The efficiency and reliability of one of Britain’s first mass-produced engines had a significant influence on the outcome of WW1.
The use of Tanks in warfare is quite a recent development, making their debut into active duty during World War 1. Up until this point, infantry relied upon horses and walking as the main modes of transport into battle. Protection for these was either relatively light, allowing motion to be quick and responsive, or heavy and cumbersome, making traversing terrain incredibly difficult.
The appearance of armoured all-terrain vehicles in combat situations allowed army’s to protect their troops better, traverse harder terrain and trenches whilst carrying better, heavier armament. It also meant there was less reliance on humans or animals who are more susceptible to fatigue. Originally starting as a slow, riotous event, the development of tanks quickly became a game of countermoves: heavier armour to heavier armament, wider trenches to longer tracks. The engine was also subject to the same rapid development seen in the rest of the vehicle.
In early 1916, with his reputation for aptitude and ingenuity having preceded him, Harry was asked to act as a consultant on the new tank projects to help solve some of the manoeuvrability issues. He was later asked to design a new engine to replace the one used in the earlier tank versions, and in doing so, eradicate several critical issues which crippled its effectiveness. The Daimler 105bhp sleeve valve gasoline engine had a poor lubrication system, which often resulted in failures. Also, oil was being consumed in the exhaust port, which produced a large cloud of blue smoke that gave away the tanks location.
Harry designed a new engine to replace the existing one, which resulted in a greater power of 150bhp and no visible smoke. Over 8000 of these Ricardo engines were produced to power the tanks, with many more powering generators in naval craft, locomotives, workshops, hospitals and camps. It became Britain’s first mass-produced internal combustion engine.
The triumph of the tank engine dramatically boosted the reputation of the newly formed Engine Patents Ltd, and served as a technological foundation for the company. As a result of the projects success, Engine Patents Ltd was awarded £30,000 which led to Harry buying land in Shoreham and building a design and research centre upon it, where one of the company’s many technical centres still sits today.