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Major Walter Gordon Wilson (1874–1957) was an engineer and member of the British Royal Naval Air Service. He was credited by the 1919 Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors as the co-inventor of the tank, along with Sir William Tritton.[1]

Walter was born in Blackrock, County Dublin on 21 April 1874. He was a naval cadet on HMS Britannia. In 1894 he entered King's College, Cambridge, where he studied the mechanical sciences tripos, graduating Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in 1897.[2]

Interested in powered flight he collaborated with Percy Pilcher and the Hon Adrian Verney-Cave (heir to the 5th Lord Braye) to attempt to make an aero-engine from 1898. After Pilcher was killed in a gliding accident, Wilson built the Wilson–Pilcher motor car which used epicyclic gears. After marrying, he joined Armstrong-Whitworth to design their car. This was followed by a lorry for the Hall Company of Dartford.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Wilson rejoined the navy and the Royal Navy Armoured Car Division, which protected the RNAS in France. When the Admiralty began investigating armoured fighting vehicles under the Landships Committee in 1915, 20 Squadron with Wilson was assigned to the experiments.

He transferred to the British Army in 1916 becoming a Major in the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps - the embryonic Tank Corps. He was mentioned in dispatches twice and was appointed companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1917.

Designing several of the early British tanks, he incorporated epicyclic gearing which was used in the Mark V tank to give it one person steering rather than the 4 previously needed.

In 1928 he invented the Preselector gearbox, and formed Improved Gears Ltd with J D Siddeley to develop the design commercially. Improved Gears later became Self-Changing Gears Ltd, which was later taken over by British Leyland Motor Corporation

His work on gears was used in many British tank designs.


  1. Bovington Tank Museum
  2. Wilson, Walter Gordon in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.

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