The A7V was a tank introduced by Germany in 1918, near the end of World War I. One hundred vehicles were ordered in early 1918, but only 20 were delivered. They were used in action from March to October of that year, and were the only tanks produced by Germany in World War I to be used in operations.
Following the appearance of the first British tanks on the Western Front, the Allgemeines Kriegsdepartement, 7. Abteilung, Verkehrswesen ("General War Department, 7th Branch, Transportation"), was formed in September 1916.
The project to design and build the first German tank was placed under the direction of Joseph Vollmer, a reserve captain and engineer. It was to have a mass of around 30 tons, be capable of crossing ditches up to 1.5 metres wide, have armament including cannon at front and rear as well as several machine-guns, and reach a top speed of at least 12 km/h. The running gear was based on the Holt tractor, copied from examples loaned by the Austrian Army. After initial plans were shared with the Army in December 1917 the design was extended to be a universal chassis which could be used as a base for both a tank and unarmoured Überlandwagen ("over-land vehicle") cargo carriers.
The first prototype was completed by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft at Berlin-Marienfelde and tested on 30 April 1917. A wooden mockup of a final version was completed in May 1917 and demonstrated in Mainz with 10 tons of ballast to simulate armour. During final design the rear-facing cannon was removed and the number of machine-guns was increased to six. The first pre-production A7V was produced in September 1917, followed by the first production model in October 1917. The tanks were given to Assault Tank Units 1 and 2, founded on 20 September 1917, each with five officers and 109 NCOs and soldiers.
The tank's name was derived from that of its parent organization, Allgemeines Kriegsdepartement, 7. Abteilung, Verkehrswesen. In German the tank was called Sturmpanzerwagen, (roughly "assault armoured vehicle").
The A7V was 7.34 metres (24.1 ft) long, 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide, and the maximum height was 3.3 metres (11 ft). The tank had 20 mm of steel plate at the sides, 30 mm at the front and 10 mm for the roof; however the steel was not hardened armour plate, which reduced its effectiveness. It was thick enough to stop machine-gun and rifle fire, but not larger calibres. This offered protection comparable to the thinner armour of other tanks of the period, which used hardened steel. The crew normally consisted of up to seventeen soldiers and one officer: commander (officer, typically a lieutenant), driver, mechanic, mechanic/signaller, twelve infantrymen (six machine gunners, six loaders), and two artillerymen (main gunner and loader).
The A7V was armed with six 7.92 mm MG08 machine guns and a 5.7 cm Maxim-Nordenfelt cannon mounted at the front. Some of these cannons were of British manufacture and had been captured in Belgium early in the war; others were captured in Russia in 1918 and appear to have included some Russian-made copies.
Between forty and sixty cartridge belts, each of 250 rounds, were carried as well as 180 shells for the main gun, split 90:54:36 between canister, antitank, and explosive. These were the official figures — up to 300 rounds for the main gun were stowed for combat.
Power came from two centrally mounted Daimler 4-cylinder petrol engines delivering 100 horsepower (75 kW) each; the A7V carried 500 litres (110 imp gal) of fuel. The top speed was about 15 kilometres per hour (9.3 mph) on roads and 5 kilometres per hour (3.1 mph) across country. The 24 wheel suspension was individually sprung—an advantage over the unsprung British tanks.
Compared to other World War I tanks the road speed was quite high, but the tank had very poor off-road capability and was prone to getting stuck. The large overhang at the front and the low ground clearance meant trenches or very muddy areas were impassable. This was worsened by the fact that the driver could not see the terrain directly in front of the tank, due to a blind spot of about 10 metres. However, on open terrain it could be used to some success and offered more firepower than the armoured cars that were available. Power-to-weight ratio was 6.8 hp/ton (5.1 kW/ton), trench crossing: 7 feet (2.1 m), ground clearance: 7.5 to 15.75 inches (191 to 400 mm).
St. Quentin Canal
The A7V was first used in combat on 21 March 1918. Five tanks of Abteilung I under the command of Hauptmann Greiff were deployed north of the St. Quentin Canal. Three of the A7Vs suffered mechanical failures before they entered combat, but the remaining pair helped stop a minor British breakthrough in the area, but otherwise saw little combat that day.
The first tank against tank combat in history took place on 24 April 1918 when three A7Vs (including chassis number 561, known as "Nixe") taking part in an attack with infantry incidentally met three Mark IVs (two female machine gun-armed tanks and one male with two 6-pounder guns) near Villers-Bretonneux. During the battle tanks on both sides were damaged. According to the lead tank commander, Second Lieutenant Frank Mitchell, the female Mk IVs fell back after being damaged by armour-piercing bullets. They were unable to damage the A7Vs with their own machine guns. Mitchell then attacked the lead German tank, commanded by Second Lieutenant Wilhelm Biltz, with the 6-pounders of his own tank and knocked it out. He hit it three times, and killed five of the crew when they bailed out. He then went on to rout some infantry with case shot. The two remaining A7Vs in turn withdrew. As Mitchell's tank withdrew from action, seven Whippet tanks also engaged the infantry. Four of these were knocked out in the battle, and it is unclear if any of them engaged the retreating German tanks. Mitchell's tank lost a track towards the end of the battle from a mortar shell and was abandoned. The damaged A7V was later recovered by German forces.
Three detachments (Abteilungen) of five tanks each were at Villers-Bretonneux at the head of the four German divisions committed over a 4 mile front. One tank refused to start, but the fourteen that saw action achieved some success, and the British recorded that their lines were broken by the tanks. Two A7Vs toppled over into holes, and some encountered engine or armament troubles. After a counterattack, three fell into Allied hands. One was unusable and scrapped, one was used later for shell testing by the French, and the third was eventually recovered by Australian troops.
In May, A7Vs used in an attack on the French near Soissons, during the Third Battle of the Aisne were unable to cross a wide trench known as the "Dardanelles". On 15 July, at Rheims (during the Second Battle of the Marne), the Germans put eight A7Vs and twenty captured Mk IVs against the French lines. Although 10 of the Mk IVs were lost in this action, no A7Vs were lost.
The final use in World War I of A7Vs was in a small but successful action on 11 October 1918, near Iwuy. The A7V was not considered a success, and other designs were planned by Germany. However the end of the war meant none of the other tanks in development, or planned ones, would be finished (such as the Oberschlesien, the 120-ton K-Wagen, and the light LK I or LK II).
The extremely limited production of twenty made a very minor contribution, and most of the tanks (about 50 in total) that were fielded in action by Germany in World War I were captured British Mark IV tanks (Beutepanzer). In contrast, the French had produced over 3,600 of their light Renault FT, the most numerous tank of World War I, and the British over 2,500 of their heavy Mark I to V* tanks.
After the war
Two lightly armoured vehicles broadly resembling the A7V, one of which was named "Hedi", were used by a Freikorps tank unit to quell civil unrest in Berlin in 1919, and were constructed after the war, using the chassis from Überlandwagens and armed with four MG08/15 machine guns.
Some sources say that several A7Vs were handed over by France to Polish forces and used during the Russo-Polish war of 1920. However, the fate of each A7V that saw service in WWI is known, and there is no known official record or photographic evidence of A7Vs in Polish service.
The design of the A7V featured on the tank badge of 1921, awarded to commemorate service in the German Panzer forces of 1918.
A7V chassis listing
|Chassis number||Tank name(s)||Notes||Fate|
|501||Gretchen||Armed only with machine guns until fitted with 57-mm cannon in late 1918||Scrapped by the Allies in 1919|
|503*||Faust, Kronprinz Wilhelm, Wilhelm, Heiland||Possibly named König Wilhelm at one point||Scrapped by Germans in October 1918|
|504||Schnuck||Lost at Fremicourt, 31 August 1918. Captured by New Zealand Division.|
Displayed in London on Horse Guards Parade 1918/19. Given to the Imperial War Museum in 1919 but disposed of in 1922 with only the main gun kept.
|505||Baden I, Prinz August Wilhelm, August Wilhelm||Scrapped by the Allies in 1919|
|506||Mephisto||Lost at Villers-Bretonneux, 24 April 1918; recovered by Australian troops in July; now in Queensland Museum in Brisbane, Australia.|
|507||Cyklop, Prinz Eitel Friedrich, Eitel Friedrich, Imperator||Briefly in hands of Freikorps at Lankwitz after Armistice. Scrapped in 1919|
|525||Siegfried||Scrapped by the Allies in 1919|
|526||Alter Fritz||Scrapped by Germans, 1 June 1918|
|527||Lotti||Lost at Fort de la Pompelle, Rheims on 1 June 1918|
|528||Hagen||Lost at Fremicourt, 31 August 1918; captured by British troops and displayed on Horse Guards Parade; scrapped in 1919|
|529||Nixe II||Replaced 561 Nixe||Lost at Rheims, 31 May 1918; recovered by Americans and displayed at Aberdeen Proving Grounds Museum; scrapped in 1942|
|540||Scrapped by the Allies in 1919.|
|541||Scrapped by the Allies in 1919|
|542||Elfriede||Lost at Villers-Bretonneux, 24 April 1918; displayed at Place de la Concorde in Paris in late 1918|
|543||Bulle, Prinz Adalbert, Adalbert||Tank was renamed twice, first around April/May 1918 and again in late May 1918||Scrapped by the Allies in 1919|
|560||Lost at Iwuy, 11 October 1918|
|561||Nixe||Disabled, destroyed on battlefield by Germans, 24 April 1918|
|562||Herkules||Scrapped by Germans, after 31 August 1918|
|563||Wotan||Scrapped by the Allies in 1919; a replica of Wotan was built in the late 1980s based largely on Mephisto; the replica is now in the Deutsches Panzermuseum in Munster, Germany.|
|564||Prinz Oskar, Oskar||Scrapped by the Allies in 1919|
- 502 became a Geländewagen, and was not fitted with armour.
A7V-U: (umlaufende Ketten = "tracks running all the way round"). An attempt to reproduce the all-terrain capability of the British tanks, the A7V-U was still based on the Holt chassis but had a rhomboidal hull and all-round tracks. The cab was similar to, but bigger than, that on the A7V and was mounted on top of the forward part of the hull. Two 57mm guns were carried in sponsons similar to the British type. The prototype was built in June 1918, and trials showed that it was nose-heavy and had a high centre of gravity, and the 40-ton weight caused manoeuvrability problems. On the assumption that the problems could be rectified, twenty were ordered in September 1918, the same month work on the design was halted. Drawings for two improved designs were prepared, but the war ended before any were produced.
Thirty chassis were assigned for completion as Überlandwagen supply carriers, but not all were completed before the end of the war.
Survivors and replicas
The only surviving A7V is Mephisto, currently in the Workshops Rail Museum, North Ipswich, Queensland, Australia. One cannon from an A7V (possibly 504 Schnuck) is at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester.
Two full-size replicas have been constructed. One, Wotan, is in the Deutsches Panzermuseum in Munster. The second is a running replica built in 2009 by Bob Grundy of British Military Vehicles, Wigan, U.K., a company that specialises in the restoration of old military vehicles. The replica is constructed of plywood and angle iron, using the engine, transmission, and tracks from two Fordson County Crawlers - tracked agricultural vehicles - and is painted to represent A7V number 504, Schnuck. The replica was purchased by the Bovington Tank Museum in November 2012.
- Tucker, Spencer (2004). Tanks: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO. pp. 24–25. ISBN 1-57607-995-3.
- Zaloga, S.J. (2006). German Panzers 1914–18. p. 7.
- Hundleby, Maxwell; Strasheim, Rainer (1990). The German A7V Tank and the Captured British Mark IV Tanks of World War I. Haynes Foulis. pp. 23, 34, 61, 79. ISBN 0-85429-788-X.
- Forty, George (1995). Tank Action from the Great War to the Gulf. Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd. pp. 39–47. ISBN 0-7509-0479-8.
- Foley p12
- Koch, Fred (1994). Beutepanzer im Ersten Weltkrieg. Podzun-Pallas-Verlag GmbH. ISBN 3-7909-0520-8.
- Schneider, Wolfgang; Rainer Strasheim. German Tanks in WWI - The A7V & Early Tank Development. Schiffer Publications. ISBN 0-88740-237-2.
- Foley p11
- Hundleby & Strasheim p150
- Zaloga p43
- Armour in Profile
- 57mm Maxim-Nordenfelt "Sockel" Gun IWM accessed 10 December 2012
- "A7V Replica Added To Collection". The Tank Museum, Bovington. 29 November 2012. http://tankmuseum.org/ixbin/indexplus?record=ART3714. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
- Foley, John (1967). A7V Sturmpanzerwagen. Profile Publications.
- Foss, Christopher F. (2003). The Encyclopedia of Tanks and Armoured Fighting Vehicles. Spellmount. pp. 232. ISBN 1-86227-188-7.
- Zaloga, Steve (2006). German Panzers 1914–18. Osprey Publishing. pp. 232. ISBN 1-84176-945-2.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to A7V.|
- A7V Tank "Mephisto" at Queensland Museum
- Photo - replica of 504 Schnuck dead link
- German A7V "Sturmpanzer" Landships
- A7V in A7V "Sturmpanzer" Polish Forces
- German A7V/U Tank
- First Panzers 1917-1918
- General Information on World War I Tanks
- Memoir of the British/German tank battle
- German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V Tank (video)
- A7V Replica Demonstration (video)
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