“FOLLOW THE SAPPER” – BAE SHOWS OFF ITS NEW ENGINEERING VEHICLES
By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE
03 Nov 06. BAE SYSTEMS launched its new range of engineering vehicles Trojan and Titan to an international audience at Bovingdon last week. These engineering marvels, developed and built in seven years are the first new heavy armoured vehicles in the British Army’s inventory for twenty years.
The Royal Engineers are receiving 66 of these “state of the art” battlefield engineering vehicles under a £250m contract with BAE Systems Land Systems. The combined capability of TROJAN and TITAN can overcome almost every obstacle on the modern battlefield – from breaching minefields to crossing gaps such as rivers and chasms.
Brigadier Sexton, the Army’s Engineer-in-Chief outlined the clear need to replace his ageing 40 year old fleet of mainly Centurion-based Engineer tanks built in the sixties and now suffering huge reliability and maintainability problems.
“The first Gulf War showed up our existing fleet after we lost two Centurion tanks in the first day. We had taken a fleet of Centurions and Chieftains AVLB and a home-made Chieftain AVRE, known as the Antiques Roadshow! We had to send back to a museum in the U.K. for a new gun sight and gave the contract for cleaning the barrels to a chimney sweep! Here you see today are the fruits of our endeavours to produce a fleet of tanks that can keep up and support our Challenger 2 fleet of Main battle Tanks. It is entirely due to the support and close working arrangement of the DPA IPT, BAE SYSTEMS and the British Army that we have these magnificent vehicles in service and on time today. Given their speed I should remind the audience of the saying in the Crimea ‘Follow the Sapper’, a saying that will no doubt be repeated soon.”
“It is worth giving a brief background to the development of tanks and of Engineer tanks since their development during the First World War. Colonel Ernest Swinton, a sapper, was the first person to see the huge need for tanks in World War I,” he continued
In August 1914 the British government established the War Office Press Bureau under F. E. Smith. The idea was this organisation would censor news and telegraphic reports from the British Army and then issue it to the press. Lord Kitchener decided to appoint Swinton to become the British Army’s official journalist on the Western Front. Using the pseudonym, Eyewitness, Swinton was instructed to write articles about what was happening on the front-line. Swinton’s reports were first censored at G.H.Q. in France and then personally vetted by Kitchener before being released to the press.
Swinton worked to strict guidelines. He was not allowed to mention place names or soldiers’ battalions, brigades and divisions. Swinton was told that no article could be passed for publication if it indicated that he had seen what he had written about. He was also instructed to write about “what he thought was true, not what he knew to be true”.
When observing early battles where machine-gunners were able to kill thousands of infantryman advancing towards enemy trenches, Swinton wrote that a “petrol tractors on the caterpillar principle and armoured with hardened steel plates” would be able to counteract the machine-gunner.
Swinton’s proposal that the British Army should build what he called a tank were rejected by General Sir John French and his scientific advisers. Unwilling to accept defeat, Swinton contacted Colonel Maurice Hankey who took the idea to Winston Churchill, the navy minister. Churchill was impressed by Swinton’s views and in February 1915, he set up a Landships Committee to look in more detail at the proposal to develop a new war machine.
The Landships Committee and the newly-formed Inventions Committee agreed with Swinton’s proposal and drew up specifications for this new machine. This included: (1) a top speed of 4 mph on flat ground; (2) the capability of a sharp turn at top spee