Mole, Lancelot de

SUBJECT AREA: Weapons and armour
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b. 13 March 1880 Adelaide, Australia
d. 6 May 1950 Sydney, Australia
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Australian engineer and early tank designer.
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De Mole's father was an architect and surveyor and he himself followed a similar avenue as a draughtsman working on mining, surveying and engineering projects in Australia. It was in 1911, while surveying in particularly rough terrain in Western Australia, that he first conceived the idea of the tank as a tracked, armoured vehicle capable of traversing the most difficult ground. He drew up detailed plans and submitted them to the War Office in London the following year, but although they were rejected, not all the plans were returned to him. When war broke out in 1914 he tried without success to interest the Australian authorities, even after he had constructed a model at their request. A further blow came in 1916, when the first tanks, built by the British, appeared on the battlefields of France and looked remarkably similar in design to his own. Believing that he could play a significant role in further tank development, but lacking the funds to travel to Britain, de Mole eventually succeeded, after an initial rejection by a medical board, in enlisting in the Australian Army, which got him to England at the beginning of 1918. He immediately took his model to the British Inventions Committee, who were sufficiently impressed to pass it to the Tank Board, who promptly mislaid it for six weeks. Meanwhile, in March 1918, Private de Mole was ordered to France and was unable to take matters further. On his return to England in early 1919 he made a formal claim for a reward for his invention, but this was turned down on the grounds that no direct link could be established between his design and the first tanks that were built. Even so, the Inventions Committee did authorize a sum of money to cover his expenses, and in 1920 de Mole was a made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Returning to Australia, de Mole worked as an engineer in the design branch of the Sydney Water Board. He continued to invent, but none of his designs, which covered a wide range of items, were ever taken up.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
CBE 1920.
Further Reading
Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1918, Vol. 8.
A.J.Smithers, 1986, A New Excalibur: The Development of the Tank 1909–1939, London: Leo Cooper (for illustrations of the model of his tank).
Mention of his invention is made in a number of books on the history of the tank.
CM

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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