The Mark V was, at first, intended to be a completely new design of tank, of which a wooden mock-up had been completed; however, when the new engine and transmission originally planned for the Mark IV became available in December 1917, the first, more advanced Mark V design was abandoned to avoid disrupting production. The designation "Mark V" was switched to an improved version of the Mark IV, equipped with the new systems. The original design of the Mark IV was to have been a large improvement on the Mark III, but had been scaled back due to technical delays. The Mark V thus turned out very similar to the original design of the Mark IV – i.e. a greatly modified Mark III.
In early 1917, some British tanks were tested with experimental powerplant and transmissions ordered by Albert Stern. These included petrol-electric schemes, hydraulic systems, a multiple clutch system, and an epicyclic gearbox from Major W.G. Wilson. Though the petrol-electrics had advantages, Wilson's design was capable of production and was selected for use in future tanks. Wilson then worked on the design of the tank that would use his gearbox.
The Mark V had more power (150 bhp) from a new Ricardo engine (also ordered by Stern). Use of Wilson's epicyclic steering gear meant that only a single driver was needed. On the roof towards the rear of the tank, behind the engine, was a second raised cabin, with hinged sides that allowed the crew to attach the unditching beam without exiting the vehicle. An additional machine-gun mount was fitted at the rear of the hull.
Production of the Mark V started at Metropolitan Carriage and Wagon at the end of 1917; the first tanks arrived in France in May 1918. Four hundred were built, 200 each of Males and Females; the 'Males' armed with 6-pounder (57 mm) guns and machine guns, the 'Females' with machine guns only. Several were converted to Hermaphrodites (sometimes known as "Mark V Composite") by fitting one male and one female sponson. This measure was intended to ensure that female tanks would not be outgunned when faced with captured British male tanks in German use or the Germans' own A7V.
The Mark V was first used in the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918, when 60 tanks contributed to a successful assault by Australian units on the German lines. It went on to take part in eight major offensives before the end of the War. Canadian and American troops trained on Mk Vs in England in 1918, and the American Heavy Tank Battalion (the 301st) took part in three actions on the British Sector of the Western Front in late 1918. The Canadian Tank Corps, however, did not see action and was disbanded after the war's end. Approximately 70 were sent to support the White Russian forces in the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War and in the British North Russia Campaign. Most were subsequently captured by the Red Army. Four were retained by Estonian forces, and two by Latvia.