J Walter Christie was an inventor.
So he was a really creative person.
The difficulty with being truly creative is that you’re automatically ahead of your time.
You can see what the future is going to be.
All anyone else can see is what’s happening now.
So it’s very frustrating.
The future looks like a risk.
And if it doesn’t look like a risk, it must be because it looks like what’s happening now.
In which case it can’t be the future.
Because you can’t see the future from the past.
Henry Ford said “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.
That’s what J. Walter Christie came up against.
In 1928 he invented a new kind of tank.
It was faster and lighter than anything else.
It was faster because it had large wheels which each had independent suspension.
This meant it could go over rough ground quicker than anything else.
It was lighter because it had sloping armour.
At that time all tanks had vertical armour.
Christie said with sloping armour the tank didn’t need so much, so it could be lighter.
It didn’t need so much because the angle of the slope would deflect shells better.
Also, anything sloping must be thicker measured on the horizontal.
So sloping armour would be more effective.
The tank would be lighter, faster, but better armoured than any other tank.
When he designed it in 1928, Christie called it the 1940 model.
Because he thought it would take everyone else 12 years to catch up.
He tried to sell his tank to the US Army.
But they refused to buy it.
They didn’t want fast, manoeuvrable tanks.
They saw tanks as slow-moving, mobile pillboxes to support the infantry.
The way they’d been used in the First World War.
Christie was furious.
He’d spent a fortune developing the tank.
He knew the next war would be fast and mobile.
He knew tanks would need to be fast and mobile.
If the US Army wouldn’t buy it, he’d sell it to someone who would.
The Russian army were very interested.
They thought Christie’s ideas about mobile warfare were right.
They bought two of his tanks and shipped them back to Russia.
There they tested them, took them apart, worked on them and developed them.
The Christie design eventually became the Russian T34.
At the beginning of World War Two the Germans unveiled Blitzkrieg.
Lightening war exactly as Christie had predicted it would be.
With fast, well armoured tanks that swept everything before them.
Meanwhile, with old-fashioned, slow, lumbering tanks everyone else crumbled.
The French, the British, even the Russians.
Until the Russians unveiled the T34.
The Germans had never seen anything like it and it stopped them dead.
It was faster than their tanks, over any terrain.
Thanks to the Christie suspension system.
And the German shells just bounced off the T34.
Thanks to Christie’s sloping armour.
The Panzers that had swept everything before them were stopped by the T34.
They didn’t know what to do.
Their weapons were no longer superior.
This was a step ahead of anything in the world.
And the T34 went on to be the best tank of the war by a long way.
In fact the T34 became the most successful tank of all time.
After the war the Americans realised tank warfare had changed.
They needed faster, better-armoured tanks, with independent suspension and sloping armour.
So, like everyone else, they started to copy the T34.
The Russian design that had come from Christie’s design.
The design they rejected twenty years earlier.
And that was the only thing J. Walter Christie got wrong.
His tank wasn’t 12 years ahead of everyone else’s thinking.
It was decades ahead.