Landships II

Members Login
Username 
 
Password 
    Remember Me  
Post Info TOPIC: Swinton and The Encyclopaedia Britannica.


Legend

Status: Offline
Posts: 3494
Date:
Swinton and The Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Permalink   


I've just come across this rather disturbing reference in a bibliography:

Swinton, Ernest D., 'Tanks', in The Encyclopaedia Britannica: The New Volumes, vol. iii (London & New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 12th edn, 1922), pp. 677 - 98.

This is terrifying. I might be wrong here, but it sounds as if EB just asked Swinton to write the section on Tanks for them. Possibly it was a rehash of this:  https://archive.org/details/tanksbyrequestwi00swin_0/page/n3 but if not, the implications are mind-boggling. We know that Swinton, starting less than a week after Flers-Courcelette, conducted a lifelong campaign of self-publicity so as to take credit for things in which he had no part, using language very carefully to give the impression that he was the "originator" of the Tank. If he was given carte blanche by EB, I shudder to think what relationship this article had with the truth of the matter.

I can't find the article online. Has anyone got/seen it?



__________________

"Sometimes things that are not true are included in Wikipedia. While at first glance that may appear like a very great problem for Wikipedia, in reality is it not. In fact, it's a good thing." - Wikipedia.



Lieutenant

Status: Offline
Posts: 56
Date:
Permalink   

I have it. He used sources from the UK (Fuller, C and A William-Ellis, DG Browne and Sir EH Tennyson d'Eyncourt), France (Dutil) and Germany (M Schwarte) in compiling the article. I haven't read it but after a quick scan it seems balanced.

 

Cheers,

Chris 



__________________


Legend

Status: Offline
Posts: 3494
Date:
Permalink   

Well, that was a stroke of good fortune. Ta, Chris.

I'm sure the parts you describe are fine. Swinton was an excellent writer; observant, intelligent, amusing, thorough, and all the rest of it He wrote short stories as a sideline, worked on the official History of the Russo-Japaneses War and on David Lloyd George's official memoirs, and translated a number of books from French into English.

The trouble is that when it came to the "invention" of the (British) tanks, he was delusional. He knew nothing about the Landship Committee or that Little and Big Willie were under construction, but spent the next 35 years claiming that he invented them. His first autobiography was devoted almost entirely to justifying his belief, and if he hadn't died before finishing it, his second autobiography would have contained more of the same. He claimed, amongst other things, that he was famous throughout America as the inventor of the tank. He bludgeoned his way onto the list of claimants who appeared before the Awards to Inventors Commission, and later complained that the £1,000 he received was for "winning the War"! It's thanks to his relentless self-publicity that so many accounts actually do credit him with having invented the tank.

So whilst I'm sure the article is worth reading for its own sake, the part I'd love to see is Swinton's description of his own role between September 1914 and September 1915.



__________________

"Sometimes things that are not true are included in Wikipedia. While at first glance that may appear like a very great problem for Wikipedia, in reality is it not. In fact, it's a good thing." - Wikipedia.



Lieutenant

Status: Offline
Posts: 56
Date:
Permalink   

James,

I have read the passage dealing with that period and you are correct. Swinton claims that he first put his idea forward for a machine gun destroying cross country machine (mobile bullet proof shields) to the Committee of Imperial Defence on 20 Oct 1914. Independently he does acknowledge that two other officers also put forward similar suggestions in October. He implies that it was his suggestion that Churchill took up in January 1915, though the subsequent research by d'Eyncourt was directed towards conveying troops forward, not a machine gun destroyer. Swinton says that he wrote to War Office in January 1915 imploring them of the need for a machine gun destroying machine and that Captain Tulloch also did so in January, both before the "receipt of the First Lord's views".

I will scan/image the relevant passage and post it later today.


Cheers,
Chris

__________________


Lieutenant

Status: Offline
Posts: 56
Date:
Permalink   

Apologies for not scanning the article yet. I will get to it in the next two or three days.

Chris

__________________


Legend

Status: Offline
Posts: 3494
Date:
Permalink   

Eagerly anticipating. I've had a look to se if you can buy it online, but it seems the articles in question were an addition to the 1911 edition, and I haven't yet found them for sale.

I'm sure Roger Todd will confirm that Murray Sueter was furious with Swinton for stealing the credit and with the Navy for not providing evidence to support his and 20 Squadron's claim.

It's a strange business. Swinton was clearly a highly talented man, but in this aspect he acted like a scoundrel. He seems to have been very bitter that the Navy succeeded where he failed, in developing a tracked AFV, and it won't have helped that after all his work in recruiting and training he was sacked and replaced by Elles. But the rot had set in long before that. JP Harris reckons he was planting stories through his Press contacts within a couple of days of the tanks' debut.

John Charteris, Haig's Head of Intelligence said this in his memoirs:

The idea of a mobile strong-point, out of which the tank developed, probably occurred to most minds after our first experiences of attacking strongly entrenched positions. I first heard it suggested by an Intelligence Corps officer as early as the Battle of the Aisne (13–28 September 1914). His idea took the form of a group of men carrying a section of bullet-proof shield. Very elementary calculations of weight proved that idea impracticable and the suggestion of using the 'Caterpillar' tractor, which had been experimented with at Aldershot in 1914, immediately arose. I remember discussing the possibility of this with Colonel Swinton in 1914. But it was so obvious a development that it must have occurred simultaneously in many regimental and Staff messes.

What distinguishes Swinton is that, because of his position, he had access to senior political and military figures (more than Burstyn or de Mole, for example) And yet he chickened out when it came to putting his (if they were his) ideas to Kitchener. We should get out of the habit of starting the Tank story with Swinton. But then where would you start? He actually did play an imposrtant part, but not the one he claims. Harris says, "Swinton should not be regarded (as he is still often portrayed) as the prime mover in the British genesis of the tank."



__________________

"Sometimes things that are not true are included in Wikipedia. While at first glance that may appear like a very great problem for Wikipedia, in reality is it not. In fact, it's a good thing." - Wikipedia.



Legend

Status: Offline
Posts: 3494
Date:
Permalink   

Here's Browne's book to read online: https://archive.org/details/tankinaction00browrich/page/n19 You'll notice it's a little wide of the mark in some matters.

I'll be very interested to see how Swinton incorporates this into his version.



__________________

"Sometimes things that are not true are included in Wikipedia. While at first glance that may appear like a very great problem for Wikipedia, in reality is it not. In fact, it's a good thing." - Wikipedia.



Legend

Status: Offline
Posts: 3494
Date:
Permalink   

I have managed to secure a digital copy of this article. It makes interesting reading. Swinton doesn't write under his byline, but adds his initials at the end.

One thing struck me immediately. Swinton states plainly that the name "tank" was "the idea of two British officers" (i.e him and Dally Jones). It is not like Swinton to be generous with the credit for anything. Of course, Dally Jones was still alive in 1922, so Swinton might not have got away with it, but Jones died in 1926 and Swinton still credits him in his autobiography of 1932. So, fair play to him on that one.

However . . .

As Chris points out, Swinton quite legitimately quotes huge chunks from Fuller, from The Forerunner of the Tank by H. M. Manchester in The American Machinist (which I haven't been able to track down,) and from various recognised sources - British, French, German, and others. He mentions all the key players and usual suspects: starting with the Assyrians, da Vinci, Edgeworth, Robida, Wells, de Mole (though not Burstyn), Macfie, Churchill, d'Eyncourt, Wilson & Tritton (eventually), Tulloch, Breton, Boirault, Estienne, Brillié, and so on - even the notorious Bede Bentley is credited with having designed some sort of AFV, which is a topic in itself. All of which is inconvenient from the point of view of someone who spent 35 years describing himself as the "originator" of the tank, and who mentions himself in the article five times.

So how does he get round this?

Well, he reveals that he was "the first officially to put forward a scheme for a caterpillar machine-gun destroyer." As pointed out, he was the first British officer in his position to make the approaches he was able to. That's assuming the suggestion wasn't Hankey's idea and ignoring the fact that Swinton had the chance to put it to Kitchener directly but didn't take it.

Take a look at J.P. Harris, pages 34-35 in particular: https://books.google.co.uk/books?redir_esc=y&id=00myJhLVIUUC&q=intellectual#v=snippet&q=questionable&f=false

As Harris says, "Eyewitness" is skilfully written . . . In the body of the book, few, if any, statements are made to which it is possible to give the lie . . . Swinton's claim to be the "originator" (singular) of the tank is an outrageous piece of conceit. Coming from a man of Swinton's knowledge and intelligence, it smacks of intellectual dishonesty."

In this article, Swinton also says, "The action fought (at Cambrai) was in almost every detail the execution of the plan put forward officially for the employment of the tanks by Col. Swinton in Feb. 1916, 22 months previously." Again, that's bending the truth. They were his tactics, but not his plan.

So what about the fact that "the necessity for finding some mechanical method of carrying troops under cover across country had already occurred independently to a French officer," (Estienne) and "the British tank and the French char d'assaut were conceived separately and for many months developed on independent lines." Well, "It is not remarkable that allies fighting a common enemy should have evolved a similar means of meeting them," Swinton claims.

It is, though, inconvenient if you're claiming to be the sole originator of "the tank," especially if the above applies not just to your ally but, as Charteris points out, to your fellow officers, as well.

 



__________________

"Sometimes things that are not true are included in Wikipedia. While at first glance that may appear like a very great problem for Wikipedia, in reality is it not. In fact, it's a good thing." - Wikipedia.

Page 1 of 1  sorted by
 
Quick Reply

Please log in to post quick replies.

Tweet this page Post to Digg Post to Del.icio.us


Create your own FREE Forum
Report Abuse
Powered by ActiveBoard