Military-Grade Awesome, Moments in History

The First Armored Motorized Military Vehicle

Surprise: It’s steam powered!

Steam powered traction engines (rail or road based) were invented shortly before the American Civil War. After we were done shooting each other, they really started to gain in popularity. Road based engines could tow several cars full of stuff at up to 10 mph. Not exactly blazing fast, but faster than animals could go.

Then Britain got into a shooting war in South Africa. The Brits started buying up every traction engine they could find to move men and supplies around the unimproved areas of South Africa. The Boers, being kind of smart, started shooting at these supply trains, which meant Britain had to divert troops to protecting their cargo.

Enter John Fowler and Company, of Leeds, England. The British military turned to Mr. Fowler to build them a fleet (of 3 by the time the Boer War was over) of armored steam traction engines for use in the Boer War. Called the Fowler B.5 Armored Road Tractor, it had a 20 hp steam engine surrounded by an armored shell to protect it and the crew. It weight 15 tons with armor, and could go 10 mph on level, improved roads or about half that across fields or unimproved roads. Its range and reach was only limited by how much coal and boiler water it could carry or could be delivered to it.

In the name of continuous improvement, it wouldn’t be long (WW I, in fact) until militaries across the globe started putting guns and tracks on their armored steam traction engines, creating the first tank concepts.

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