The Tank Mark V was the last and largest British tank produced during the war. Born as a very advanced project, it ended up as an enhanced Mark IV. Together with its derivatives, the Mark V* and V**, around 1,070 were completed by March 1919.
A brand new design
The Mark IV was an efficient model, but many issues shown by war experience had still to be solved by mid-1917. A new design, studied by William Tritton, was ready within days, incorporating a set of brand new features, including a new hull, improved transmission, engine and steering system. But while a wooden mock-up was built, industrial priorities dictated a radical turn.
When it appeared that the new transmission and steering system originally planned for the Mark IV were ready for production, the War Cabinet decided to urgently built this improvement of the Mark IV, renamed Mark V. Some features of the original new design will be implemented in the post-war variants of the Mark V.
Design of the Mark V
The Mark V kept all the external features of the Mark IV including the hull, rollers and tracks in order not to disrupt production. However a new, more powerful drive-train and transmission were ready at the beginning of 1917 and tests ordered by William Stern were conducted on modified Mark IVs.
These systems included petrol-electric schemes, hydraulic systems, a multiple clutch system (a single driver was needed), and Wilson’s own epicylcic gearbox design (4 forward gears, one reverse). A new, more powerful 19 litre six cylinder in-line Ricardo engine (150 bhp) was chosen (giving a power/weight ratio of 5.2 bhp/ton). Autonomy was 70 km (45 mi) with 450 liters fuel capacity (93 gallons), or enough for approximately 10 hours on a rugged terrain.
The new more powerful 19 litre six cylinder in-line Ricardo engine (150 bhp)
The hull was fitted with a second rear cabin with observation slits and hinged sides allowing the fitting of an unditching wooden beam. The rear part of the hull also received an additional machine-gun mount.
Production of the Mark V started at the Metropolitan Carriage and Wagon factory in the fall of 1917. The first batch arrived in France in May 1918, and total production was 400, of which 200 were male and 200 were female. The last were delivered by mid-1919.
The Mark V in Action
Only available in small quantities by mid-1918, the impact of the Mark V was not significant, but three months later, they were numerous enough to make a difference. The first major engagement was the battle of Hamel, on 7 July 1918, when 60 tanks led the victorious offensive of the Australian troops against the German lines.
Later, in August, 288 Mark V and V*s were involved, together with numerous Mark A Whippet, in the battle of Amiens, a complete success. The Mark V took part in eight major offensives until the armistice. At the same time, Canadian and US Army troops trained on Mark V’s. The 301st American Heavy Tank Battalion was entirely equipped with these, and were thrown in action from September to November 1918 against the Hindenburg line with heavy losses (18 of 21 were lost or disabled).
After the armistice, 70 Mark V’s were given by the British government to the White Russian faction fighting against the Bolsheviks. But as the situation worsened, a growing number of captured Mark V’s took action under the red flag. There is no record of duels between red and white Mark V’s, but they ended as a substantial part of the Red Army and were thoroughly studied. They took part in several actions in 1921, including the battle of Tbilissi. Lithuanian and Latvian Mark V’s were still active in 1939.
Four variants were built during and after the war. The first was the famous “hermaphrodite”, a bunch of modified “females” to include a “male” artillery sponson. Apparently, some of the soldiers also called these “bastards”.
These mix type tanks were conceived in response to the growing number of captured German Mark I and IV tanks. The giant A7V was very rare at that time. The Mark V* or “star” was a lengthened (by six feet) version designed by Tritton during the fall of 1917, to deal with the Hindenburg line, and its very wide trenches (3.47 m/11.39 ft).
Major Philip Johnson of the Central Tank Corps Workshops took leadership of this project. The pre-serie tanks were conversions of regular, stretched Mark Vs with reinforced heavy girders. 400 male and 200 female were ordered, of which 579 were built by March 1919. Some arrived in time for the last offensives of November 1918. They were fitted with guidance rails for the unditching beam, two extra machine-guns in their rear cupola, two side doors with extra machine-gun mounts and a total weight of 33 tons. The extra space was thought to be best used for troop transport, but the internal conditions were still unbearable.
The Mark V** was proposed by Major Wilson to cope with the main limitation of the Mark V*, a cruel lack of agility. Turning circle was enormous and the added weight and length caused enormous tensions on the steering system.
It included new widened tracks (67.3 cm/26.5 in) with a stronger curve on the lower run reducing contact (but increase ground pressure), a bored out engine, pushed to 225 bhp, relocated further back in a lower position, and better compartmentalization. Out of an initial order of 700, only 25 were delivered by January 1919.
The Mark V*** was a paper project, a largely improved version, part of a contingency plan in case the Liberty (Mark VIII) would fail. Improved protection, speed and crew comfort, while using as many parts as possible from the Mark V were the main objective. Prospective production for 1919 was 2000 units.
Mark V tank wooden mock-up ready for inspection 23rd June 1917 at the factory (IWM Q14522)
The easy way to identify a Mark V tank from a MkIV tank is that it has a rear commanders cab. This is missing from the wooden Mk V tank mock-up but a machine gun has been mounted in a smaller cab at the rear. (IWM Q14565)
Mark V on the Western Front (Imperial War Museum). Many Mark Vs were also seen in action in the sands of Palestine and the Middle East and in the snow of Russia, in 1921.
A Mark V*, the main, lengthened variant of the Mark V, stretched by 1.82 m (6 feet) to cope with the large antitank trenches of the Hindenburg Line. Its lack of agility was a big issue.
A Mark V**, featuring improved tracks, engine and other minor improvements. Only 25 were completed after the war.
Craig Moore, one of our writers and editors includes the Mark V tank in this video he made for The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
Osprey British Mark V Tank by David Fletcher
The Royal Armoured Corps by Captain J.R.W Murland
Tank Hunter World War One by Craig Moore
Mark V specifications
|Dimensions||Length 26ft 5in (8.05 m).|
Width without Sponsons 8ft 4in (2.54 m).
Width with Male Sponsons 13ft 6in (4.11 m)
Width with Female Sponsons 10ft 6in (3.20 m)
Height 8ft 8in (2.64 m)
|Total weight||Female 27.5 tons|
Male 29 tons
|Propulsion||Ricardo crosshead valve, water-cooled straight six petrol engine 150hp @ 1250rpm|
|Road Speed||4.6 mph (7.4 km/h)|
|Range||25 miles (40.24 km)|
|Trench Crossing ability||Mark V = 10ft (3.05 m)|
Mark V* = 13 ft (3.96 m)
Mark V** = 13 ft (3.96 m)
|Armament Male Tank||2x Hotchkiss QF 6 pdr (57 mm) gun (64.7cm short barrel)|
4x 0.303 inch (7.62mm) Hotchkiss air-cooled machine guns
|Armament Female Tank||6x 0.303 inch (7.62mm) Hotchkiss air-cooled machine gun|
|Armor||From 8 mm to 14 mm|
|Track links||Length 8 1/2 inches (21.7cm)|
Width 1ft 8in (51.7cm)
|Sponson Hatch||Length 3ft 1in (94.9cm)|
Width 1ft 7in (47.9cm)
|Total production||Mark V = 400|
(Mark V* = 645)
(Mark V** = 25)
|Started Army Service||Mark V = November 1917|
(Mark V* = May 1918)
(Mark V** = December 25)
Centennial WW1 POSTER
The Mark V was the last evolution of the Mark I lineage, the brainchild of William Tritton and Major Wilson. Here is a standard Mark V male, early production, May 1917. Notice the factory standard dark olive livery and the “eye” painted on the front, a reference to the “eyes” of ancient ships .
A camouflaged late Mark V hermaphrodite. On the other side, a machine-gun sponson was fitted. Multi-pattern liveries were applied on site, with provisional, regulated colors. White, pale blue, brown, dark grey, black, were commonly used in spotted patterns, with or without black borders (French 1918 standard livery). The last Mark Vs were delivered well after the armistice.
Modified Mark V
Tank Mark V composite
Mark V Male tank No.9003 B56 named Barrhead, was part of the C Company, 2nd Battalion. On 8th August 1918 it saw action when it attacked the enemy defensive lines and reached the Blue line objective before returning to Allied liens. It was photographed several times as it moved forward from La Motte en Santerre. It carried a flag indicating that it may have been used as a command tank. It was back in action on 9th August 1918 but as it attacked it was hit and set on fire. Two of the tank crew were killed instantly, four were wounded but one of them died later of his wounds. It was recovered and repaired. On 2nd of June 1920 it was used by the White Russian Army, 1st Tank Detatchment, 1st Tank Division. On 1st January 1921 it was captured by the Red Russian Army.
On 10th August 1918 Female Mark V tank No.9260 was photographed during the kings visit to Sautercourt when it took part in infantry and tank cooperation exercises. It displayed the hand painted identification number A6 on its sponson. It was fitted with an unditiching beam and rails. On 2nd September 1918, under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Lockwood, as part of the 14th Battalion, Tank Corps it went into battle, It reached and passed the 1st objective but was hit and burnt out just prior to the 2nd objective.
The Mark V* star and Mk.V** double star, were lengthened versions designed to assault the Hindendurg line, presenting very large antitank trenches. Attempts to use the larger hull to transport some infantry were doomed to fail due to the extreme conditions inside. It was hot, extremely noisy and filled with poisonous gases, not counting the shrapnel produced at every impact. The soldiers started feeling ill long before the tanks reached their destination. The Mark V** was equipped with a new engine and new tracks, but none were completed before the war ended.
The Female Mark V* Star tank with the unditching beam rails was used by the US 301st Battalion during their first battle that involved crossing the Hindenburg Line near Le Catalet and Saint-Quentin on 29th September 1918. They used sixteen Mark V* Star Male tanks and four Mark V* Star Female tanks.
The Male Mark V* Star tank armed with two 6pdr guns. The 15th Tank Battalion crewed 36 elongated Mark V* Star Tanks at the Battle of Amines 8th – 12th August 1918.
The Male Mark V* Star tank with the unditching beam rails.The Canadian 1st Tank Battalion fielded 36 of the new elongated Mark V* Star tank at the Battle of Amines 8th – 12th August 1918.
The Mark V* Star tank No.9834 called ‘Orient Unit number 054″ was attached to C Company, 15th Battalion, Tank Corps. It was commanded by 2nd Lieutenant H.Ayres. During the Australian infantry advance near the Somme river in 1918, it was photographed returning back to Allied lines behind three other Mark V* tanks, two of which were being towed.
This Mark V* Star Tank took part in the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918, serving in B Company, 15th Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant R.P. Foster. It was photographed in the tank park outside the village of Villers-Bretonneux on 28th June 1919 with the letters HQ painted on the sponson hatch. It was not fitted with the unditching rail and beam. During the battle, it crossed no-mans-land but broke down before reaching the green line objective. It was repaired and continued the attack reaching all three objectives. It was hit but rallied and returned to Allied lines.
The Mark V** (two star) tank, 1919. Only 25 were built. Notice the side door was much bigger than the hatch on the Mark V* (star) tank.
The female version of the Tank Mark V** (two star).
The Mark VII tank with “tadpole” long tail, 1919. The three tanks that were built were used for experiments. They did not see combat.
The Mark VII tank with “tadpole” tail and unditching beam rails
Tank Hunter: World War One
The First World War’s fierce battles saw the need to develop military technology beyond anything previously imagined: as exposed infantry and cavalry were mowed down by relentless machine-gun attacks, so tanks were developed. Stunningly illustrated in full colour throughout, Tank Hunter: World War One provides historical background, facts and figures for each First World War tank as well as the locations of any surviving examples, giving you the opportunity to become a Tank Hunter yourself.