May 17, 1917 - German Tank Trials in Mainz

Pictured - Panzeralarm!

As the Battle of Arras finally ended, the Germans began testing tanks at a design field in Mainz. The initial German reaction to enemy British tanks - and now the French had deployed them as well, during the Nivelle Offensive - had been shock, even sometimes terror. But the armored behemoths had hardly altered the course of the war. Most times they broke down, and the Germans found that artillery and even very heavy rifles could puncture their armor.

The German army never gave up its conservative focus on infantry, at least until the next war. Nevertheless, the Entente had a weapon that Germany needed too. At the Mainz trials, a study section of the German transport department, 7 Abteilung 7 Verkehrswesen, displayed their unimaginatively named A7V tank.

Designed by Joseph Vollmer, the A7V was built on top of an Austrian Holt tractor chassis, carrying 30 tons of 30mm armor, machine guns, and a rapid fire artillery piece at the front. The trial tank was unarmored but carried bags of sand to compensate. The beast chugged along at 12 km per hour, overcrowded with a 17-man crew, mechanics, drivers, and gunner, who hung about the compartmentalized interior, sucking in noxious fumes from the engine right at the center.

The German army ordered 100 into production, but only 20 ended up being built before the war ended. They served adequately during the German Spring Offensive of March 1918, but ended up more as a propaganda piece than a common part of military equipment.


The German A7V Tank of World War I,

During World War I the development of the tank was a British and French thing, the Germans never really got on the tank bandwagon.  Opting instead to develop anti-tank weapons, the Germans only produced 20 tanks of their own.  By contrast, the British and French had thousands of tanks.  Despite the German High Command’s lack of love for tanks, one tank design was approved called the A7V (Allgemeines Kriegsdepartement, 7. Abteilung, Verkehrswesen).

Designed in 1916 and appearing in the later stages of the war, the A7V consisted of an armored hull built upon the tracks and chasis of a Holt tractor.  Weighing 33 tons, it was was a heavily armed tank with a 57mm main gun and 6 machine guns. A “female” version had two more machine guns in place of the main gun. It was also well armored, with 30mm frontal armor, 15mm side armor, and 20mm rear armor.  Propelled by two Daimler Benz 4 cylinder engines with 200 horsepower each, on the battlefield it could achieve a blistering speed of around 3 mph. Typically, each A7V was manned by a crew of 17, including an officer, driver, mechanic, mechanic/signaler, 6 machine gunners, 6 loaders, and two artilleryman.  

Heavily armed and armored, the A7V had two major flaws.  First, the large boxy tank made an excellent target on the battlefield.  Secondly, the A7V suffered chronic mechanical problems.  In fact breakdowns accounted for as many losses as enemy fire during the war. Case and point, during the A7V’s first combat mission at the Battle of St. Quentin Canal, 3 of the 5 tanks present broke down before entering combat.  The largest German tank battle was the Second Battle of Villiers-Bretonneux in April of 1918.  Of 15 tanks, one tank refused to start outright, 5 broke down in the midst of combat, and two toppled over due to their high center of gravity.  

Of the 20 A7V tanks that were produced, only one was outright destroyed in battle.  The rest were either scrapped by the Germans, or captured by the Allies and likewise scrapped.  Overall, the German Army only employed 50 tanks during the war, most of which were captured British and French tanks.  

Sturmpanzerwagen A.7.V. (Abteilung 7 Verkehrswesen)

It will be noted that the superstructure of the “tank” has been partially disassembled, probably in order to conform to the gauge of the railway bridges.