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Bob Semple tank
Type Tank
Place of origin  New Zealand
Production history
Manufacturer Ministry of Works, Temuka
Weight 25.4 tonnes
Length 4.20 m (13 ft 9 in)
Width 3.30 m (10 ft 10 in)
Height 3.65 m (12 ft 0 in)
Crew 8

Armor 8+12.7
6x Bren light machine guns
Engine 6-cylinder diesel
95 kW
160 km (99 mi)

The Bob Semple tank was a tank designed by New Zealand Minister of Works Bob Semple during World War II. Originating out of the need to build military hardware from available materials, the tank was built from corrugated iron on a tractor base. Designed and built without formal plans or blueprints, it had numerous design flaws and practical difficulties, and was never put into mass production or used in combat. Despite this, it has become something of an icon of the New Zealand 'do it yourself' mentality.[citation needed]

Design and construction[]

New Zealand, like its neighbour Australia, had no indigenous armoured fighting vehicle industry. It was expected that armoured fighting vehicles would be provided from the UK. Australia[1] and New Zealand did have some heavy industry that could be turned to the production of armour and armoured vehicles but little had been done. The idea of mechanising the New Zealand Army had been suggested before the war but there hadn't been much progress. The use of the US Disston "Six Ton Tractor Tank" a 1937 vehicle constructed of an amoured box on a Caterpillar Model 35 chassis[2] which had been sold to Afghanistan and China was suggested.[3]

New Zealand had built some improvised armoured trucks and unable to get any tracked carriers from Australia were building their own with armour plate imported from Australia. After the Fall of France in mid-1940, and the loss of most British tanks there, there was no likelihood of production being spared for New Zealand. Rather than obtain the armoured superstructures from the US, it was felt they could produce their own using local materials and resources.

It was decided that a ‘tractor-tank’ would be an adequate design, as if the need for defense arose, a large tank superstructure could be bolted upon a tractor base within a few hours, allowing for quick transformation and deployment of the tanks.

The first (mild steel) prototype was built on Caterpillar D8, a type which was readily available.[3] A lack of weapons meant that it was equipped with seven Bren machine guns - two in the sides, three facing the front, one in the turret and one at the rear. The vehicle was very tall at 12 ft (3.5 m) and performance was poor. Due to the lack of armour plate, corrugated (manganese) plating was used in the expectation it would deflect bullets. The crew of eight included one gunner who had to lie on a mattress on top of the engine to fire his Bren gun.[4]

The tanks were constructed without the use of any formal plans or blueprints. Working from an American postcard depicting the conversion of a tractors to a ‘tractor-tank’, Bob Semple and TG Beck (Christchurch District Works Engineer), improvised the design of the tanks. Using resources available to Bob Semple as Minister of Public Works, the tanks were quickly produced in their Christchurch workshops.

The intention was to disperse the hulls at locations ready in case of a Japanese invasion at which point they would be mounted on tractors for use. The idea was discarded after the tanks attracted public ridicule.[4]

Handling and performance[]

Due to the limitations of requirements and resources, the tank was a functional failure. By using a large tractor as a base, and bolting on a hastily designed and poorly constructed tank superstructure, the resultant tanks were inadequately armored, extremely heavy (20-25 ton), unstable, restricted by tractor gearing to slow speeds, and had to stop to change gears. Furthermore, due to the shape of the underlying tractor and undue vibrations, shooting from the tank was both difficult and inevitably inaccurate.

Final result[]

In the end, due to their impracticality, the tanks were rejected for use by the New Zealand Army, dismantled, and restored to their previous state as tractors.

Built during the war hysteria, these tanks were a civilian effort to design and create a means to protect New Zealand. In doing so, the tanks arguably showed a self-reliance and vigor in the nation, uplifting their morale. Used mainly for processions, these tanks were warmly received in Christchurch, Auckland and many other parts of the country.

See also[]



  • By Design: A brief history of the Public Works Department Ministry of Works 1870-1970 by Rosslyn J. Noonan (1975, Crown Copyright) (pages 172-173).
  • No8 Wire: the best of Kiwi Ingenuity by Bridges, Jon & Downs, David. Auckland, N.Z. : Hodder Moa Beckett, 2000
  • Defending New Zealand : ramparts on the sea 1840-1950s by Cooke, Peter. Wellington, N.Z. : Defence of New Zealand Study Group, 2000.
  • New Zealand Yesterdays : a look at our recent past by Keith, Haimish. Sydney, N.S.W.: Reader’s Digest Services, 1984.
  • Fletcher, David The Great Tank Scandal, The Universal Tank HMSO.
  • Pratt, J, fl 1974 :Photograph of tank designed by Robert Semple

External links[]

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