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The Land Ironclads: Wikis


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1904 illustration of H.G. Wells's December 1903 The Land Ironclads, showing huge ironclad land vessels, equipped with pedrail wheels.
Artist's rendering of Wells's land ironclad

Written by H.G. Wells, "The Land Ironclads" is a short story that originally appeared in the December 1903 issue of the Strand Magazine and set in a war similar to the First World War. The Ironclads are 100 ft long machines with remote controlled guns and accommodation for 42 soldiers, including 7 officers. The story is notable for its description of a vehicle premonitory of the first tanks, particularly the Mark I which appeared in the later part of World War I.


Plot summary

The story opens with a war correspondent and a young lieutenant surveying the calm of the battlefield and reflecting upon the war. The two enemies are dug into trenches, each waiting for the other to attack, and the men on the war correspondent's side are confident in their coming victory. They believe that they will win because they are all strong outdoors-type men who know how to use a rifle and fight, while their enemies are towns people... "a crowd of devitalized townsmen... They're clerks, they're factory hands, they're students, they're civilized men. They can write, they can talk, they can make and do all sorts of things, but they're poor amateurs at war."[1] The men agree that their "open air life" produces far better men for war than their opponents' "decent civilization," and the story does not prove that fact wrong.

In the end, however, it is shown that the decent civilization, with men of science, engineers ways of winning the war, over the better soldiers who instead of developing land ironclads of their own, had been practicing getting better at shooting their rifles from horseback, a tactic which became obsolete the second the land ironclads entered the battlefield. Wells foreshadows this eventual outcome in the conversation of the two men in the first part, when the correspondent tells the lieutenant "Civilization has science, you know, it invented and it made the rifles and guns and things you use," and the lieutenant responds "Which our nice healthy hunters and stockmen and so on, rowdy-dowdy cowpunchers and nigger-whackers, can use ten times better..."[2]

The story ends with the entire army captured by a dozen or so of the land ironclads, and the last scene is of the correspondent comparing his countrymen's "sturdy proportions with those of their lightly built captors."[3], and thinking of the story he is going to write about the experience, noting both that the captured officers are thinking of ways they will defeat what they call the enemy's "ironmongery" with their already-existing weaponry, rather than developing their own land ironclads to counter the new threat, and also noting that the "half-dozen comparatively slender young men in blue pajamas who were standing about their victorious land ironclad, drinking coffee and eating biscuits, had also in their eyes and carriage something not altogether degraded below the level of a man."[4]


Although Leonardo da Vinci had designed a proto-tank, Wells's chief inspiration seems to have been Ironclad warships, which also feature significantly in one incident from The War of the Worlds. In War and the Future, H.G. Wells specifically acknowledged M. Diplock's pedrail as the origin for his idea of an all-terrain armoured vehicle in The Land Ironclads :[5]

"The idea was suggested to me by the contrivances of a certain M. Diplock, whose "ped-rail" notion, the notion of a wheel that was something more than a wheel, a wheel that would take locomotives up hill-sides and across ploughed fields, was public property nearly twenty years ago"
War and the Future H.G. Wells.[6]

See also


  1. ^ The Land Ironclads, H.G. Wells, 1909
  2. ^ The Land Ironclads, H.G. Wells, 1909
  3. ^ The Land Ironclads, H.G. Wells, 1909
  4. ^ The Land Ironclads, H.G. Wells, 1909
  5. ^ War and the Future by H.G. Wells, p.93 [1]
  6. ^ p.93 [2]

External links



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