Low-level Bureaucrats Prevented Britain from Getting the Tank (Before WWI)

Over 10 million soldiers died in WWI, many because of outdated tactics. In 1912, an Australian, Lancelot de Mole, invented the tank and submitted it to the Munitions Inventions Department, but it was rejected three times.

First, they wouldn’t consider looking at it without a working model. He tried to get a working model, but an official on the local inventions board didn’t wouldn’t fund it because he didn’t get the idea, saying “it might fall in a hole,” leaving him with nowhere to go. He sent it again in 1915, but they failed to pass it on to the group currently working on a new tank.

After the war, the British government admitted it was better than what they came up with and apologized, lied that the plans had just gotten lost, and awarded him an honorary rank by way of thanks.

Image by Anonymous photographer, via Wikimedia Commons


The New York Times archives, May 10, 1950.
https://1drv.ms/b/s!AGyyTXi8fLtcqtwz

 

Perhaps it was all too complicated for the British War Office as they returned some of his sketches in 1913 with a letter rejecting his idea and the comment that they were no longer experimenting with chain rails… [NOTE: chain rails <> tank]
In any case, the British authorities failed to pass on his design to the Landship committee. One can only speculate why the plans were not made available to the people who were working on the tank. It’s possible the Munitions Inventions Office knew nothing of the Landship Committee because of great secrecy that surrounded what they were doing or perhaps there was some form of inter-departmental rivalry. […]
The official in charge could not understand the plans. The idea was rejected with the weak excuse that there might be a hole and the vehicle might fall in it.
http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/DeMole/designnotpassedon.htm [Includes image & model]

 

[…] the commissioners considered he was entitled to the greatest credit for having made and reduced to practical shape as far back as 1912, a brilliant invention which anticipated, and in some respects, surpassed that which was actually put into use in the year 1916. The commissioners went on to say that it was the claimant’s misfortune and not his fault that his invention was in advance of its time and failed to be appreciated and was put aside because the occasion for its use had not yet arisen [in 1912].
Google Books

 

De Mole’s plans were not merely received and then pigeonholed. They were, on the contrary, examined, and deliberately rejected at least three times – once before the war and twice during the war, or, to be exact, in 1913, 1916, and 1918.
http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/37627874