into tank design early in 1916 and began work on his new engine in October 1916. He was greatly restricted in his use of light alloys, as most of them went to the aircraft industry. His new engine would have to fit into the existing design of tank, cope with poor qualify fuel, produce very little exhaust smoke, and be constructed by less experienced companies, as all of the existing engine companies were already fully stretched.
The new Ricardo engine was produced by a group of firms who had been building slow revving ‘gas engines’, powered by domestic gas and used as industrial power plants. These firms hadn’t been seen as suited to work on aircraft engines, but were perfectly capable of building the new tank engine. To reduce exhaust fumes he used a crosshead piston, familiar from steam engines, and which also reduced oil temperature. The engine was also designed to be easy to maintain within the tank. The first prototype engine was built by Peter Brotherhood of Peterborough, and ran on the test bench in March 1917. It could produce 168hp at 1,200rpm and 200hp at 1,600rpm and was reliable. It entered full scale production in the summer of 1917.
The Wilson planetary or epicyclic final drve system was the biggest improvement to the Mark V. Power from the engine went to a conventional gear box, which then drove the epicyclic gear, one set on each track. To steer the tank the driver pulled a break lever which caused one of the gears to idle, while the other track remained powered. The tank would turn towards the side being braked. This allowed a single man to stear the tank, where on the Mark I and Mark IV it had taken four.
The Wilson gear was much smaller than the previous differential gear, and that allowed an extra machine gun to be installed in the rear of the tank, and for the addition of large doors n the rear or the roof.
The Mark V was given a rear turret, which improved all round vision, and also made it possible to install the unditching beam from inside the tank. The unditching beam was simple a large beam that was carried on top of the tank on rails that ran alongside the tracks. If the tank got stuck, the beam could be attacked to the tracks and would then move along the rails, down the front of the tank and hopefully get firmly stuck in the ground, giving the tank enough grip to move on. On the Mark IV two men had to get out of the tank and attach the beam while under fire. The rear turret of the Mark V had flaps on each side that could be opened to allow the crew to install the unditching beam from inside the vehicle.
The Mark V had an extra machine gun, added in the rear wall of the tank, to give it some firepower directly behind. This was to deal with a new German tactic of ‘playing dead’, waiting for the tank to drive past, and then attacking any infantry behind the tank. The Mark V kept its crew of 8, but no longer needed two men to operate the secondary gears used on the Mark I and Mark IV, so had two extra men to operate guns. The commander could also leave his seat as he was no longer needed to help with the steering.
The biggest flaw with the Mark V was the ventilation system. On earlier tanks air for the radiator had come through the body of the tank, providing some ventilation. On the Mark V the air for the radiator passed in and out of the tank in steel ducts, which provided good cooling for the engine, but no air for the crew.
The first Mark V was built by the Metropolitan Carriage and Waggon Company in January 1918.
A total of 400 Mark Vs were built, 200 male and 200 female, all by Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance in Birmingham. Work then moved onto the Mark V*
Mk V Hermaphrodite
The Mark V Hermaphrodite was produced by fitting one female and one male sponson to the same tank. The work was done by the Central Workshops in France, starting in July 1918. By the end of the war it appears that most Mark V tanks had been converted, but probably no Mark V* tanks.
Mk V Carrier
The Mk V Carrier was used as a transport tank. The gun sponsons were replaced with sliding doors to give easier access to the tank.
Mk V Tadpole
The Mk V Tadpole was given a 9ft extension to the tail, to allow it to cross the wider trenches that were appearing as a reaction to the earlier tanks.
The V* was designed by the Tank Workshops in France, starting in February 1918. An order was then placed for 700 examples (200 female and 500 male), to be built by the Metropolitan Carriage and Wagon Company. Production began in May 1918. 579 were built by the Armistice and another 66 afterwards.
The V* was 6ft longer than the Mark V and could carry supplies or in theory up to 25 troops as well as its normal crew. It could also cross 13ft wide trenches, a big improvement on the 5ft capacity of the original Mk I. The extra length was achieved by installed three extra panels between the sponsons and the gear housing at the rear. This performed the same role as the earlier Tadpole tail, but in a more effective way. The resulting tank was four tons heavier than the standard Mark V.
The Mark V* had a full height door on either side, just behind the sponsons. The rear cab was modified to give it sloped front and rear faces, with machine gun mounts in each face.
The Mark V* suffered from two problems. The extra length made it too long for its width and thus harder to steer. The extra armour meant it was underpowered as it still had the same engine as the standard Mk V.
The V* was mainly used by the British, although the French and Americans also received small numbers.
The V** was a greatly modified version of the tank. The commander’s cupola was moved forward to a position just behind the driver. A more powerful 225hp Ricardo engine was installed. The shape of the track frame was changed to reduce the length of track in contact with the ground on hard ground, thus making it easier to steer than the V*.
Work on the design began in May 1918 and the first pilot model was built by the Metropolitan Carriage and Waggon Company in December 1918. As a result it missed the First World War.
They were six tons heavier than the Mark V and two tons heavier than the Mark V*.
An order for 900 Mk V**s was placed with Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon & Finance, with 750 Male and the rest Female. The first wasn’t delivered until November 1918, and the order was cut.
Bridge laying and mine clearing versions of the V** were developed, but only a few saw service
The bridge laying version was given a jib carried at the front of the vehicle which could carry a 20ft long tank bridge. The mine clearing version used the same jib, but lowered to its lowest possible position to carry a heavy anti-mine roller.
The jib on the Mark V** (RE Tank) was controlled by Williams-Janney hydraulic steering that had been tested on a Mark I during the development of the Mark V.
The Mark V*** was under development at the end of the war, but only reached the mock-up stage
The Mark V replaced earlier models in British service in 1918. The first one reached the Central Workshops in France on 14 January 1918. However this was only a single test tank, and deliveries didn’t begin until May 1918.
The Mark V made its combat debut at the battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918. Tanks from the 8th and 13th Battalions operated with the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, the first time the Australians had worked this closely with tanks since April 1917. This was a very well planned attack, involving a creeping barrage with the tanks just behind it. Each tank would carry ammo and drinking water for the infantry attached to the rear, and the two arms spent some time practising together before the attack. The Mark V proved to be superior in two key ways. First it was far more reliable and all of the tanks allocated to the attack reached their starting point at the time they were expected, something that rarely if ever happened with the older tanks. Second their massively improved manoeuvrability meant they were far more capable of dealing with machine gun nests – the Germans had found that if they played dead when a tank was close it would normally ignore them, simply because of the difficulty of turning the vehicle. However the Mark V was far more flexible, and it became standard practice to run over machine guns. Around 200 were destroyed in this way during the battle of Hamel. Five tanks were lost during the battle, although they were all recovered on the following day, and the battle greatly improved Australian confidence in the tank.
The 9th Battalion of the 3rd Tank Brigade used the Mark V in support of the 3rd French Infantry Division during an attack at Moreuil on 23 July 1918. Once again the Mark V performed well, although this time suffered heavily losses to German artillery acting as anti-tank guns. However the attack was considered to be a success.
The Mark V played a major role in the Allied victory at the Battle of Amiens (8 August 1918). A large number of tanks were allocated to General Rawlinson’s Fourth Army for this attack. He had one British Corps with a battalion of Mark V tanks, the Australian Corps with three battalions of Mark Vs and one of Mark V*s and the Canadian Corps with three battalions of Mark Vs and one of Mark V*s, as well as two Whippet battalions. This gave him a force of around 600 tanks, including supply tanks and gun carriers. This was the largest tank force yet to be assembled, and the more reliable Mark Vs meant that almost all of the tanks were ready for the start of the battle.
During the battle itself the Mark Vs performed well, helping achieve a victory described by Ludendorff as the Black Day of the German Army. The Mark V*s., on the flanks of the operation, suffered heavier losses from German guns outside the main area of attack and were less manoeuvrable. By the end of the day the Allies had advanced seven miles into the German lines and defeated five divisions. German morale was beginning to collapse, but troops who weren’t caught up in the initial disaster were rushed to the area and managed to plug the gap in the line. On the British side only 145 tanks were ready for combat on 9 August, although many of the damaged tanks were later salvaged and repaired. Only 67 tanks were available on 10 August and thirty on 11 August.
After Amiens it took some time for the number of Mark Vs to build up again. At Bapaume in late August there was a mix of Mark Vs, Mark IVs and Mark V*s. However the Germans were now in serious trouble, and had to withdraw back to the Hindenburg Line, giving up most of the ground they had taken in the spring offensives. The Mark V took part in most of the final battles of the war,
A number of Mark Vs were sent to Russia during the British intervention in the Russian Civil War. The first group of tanks – six Mark Vs and six Medium A Whippets – reached Batum at the eastern end of the Black Sea in April 1919, then moved north-west to Ekaterinodar, where they were joined by another fifty-seven Mark Vs and seventeen Medium As.
A second group of tanks was sent to the Baltic to support the White Russia General Yudenich, this time consisting of six Mark Vs sent in July 1919.
The third group of tanks, starting with four Mark Vs and two Medium Bs, was the North Russian Tank Detachment, which was sent to Archangel in August 1919.
The initial aim for the first two interventions was for the British to train their White Russian allies and then hand over the tanks. In both cases the White Russian cause soon collapsed, the British were evacuated and the tanks left behind. Those in southern Russia mainly ended up in Soviet hands. Those in the Baltics ended up with either the Soviets or the newly independent Baltic states. In the north the British hung on for a bit longer, but left in October 1919. These tanks also mainly ended up in Soviet hands. Some of the Mark Vs were kept in use into the early 1930s, after use in the long Russian civil war.
Hull Length: 26.4ft
Hull Width: 12.84ft (male), 10.5ft (female)
Weight: 29 tons (male), 28 tons (female)
Engine: 150hp Ricardo gasoline engine
Max Speed: 4.6mph
Armament (Male): Two 6-pounders, four machine guns
Armament (Female): Six machine guns