The Old Gang

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by von Poop, Mar 18, 2010.

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    The Special Vehicle Development Committee of the Ministry of Supply, perhaps more commonly known as 'The Old Gang'.

    Many are aware of the somewhat bizarre 'ToG' prototype tanks. They're reasonably well covered in books and the Internet, the second type survives at Bovington, and their page on that gives a reasonable rough history of the Committee and it's aims:
    Welcome to the Tank Museum - Home of the Tank - Virtual Museum

    Essentially, they were the men that had developed the first tanks of World War One. By WW2, though they still had much good technical & practical experience left in them, their ideas were largely off-focus. Sir Albert Stern (described by David Fletcher as 'Author of His own legend') used his political connections and personality to persuade the cabinet to allow his legendary group to contribute again, so they were given the status of the special committee.
    The General Staff & Tank Board were less than enamoured of the forceful Stern & his ideas (though he briefly sat on the latter... mostly being ignored), some members of the committee were not exactly enthusiastic participants either; Ricardo & Wilson for instance were still making major contributions to Vehicle Engineering and likely could have done without this distraction. But the committee went ahead nonetheless, and in many ways was treated as a useful vehicle to keep many of these superannuated chaps' noses out of the mainstream business of Armour development, while keeping half an eye out just in case they came up with anything interesting - which in truth, they didn't really.

    This telling exchange from Hansard perhaps underlines how they were perceived in officialdom by 1943, four years after their formation and with still no sign of much more than rather over the top applications of WW1 Concepts:
    TANKS (Hansard, 3 November 1943)
    HC Deb 03 November 1943 vol 393 cc662-4 662

    54. Mr. Stokes asked the Minister of Supply whether it is the policy of his Department now to cease the production of tanks and rely on supplies from the United States of America; and whether any of the experts who constituted the Special Vehicle Development Committee have been consulted as to the design and production of a new tank excelling the German Tiger, both in armour and armament?

    Sir A. Duncan The answer to the first part of the Question is "No, Sir." In this connection I would refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Production to the hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. Hammersley) on 22nd September last. As regards the second part of the Question, individuals who were members of the Special Vehicle Development Committee are consulted in appropriate cases.

    Mr. Stokes May I ask my right hon. Friend to state whether they have in fact been consulted in regard to the construction of a tank of this kind?

    Sir A. Duncan I do not suppose they have been, unless it was appropriate that they should be.

    (As well as that overall dismissiveness, one can't help feeling that the "individuals who were members of the Special Vehicle Development Committee ... consulted in appropriate cases." would likely be purely Wilson & Ricardo, in their more useful capacities regarding Gearboxes & engines; matters they were involved in regardless of their 'old gang' membership. )

    What seems less available on the web, or anywhere else, is a full list of members of the Committee. Whether this is due to a slightly ad-hoc organisation, or the usual sparsity of information on engineering types, we're not sure. So Bod & I thought it might be useful to start getting the members basic info and pictures concentrated in one place on the web (As part of a much bigger attempt to gather stuff on more of the 'backroom boys' of mostly British Tank development).

    So here's The Old Gang, or as many of them as we've so far managed to confirm as core members, with some very brief biographical details. We'll hopefully expand those details as time goes on, but the main aim is to begin concentrating references as Web-stuff on them is so sparse.

    It seems very likely there were others that were in the gang; if all goes well we'll ferret them all out eventually.:

    Sir Albert Gerald Stern
    (1878 – 1966)
    Former Secretary of the Landships committee.
    Operating in the family trade as a banker by WW2, an approach by Leslie Burgin (Minister of Supply) asking for ideas on tank development gave the opening for him to gather his previous group of specialists together in an official capacity.
    His rather self-congratulatory but nonetheless interesting book on WW1 armour development is available for download from the Internet Archive:
    Internet Archive: Free Download: Tanks, 1914-1918; the log-book of a pioneer

    Sir Eustace Tennyson D'Eyncourt
    1st Baronet, BT, KCB, LL.D, D.SC, FRS
    (1 April 1868 – 1 February 1951)

    Director of Naval Construction for the whole of the First War, and significant designer of military ships.
    Former Chairman of the Landships committee.

    Harry Ricardo
    A Giant of British Engineering, and a member of the Gang that still had real contemporary credibility by WW2, having not really slowed down in innovating new engine designs since the First War. Also served on the War Cabinet Engineering Advisory Committee from 1941-1945.
    These sites give more solid info on him and his technical skills than we could hope to compile here:
    The Ricardo Exhibition
    Our History - Ricardo

    Major General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton
    KBE, CB, DSO, RE
    (1868 -1951)
    Inspired by Holt's tractors he can perhaps be credited the most with pushing the idea of the tank forward in WW1. It might be said that the idea would have happened anyway, but without Swinton's initial suggestions regarding the use of a Holt's based machine and the future doctrine of armour it may not have happened so quickly, or in Britain first. He was responsible for training the WW1 Tankies.
    A Civil servant & Oxford Don in the interwar years, he was also Colonel Commandant of the RTC in the immediate pre-war period.

    Sir William Ashbee Tritton
    M.I.Mech.E., J.P.
    (1875 - 1946)
    Officially credited/awarded after WW1 as the joint 'Inventor of the Tank' (With Wilson).
    Chairman & MD of Fosters, he provided an industrial base for the old gang with both of the ToG vehicles being built in their workshops at Lincoln.

    Major Walter Gordon Wilson
    Wilson, Like Ricardo, was still a busy man by WW2. Pioneer of epicyclic transmission, which greatly simplified the steering of early tanks, and the pre-selector system.
    (As David Fletcher refers to in 'The Great Tank Scandal', it's perhaps interesting that the epicyclic system wasn't used in the ToG tanks, a petrol-electric drive being pushed by Stern, who had failed to get that system instituted in the last war. There were still apparently tensions between some of these men regarding old battles)
    He was also the official Joint Inventor of the Tank with Tritton (£15,000 being shared between them in 1919).

    Kenneth Symes
    Landships expert on armour/plate.
    To be honest he seems to be the most elusive core member of the gang to find anything solid on.

    More nuggets should be added as we gather them, hopefully others can help out too.

    ~A & B
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2017
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  2. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Great job, I had never really known who the Gang members were !
  3. Capt.Sensible

    Capt.Sensible Well-Known Member

    Splendid stuff indeed. If you have a list of TOG chaps can you post it up or perhaps email it to individuals at request?

  4. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    This is all we've confirmed so far H.
    There's a few that seem to have been consulted, but it's pretty uncertain to us yet exactly who was officially a member, it seemed unwise to go with chaps we weren't yet sure of.

    They're so often referenced, but rarely in more than a passing way.
    Stern's letters and papers are in the Liddell Hart centre at KCL, I'd guess they'd be the most interesting place to look, both for personal commentary and better information on who was who, but I'm finding it hard enough to get to the NA, let alone another archive.
    LHCMA: Stern catalogue,- STERN: 2 Papers relating to Stern's service with the Special Vehicle Development Committee, Ministry of Supply, 1939-1943

    I've a list of potential NA files relating to them, so at last have a theme to follow if I finally do get there:
    EG: Special Vehicle Development Committee: exploration of possibility of designing and constructing special tankss
  5. Capt.Sensible

    Capt.Sensible Well-Known Member

    Cool. If committee papers survive and they include proper minutes then they should record all those on the committee, attending or not. Might also refer to 'irregulars' brought in to deal/advise on specialist topics. Interesting times.....
  6. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Yeah, so many great minds put together and this was the upshot :glare:

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
  7. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    A thought thrown up by another thread:
    WW2Talk - Tank Parlance
    And this seems a reasonable place to put it.

    Does anyone know the locations of Tritton's & Wilson's graves?
    Presumably the former is in Lincoln somewhere, but a quick Google hasn't got me anywhere yet.
  8. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    VP -
    This is all very interesting as for all the bickering that went on - Tank developement was hampered and untold Tank crews were lost as we were still using pea shooters against 88mm's in 1944 - I can still see our five out of six Churchills blazing away to wrecks by the action of ONE 88mm at a long distance in minutes...
  9. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Tom, I'm not sure that it can be said that the regular tank design channels were in any way hampered by TOG....except for the waste of money! Rather, those channels managed to be quite stultified/ossified all on their very own! :) I think that would be giving the TOG an influence far in excess of anything they ever had :lol:

    Nor did TOG contribute in ANY way to the specific poor armament issue; from Postan -

    Largely the same causes—neglect of design in the twenties and early thirties and inability to sacrifice immediate production—produced in 1941 the notorious crisis in anti-tank and tank guns. It has already been mentioned that the worst deficiency of British tanks revealed by the battles of 1941 was that of firepower. This deficiency was relatively recent. The standard anti-tank weapon installed in the tank at the outbreak of war, the 2-pounder, was at that time superior to the 37-mm. gun carried on German tanks, and acquitted itself very well in the first Libyan campaign. This initial advantage was, however, soon lost: mostly through delays in the supplies of more advanced types and the over-cautious piecemeal advance of the War Office specifications. As mentioned above, by the summer of 1940 the Germans were known to be developing a new tank gun of 50 mm. with greater range and penetrative power than that of the British 2-pounder. The British reply to that gun was the 6-pounder, but unfortunately the reply was not made early enough.

    The British 6-pounder gun was a weapon of pre-war conception. It had apparently been discussed in the War Office in April 1938, but the design was not pursued owing to the urgency of other design work. The matter was taken up again in the summer of 1939. On 30th June the D.C.I.G.S. put forward a provisional specification for a new 6-pounder tank gun and a corresponding design was produced by the Director of Artillery without much delay. A complete 6-pounder anti-tank equipment was available for trials in the spring of 1940, and on 10th June the Ministry of Supply asked the War Office to agree to an order for 400 6-pounder guns Yet although on 20th June the General Staff reaffirmed its desire for a more powerful gun than the 2-pounder, the order for the 400 guns was not forthcoming. In August the War Office notified the Ministry of Supply that the number of 6-pounder guns was to be governed by the effect on 2-pounder production, which was poor. This turned out to be the crucial issue in the evolution of the problem. An earlier order for a few pilot models was now increased to fifty in order to get production under way, and in December 1940 the Ministry of Supply, on its own initiative, though in agreement with the War Office, increased the order from fifty to 500. The War Office, however, was still anxious not to prejudice the prospective output of 2-pounders through increased orders for the 6-pounder. It had been informed that the production of 100 complete 6-pounders in the year would entail a loss of 600 2-pounders. The alternative was presented to the Defence Committee (Supply) which discussed it in February 1941 and decided that a diversion of capacity from 2-pounders to 6-pounders could not be afforded and that the urgently necessary acceleration of 6-pounder production must at the outset be solely from new capacity. This was in fact the decision which the Ministry of Supply had itself taken in August 1940 in response to the War Office view that the number of 6-pounder guns was to be governed by the effect on 2-pounder production. The subsequent production of the gun was thus entirely dependent upon new capacity coming into production. The first guns in any quantity were turned out in November 1941 when thirty-two were produced: 146 came out in December, and 341 in January 1942. The output in May 1942 rose to 1,517.

    The installation of the 6-pounder gun on tanks could not therefore effectively begin until the spring of 1942, and in its anti-tank role the gun appeared in the Desert in time to contribute to the turn of fortunate there in the autumn of that year. As soon as supplies of the gun were available it was installed in the Crusader and Churchill tanks. In 1943 it was installed also in the Cromwell, and in that year about eighty percent of all tanks produced in the United Kingdom were equipped with the 6-pounder

    The British Army was forced to soldier on with pop guns for a whole separate set of reasons that it took the politicos and bean-counters too long to overcome :mad:
  10. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    VP, are you aware that David Fletcher penned an article aboput the TOG for CMV last month?
  11. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    I don't know if anyone is interested in this - as VP said the TOG is well covered in books - but here is an at-the-time report about the TOG I found in the Canadian archives.

    VP, if you'd rather keep this thread about the men involved, I could delete these and repost in a separate thread.



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  12. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Great stuff.
    "They and their associates, calling themselves 'The old group'" an interesting quote.
    Proves nothing, but entertaining to speculate when, or even if, the group became a gang, or vice versa.
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  13. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Yes, I wondered about that too!
  14. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    Albert Stern was a crony of two inveterate pests called Richard Stokes and Samuel Hammersley, who were both MP's and persistent critics of the Tank Programme. My take on the TOG, though I can't (be bothered to) prove it, is that it was kept going just to keep Stern occupied so that he hopefully wouldn't cause too much mischief. He was a bit like the Ministry of Supply's equivalent of Mrs. Rochester stuffed in the attic. Oliver Lucas, who was head of tank development, couldn't believe it in late 1942 when he was told that Stern was still at the Ministry of Supply, as he had ordered his firing a year earlier.

    The parliamentary criticisms and publicity stunts enacted by Stokes and Hamnmersley (e.g. displaying a Tiger outside Parliament) were generally undertaken in the service of Stern, rather than in the interests of producing better tanks.
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  15. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Don't think that's a controversial view of TOG at all, DJ.
    Something to distract those that seem to wander into Churchill etc's development stories and throw the occasional pointless spanner in the works, with little more justification for their presence than who they knew
    Always assumed collective sighs of relief all around among the new breed as they were given a distracting project to dream on.
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  16. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Splendid bit of IWM film spotted by a chap on Twatter (@ChurchillMKIII )
    TOG I & II in action.
    IWM Film - Record

    Wonder how much is left inside II at Bovington.
    Wouldn't that be a lovely restoration...
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  17. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    And via the same chap, it seems there is a book in the works:
    DKIwngwWAAAPSds.jpg large.jpg
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  18. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

  19. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

  20. Richelieu

    Richelieu Well-Known Member

    Among Lord Hankey’s papers held at TNA there are four files that may be of interest – all currently free to download. The later files include some interesting information about the Churchill’s growing pains.

    CAB 63/163 Copy correspondence and memoranda relating to Sir Albert Stern and his proposals for building a "super heavy tank", July 1939 to March 1940.
    CAB 63/164 Design and production of heavy tanks, July to November 1941.
    CAB 63/165 Design and production of heavy tanks, December 1941.
    CAB 63/166 Design and production of heavy tanks, January to February 1942.
    Symes is primarily an authority on armour plate. During the last war he was responsible for the armouring of our tanks, but he also played a very important part in the organisation generally and was Stern’s right hand man. He was a member of the S.V.D. Committee during the early part of this war but left the Committee in order to assist D.T.D. (Durrant’s Dept.) at Egham, over the question of armour and gun mountings generally – in particular over turrets and gun mountings for the 6 pounder – but could get nothing done for lack of decisions from higher quarters. Letter from Ricardo to Hankey, 11/12/1941. CAB 63/165.
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2018
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