Formerly at HMS Excellent but now in the Tank Museum, Bovington
Tank Mk. IV
The Heavy Tank Mark IV No 2324 (Training No 102) was built by the Metropolitan Carriage and Finance Company of Birmingham in 1917. Tank 2324 was used on Tank Corps training duties at Bovington, Wareham, and Lulworth from 1917 to 1919. The Army built these monsters, which were known as "Male" or "Female" tanks. With the male armed with a heavy 6pdr gun, and the female with a maxim machine gun. The biggest problem facing the Army's Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Company, was to fire these guns from a rolling pitching tank. Therefore, what was more natural than for their Lordships to refer the matter to HMS EXCELLENT, where a moving platform was built which could pitch and roll. Thus commenced the training between April 1916 and late 1917, of 2416 gunners of the Heavy Section and Heavy Branch MGC, (which was to subsequently become the Tank Corps and later the Royal Tank Regiment) in firing the 6pdr from a moving platform.
On the 1st of May 1919, the then Tank Corps Training Centre Bovington presented HMS EXCELLENT with WWI male tank Mk IV No 2324, in appreciation of the Royal Navy's Training in 1916/1917. It was placed on a concrete plinth overlooking the parade ground and emblazoned on its side its new name "EXCELLENT"
In 1940, a young Subaltern in the RASC by the name Alex Menhinnick, was sent to EXCELLENT with a small contingent of soldiers after Dunkirk. Within a matter of days he found the Whale Island tank. Having a passion for machinery, and no desire to return to the Army, he reported to Captain Brind, the Commanding Officer of HMS EXCELLENT, and convinced him that he could get the tank to work. Having obtained permission, he set to on what was considered to be an impossible task of restoration from twenty motionless years to operational readiness.
The engine had to be rebuilt, which was made possible by stripping selected spare parts from another WWI Tank which stood as a war memorial on Southsea Common. After weeks of hard work the engine was made serviceable. The great day arrived, and with uncertainty on how to actually drive the tank, ,and with the Commanding Officer and staff all watching, the engine was started up, and with the grinding of gears and much black smoke, the tank was driven off its concrete base. With the Commanding Officers approval the tank was brought into full fighting trim. Two 6pdr guns and ammunition plus two Lewis guns, (to be mounted on the stern as AA guns) were obtained from Priddys Hard. Thus restored the tank became operational in the RN battalion allocated to the defence of Portsmouth. Driven out of Whale Island each morning, with its RN crew the white ensign flying - and much black smoke - it would travel to Southsea Common and back. Eventually after a number of breakdowns and with more modern weapons coming on stream, the tank was again placed back on its concrete base in honourable retirement.
From 1942 to 1971, No 2324 lay at rest. Service in two World Wars is enough for even the most hardened campaigners. But unlike the legendary old soldiers, No 2324 was not destined to fade away.
In 1969, under Engineer Lieutenant D A Ward RN, work began again to reverse the ravages of time and weather. With the hull newly painted, the transmission components in good condition, but the engine in pieces in Whale Island Workshops, prospects of completion faded from pressure of other work and possible reorganization. The decision was then taken by Captain P D Nichol RN, Commanding Officer of HMS EXCELLENT in 1971, to present the tank back to the RAC Centre as the best way in which it could be preserved for the future. In this way Excellent was sent to 18 Command Workshop REME in Bovington Camp, in several packing cases on an Antar. By the autumn of 1974, after a vast amount of work, the engine was running and the RAC Museum had provided two 6pdr guns. Excellent moved again for the first time since 1942 under its own power out of the Tank Workshop. A final coat of paint completed a first class job of restoration to its original running condition.
On May the 29 1975,.the official handing over ceremony took place. Excellent was drawn up outside the Armour School accompanied by a Chieftain tank. Many dignitaries from both the Royal Navy and Army were assembled. Captain M C N Manserg RN, Commanding Officer of HMS EXCELLENT spoke of the sadness at the departure of the tank from Whale Island. His handover was completed when he invited Brigadier RMF Redgrave, M C.Commandant RAC Centre, to sign the Rate Book in which the tank was listed correctly at two thirds of its original cost (£3333.33). The crew of the Excellent were selected from the Leadership School at HMS EXCELLENT, with their instructor CPO Garfoot. The Excellent crew - dressed in original 1914/18 uniforms - started the engine , and the two tanks drove past the saluting base to the strains of Hearts of Oak and My Boy Willie, played by the Band of the RAC Junior Leaders. The White Ensign flying from Excellent was dipped, and the ceremony completed. Today EXCELLENT still has pride of place at the Tank Museum at Bovington.
Lieutenant Commander Brian Witts, MBE Curator HMS Excellent Museum
See Tank Mk. IV No. 2324 at Bovington Tank Museum
Correspondent James H Reeve points out that "The Mk IV Male actually carried two 6pdrs and three Lewis or Hotchkiss (not Maxim) machine guns, and the Mk IV Female carried five Lewis or Hotchkiss.....the tank as first presented to Excellent would have been the standard Mud Brown. It would appear that when it was put back into service in 1940, someone decided to repaint it in WWII black and green camouflage. Whether it was restored to the original brown in 1969 or 1974 isn't clear at present"