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British Industrial History

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Ernest Swinton

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Major-General Sir Ernest Swinton, (1868–1951), army officer and writer

1868 Born in Bangalore, India, the fourth of nine children of Robert Blair Swinton (d. 1912), judge in the Madras civil service, and his wife, Elizabeth Dorothy Rundall.

On his father's retirement, the family returned to England.

After various schools attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.

1888 commissioned in the Royal Engineers

1890 completed the course in military engineering at Chatham.

1897 Married Grace Louisa Clayton

Became assistant instructor in fortification at the school of military engineering, Chatham.

Served in South Africa rebuilding wrecked bridges using an irregular force.

1900 Appointed DSO.

1906 Promoted major

1907 Appointed chief instructor in fortification and geometrical drawing at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.

Advocated the use of new technology on the battlefield, for example, promoting the use of kites for the observation of artillery fire.

WWI Appointed deputy director of railways, British expeditionary force (BEF) but soon Lord Kitchener, the secretary of state for war, appointed him official war correspondent, to counter public complaints about lack of information.

Swinton conceived the idea for an armoured, gun-bearing caterpillar tractor to destroy barbed wire and gun emplacements. On 20 October 1914 he discussed this idea with his erstwhile chief, Maurice Hankey, who agreed that the idea should be pursued but he was not directly connected with the development of the "tank", a name he coined.

1915 Appointed secretary of the Dardanelles committee. In a memorandum he presented early plans for how caterpillar tractors might be employed for destroying machine guns, thereby avoiding costly infantry assaults.

Appointed secretary of the Dardanelles committee but continued to advocate the use of tanks as a side-line.

Gradually his responsibility for the research, invention, and production of tanks was formalized.

1916 Swinton was given the task of recruiting and training for the new tank unit but he was not chosen to lead the tank force in France because of his lack of command experience. Tanks participated in the renewal of the Somme offensive on 15 September 1916 albeit prematurely in Swinton's view.

Appointed assistant military secretary when the war cabinet secretariat was formed in December.

1917 September: he went to the United States as staff officer to Lord Reading's mission, and he accompanied Reading again in February 1918, supporting the Liberty Loan.

1918 After the armistice he was employed at the Ministry of Labour, where he became controller of information and publicity.

1919 retired from the army with the rank of major-general

Controller of information in the civil aviation department of the Air Ministry

1922 he became a director of Citroen-Kegresse Cars Ltd.

1923 he was appointed KBE.

1925 Elected to the Chichele chair of military history and a fellowship of All Souls College, Oxford

1934 Accepted the role of colonel-commandant of the Royal Tank Corps

1951 Died in Oxford

1951 Obituary [1]

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Biography of Sir Ernest Swinton, ODNB