The Boirault machine, was an early French experimental land ship, designed in 1914 and built in early 1915. It has been considered as “another interesting ancestor of the tank”, and described as a “rhomboid-shaped skeleton tank without armour, with single overhead track”. Ultimately, the machine was deemed impractical and was nicknamed Diplodocus militaris.
Louis Boirault History :
It preceded the design and development of the English Little Willie tank by six months. The design, made by French engineer Louis Boirault, was presented to the French War Ministry in late 1914 and was ordered for construction in January 1915, the prototype being ready for trials in May. It was an impressive contraption, 8m long, 3m wide and 4m tall, weighing an astonishing 30t and was manned by a crew of 2. The immobility of the trench warfare characterizing the First World War led to a need for a powerfully armed military engine that would be at the same time protected from enemy fire and could move on the extremely irregular terrain of battlefields. The objective of the machine was flattening barbed wire defences and riding over gaps in a battlefield. The machine was made of huge parallel tracks, formed by six 4×3 meter metallic frames, each with four transverse beams, so that it could also be described as a single track covering the entire width of the vehicle, rotating around a triangular motorized center, and driven via chains and rods by a 80 hp petrol engine.
Louis Boirault Machine Prototype Version 2 :
Boirault Machine Prototype No 2 was designed after the French Military Commission started actively searching for a tank design in late 1915. After the first project was abandoned, Mr. Boirault designed a much smaller and more compact version of the Boirault Machine. This land vehicle was based on the Prototype 1, and was improved upon by armoring the driving, and motor department, and installing a simple form of a steering control. Boirault Machine No 2 still ran on six metal frames sliding on a main core chassis. Speed was dramatically slower than the first vehicle, with a top speed of 1 kph. It would navigate through rough terrain, crush barbed wire, and pass across a 6ft wide trench. But due to it’s slow speed and 100 meter turning radius, the design was stopped in its tracks. There were plans to fit machine guns to the sides, where the doors were located, in the fashion of the rotating Schneider machine guns.
Louis Boirault Fate :
The project was actually abandoned, as regular tanks were being developed. A few months before, in October 1914, the French arms manufacturer Schneider & Co. had already sent out its chief designer, Eugène Brillié, to investigate tracked tractors from the American Holt Company, at that time participating in a test programme in England. This Schneider program was met with approval by the French War Ministry and was merged with the Estienne plan, and a production order of 400 Schneider CA1, the first French tank to see the battlefield, was made on 25 February 1916.
Louis Boirault Specifications :
Weight: 30 tons
Length: 8.00 m
Width: 3.00 m
Height: 4.00 m
Armour: 16 mm Front / 12 mm Sides / 8 mm Roof
Main armament: Two 6-pounder (57-mm)
Engine: 80 horsepower petrol engine
Range: 45 mi (72 km)
Speed: 3 mph (5.0 km/h)