Written by Historian, David Fletcher, MBE

6th July 2015

In his book In the Wake of the Tank  (Sifton Praed 1935)‘Q’ Martel tells us that Morris-Commercial ‘were too busy with their commercial work to carry out a long series of experimental trials, and I had my  own work to do, and could not continue indefinitely with this work as a spare-time hobby, and the Morris machine died out’. Up to that time Morris-Commercial had  built a series of prototype Morris-Martel machines and eight production models, using tracks and suspension by Roadless Traction Ltd. Martel very much admired the low silhouette of the Carden-Loyd tankettes, while Sir John Carden is supposed to have been equally impressed by the two-speed ratio gearboxes in the Morris-Martel machines.

Crossley demonstrationAll of which makes the Crossley-Martel tankette a very strange and mysterious machine by any standards. For one thing it isn’t mentioned in Martel’s book at all, yet the vehicle appeared in 1927 and the book was written in 1935. Yet it was described and illustrated in the 1927 Royal Tank Corps Journal, and very favourably as far as it went. It was even described as the Crossley-Martel One-Man tank. So there are a number of questions to answer, or at least ruminate upon. Why was it called the Crossley-Martel at all, why was it only a one-man machine, and indeed why was it built in the first place. None of these questions are easy to answer, one can speculate of course but what’s the good of that?

So all we can do to any purpose is to describe the machine, hopefully more accurately than others who have tried over the years.  It was powered by a Crossley four-cylinder engine rated at 27hp, according to the Tank and Tracked Transport Experimental Establishment at Farnborough, where it went on 28 March 1927 direct from the makers, Crossley Motors of Gorton, Manchester. The engine drove through a four-speed, two ratio gearbox giving effectively eight forward and two reverse speeds. Drive was through a Kègresse tracked bogies at the front fitted with reinforced rubber tracks, two different styles of which were fitted at various times. It had a pair of rubber tyred, disc wheels at the back which were steerable in the normal way from a wheel in the cab, but according to an article which appeared in the Royal Tank Corps Journal in 1927 steering brakes, operated by foot pedals, were also provided acting on the tracks and used for making tighter turns. As with most Crossley vehicles the radiator featured a system of thermo-syphon cooling instead of a fan and the vehicle seems to have been covered, pretty well all over, with armour plate to a maximum thickness of 8mm, except above the crew compartment which was open, the driver who was the only crew member, was provided with an adjustable seat but since he could only see where he was going by peering over the top of the armour, since no vision slit was provided, this could not have made a lot of difference. Crossley demonstration1No armament was ever fitted, one might expect an air-cooled machine-gun, but a tank without any armament at all seems to be a bit ridiculous. Weight is given as 2 tons 1 cwt unladen, but even so the testing authorities at Farnborough said that the weight placed too much stress on the track units. They also said that the tendency of the tracks to throw up dust and dirt while it was travelling along had a detrimental effect on the engine and they were obliged to change this while the vehicle was with them. There was also a comment that the engine, essentially the heaviest part of the vehicle, was not located above the tracks where it would do most good, but behind them.

On 21 May 1927 the Crossley-Martel is recorded as having taken part in a demonstration for the Colonial Representative, which took place in Long Valley, Aldershot. It seems to have been quite a significant event, with a lot of participating vehicles, all from the T&TTEE at Farnborough. The Colonial Representative, assuming there was only the one, appears to have been James Hertzog, the South African Prime Minister, who is unlikely to have been flattered by being referred to as the Colonial Representative.

The Crossley-Martel was finally disposed of on 15 September 1932 to the Royal Military College of Science, but how long they retained it and what became of it subsequently is not known. The Tank and Tracked Transport Experimental Establishment had by this time become the Mechanical Warfare Experimental Establishment, or MWEE, the name by which it is best known.