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I’ve been doing some work on early American tanks lately, and came up with one that seems to be a bit of a puzzle, at least it seems that various authors are undecided on whether it was the real thing or not. The tank in question was apparently built at the Holt Manufacturing Company’s plant at Stockton, California, and made its first, and probably only, public appearance on 18 April 1918. The occasion was the visit to Stockton, California, by Colonel Ernest Swinton (Major-General in 1919, Sir Ernest from June 1923). Swinton was on a lecture tour of the USA and took time out to visit Stockton, to reinforce his claim to being the inventor of the British tank. While Benjamin Holt wanted his company’s part in the evolution of the tank to be emphasised at the same time, so that in a sense both individuals wanted to use the visit to their own ends, but for different reasons. In this picture (above) Benjamin Holt, looking suitably patriarchal is standing alongside Swinton who is making a proper Charlie of himself by saluting the little tank. Of course whether you regard Swinton as the inventor of the tank or not, the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors certainly didn’t, but as to being the initiator of the idea of the tank, that’s a different matter. Holts also displayed one of their big 75hp tractors which Swinton always claimed had been his initial inspiration for the tank concept, the British Army had used about 1,500 of these during the war but mostly as heavy gun tractors. But to get back to that little tank. Certain authors, who shall remain nameless, seem to regard it as the genuine article since they include it in their catalogues of vehicles, whereas Reynold M. Wik, who wrote a history of Holt tractors, and who ought to know, refers to it as a ‘mock baby tank’. It was apparently powered by a motorcycle engine and had tracks built up from chain with track links made from wooden blocks. It was designed to look like a First World War British tank in miniature and presumably had a crew of just one man, who was very squashed up inside. The guns it mounted were all dummies and would have to be, unless they were served by a crew of very small midgets. One curious thing about it was that when it first appeared, before Colonel Swinton and Benjamin Holt and his assembled staff at the Stockton works, it had the simple word HOLT printed vertically down the side of the left sponson. However when it appeared on another occasion the word HOLT had been replaced by the legend H.A. 36 on the sponson (above) and across the front, which must mean something to somebody, and with the word CATERPILLAR in wavy letters on the side of the hull ahead of the sponson and behind. Now Caterpillar had been a registered trade name used by Holts since before the First World War, so referring to the Holt 75 as a Holt Caterpillar Tractor was perfectly acceptable but in 1925, after Holt amalgamated with Best, it formed the Caterpillar Tractor Company, a name by which it has been known ever since. Whether the little tank survived that long we don’t know, nor what became of it in the end. Maybe it still survives somewhere, even today, and if so this would be the time to bring it out, with 100 years of the tank about to be reached.