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Lieutenant-General Sir Giffard Le Quesne Martel KCB KBE DSO MC MIMechE (10 October 1889 – 3 September 1958) was a British Army officer who served in both the First and Second World Wars. Familiarly known as "Q Martel" or just "Q", he was a pioneering British military engineer and tank strategist.

Lieutenant-General Sir

Giffard Le Quesne Martel

Sir Giffard Le Quesne Martel.jpg
Martel in 1942.
Born10 October 1889[1]
Millbrook, Southampton, Hampshire, England
Died3 September 1958 (aged 68)
Camberley, Surrey, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1908–1945
Service number6628
UnitRoyal Engineers
Royal Tank Regiment
Commands held50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division
Battles/warsFirst World War
Second World War
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross


Early life and military careerEdit

He was the son of Brigadier-General Charles Philip Martel who was Chief Superintendent of Ordnance Factories. He married Maud Mackenzie on 29 July 1922 and they had two children, a son, Major Peter Martel, MC, born 1923 and a daughter, Gillian, born 1925.

Martel entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in 1908 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the British Army's Royal Engineers on 23 July 1909.[2] Martel was instrumental in the establishment of The Royal Navy and Army Boxing Association in 1911[3] and was Army and Inter Services boxing champion both before and after World War I.[4]

First World WarEdit

In 1916, as a sapper officer with direct experience of the first British use of tanks on the Somme, Martel was put in charge of recreating a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) wide replica of the British and German trench systems, complete with no man's land, at Elveden, Norfolk, as part of a tank training ground.[5]

There he developed a keen interest in tank theory believing them to be the future of warfare and in November 1916 he wrote a paper, A Tank Army, suggesting an army composed entirely of armoured vehicles. As J. F. C. Fuller's GSO3 the wide-ranging ideas set out in this paper profoundly influenced Fuller's thinking which at the time simply regarded the tank as no more than a useful adjunct to infantry on the battlefield.[6] Martel was also interested in the construction of wire net roads as deployed in the British Army's 1917–1918 campaign in the Sinai and Palestine and their use in supporting tracked vehicles.[7]

In late 1916, Martel was on Hugh Elles' staff at Bermicourt in France assisting Fuller on the operational planning[8] that culminated in the British tank tactics employed at the Battle of Cambrai.

In addition to his MC (1915) and DSO (1916), in the course of the war Martel was mentioned in dispatches five times.[9]


In 1919, now a Major, Martel was able to combine his two interests of tanks and military bridging when he became head of the Experimental Bridging Establishment at Christchurch, Hampshire,[10] which researched the possibilities of using tanks for battlefield engineering purposes such as bridge-laying and mine-clearing. Here he continued trials on modified Mark V tanks. The bridging component involved an assault bridge, designed by Major Charles Inglis RE, the Canal Lock Bridge, which had sufficient length to span a canal lock. Major Martel mated the bridge with the tank and used hydraulic power generated by the tank's engine to manoeuvre the bridge into place. For mine clearance the tanks were equipped with 2-ton rollers.

Martel also developed his new bridging concept at the EBE, the Martel bridge, a modular box girder bridge suitable for military applications. The Martel bridge was adopted by the British Army in 1925 as the Large Box Girder Bridge.[11] A scaled down version of this design, the Small Box Girder Bridge, was also formally adopted by the Army in 1932. This latter design was copied by many countries, including Germany, who called their version the Kastenrager-Great (K-Great for short).[11] The United States was another country whose army created their own copy, designating it the H-20. The modular construction of the basic Martel bridge was also used for the Bailey bridge. In 1954, the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors awarded Martel £500 for infringement on the design of his bridge by the designer of the Bailey bridge, Donald Bailey.[12]

Martel also continued to pursue his interest in tanks independently. In 1925 he built, in his own garage, a one-man tankette powered by a car engine and capable of a speed of 15 mph.[13] After a demonstration to the War Office, Morris Commercial Motors was contracted to build four test models, the first of which was delivered in 1926. And as a result of the publicity, Carden Loyd Tractors built a similar one-man machine, the Carden Loyd One Man Tankette.[14]

In 1927, eight more Martel tankettes were ordered to assess their potential role in forward reconnaissance. They were tested along with two-man Carden Loyd tankettes in manoeuvres with the Experimental Mechanized Force on Salisbury Plain in 1927 and 1928[15] when Martel was commanding officer of a company of Royal Engineers stationed there.

The idea for a single-man fighting vehicle was soon dropped as it became apparent that one operator could not control the vehicle at the same time as firing a weapon[16] and the British Army requirement for a light tank, the Light Tank Mark I, was a development of the Carden Loyd tankette. Morris Motors tried developing a two-man version of the Martel design[17] and Crossley Motors a further version - the Morris-Martel - in 1927 with Kégresse rubber tracks but after two prototypes were tested the project was abandoned.[18]

In 1928, the Tank and Tracked Transport Advisory Committee that Martel was a member of became the Mechanical Warfare Board which was to liaise with industry and to advise on technical matters relating to "mechanised transport".[19]

In 1929, Martel was seconded to the King George V's Own Bengal Sappers and Miners and then served as an instructor at the British Indian Army's Staff College in Quetta from 1930 until 1934.

From 1936 until 1939, Martel served at the War Office, firstly as Assistant Director of Mechanisation,[20] then from 1938 as the Deputy Director with the temporary rank of Brigadier.[1] In 1936, he attended a large-scale tank exercise in the Belorussian Military District of the Soviet Union in which numbers of the Soviet variant of the Carden Loyd tankette, the T-27, took part.

Second World WarEdit

In the prelude to the Second World War, Martel was appointed General Officer Commanding the 50th Northumbrian Division, Territorial Army in February 1939 with the rank of Major-General.[21] The division had been converted from October 1938 to "motorised" with the whole of the infantry being carried by large lorries.[22]

With the outbreak of war, 50 Division embarked for France on 14 September 1939 as part of the British Expeditionary Force. There, on 21 May 1940 during the Battle of France, Martel directed the tank attack on Generalmajor Erwin Rommel's 7th Panzer Division in the Battle of Arras in which the German frontline was driven back eight miles.[23] The gains could not be held, but the Germans were forced to cease their offensive and regroup, so buying time for the BEF's evacuation from Dunkirk.

Following the BEF's evacuation, Martel became the Commander of the Royal Armoured Corps in 1940 where he put his theories of armoured warfare to good use.[24] In March 1941, he gave the Military Attaché of the then neutral United States in London, Brigadier General Raymond E. Lee, a report outlining his experiences and assessment of the German armoured tactics in France.[25]

The Prime Minister (centre) witnessed a tank demonstration in which he was shown the capabilities of various armoured fighting vehicles over rough country near Frensham, Surrey. With him, pictured in front of a A10 Mk IA CS tank, were Generals Giffard Martel, Władysław Sikorski, the Prime Minister of the Polish Government-in-Exile and the C-in-C of the Polish Armed Forces, and General Charles de Gaulle, the C-in-C of the Free French Forces, February 1941.

Martel was promoted to Lieutenant-General in 1942 but was moved from the Royal Armoured Corps that September and the position of commander was abolished. He then spent some time on postings in Burma and India.

In March 1943, Martel became the Head of the Military Mission to the Soviet Union.[26] He assessed the effectiveness of the Soviet order of battle and tactics during a visit to the frontline in the Kursk-Oryol region between 11 and 19 May 1943. In his autobiography, Martel describes advising the Soviet High Command, Stavka, to allow the Germans to strike first at the Battle of Kursk. To what extent his advice affected the course of the battle is debatable since his first conference with Stavka did not occur until late May 1943 while the Soviet Western Front commander, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, had been advocating the same tactic since the previous March. However, Martel's advice that the most effective way of preventing the enemy from exploiting a breakthrough was by pushing on the "shoulders" (or "haunches") of the penetration may have proven useful.

His subsequent reports based on his visit to the Soviet front line and his discussions with the Red Army Tank Directorate concluded that the Russian battlefield experience would be far more relevant to armoured tactics in the forthcoming invasion of Normandy than that of the experience of the British Army in the North African Campaign. Martel's intelligence-gathering and his clear and perceptive analyses of the Soviet military position were commended by his superiors at the War Office, but with the arrival of the new and overtly anti-communist Head of RAF Mission, Air Marshal Sir John Babington in September 1943 his working relationship with the Russians deteriorated with a marked decline in co-operation. He was recalled, being replaced by Lieutenant-General Montagu Brocas Burrows and left Moscow on 7 February 1944.[27] Later that month, he lost his right eye as a result of a German bombing raid on London.[28]

Subsequent lifeEdit

Martel was knighted in 1943[29] and retired from the Army in 1945 with the rank of Lieutenant-General.[30] He stood unsuccessfully as the Conservative Party candidate for the Barnard Castle constituency in the 1945 UK General Election.[31]

On his retirement, Martel wrote on military matters. He died at his home in Camberley, Surrey, on 3 September 1958.[32]


  • Bridging in the Field. The Institution. 1922. ASIN B0008CIUZW.
  • In the Wake of the Tank: The First Eighteen Years of Mechanization in the British Army. Sifton, Praed & Co. 1935. ASIN B000881E7W.
  • Our Armoured Forces. An account of their operations during the war of 1939–45. Faber & Faber. 1945. ASIN B0014MI8UC.
  • The Problem of Security. Michael Joseph. 1945. ASIN B0014MCXIA.
  • The Russian Outlook. Michael Joseph. 1947. ASIN B001A8T5FW.
  • An Outspoken Soldier, His Views and Memoirs. Sifton Praed & Co. 1949. ASIN B0007J06CQ.
  • East Versus West. Museum Press. 1952. ASIN B0006DAA6K.


  1. ^ a b The Times, Saturday, Jan 22, 1938; pg. 7; Issue 47899; col G
  2. ^ "No. 28282". The London Gazette. 24 August 1909. p. 6448.
  3. ^ Tony Mason, Eliza Riedi (2010). Sport and the Military: The British Armed Forces 1880-1960. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  4. ^ Hamilton, Nigel (1981). Monty: The Making of a General 1887-1942. McGraw-Hill Book Company. p. 352.
  5. ^ Christy Campbell (2008). Band of Brigands: The First Men in Tanks. Harper Perennial. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  6. ^ Azar Gat (2001). A History of Military Thought: From the Enlightenment to the Cold War. OUP Oxford. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  7. ^ LIDDELL: 15/12/13 1922–1925 – King's College London, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  8. ^ Men, Ideas, and Tanks: British Military Thought and Armoured Forces, 1903–1939 By J. P. Harris, pg. 80
  9. ^ "The Army Director Of Personal Services" The Times, Saturday, Jan 22, 1938; pg. 7; Issue 47899; col G
  10. ^ Corps History - Part 15 The Corps between the wars (1919-39), Royal Engineers Museum, 7 February 2007, archived from the original on 1 May 2008
  11. ^ a b Think Defence (30 December 2011). "UK Military Bridging – Equipment (Pre WWII Equipment Bridging)". Retrieved 8 May 2017. Adopted by the Army in 1925 the Large Box Girder Bridge was adaptable and relatively cheap, able to carry loads of up to 40 tonnes, it remained in service until replaced by the Bailey.
  12. ^ "Bridge Claim By General 'Used As Basis For Bailey Design'". The Times. 26 July 1955. p. 4 col E.
  13. ^ B T White, British Tanks 1915–1945, pg. 11
  14. ^ "British Tankettes, Carden Loyd One Man Tankette". Florida State University. Archived from the original on 11 December 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  15. ^ White, pg. 11
  16. ^ "Martel, Morris-Martel One Man Tankette". Florida State University. Archived from the original on 11 December 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  17. ^ "Morris-Martel Two Man Tankette". Tanks! Armoured Warfare Prior to 1946. William A. Kirk Jr. Archived from the original on 11 December 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  18. ^ "Crossley Military Vehicles After WW1". Crossley Motors Ltd. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  19. ^ The Times, Tuesday, 20 March 1928; pg. 16; Issue 44846; col F
  20. ^ The Times, Saturday, Feb 08, 1936; pg. 17; Issue 47293; col D
  21. ^ "Changes In The Army" The Times, Thursday, Dec 15, 1938; pg. 22; Issue 48178; col A
  22. ^ "Motorized" T.A. Divisions The Times, Tuesday, Jan 10, 1939; pg. 6; Issue 48199; col F
  23. ^ "Obituary, WORLD-FAMOUS EXPERT ON TANK WARFARE", The Glasgow Herald, 4 September 1958
  24. ^ "BATTLE OF BRITAIN BRAINS UTILIZED", The Virgin Islands Daily News, 7 January 1941
  25. ^ Thomas G. Mahnken (2009). Uncovering Ways of War: U.S. Intelligence and Foreign Military Innovation. Cornell University Press. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  26. ^ "British General Sent to Moscow", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 22 March 1943
  27. ^ Donald J. Stoker (2010). Military Advising and Assistance: From Mercenaries to Privatization, 1815-2007. Routledge. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  28. ^ Sir Giffard Le Quesne Martel (1949). An Outspoken Soldier:His Views And Memoirs. Sifton. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  29. ^ "No. 36033". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 June 1943. p. 2424.
  30. ^ MARTEL, Sir Giffard Le Quesne (1889–1958), Lieutenant-General – King's College London, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives.
  31. ^ "UK General Election results July 1945". Political Science Resources. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  32. ^ "British tank expert dead", The Bulletin, 4 September 1958
  • Spencer Tucker Who's Who in Twentieth Century Warfare (2001) Psychology Press ISBN 9780415234979

External linksEdit