Jump to content
JKB01

WW1 Tank engines.

Recommended Posts

I recently attended a lecture by a friend who’s been researching the Ricardo-designed petrol engines used in British WW1 tanks. They’re fascinating things in their own right, but I’m particularly interested as they were built, amongst other places, at the Mirrlees Bickerton & Day factory in Stockport where I used to work. It seems they had at least one tank as a test vehicle that used to roam the surrounding fields that later became a golf course.

Some friends of mine would like to acquire a complete Ricardo tank engine and one of them has written a summary of the five engine types to help locate and identify possible candidates. He’s agreed that I can reproduce it here in case anyone has a surplus engine lying around. Unlikely, I know, but unless you ask, you’ll never know....

 

It is known that in addition to those used in tanks many were used throughout the 1920s for various applications including generating sets, power for various agricultural implements (e.g. Fowler Gyrotiller) and for light locomotives. Peter Brotherhood listed the Ricardo engine ranges for sale as part of its product range in the immediate post war period and also produced around 300 tractors using the 150 BHP engine which were mainly sold for use in Australia and New Zealand.

 

The knowledge base concerning these engines is gradually increasing as more information comes to light from various sources. One key difficulty is that unlike the first Ricardo design rated at 150 BHP, later designs appear to be devoid of much in the way of manufacturer identity. The first design had the makers name, e.g. “Mirrlees Bickerton & Day” or “Brotherhood” clearly cast into the sides of the bedplate. We don’t know how many names actually appeared, as some of the smaller makers may have received ready finished bits to assemble. This means that describing the engine range is difficult when trying to locate other remaining examples around the world. The five designs in the range can be described as follows and are illustrated by the five photos below in the same order:

 

1) 150 BHP 6 cylinder ‘heavy’ engine

This was by far the most common engine in the series with cast iron major components and most if not all have the manufacturer’s name cast into the bedplate which is visible in the side view of the engine

 

2) 100 BHP 4 cylinder engine

This derivative of the original design was not produced in huge numbers before the war ended. The example shown below was installed into an agricultural unit by Fowlers of Leeds and is now on display at the Leeds Industrial museum in Armley.

 

3) 300 BHP V12 engine

This engine was produced as a means of extracting twice the power for later tank designs fitted with armour plating and like the 4 cylinder was not produced in large numbers before the war ended.

 

4) 225 BHP 6 cylinder engine

This engine was a development of the original 150 BHP with quite a lot of design changes and was produced in reasonable numbers towards the end of WWI. We believe this engine may have TS4 included in the number stamped on the side of the engine but no clues on the manufacturer. There is a beautifully restored example of this type built as a generating set in an Auckland museum, see photo. below.

 

5) 150 BHP 6 cylinder ‘light’ engine

This variant was a lighter version of the 150 BHP design using aluminium major components but retaining many running parts of the original design. The photograph shown below was only recently discovered showing the aluminium light 6 cylinder on a test bed at the Mirrlees works in early 1919.

 

Ricardo 5.jpg

Ricardo 1.jpg

Ricardo 2.jpg

Ricardo 3.jpg

Ricardo 4.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wonder how many JKBs worked at Mirrlees?

 

There is a sectioned engine at Bovington, but you presumably know that. It appears to be a rather unusual crosshead type engine. Do you know if the area under the piston had a function as a pump or anything?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello Andy :o)

Only one JKB at Mirrlees as far as I know, fortunately for everyone else who worked there.

The sectioned engine is now out on loan to the Anson Museum, I gave it a good coat of looking-at after the lecture. They have two sectioned engines in fact, possibly both from Bovington, it's thought they might have been prepared as a training aid but I don't think anyone knows for certain.

You're right about the peculiar arrangement below the piston, I've never seen anything like it elsewhere. It reminds me of the sort of thing you see on two-strokes, although the engine is definitely a four stroke. As I understand it, one of the problems with the Daimler engines used in the very earliest tanks was that they smoked like the devil and the enemy could see them coming from miles away by the plume of exhaust smoke they were puthering out. The Ricardo engine seems to have addressed this by improving the engine breathing, hence the strange quasi-crosshead design, and by improvements to the piston rings to reduce the amount of blow-by.

I'd need to run all this past the chap who's doing the research, but this is the impression I gained from his lecture.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are good photos of these engines on the IWM website. Type in 'Collections' then in the search box; Ricardo tank engine.

An interesting topic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Regards the unusual piece below the piston. Is there a photo of this available?

On a smaller scale the David Brown 2D cultivating toolbar tractor has a third cylinder underneath the crank shaft. This is designed as a balancing aid for the two cylinder engine to run more smoothly. There is no power produced from that lower piston.

Could this be the same form?

Doug

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
There are good photos of these engines on the IWM website. Type in 'Collections' then in the search box; Ricardo tank engine.

An interesting topic.

 

Thanks Bob, I've had a good look around there, some very interesting stuff.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Regards the unusual piece below the piston. Is there a photo of this available?

On a smaller scale the David Brown 2D cultivating toolbar tractor has a third cylinder underneath the crank shaft. This is designed as a balancing aid for the two cylinder engine to run more smoothly. There is no power produced from that lower piston.

Could this be the same form?

Doug

 

Hello Doug:

I don't have any photo's of my own of the relevant area of the piston at the moment, although I could try to get some if it would help. In my reply to Andy earlier, I referred to the "quasi-crosshead" design, it looks as though Ricardo himself referred to it as a crosshead, so I should have left it at that.

There are some pictures of sectioned engines on the IWM site here, which give a better idea of the engine arrangement and the piston in particular:

http://bonesgarage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/RicardoPiston.jpg

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205249676

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205249675

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Rows of 300 horsepower Ricardo tank engines in a workshop of Crossley Bros Manchester, during th.jpg

Rows of 300 horsepower Ricardo tank engines in a workshop of Crossley Bros, Manchester, during the First World War. - Year: 1914-1918

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
....the peculiar arrangement below the piston, I've never seen anything like it elsewhere. It reminds me of the sort of thing you see on two-strokes, although the engine is definitely a four stroke. As I understand it, one of the problems with the Daimler engines used in the very earliest tanks was that they smoked like the devil and the enemy could see them coming from miles away by the plume of exhaust smoke they were puthering out. The Ricardo engine seems to have addressed this by improving the engine breathing, hence the strange quasi-crosshead design, and by improvements to the piston rings to reduce the amount of blow-by.

Sleeve valve engines were inherently smoky anyway, so merely changing to a poppet valved engine would have been likely to have improved matters considerably.....

Having studied a number of cutaway photographs, it appears that the function of the Ricardo crosshead piston was to reduce piston ring leakage (and hence oil-burning), by relieving the piston rings of the side thrust loading associated with conventional engines. With the Ricardo design, the "lower piston" could be made to bear the side thrust loads, allowing the rings in the "upper piston" to be optimised for sealing.

Edited by mtskull

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sleeve valve engines were inherently smoky anyway, so merely changing to a poppet valved engine would have been likely to have improved matters considerably.....

Having studied a number of cutaway photographs, it appears that the function of the Ricardo crosshead piston was to reduce piston ring leakage (and hence oil-burning), by relieving the piston rings of the side thrust loading associated with conventional engines. With the Ricardo design, the "lower piston" could be made to bear the side thrust loads, allowing the rings in the "upper piston" to be optimised for sealing.

 

I'm sure this is one of the functions of the design, but given the holes in the crosshead portion and the cast passageways in the crankcase I'm equally sure there's more going on to do with engine breathing as well. Perhaps this is a means of scavenging the crankcase, but this might promote oil burning in the cylinder rather than reduce it.

Another interesting aspect of the design was the "barking dog" problem that afflicted the early engines. This intermittent and alarming noise turned out to be due to blowby past the rings, and was eventually resolved by optimising the ring clearances and ensuring that there was sufficient gas pressure behind the rings to ensure an effective seal.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Those photos of the cut away engine show what you were referring to. I was totally side tracked.

Interesting your reference to these engines being exported in numbers to Australia and NZ. I have not seen any and a conversation with a tractor collector comes up the same.

It would be interesting to see one and hear one going especially the v12. What was the sound pattern produced.

Doug

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I photographed the engine on the attached photograph in MOTAT in Auckland NZ 2012 if its of any interest although I doubt they would want to sell it but who knows. it was in one of the shed around the back that mainly held rail items

 

 

IMG_0586.jpg

IMG_0585.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The device under the piston, is doing two to three things as far as I can tell, one it holds the main crosshead pin and piston in position, it is acting as a type of stuffing box and skirt, and the holes are either lightening holes, lubrication or drain.

 

A modern crosshead engine, runs on guides were the crosshead is individually fed lube oil at a higher pressure that the rest of the lube oil system.

 

If you look at a Marine diesel two stroke, it will give an idea what a stuffing box is, (basically a gland box) its to stop any oil being drawn up and to stop any products of combustion entering the crankcase, also to separate the scavenge space from the crank case ( to stop the crankcase from pressurising).

Edited by bigduke6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

With the pitching of early tanks as they crossed trenches, assuming they were conventional wet sump types, there would be oil splashed up bores when the tank was at large angles of pitch. The designers could have had this in mind to hold back excess oil from the bores.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I photographed the engine on the attached photograph in MOTAT in Auckland NZ 2012 if its of any interest although I doubt they would want to sell it but who knows. it was in one of the shed around the back that mainly held rail items

 

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]119644[/ATTACH][ATTACH=CONFIG]119645[/ATTACH]

 

One of the pictures with my original post, the engine painted black and hooked up to an alternator, is said to be at a museum in Auckland, so I strongly suspect this is the one shown in your photographs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Those photos of the cut away engine show what you were referring to. I was totally side tracked.

Interesting your reference to these engines being exported in numbers to Australia and NZ. I have not seen any and a conversation with a tractor collector comes up the same.

It would be interesting to see one and hear one going especially the v12. What was the sound pattern produced.

Doug

 

The reference to exports to Australia and New Zealand was in connection with tractors built by Peter Brotherhood Ltd. A quick poke around the web has produced plenty of references to 'Peterbro' tractors, and although most of them have Ricardo engines, these are a later design and a lower horsepower than the tank engines. Likewise with the Fowler Gyrotiller, plenty of stuff on them but all with different engines, mainly MAN diesels.

One of the design defects with the tank engine was a tendency to bearing failures as the large ends and mains were too narrow and required frequent regrinding. As the engines will now be around a century old, this might go some way to explaining why so few survive.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the design defects with the tank engine was a tendency to bearing failures as the large ends and mains were too narrow and required frequent regrinding. As the engines will now be around a century old, this might go some way to explaining why so few survive.

 

This could also be attributed to oil starvation and what I mentioned in a previous post, working through various angles and oil pickup pipe drawing air at angles of inclination. Either a floating pick-up or a dry sump lubrication system might have benefitted, but the designers were on a steep learning curve at the time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This could also be attributed to oil starvation and what I mentioned in a previous post, working through various angles and oil pickup pipe drawing air at angles of inclination. Either a floating pick-up or a dry sump lubrication system might have benefitted, but the designers were on a steep learning curve at the time.

 

I'm sure you're right; a relatively shallow wet sump and the sort of angles His Majesty's Land Ships operated at doesn't sound like a good combination. I have, however, seen a comment attributed to Harry Ricardo in which he admits the narrowness of the main and large end bearings was a mistake and affected the engines' reliability. Of course I can't find it now.....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Interesting your reference to these engines being exported in numbers to Australia and NZ. I have not seen any and a conversation with a tractor collector comes up the same.

 

Hello Doug: I've done a bit more digging, and the reference to Peter Brotherhood tractors came from an employee of the modern Peter Brotherhood company. I suspect he _may_ have confused the 30 BHP Ricardo petrol/paraffin engines fitted to the "Peterbro" tractors exported to Australia and NZ with the bigger Ricardo petrol engines fitted to the tanks. For what it's worth, searching the web for Peter Brotherhood tractors brings up plenty of references to the 30 BHP jobs but none at all with the larger engines.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That makes sense. Still the Peterbro tractors are not common by any means.

Doug

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...