British Mark IV “Lodestar III” tank
|Model and role vehicle||Mark IV Tank|
|Designed / built by||Walter Gordon Wilson & William Tritton|
|Main users||United Kingdom|
|Dimensions||8m05 (L) x 4m12 (W) x 2m46 (H)|
|Armament||Two 6-pounder guns , three 0.303 Lewis machineguns|
|Armour||14 mm max.|
|Engine||Water-cooled Daimler / Knight-sleeve-valve straight-six engine, 105 HP|
|Top speed||5,95 km/h|
|Where can I find it at the War Heritage Institute||Royal Military Museum, 14-18 Gallery|
A new weapon to break the stalemate during the First World War
After the western front stalled during World War I into a trench war, both sides feverishly searched for a solution that could turn the balance around. A vehicle was needed that was able to cross no-man’s land under enemy fire, attack and cross enemy trenches and force a breakthrough for the infantry to follow. After a busy period of design and experimentation, the British Mark I tank first appeared at the front in 1916, the first production version of the new invention. For security reasons the vehicle was dubbed “tank”, a codeword seemingly referring to water tanks meant to keep the true purpose of the vehicle in secret.
British tanks were first deployed in small numbers during the battle of Flers-Courcelette in September 1916, part of the battle of the Somme. They cleared the way for infantry through barbed wire and enemy lines. Many vehicles experienced mechanical problems or got stuck in the mud, but their efficiency was nevertheless established. Moreover, the machines had a terrifying effect on the enemy who had never seen such an apparently unstoppable weapon.
Further developments and design improvements followed; the Mark IV finally appeared in 1917 as the fourth production variant and also the type of our example in the museum named Lodestar III (Polestar). These vehicles were deployed all over the front in varying numbers and with variable success. Their most successful and famed campaign was a massive deployment in a coordinated attack at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. The tanks successfully managed to break through the strong German lines in the initial phase of the battle. Their usefulness in modern warfare had been demonstrated.
Lodestar III in action
Lodestar III has serial number 4093, which indicates that it was assembled by Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co. LTD of Newcastle upon Tyne. It was part of an order of 100 tanks (serial numbers 4001-4100) and joined the 12th Tank Battalion around early September 1918, one of only two tanks corps to retain their Mark IV tanks in the final months of the war. The battalion first plunged into battle as of January 1918 and saw a lot of action in the “Hundred Days Offensive” at the end of the conflict. It is difficult to trace the history of specific vehicles, as reports rarely mention individual tanks. Moreover, this battalion appeared at the front on several occasions, had to return its vehicles and eventually got reassigned (presumably old) Mark IV tanks. A tank crew assigned a Lodestar I (with serial number 8081) in August 1918, for example, could have been fighting with a third vehicle, the Lodestar III, later that year after losing their vehicle in battle or due to mechanical problems.
Several elements prove Lodestar III’s operational use in the First World War. The 12th Tank Battalion, e.g., was almost continuously in action between August and October 1918. As the unit was left with only a few operational vehicles by the end of the war, it is very likely that every deployable vehicle had actually been put to use. Some components present on the vehicle furthermore prove this notion: The tank is equipped with an original unditching beam used to pull the tank out of the mud and traces of the fascine used to fill trenches and rivers for crossing. The tank is also littered by countless bullet and shrapnel impacts. Lodestar III is the only Mark Iv tank in the world still bearing its authentic 1918 colours and markings.
Did you know that....
First World War British tanks came in two versions, male and female? The "female" version war armed with two machine guns in each sponson, while the "male" variant featured a 6-pounder gun and one machine gun per sponson. "Hermaphrodite" tanks had one male and one female sponson.
museum visitors used to be allowed to board the tank? Over the years they left many inscriptions in and on the tank. These writings usually are a mere name and year, but sometimes they also refer to origins. Inscriptions range froml 1929 to 1990; afterwards the vehicle was sealed with plexiglas. The tank walls even display six messages of love!
A diverse variety of names, symbols and dates scratched into the armour.
the white-red striped markings at the front of the vehicle were introduced to distinguish Allied tanks from enemy ones? The Germans used British tanks captured after the battle of Cambrai against their former owners after repairing their at their workshop in Charleroi.
our example is named Lodestar III? This means that the vehicle served with the 12th Tank Battalion, as each tank was given a name beginning with the letter referring to the concerned battalion (L is the 12th letter of the alphabet). The III indicates that the crew already operated two former tanks named Lodestar (I and II).
the wooden beam on top of the vehicle is an unditching beam? This was attached to the tracks for added grip whenever the vehicle was stuck in mud. We also find traces of a crib designed to fill trenches or waterways before crossing them.
- many bullet and shrapnel impacts can be found all over the tank? The vehicle was most likely deployed during the Hundred Days Offensive at the end of the First World War. Many impacts are made by the later German K-Pattern bullet, ammunition with a steel core specifically developed for use against the earlier British tank models.
Why is this Lodestar III a top item?
The Lodestar III is undoubtedly a a highlight of the collection. The vehicle symbolises the inhuman and mechanical warfare of the first “modern” conflict, the First World War. The extraordinary fact that the tank still bears both its original colours and traces of battle presents visitors with a poignant picture of how these steel behemots traversed no-man’s land more than a century ago. Of the seven surviving Mark IV tanks, the Lodestar III definitely is the best-preserved and most authentic one. The more we learn about the workings of this intriguing landship and its 8(!)-strong crew, the more Lodestar III captures the imagination.
-Robby Houben, e-curator, War Heritage Institute