The British Mark IX Tank: The First Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC)
During the first uses of the Mk I tank at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 it quickly became clear how useful the tank could potentially be. However, it was also noted that the infantry were often unable to fully exploit the breakthroughs made by the tanks as they were still pinned down by German shell and machine gun fire. The idea of a vehicle which could carry troops across no mans land, through the enemy’s wire and then deploy them under the cover of machine gun fire was a very attractive one.
The development of a vehicle capable of carrying troops began in 1917 with production beginning at Armstrong & Whitworth’s in September 1917. Nicknamed 'The Pig' the Mk IX was a huge vehicle, 31 feet long and nearly 8 feet wide. With 10mm thick armour and two .303 machine guns which were supplemented by 8 rifle slits on either side of the tank (these are visible in image two) that would allow troops inside to fire.
The IX was a derivative of the earlier Heavy Tanks designed by Britain but it lacked the characteristic weapon-mounting side sponsons of the earlier tanks. The tank had a single open compartment which housed the tank’s 4 man crew, forward mounted petrol engine (which gave a top speed of just over 4 mph), controls and gearing. It was capable of carrying up to an impressive 30 men inside with two doors either side for entering and exiting the vehicle.
Early tanks were a notoriously unpleasant place to be with the exposed engine pumping out noxious fumes and heat, the Mk IX’s open compartment meant that the troops riding inside would have also been exposed to these conditions, which could after lengthy exposure could render troops unfit for action.
The Mk IX has a second claim to fame, not only was it the first APC but it was also the world’s first amphibious tank. At least one Mk IX was refitted with extra buoyancy tanks (see image three) for waterborne experiments. It was intended that the tank would float and have its ridged tracks provide forward momentum. However, the project was abandoned not long after the war ended.
34 Mk IX’s were built with only three being built before the end of the war in November 1918. The Mk IXs which were built saw service during the early 1920s. Of the 34 built only 1 survives today, at the British Tank Museum, many IX’s and other WWI British tanks were melted down and cannibalised for much needed war materials during World War Two leaving precious few behind.
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