An important addition to Germany’s military hardware during World War I was the heavy tank known as the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V, which made its debut in 1918. With an initial order for one hundred chassis, the development of this tank was started in early 1917. Ten of them were to be finished as armoured fighting vehicles, and the other ninety were to be transformed into Überlandwagen cargo carriers. Later on, the concept was revised to call for producing twenty armoured A7Vs in total.
As the only German tank designed to see battle during World War I, the A7V was put into service between March and October of 1918. It was also the first operational tank warfare attempt by Germany. Responding to the appearance of British tanks on the battlefield was the driving force behind this attempt.
Even with a design that was mostly regarded as better than that of its competitors, the A7V had trouble producing large quantities of the device. Mass production was hampered by the relative complexity of the tank and the correspondingly high production costs. The A7V made a singular and significant contribution to Germany’s military capabilities in the latter stages of World War I, despite these drawbacks.
With a fighting weight of 31.5 tonnes, the A7V tank’s proportions were 7.34 metres long, 3.1 metres wide, and 3.3 metres high. A minimum of eighteen people, and occasionally up to twenty-five, were needed to operate the tank. Its armour varied in thickness, offering protection ranging from 5 to 30 mm.
The main weaponry installed on the A7V tank was a 5.7 cm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun, which was first given 180 rounds before being upgraded to 300 rounds. To supplement its primary armament, the tank was equipped with six 7.9 mm machine guns that had a significant 36,000-round ammunition reserve.
Driven by a pair of 4-cylinder Daimler-Benz engines, the A7V produced 200 horsepower in total or 6.5 horsepower per tonne of weight. Adler differentials and gearboxes were used in the gearbox system. With vertical springs providing suspension, the tank moved on Holt tracks.
With a maximum speed of 15 km/h on highways and a slightly slower speed of 6.4 km/h when travelling across cross-country terrain, the A7V tank’s operational capabilities allowed it to cover a range of 30 to 80 kilometres. Together, these details enhanced the tank’s functionality and performance during World War I.
The A7V-U was an attempt to add tracks that ran the entire circumference, replicating the all-terrain capacity of British tanks. It was built with a rhomboidal hull and all-round tracks on the Holt chassis. The larger cab than the A7V was mounted on top of the forward section of the hull. Completed in June 1918, the prototype was outfitted with two 57 mm guns in sponsons that resembled the British model. Experiments showed that it had a high centre of gravity, was nose-heavy, and had difficulty manoeuvring because of its 40-ton weight. Despite these issues, September 1918 saw the ordering of 20 units despite the cancellation of design work that same month. Although two better designs were envisioned, none were implemented before the war ended. Additionally, thirty chassis were allocated for construction as supply carriers for Überlandwagens; however, not all of them were completed before the end of the war.
Under the driver’s cabin, which had a tarpaulin holder to protect the driver from bad weather, was the engine of the A7V Flakpanzer type. Ammunition boxes under the guns and all around the driver’s cabin were positioned carefully. Two Russian 76 mm divisional gun M1902 field cannons were fitted to the first two prototypes of the A7V Flakpanzer. Nonetheless, the third prototype had a single 7.7 cm (3.03 in) leichte Feld Kanone 1896 n/a Krupp gun installed on the vehicle. Remarkably, no records of or referencing these armaments have been located.
During the First World War, on March 21, 1918, Germany’s first operational tank, the A7V, made its combat debut. Five A7Vs from Abteilung I under Hauptmann Greiff were stationed in the region; they were deployed north of the St. Quentin Canal. Unfortunately, before the tanks could engage in combat, three of them suffered from technical issues. While their total contribution that day was limited, the two A7Vs that remained managed to disrupt a small British breakthrough close to the canal.
The A7V took part in a more important operation at Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918. 13 A7Vs in total, dispersed over a 6.4-kilometre front, were assigned to an attack by three detachments. Two of the tanks broke down en route, but the others succeeded in overcoming British defences and forcing the enemy to concede their usefulness.
The fact that the A7V saw the first-ever tank-on-tank battle on April 24, 1918, lends the vehicle historical significance. Three British Mark IV tanks were encountered by three A7Vs, including chassis number 561 (Nixe), close to Villers-Bretonneux. During the subsequent combat, tanks were damaged on both sides, but Second Lieutenant Frank Mitchell’s British team was able to take down one of the A7Vs using 6-pounder guns. This encounter serves as an example of the A7V’s contribution to tank warfare innovation.
Subsequent conflicts saw the A7V put to the test, such as an attack in May near Soissons and a bigger battle on July 15 at Reims, where eight A7Vs were sent against the French lines. On October 11, 1918, in the vicinity of Iwuy, the A7V saw its last known service in a brief but effective combat.
The A7V’s development was abandoned in favour of other tank types since Germany did not view it as a success despite these encounters. Considering the roughly 50 British Mark IV tanks that the Germans had captured and were using, the 20 A7Vs that were manufactured were a very small addition to the German war effort. The A7V’s service in the development of armoured warfare was exemplified by its activities, which were mostly conducted on the diverse terrain of the Western Front during World War I.