9 WW1 Tanks That Changed War Forever

These 9 WW1 tanks were some of the most influential of the Great War.
Christopher McFadden

Once only existing in the imagination of great inventors like Leonardo Da Vinci, the world would have to wait until the early-20th Century for tanks to become a reality. From very humble beginnings, they have come to be a vital component of any modern army.

But they had to start somewhere. Here are some of the most important early examples of this fearsome war machine.


What were some of the best tanks of WW1?

And so, without further ado, here are some of the coolest and best tanks from WW1. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. "Little Willie" kicked the whole thing off

tanks of ww1 little willie
Source: Andrew Skudder/Wikimedia Commons

"Little Willie" was the first prototype tank in history. It was an integral part of the development of the British Mark 1 tank and played a critical role in the history of tanks. 

The tank, also known as "Mother" weighed 16 tons and required a crew of two to operate it, plus another 3-4 gunners. It was built by William Foster and Co. in Lincoln in 1915, but the tank never saw combat.

"Little Willie" is the world's oldest individual tank and is currently preserved in the collection of the Tank Museum in Bovington, England.

2. The British "Mark I" was the world's first-ever tank

tanks of ww1 mk1
Source: Tank Museum

Building on the success of prototype tanks like "Little Willie," the British Mark 1 became the world's first-ever tank. These tracked, armed, and armored battlefield behemoths were developed in 1915 and entered service on the battlefields of Europe in 1916. 

The Mark 1, and her successors, were developed to help break the stalemate of trench warfare. They were able to withstand most small arms fire, travel over difficult terrain, cross trenches, and render barbed wire useless.

Their iconic rhomboidal shape was specifically designed to enable the tank to traverse wide and deep trenches with ease. Its main armaments were housed within side sponsons that could either be 6-pounder (57-mm) guns ("male") or machine guns  ("female") depending on the variant. 

Today there is only one existing example of a "male" variant of the tank. This can be found at the Tank Museum in Bovington, England.

3. The French Renault FT was one of the most influential tanks in history

tanks of ww1 renault FT
Source: Paul Hermans/Wikimedia Commons

The United Kingdom was not the only nation to develop tanks during The Great War. The French were able to produce quite a few capable variants of their own.

One of which was the Renault FT. This diminutive light tank proved to be very influential, not to mention revolutionary, in the history of the tank.

Around 3,000 were built with about another 950 constructed under license in the USA - the M1917

One of its main features that would influence future tanks was its rotating armed and armored turret. This made the FT the first tank in history to come with such a turret -- something all modern tanks have.

Its layout would also set the standard for future tanks. It had a crew compartment in the front, the engine in the back, with its main armament mounted in its turret. 

The vast majority of tanks that would follow the FT would copy this layout. For this reason, many military historians consider the Renault FT the world's first modern tank.

4. German A7V Sturmpanzerwagen was an interesting early tank

tanks of ww1 a7v
Source: Skyring/Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by the appearance of the British Mark 1 on the Western Front, the Germans attempted to design and build their tanks as soon as they could. One of the products of this process was the German A7V Sturmpanzerwagen.

Classified as a heavy tank, the Sturmpanzerwagen resembled more of a massive armored box than anything we would consider a tank today. They were introduced to the front lines in 1918 and only twenty were ever produced -- despite orders for over 100 chassis. 

They were armed with a forward-facing 57 mm gun and six machine guns. Each tank had a crew of up to 25 -- mainly consisting of infantry.

They first saw action in March of 1918 and were Germany's only tanks to ever see active service during WW1.

5. The French Schneider CA1 was the first French tank

ww1 tanks schneider
Source: Tanks Encyclopedia

Another interesting and important tank of the First World War was the Schneider CA1. It was France's first-ever tank and, like the British Mark 1, was developed to break the stalemate of trench warfare on the Western Front.

Designed to break open passages between barbed wire emplacements and tackle machine gun nests, they officially first saw action in 1917. Like many other early tanks, they were basically armored boxes and lacked significant internal compartmentalization common in later tanks.

Unlike the Renault FT, they lacked a turret and its main armament, a 75 mm cannon, was mounted on a side sponson. Despite significant setbacks when they were first used in 1917, they would later prove to be pretty effective later in the war.

6. British Medium Mark A “Whippet” was designed to support their slower counterparts

tanks of ww1 whippet
Source: Tanks Encyclopedia

The British Medium Mark A "Whippet" was another interesting and important tank of The Great War. Designed to support larger and slower heavy tanks, they were relatively nimble and maneuverable.

"Designed to effectively emulate the role of scout and cavalry, push ahead, harass the enemy, and to use machine guns to sow confusion, the Whippet was intended to work with those heavier tanks and not to replace them." - The Tank Museum

They proved to be very capable fighting machines and saw extensive post-war action in Ireland, North Russia, and Manchuria. 

7. The French Saint-Chamond is another interesting early tank -- but was not very good

tanks of ww1 st chamond
Source: Tanks Encyclopedia

The French-built Saint-Chamond is yet another early tank worthy of some attention. Named after a French commune of the same name, it was the second heavy tank developed by them during the war.

Conceived as an early tank destroyer, this "tank" was much bigger than the far more capable Schneider CA. It was, on paper at least, one of the most heavily armed tanks of the war.

Around 400, or so, were built between 1917 and 1918. Technically not a tank by today's standards, it also proved to be a little underwhelming when it was eventually deployed for battle.

Designed, like other tanks of the period, to help break the stalemate of trench warfare, they proved far more effective in the dying days of WW1 as engagements finally moved out of trenches. They were eventually replaced with British-built heavy tanks after the war.

8. The Fiat 2000 was one of the heaviest tanks of its day

tanks of ww1 fiat 2000
Source: Tanks Encyclopedia

The Italian Fiat 2000 was a heavy tank designed and produced by Fiat during the First World War. Sometimes referred to as "the heaviest tank of WW1," only two prototypes were ever made.

It weighed around 40,000 kgs and was crewed by 8 to 10 men. The tank was armed with a massive 65 mm mounted howitzer and ancillary machine guns. 

50, or so, were ordered but never realized, and the tank never saw any actual combat. Post-war, the prototypes were sent to Libya to fight guerilla fighters and proved quite capable in combat. 

9. The British Mark IV was probably the best tank of WW1

tanks of ww1 mkiv
Source: Peter Trimming/Wikimedia Commons

And finally, the British Mark IV heavy tank is widely considered to be one of the best tanks on the battlefields of WW1. A natural evolution of the earlier rhomboidal Marks I-III, the Mark IV was a very capable tank for the times.

It featured much heavier armor than its predecessors, had its fuel tank repositioned from earlier models, and was much easier to transport to the frontlines. Over 2,000 were made before the end of the war and they "cut their teeth" at the 1917 Battle of Messines Ridge where they excelled themselves. 

Powered by a Daimler-Foster, 6-cylinder in-line sleeve valve petrol engine, the Mark IV could get up to an eye-watering speed of... 4 mph -- not bad given the tank's weight of 27-28 tons

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