The 4th Royal Tank Regiment carried a distinctive "Chinese" eye...

Discussion in 'RAC & RTR' started by Ramiles, May 28, 2017.

  1. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    I was looking at this pre-war picture of my grandfather... he's the one in the back row, 4th from the left, 3rd from the right.

    I was especially looking at the "eye" on the side of the turret on the tank.

    From the wiki... 4th Royal Tank Regiment - Wikipedia

    "Fighting, or 'A', vehicles of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment carried a distinctive "Chinese" eye on each side, a tradition continued by the 1st Royal Tank Regiment upon amalgamation. Tanks were generally named, with all names beginning with the letter "D". Examples of names include Destroyer, Dakeyne, etc."

    Would anyone happen to have other examples of this "eye" - or know more about the history of the sign and the use of it etc? Beyond what the wiki has there at the mo.

    I did a quick google image search for some other examples... 4th battalion royal tank corps "chinese eye" - Google Search

    And it brought up one or two things... i.e.

    My Website


    But I couldn't seem to see at the moment, a good example of an early version.

    All the best,


    Ps... Is there any way to the stop the link to the "My Website" webpage saying "My Website" as it might be a bit confusing ;-) as it is not "my website" just what the link says...
    Last edited: May 28, 2017
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  2. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Did you see the picture of the Mark IV in the google search?


    This is fascinating, and some stuffy officer might say "highly irregular". I have 3 of the 4 "Warpaint" series of books by Dick Taylor and this doesn't even get a mention. I was given to understand from my reading that RTR did not usually even have their own insignia - an armoured division would have one and the component regiments would carry the divisional insignia. Or if the unit was an armoured brigade (which would be assigned to work with an infantry division) it would have an insignia. But not a tank regiment.

    The picture comes from a forum post which has some further information and a link to an academic paper researching the origin of the eyes during WW1.

    Armortek • View topic - Mk IV, 2341, Fan Tan or Fly Paper, F Battalion
  3. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Nope ;-)

    Completely missed it !!!

    It does rather (I think ;-) make the tank look a tiny bit like a whale... but they might have been going for this perhaps? :) :whistle:
    Chris C likes this.
  4. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Funny :lol: but it seems to have started when the "Federal Council of Malay States" donated money to the war effort, flagging a portion of it for a Mk IV.
    Ramiles likes this.
  5. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

  6. chrisgrove

    chrisgrove Senior Member

    On page 28 of Warpaint Volume 3 is shown a Challenger 2 of 1 RTR displaying the Chinese eye (this is mentioned in the caption but not explained). On page 61 of Volume 4 is shown a Centurion of 4 RTR also displaying the Chinese eye. This is also mentioned in the caption but not explained. On page 63 of Volume 4 appears an APC of 1 RTR showing the Chinese eye again; it is explained that 1 RTR inherited this symbol after amalgamating with 4 RTR in 1991. My own unerstanding is that during WW1 some chinese labourers saw the new tanks and commented that they could not see because they had no eyes (No have eye; how can see?), and the rest is history.
    Ramiles likes this.
  7. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Huh. I was looking for mention of the eyes in Warpaint Vol 1. My mistake for not checking 3 and 4!!
  8. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    On the Sherman at the IWM

    upload_2017-6-7_15-10-0.png upload_2017-6-7_15-10-13.png
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  9. chrisgrove

    chrisgrove Senior Member

    Those are not the'Chinese Eye' which was invariably displayed on the side of the tank or of its turret, but merely the divisional sign of the Guards Armoured Division, in which were no regiments (or battalions) of the Royal Tank Regment.
    Ramiles likes this.
  10. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    I just saw an eye mate
  11. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Thanks for clarifying Chris, nice pics though CL1 ;-)

    Google "found" this site with some more info on the "British Formation Signs" etc...

    British Formation Badges 1939-1945

    British Formation Signs

    Armoured Divisions
    Guards Armoured Division
    The Division retained its famous badge of WW1, the 'ever open eye'. Divisional HQ was formed in the UK on 17 June 1941.
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  12. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

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  13. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

  14. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Gunner Tours

    I have heard this too. It is true that Chinese labourers worked in support of the Tank Corps. It is also traditional for Chinese and classical era ships to have eyes painted on them.

    IRRC 4 RTR tanks carried eyes until the 1980s
  15. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    This paper is about a British military tradition with a Chinese connection. It has taken the author several years of research to dispel the myth that has long shrouded the true origins of a regimental tradition of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment of the British Army. This tradition is a pair of eyes, known as the "Chinese Eyes," painted on the bows or turrets of British tanks from World War I to the present day. As such, the "Chinese Eyes" can be regarded as an intangible heritage expressed on the tangible hardware of the British Army. Using the research methodology for architectural conservation, the author attempts to rediscover obscured historical evidence, using it to chronologically reconstruct the events leading to the creation of this tradition

    The commonly known story of how the "Chinese Eyes" tradition was created is as follows. In early March of 1917, Mr. Eu Tong Sen, a respected Chinese philanthropic businessman based in the British colonial city of Singapore, who was also a Permanent Unofficial Member of the Federal Council of the Malay States, prevailed upon the council to contribute fund towards Britain’s war effort. Part of the fund, worth £6,000, would be used for buying a tank of the latest Mark IV model for the British Army. To honour this special war donation, a pair of eyes was painted onto the bow of the tank, in accordance with the Chinese maritime tradition of painting eyes on the bow of boats as a talisman for safe seafaring. The gesture was intended to be a one-off, but the idea caught on, and it was adopted after the war by successive tank regiments as its unit symbol, and became famously known as the “Chinese Eyes.”
  16. May1940

    May1940 Senior Member


    Going back to your original picture - Eye_on_a_Vickers by Ramiles posted May 28, 2017 - I may have missed it but do you happen to have a date for the photograph?

  17. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Hi Andrew,

    I'm not sure, but I think it was perhaps 1933 or 1934, judging by when he was in the 4th RTR from his records etc.

    I have some pics from the 3RTC also and they appear to be earlier.

    Last edited: Aug 4, 2017
  18. May1940

    May1940 Senior Member

    Thanks. Well that narrows it down and the dates sound right. It would be interesting to see any markings carried by 3 RTC at that time.

  19. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    I also recently saw this online Bovington example:


    With the text including:

    "THIS VEHICLE: was delivered in March 1940, making it one of the last 19 to be delivered. While 97 Matilda Is were in France, this vehicle stayed in Britain. Given production through August, 42 Matilda Is should have survived in British hands, although at least one was probably sent to each of Egypt and Poland. In any case, only 27 were serving with 1st Tank Brigade as of February 1941, shortly before complete displacement by Matilda II and Valentine infantry tanks. This vehicle went to the School of Tank Technology, before transfer to the Tank Museum in 1949. In the 1980s, it was restored to running order, but thereafter exchanged tracks with E1993.184, which was maintained as the only running Matilda I. It has been painted to represent a tank in the service of 4th RTR in France, May 1940. The Chinese Eye is a 4th RTR symbol, dating back to World War 1, when a Chinese businessman donated money towards the costs of tanks, and said they needed an eye to see where they were going. “
  20. Mikal

    Mikal Junior Member

    Since it hasn't been posted yet here's the official description from my 4RTR Compendium.

    The Chinese Eye
    In 1918 Mr. Eu Yew Tong Sen OBE, the Chinese member of the Federal Council in Malaya presented the British government with a Mark V Tank. He stipulated that the "Land Ship" should have its own eyes giving effect to the Chinese idea of having their boats and junks painted with two eyes because - "No got eyes, how can see? No can see, how can savee? No can savee, how can chop, chop?" His wishes were complied with and the tank in question was issued to 'D' Battalion, RTC. In commemoration of this generous gift it has been the practice in 4RTR to paint the "eyes" on all fighting vehicles since that time. A picture of the tank presented is in the Regimental Scrap Book. The aluminium master templates of the eyes are held by the Adjutant.
    The Chinese Eye was offically adopted as the Battalion sign by 4th Bn RTC in May, 1923.

    Since then things have changed a bit since the amalgamation of 1 and 4 RTR. The eyes are still in use on 1RTR fighting vehicles but I don't have the current information on the practice

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