Has Own Video WW1 German Prototypes

Großkampfwagen / K-Wagen

German Empire (1917-1918)
Super Heavy Tank – 2 Built (Not Completed)

The Großkampfwagen, also known as ‘K-Wagen’ for short, was a super heavy tank developed for the Imperial German Army in 1917, near the end of the first World War (1914-1918), with the purpose of breaking through the stalemate of trench warfare that had already cost both the Entente and the Central Powers many lives. It was an enormous vehicle, reminiscent more of a land battleship rather than a tank. Only two were partially built by the end of the war.

A K-Wagen drawing. Source: Wikipedia Commons


The First World War on the Western Front was mainly fought using extensive and well-defended trench systems. Thus, the front was mainly characterized by slow advances from both sides that were either too costly and deadly or too insignificant to make a real change on the battlefield. During the First World War, both the Central Powers and the Entente started developing their own designs of tanks / tracked gun platforms to achieve a breakthrough in each other’s lines by using the firepower and mobility of these vehicles. The Germans managed to field only a very small amount of domestically designed and built machines for lack of incentive and materials. The tanks that were put into action by the Allies remained, in general, tied to an infantry support role and served as a form of mobile pillbox.

By 1918, both sides were making plans for a new generation of tanks that would play a decisive role in 1919, each hoping to break the deadlock on the battlefield. The German General Staff took little interest in tanks during 1917, focusing more on specialized infantry (Sturmtruppen) that could infiltrate the enemy lines and take trenches with the use of grenades and flanking maneuvers. However, improvements in the British tanks and the need to return to the offensive in the West provoked new policies in 1917. The slowly evolving German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V was ordered into low-rate production in early 1917, but other designs were already being made before it was even ready. A supporting giant tank was proposed to augment the A7V, the Großkampfwagen. The construction of the new tank design was meant to be ready for an upcoming offensive that was planned, but the tank was not completed in time.


The original design of the K-Wagen was made by Captain Weger, while detailed building plans were further worked out by Reserve Captain and chief engineer Wilhelm Adolph Theodor Müller. On March 31st, 1917, this design was submitted to the War Ministry by the Department of the Chief of Field Vehicles (DE: Dienststelle des Chef(s) des Feldkraftfahrwesens, Chefkraft for short). This department was established on 15th December 1916 and placed under direct control of the German Great Headquarters. It was tasked with managing all automotive matters, including the construction of armored vehicles. . The Ministry initially rejected the design, not based upon its characteristics, but wanted to await the test results of the A7V tank.

After rejection, a special commission was formed which, on April 28th, 1917, determined new construction requirements. In the meantime, further news about British and French combat vehicles became available, so greater attention was paid by the Germans to their own developments. On June 28th, 1917, the construction of 10 vehicles was approved by the War Ministry. The original cost of each unit was budgeted at 600,000 marks (roughly a million USD in 2015 values), but the actual cost rapidly increased when assembly work began on the first two vehicles.

Drawing depicting an early version of the K-Wagen with the initial design of the sponsons. Here we can see the two large 650 hp engines, the longer hull and an earlier design of the exhaust mufflers. The fighting compartments (sponsons) are also different, being more rectangular in shape. Source: Typenkompass Panzerkampfwagen im Ersten Weltkrieg

From the very start of the designing process, multiple issues started to arise. Most of these problems came from the fact that the requirements were illogical, given the production capacity and the lack of raw materials at that time. Such requirements were a trench-spanning capability of 4 meters, an armament of one or two semi-automatic cannons (5-7 cm in caliber), four machine guns, two flamethrowers, and an 18-man crew. The armament was to be fitted in sponsons and rotatable turrets, assuring fire coverage of 360 degrees, while armor thickness would range from 30 mm on the front and sides, 20 mm on the roof, and 10 mm on the floor. All of this, which was estimated to weigh around 100 tonnes, would be powered by 400 hp that came from two separate motors (200 hp each).

It was feared that the huge vehicle would be obliterated by enemy artillery fire as it moved slowly across no-man’s land, which troubled a lot of tacticians. Other important issues were the fact that this was a completely new design, meaning that no previous manufacturing techniques could be utilized to ease production. As a solution, bridge building companies were contracted for the vehicle’s construction. Only machine toolmakers had the ability to make the gears. The clutches also needed to be made from scratch. As for the tracks, they were derived from excavation machinery. Furthermore, the one year time window that the companies were given to build the tanks was cut to just 8 months by the German High Command (DE: Oberste Heeresleitung, OHL for short), which was responsible for a multitude of things concerning the German war effort from personnel to weaponry, political sectors and theaters of war.

One of the first issues to be addressed was the inadequate engine power, so the two 200 hp motors were replaced with a pair of 650 hp Daimler engines instead. This more than tripled the available power, but increased the weight significantly. Due to all the issues that had constantly to be fixed, the design was changed many times, prolonging the production time of the first two vehicles. By November 1917, their completion was far from in sight. As the development continued and the German Army was gathering more experience on tank warfare and design from the A7Vs and the captured British Tanks some doubts started to arise of the practicality of the K-Wagen. Specifically on October 18th, 1917, the test department of the field vehicle office stated that the K-Wagen was more suitable for positional warfare, which completely undermined the reason that this vehicle was designed for in the first place.

On November 20th, 1917,  the Battle of Cambrai took place. The British attacked with 8 divisions and 365 Mark IV tanks. They achieved a breakthrough over a width of 13 km and a depth of 9 km. Eight thousand prisoners and about 100 guns fell into their hands. Admittedly, the Germans succeeded in taking the terrain back by December 7th. The shock of the largest (and initially successful) combat vehicle deployment to date must have left quite the impression on the Germans. This brought the Germans to the realization of the usefulness of the armored tanks.

However, a report by the Chief of Motor Transport (DE: Chefkraft) of the June 7th, 1918 states, among other things: that the K-Wagen is no longer being produced, except for ten cars that were already ordered. The War Ministry had not yet made up its mind definitively at this point, in a note dated  July 17th, 1918, the following can be found: “K-Wagen and other models are still under construction”. The discussion about the K-Wagen continued for several months.The extraordinary situation in the West prompted the Chefkraft to hold an in-depth discussion with the OHL. Which took place on the first of December 1917. In the discussion we read, among other things that:

The OHL insists on the deployment of armoured cars on the Western Front, as soon as possible and in the greatest possible number. The production must therefore be accelerated with all the forces and all the means available to accelerate

  • The completion of the A7V vehicles
  • The construction of the K-Wagen
  • The utilisation of the combat vehicles captured from the 2nd Army and still usable.

After the A7V was considered to be discontinued, the K-Wagen would provide the solution. But the decision in favour of a smaller combat vehicle was so pronounced that it is no longer mentioned in the “large programme” of the October 23rd, 1918 for future weapons production. The idea of creating a super armoured fighting vehicle had died.


Overall Design

Author’s Note: Since the K-Wagen was never finished and got its design changed enough times during production, there is a lot of conflicting information in the sources that provide the data.

It was 13 meters long, 6 meters wide, and 2.7 – 3 meters high; these dimensions gave the vehicle an enormous 120 tonnes of weight. Originally the tank was designed to be longer and thus heavier reaching roughly 150 tonnes but due to a redesign and a shortening of the hull the total weight was reduced to the 120 tonnes mark. Even though it was based on the general design of the British Mark tanks, the K-Wagen was far from a copy and had many original features. The hull was sprung on to the track plates on locomotive springs and the tracks were unusual in carrying rollers on the track plates, instead of running over fixed rollers. For the electrical communications and control equipment, naval experience came into play since it was the same system as used in U-boats. The armor of the K-Wagen was 40 mm on the front consisting of two separate 20 mm plates that were stacked together, 30 mm on the sides, another 20 mm on the rear and roof and 10 mm on the floor.


The K-Wagen was powered by two glycerine-cooled Daimler-Benz 6-cylinder naval diesel engines, each capable of producing 650 hp, totalling 1300 hp. Coupled to an electromagnetic clutch transmission, it gave the vehicle a projected top speed of 7,5 km/h. The placement of the tracks was similar to the British tanks, following the vehicle’s circumference on the sides albeit it covered over the top. The two exhaust mufflers were located on the roof of the tank sending the exhaust fumes upwards. Directly behind those, air intakes for the engines were located. The two sponsons also had air intakes installed on the roof, most likely for ventilation of the crew compartment.

Rear view of the K-Wagen showing the exhaust mufflers and the air intakes.

Source: German Tanks in World War I The A7V and early tank development Wolfgang Schneider & Rainer Strasheim

Sketches showing the electrical Clutch (top) and the tracks with the rollers placed on top of them (bottom caption reads:all screws/bolts must be tightened and secured to prevent accidental loosening)

Source: Waffen Revue Nr.52


The K-Wagen was originally required to carry cannons, machine guns, and flamethrowers, but as the development continued, the latter ones were scrapped. As for the cannons, the 8.8 cm guns from Krupp were just as unsuitable as the 7.7 cm Feldkanone 96 neuer Art. The Artillery Test Commission then provided 7.7 cm guns from the Idstein Fortress. They were chosen because they had a recoil length of only 40 cm and therefore seemed suitable for the narrow fighting area. Four 7.7 cm guns were assembled in their two side compartments, each of which housed two guns, one gun firing forwards while the other fired to the rear, giving the vehicle the capability to fire at 360 degrees. The ranges of the individual guns crossed each other. The accommodation in the sponsons limited the firing elevation, but still allowed to fire to ranges up to 6,400 metres. Ammunition provided for the guns included 800 rounds for the cannons, and 21,000 rounds for the seven 7.92 mm Maxim MG08/15 machine guns. Each cannon was accompanied by a cylindrical shield that had a long vertical slit that provided the gunner with a clear line of sight. Additionally, at the left of each gun, above the cam lock, an aiming scope could be found as the gunner was seated on the left. The combined recuperator and barrel brake were located under the barrel. The elevation and aiming mechanisms were all hand-cranked using hand wheels for traverse. Due to the limited space, these wheels had to be arranged concentrically, so that there was enough space left for the lateral swivelling of the gun. The operation of the handwheels was therefore very uncomfortable.

Rear and front view of the 7.7cm cannons of the K-Wagen.
Views of the cannons and their mounts.

Source: German Tanks in World War I The A7V and early tank development Wolfgang Schneider & Rainer Strasheim


The tank was crewed by 27 men. The driver’s compartment was located in the front of the tank and housed two drivers and two machine gunners with three machine guns. Each driver probably would have control over one side of the vehicle’s gearbox, engine and transmission. The fighting compartment was located behind it. Featuring a cylindrical commander’s cupola on the roof that accommodated the commander and an artillery officer. Due to the placement of the cupola, they had a large area of dead space around the rear of the tank which could not be observed from the cupola. Behind that there was a signalman, further back the engine compartment equipped with two mechanics and at the end there was the gearbox compartment. The artillery cannons required 12 people for their operation, 3 per gun and the rest of the crew (6 people) was allocated to operate the machine guns on the side sponsons of the vehicle two soldiers per front facing machine gun and one soldier for the rear facing ones.

The K-Wagen would be operated like a true landship. The commander and the artillery officer observed from their cupola (bridge) and issued orders to the two drivers, who had no vision ports of their own. He issued orders to his batteries of guns and machine guns to engage targets. The way that orders were given were with the use of light signals.

Top down drawing of the K-Wagen showing the crew positioning inside the tank.

Source: Waffen Revue Nr.52

Drawing showing the compartments and the placement of the armaments on the K-Wagen.

Source: German Tanks in World War I The A7V and early tank development Wolfgang Schneider & Rainer Strasheim

Sketch of K-Wagen, showing the installation of the speed counters running from the engines to the driver’s compartment.

Source: Waffen Revue Nr.52


The tank was made from 4 dismountable basic parts weighing around 30 tonnes each, that were going to be transported via rail then loaded into lorries in loads of approximately 8 tonnes and then assembled about 6 km behind the frontline. In addition to the 30 trucks required, cranes, hoists with electric motors, etcetera. were also needed. This was made to ease the transportation of the massive vehicle.

Sketch showing the steps and the cranes that were going to be used on the field to reassemble the K-Wagen.

Assembly of the K-Wagen
Transport in partial loads and assembly at the place of use are carried out (see image above):
a)Laying out the track to the handrail crane.
b) Positioning the handrail crane.
c) Laying out the mobile runway with tracks, trolley wheels and feeder grooves.
a) The riveted floor of the K-Wagen is placed on the movable runway.
b) Spring bolts are screwed in place.
c) Hinge bolts for fixed joints are pulled in.
d) Bearing block is mounted and screwed on.
e) Left side armour and left side extension to facilitate trans- unload to the left for the time being.
a) Front, middle and rear walls are mounted and bolted to the floor.
b) Engine Is mounted.
c) Gearbox is mounted.
d) Mount the chain sprockets in the two sheet metal walls and screw them to the rear cross wall and the floor.
e) Both upper roller conveyors are mounted and the joints and connections are screwed together.
a) Mount and screw the side panels.
b) Hinge bolts for the fixed joint of the runway are pulled into the outer joints riveted to the side plate and finally splinted.
a) Side extensions with internal equipment and cooling devices are mounted and bolted.
b) Chain of the fixed runway Is inserted into the top of the runway and connected to the movable section.
c) Upper guide angles of the runway are mounted and bolted.
d) Interior fittings are completed.
e) Middle straight deck armour is fitted, then front and rear double armour is applied and bolted.

Fate of the K-Wagen

Two of these vehicles were almost near completion by the end of the war and were supposed to be used for the upcoming operations of 1919. Two of them were located at Berlin-Weissensee in the Riebe-Kugellager factory were near completion while an armored body was completed at Wegmann Carriage Works at Kassel. The ones at the Riebe factory were so close to completion that one of them was basically ready to undergo trials, but none were allowed to leave the factory since the war ended and the Allied Control Commission ordered for both of them to be deconstructed.

The K-Wagen at the Berlin Factory .

Source: Reddit

The two K-Wagens at the Berlin actory. Notice the size of the gears for the gear box.

Source: Reddit


The K-Wagen was a very ambitious project that was doomed to fail from the beginning since Germany did not yet have the experience and the industrial capacity to sufficiently produce these tanks, and even if they did, their combat effectiveness would be questionable since it had many design flaws. It still remains admirable though that, despite all the difficulties the project faced, it still managed to be put into production and having one almost ready for testing. Unfortunately, we will never be able to know how this landship would have performed on the battlefield, since it was not allowed to be finished and tested by the Allies.

Side view of the K-Wagen (mock-up).

Source: German tanks and armored vehicles 1914-1945 B. T. White

Illustration of the K-Wagen by Giganaut, funded by our Patreon campaign

Specifications K-Wagen

Dimensions (m) Height: 2.7 – 3
Width: 6
Length: 13
Crew 27
Propulsion 2 x 650hp Daimler-Benz 6-cylinder marine diesel engines
Armament 4 x 7.7cm Fortress Cannons , 7 x 7.92 mm Maxim MG08/15
Armor 30 mm-10 mm
Total Production 2 (not fully completed)


  3. German Tanks in World War I The A7V and early tank development Wolfgang Schneider & Rainer Strasheim
  4. German Panzers 1914-18 Steven J. Zaloga
  5. German tanks and armored vehicles 1914-1945 B. T. White
  6. Typenkompass Panzerkampfwagen im Ersten Weltkrieg
  7. Waffen Revue Nr.52
WW1 German Prototypes

Panzerautomobil Daimler 1909

German Empire (1908-1909)
Armored Car – 1 Prototype Built

As is the case with many early armored vehicles, the armored Daimler from 1909 is not widely known and has received only scant attention in publications. Just one vehicle was built, possibly as early as 1908, and it was used during maneuvers in 1909 alongside other vehicles with the aim of understanding the value of armored cars for the army. As the results were deemed to be negative, the German War Ministry abandoned the armored car as a viable concept and the Daimler 1909 disappeared from records.

The only known image of the vehicle, taken during the 1909 maneuvers. In the rear, two CGV 1905s can be seen. In terms of layout, the vehicle is quite similar to the CGV. Source: Allgemeine Automobil Zeitung


Unfortunately, most records of German armored cars made before 1918 were lost during the Second World War. Therefore, research is mostly limited to contemporary news reports, few secondary sources, and observation of the only known photograph. However, it is not uncommon that these contradict each other. Despite this, some information is still preserved and warrants an analysis.

It is possible that production of the armored vehicle had already begun in 1908. In the military magazine ‘Mitteilungen über Gegenstände des Artillerie- und Geniewesens’ from early 1908, it is mentioned that:

“An armored car was accepted by the Saxon Army Administration in Remscheid. It is equipped with a machine gun and the armor gives such protection that, even in close quarters combat, it provides complete protection for the crew.”

It is striking that the supposed 1909 model was also armored in the city of Remscheid. Furthermore, in the French ‘Journal des sciences militaires’ of November 1908, it is noted that if tests were successful, they would be taken into service as reconnaissance vehicles with Saxon regiments. Another mention comes from the Streffleurs militärische Zeitschrift from June 1909 which states that:

“in addition to the armored car of the Rheinischen Metallwaren- und Maschinenfabrik [Ehrhardt BAK, red.], which has been tested since 1907, another such vehicle was built in 1908 by the Versuchsabteilung of the Verkehrstruppen in Berlin and armored in Remscheid.”

An argument can be made against this position as well. A short notice in the Allgemeine Sport-Zeitung of 17th January 1909 mentions that an armored car was under construction for the Testing Unit of the German Mobile Troops (Verkehrstruppen) to be used during the autumn maneuvers. However, that does not necessarily disprove the theory, as it is possible that production started in 1908 and was still underway by early 1909. This is further strengthened by a mention from April 1909 that, in that month, an armored car was taken over by the Saxon Army Command.

Name of the Daimler 1909 Model

It appears that the vehicle never received an official name. It is generally referred to as an armored Daimler or Mercedes chassis. Since 1902, all sport and tour cars of the Daimler company were advertised as Mercedes, so naming it either Daimler or Mercedes is both correct. Walter J. Spielberger called it a 45-PS-Mercedes-Wagen, while Heinrich Kaufhold-Roll named it Mercedes-Panzer-Maschinengewehr-Wagen. Rainer Strasheim gave no name and referred to it as a “makeshift armored car, based on a 40 hp Daimler chassis”.



Close-up of the vehicle. Note how the radiator is unprotected and the windows are of a similar style compared to the CGV 1905. It can just be seen how the spoked wheels are protected by a steel disc. Source: Allgemeine Automobil Zeitung
A comparative image of the Charron Girardot et Voigt 1905 model. Note the similar wheels and the general layout of large windows in the sides and the large hatch in front of the driver. Source:


The vehicle was assembled in the city of Remscheid. A contemporary source mentions the Stahlwagenfabrik (Steel car plant), referring to the Bergische Stahl-Industrie. This factory did produce steel chassis for railway cars and thus had the right tools to be able to produce an armored vehicle.

The vehicle was based upon a commercial Daimler chassis, also known as Mercedes, but the specific model is unknown. It is also unclear how much horsepower the Daimler petrol engine provided, as figures are given of either 35, 40, or 45 horsepower. The spoked wheels, protected by steel discs, were shod with pneumatic tires and suspended by leaf springs.

In terms of external appearance, the vehicle showed similarities with the French CGV 1905 and seems to have been partially modeled after it. The front radiator was unarmored which allowed sufficient cooling of the engine, but also made it very vulnerable to enemy fire. The crew compartment was located behind the engine. The driver could see through a large hatch in the front, which could be folded up or down. Another large opening was located on the right side of the car. The presence of a similar opening on the left side is possible but not visible on the photograph. Behind the driver was a large open-topped crew compartment. Again similar to the CGV, large closable hatches were located on each side. It is unknown what the rear looked like. The car was open-topped but, in the single known photograph, a tarpaulin is fitted to protect against rain. According to the French Journal des sciences militaires, there was space in the vehicle for ten people, including a driver.

Spielberger claims that the vehicle was armored with 3.5 mm thick plates. This would have been totally inadequate to provide reliable protection against infantry weapons fire, especially from close range. This was made worse by the large hatches that were easy to fire through once opened and the pneumatic tires that could easily be damaged by enemy fire.

The car carried one 7,92 mm machine gun, but it is unknown how this weapon was deployed, either on a pivot extending above the vehicle or through the hatches in the sides. It is also unknown what kind of machine gun was carried. At the time, the German Army used a quantity of the Maxim-derived MG 99 and MG 01, while an improved model, the MG 08, was just taken into production. Either of those was used.

The Maneuvers

Plans had been made to comparatively test four vehicles during the 1909 autumn maneuvers performed by the 5. Garde-Infanterie-Brigade (5th Guards Infantry Brigade) in eastern Brandenburg. Among these vehicles were two Charron Girardot Voigt 1905 models acquired from France and originally destined for Russia. They were in use by the Kraftfahrabteilung (Motor Vehicle Department) and, over time, several improvements had been made. The third vehicle was an unarmored Büssing omnibus chassis with a simple flatbed and equipped with two machine guns. The last was the Daimler/Mercedes armored car. Even before the maneuvers, it was thought that the Büssing would perform the best, since it was the lightest.

The two German CGV 1905, also photographed during the 1909 maneuvers. Note that one is without a turret, presumably delivered like that. Source: Allgemeine Automobil Zeitung

Negative Results

The maneuvers yielded mixed conclusions with the observers. The mobility and fast maneuver speed of the vehicles on roads in good condition was appreciated, but at the same time, the very limited off-road capabilities were criticized. The Versuchsabteilung (Testing Department) recommended further testing. Using the test results, the department submitted a list of specifications, to which a successful armored car had to conform, to the War Ministry. It concluded that the armor had to be bulletproof against infantry weapons, the crew should be able to fire in any direction, cars should be equipped with solid rubber tires instead of pneumatic tires, and have a suspension that allowed for off-road driving.

However, on 12th March 1910, after a request of the General Inspection of the Military Transport Department, the War Ministry decided that all further tests with armored vehicles were to be suspended. They concluded that “Armored cars can have a military value in certain cases, such as border protection, being used as blockades in mountainous areas, or blowing up bridges over rivers, but otherwise, their usefulness in war is very limited.” This verdict was further enhanced by the high operation costs in peacetime and their inability to drive off-road, although the mobility on-road was appreciated. As a result, the development of new armored cars was suspended by the Infantry Department (A2) of the War Ministry.

Furthermore, near the end of 1911, the General Inspection of the Military Transport Department reached the conclusion that armored cars were technically too fragile and vulnerable, the engines were unreliable, and adequate armor would render the cars too immobile in battle and reduce the mobility when under enemy fire, making the vehicles easy targets for artillery and field guns. At the same time, a lightly armored car would be too vulnerable to regular infantry fire. An annual report from 1911 summarized: “The age of armor is over, as the weight affects speed, without providing real protection against fire.” Thereupon, the available armored cars were supposed to be sold off.

Fate of the Daimler

Presumably, all four vehicles were scrapped after being sold or at least stripped from their armor, although there may be a small possibility that the CGVs were used in 1914. According to Kaufhold-Roll, the Daimler vehicle would become the precursor to the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft Maschinengewehrträger from 1913. This was an unarmored machine gun carrier designed in 1913 and two examples were constructed in 1914.

The Daimler Machine Gun Carrier of 1913/1914. The vehicle was unarmored, apart from a gun shield that was carried on the side. Two of these vehicles appear to have been made. Source: Motorbuch Verlag


Although an elaborate assessment of the vehicle cannot be made with the limited information that is available, the Daimler was clearly not a great vehicle. Having decent mobility, the car lacked off-road capabilities and was poorly protected. The maneuvers of 1909 provided valuable information regarding what an armored car had to be capable of. However, instead of further investigating the concept and resolving the observed problems, it was decided that the armored car had been an interesting curiosity but its age was over. Little did the writers of these reports know that the armored age was just beginning.

A partially speculative Illustration of the Panzerautomobil Daimler 1909 by Yuvnashva Sharma, Sponsored by our Patreon Campaign.


Crew 10? (driver, attendant, troops)
Propulsion Daimler, petrol, 35-45 hp
Armor 3.5 mm
Armament non-fixed machine gun, personal firearms
Total production 1


Streffleurs Militärische Zeitschrift, Automobilwesen, 7th December 1909, p.1629-1630.
Streffleurs Militärische Zeitschrift, Kriegstechnik, 1st June 1909, p.515.
Mitteilungen über Gegenstände des Artillerie- und Geniewesens, Deutschland, 1st Issue, volume 59, 1908, p.40.
Wehr und Waffen 1914-1918, Ernst von Wrisberg, Koehler, 1922, p.159.
Allgemeine Automobil Zeitung, Panzerautomobile bei den deutschen Manövern, 22nd August 1909, p.9.
Allgemeine Sport-Zeitung, Notizen. Ein Panzerautomobil, 17th January 1909, p.69.
Journal des sciences militaires, 3 La voiture des ateliers Remscheid, 1st November 1908, p.170.
Het Bloemendaalsch Weekblad, De automobiel in verschillende legers, 17th April 1909, p.5. NHA.
Die deutschen Radpanzer im Ersten Weltkrieg, Heinrich Kaufhold-Roll, Biblio Verlag, 1996.
Panzer-Kraftwagen: Armoured Cars of the German Army and Freikorps, Tankograd 1007, Rainer Strasheim, Verlag Jochen Vollert, 2013.
Die gepanzerte Radfahrzeuge des deutschen Heeres 1905-1945, Walter J. Spielberger, Hilary L. Doyle, Motorbuch Verlag, 2002.

Various sources have been accessed via,, and

WW1 German Prototypes

Goebel Landpanzerkreuzer

German Empire (1913-1917)
Walking Vehicle – Scale Prototypes

After the debut of the tank on the battlefield in 1916, many inventors purported that they had already designed similar vehicles earlier and should be credited for its novelty. Australia had De Mole, and Austria had Günther Burstyn. In Germany, another man made the headlines as the inventor of the first tank, namely Friedrich Wilhelm Goebel with his Landpanzerkreuzer. His claim has some merit, although, instead of a caterpillar system, he had envisioned a system with walking beams. However, some of his contemporaries may have described him as a fraud, rather than an inventor ahead of time. At least two times, he managed to lure in investors with the promise of great profit, but instead depleted the funds with little results.

A scaled down version of the first design, as presented by Goebel in early 1914. Goebel himself sits in the front. Source: Berliner Illustrations gesellschaft via Getty Images

Goebel, forgotten innovator

Friedrich Wilhelm Goebel (or Göbel) may have been born in Königsberg (Kaliningrad after 1945) or Riga. At some point, he lived in Saint Petersburg on 52 Kazanskaya Street, but moved, probably before 1909, to Breslau in Germany, where he lived on 5 Stern Street (current day Poland, Wroclaw, Sienkiewicza Street). He was a machine builder and engineer by trade. In September 1909, he made the news for the first time, in relation to a perpetual motion machine he had built. It was excessively large, some three meters long and two meters high, and was quite useless. In some ways, this machine was a harbinger of what had yet to come.

In early 1913, Goebel finalized the design of a new revolutionary vehicle, one that could move without wheels. Instead, it utilized a walking-beam system. On 14 March, 1913, he applied his design to the German patent office. This patent, which described a “drive device for wheel-less vehicles, using skid-shaped supports”, is also the first documentary evidence of the design. He applied for it together with the Carowerke Für Blechindustrie G.m.b.H. from Berlin-Lichtenberg. Goebels’ relation to this company is unclear.

The first model Goebel made of his design was very small and used a foot pedal system, instead of any motorized propulsion.

The chassis of Goebel’s first system, which used a pedal system as propulsion. Source: Popular electricity and the world’s advance, vol.7, 1914, p.146.

The vehicle would be capable of crossing trenches, overcoming steep slopes, and crossing rough terrain. In February 1914, he also had applied his design to the German Army Technical Communications Testing Committee. In the same month, he was allowed to show the vehicle to the Verkehrstechnischen Prüfungskommission. Shortly after the testing, on 13 March 1914, he applied for the same patent at the British and French patent offices. The military showed interest in the design and asked Goebel to build a vehicle with a payload of 6 tonnes, a capability to cross ditches with banks of different heights, and have a turning radius of 15 m. Goebel promised to build and demonstrate a vehicle, but did not keep this promise.

After finishing his second model around April 1914, Goebel launched a successful publicity campaign. He referred to the vehicle as a ‘hebelschienen-automobil’, which roughly translates to a ‘lifting rails-car’. It had three sets of rails, attached to a rigid square chassis. Built on this chassis was a cabin, similar to a small train wagon. It was powered by a small 4-5 hp-engine. On 3 May, he showed the vehicle to an audience in Pinne, the same city where his workshop was located. For the event, a large ramp was built, roughly eleven meters high and inclined at roughly 50 degrees. Walking on its sets of runners, it successfully reached the top, where the German flag was hoisted in full glory. A second demonstration was held in Posen on 15 May.

Boosted by his success, he arranged a show in Berlin. During the Pentecost holiday, the Berliner Stadium was packed with people, including military officers, generals, technicians, and similar authorities. He was off to a good start and the vehicle walked to the elevation, which was, for the occasion, thirty meters high, nineteen meters higher than the recorded previous attempt. Unfortunately for Goebel, he would never reach the top. In front of hundreds of people, his vehicle broke down at the foot of the hill, subjecting him to embarrassment and scorn. The little interest in the vehicle evaporated into thin air.

At the time, roughly 300,000 Mark had been invested into the project by external parties and, after the Berlin incident, Goebel could not attract any more investors. Although he managed to repair the vehicle by building in a new engine, any military attention was lost. Without any commercial interest, the project was terminated and Goebel had to pay back his debt, which meant he had no personal funds available to continue the project himself.

The vehicle when it successfully overtook an eleven meter high ramp at 50 degrees in Pinne. A later show in front of many more people would fail, killing the first design stage of Goebels project. Source: Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung nr.44, 1916

Technical workings of the system

The idea of the walking beam system initially seems more complicated than it actually is. Basically, the vehicle was equipped with three sets of runners. While one set of runners is raised and moves forwards, the weight of the vehicle rests on the other sets. As the forward moving set gains a footing, it pulls the vehicle forwards, while the other sets repeat the motion. Essentially, it mimics the movement of a human and it can convey heavy loads with comparatively little power.

Figure 1 is a fragmentary side elevation of the under-frame. Figure 2 is a plan view. Explanation of the numbers: 1/2/3: runners 4: supports 5: revolvable rollers 6: closed guide tracks 7: chains 9/10: sprocket wheels. I and II refer to different positions of the runners. Source: DE patent 300981
Figure 3 is a sectional front elevation. Figures 4 and 5 represent a side elevation and plan view respectively of one end of the entire vehicle. Further explanation of the numbers: 11: engine 12/13/14: chains or similar transmission Source: DE patent 300981

Design issues

An issue that comes to mind is the way of steering and frankly, Goebel did not mention this aspect in his patents. One could suggest one of the sides could be moved in reverse while the other kept moving forward, but the drawings indicate this was impossible. Other issues that are apparent are the complete lack of suspension and the low ground clearance. It is easy to imagine how the runners would pierce into mud and immediately get stuck.

World War One

Very shortly after these events, the situation in Germany would drastically change as the nation plunged itself into the Great War. Supposedly, in September 1914, Goebel first got the idea to armor his invention, essentially creating an off-road armored vehicle. In November, he offered it to the German War Ministry and managed to get the greenlight to build an experimental example. Other sources mention he only came up with the armoring idea in early 1915. It took a while, but he could demonstrate the vehicle to a group of officers on 24 January 1916, but the test went miserably. The vehicle got stuck after just a few slow and timid steps. More importantly, it was established that the vehicle could not steer at all. A second test on 4 February did not go any better, which caused the German authorities to lose all faith in the project and abandoned it. It had cost roughly 50 to 50.000 Marks.

One photograph shows how litteral Goebel took his idea of a land battle cruiser with steering being done with a classic ship’s wheel.

Here, Goebel presents his invention to the German General Staff, but it reportedly broke down immediately. Faith in the project was lost and the General Staff showed no further interest. It seems like the ‘shed’ is attached to the vehicle. Source: Dutch National Archives (‘collectie het leven’)
Artist impression how the armored cruisers would appear on the battlefield. Armed with at least 10 machine guns on each side and with the main armament in the central mounted turret. The smaller model that was built later looks a bit different. Source: Dutch National Archives (‘collectie het leven’)

In September 1916, shocking news reports appeared in the German and Austrian press. As the Entente forces had introduced a new technical weapon onto the western battlefield, the Tank. It was, of course, impossible that Britain and France were technologically more advanced than Germany and Austria, so the main quest of the German-speaking central European press was to find similar inventions within their nations. And they succeeded. Austria found Burstyn, who had patented a design in 1911. Germany found Goebel. Within a few days, the failed lifting-rails car became a true technological advancement and a missed opportunity that could have won the war, according to the propaganda. In December 1916, a public speech was held by writer Wilhelm Hall about the greatness of Goebel’s invention and journalist Hans Möller wrote some publications about the vehicle.

This renewed interest was of great importance to Goebel. With people advocating for his design, it was again possible to attract new investors and revive the project. This was especially true after Hall proposed to start a national fundraiser to free Goebel from the hands of his usurers and allow him to build his invention for the Fatherland. The plea for help worked and Goebel managed to find new investors, so he was finally able to build a model of a proposed armored vehicle. In February 1917, Goebel presented his work to a select group of technicians and journalists, during which he answered critical questions satisfactorily. Goebel said his model would be ready during the second half of February 1917.

Goebel’s model of an armored land cruiser, shown between barbed wire. How big the real vehicle would eventually be is unclear, but if the wiring on top of the vehicle is supposed to be a railing, it could easily be tens of meters long. Inserted in the right corner is an image of Goebel himself. Source: Nieuwsblad van het zuiden

The Armored Land Cruiser

Thanks to two pictures of the model, we have a vague idea how the final vehicle would have looked like. At first, the vehicle seems to resemble a submarine, but on land. The symmetrical body, railing on a flat top, and a tower in the middle are distinctive features. According to Duncan Crow and Robert J. Icks in their “Encyclopedia of Tanks” from 1975, Goebel estimated that the real size vehicle would have a length of 36 meters (118′) and a height and width of 5 meters (17′). With all-around armor of 10 centimeters (10″), the vehicle would weigh around 550 tonnes. It is a bit unclear where this information comes from, but that the proposed vehicle would be big and heavy is certain.

Any further details of the design are unknown, but some educated guesses can be made. For example, the commanding and driving positions were likely in the central tower. The armament would have consisted of a large number of guns which were likely located all-round the vehicle in the extrusions visible on the scale model.

Apart from the clear technical problems, it was likely the sheer size, proportions, and weight of the vehicle that got it rejected by the German Army.

The model, photographed at the same time as the previous photograph, but from a different angle. Its design makes it clear Goebel was inspired by the navy and literally is a land cruiser.

An anecdote claims that the German Crown Prince, also called Wilhelm, heard of the rejection after the presentation. Seeing some potential, he arranged a second demonstration in June 1917. Goebel decided to replace the walking runners with steel spheres which acted as some kind of ball bearings. This solution was also labeled to be impractical and the vehicle was rejected again. It is unfortunately unknown what this system would have looked like.

In 1930, Goebel was fully convinced his armored land cruiser could have changed the war. With 20 or 50 of them, he said, the war would have been decided very quickly. They would have been invulnerable and invincible since the enemy had no anti-tank equipment and would panic from the sight of the vehicles.


In a way, Goebel fell victim to patriotic propaganda. His project was already a dead-end, and the revival of the project plunged Goebel into more debt. In June 1918, he was declared bankrupt by the Berlin court. At the time, he had a debt of 800.000 Mark, roughly a million dollars in 2015 value. Personally, he blamed the German military authorities. After all, he had pursued the project with the aim to help the war effort, while the ministry kept him at bay, not stopping him from investing more money into the project. The case of his bankruptcy also made it to the Reichstag, where a member pleaded to at least compensate Goebel for his efforts.

However, clearly, patriotism was not the only force driving Goebel, as the financial prospects were attractive as well. After all, his promise that much money could be made was what lured in the investors in the first place. Since it was not clear what Goebel had spent all the money on, a criminal investigation was launched against him. Shortly after these events, Goebel moved to Switzerland.

A new truck, as it was photographed in early 1923. Source: Popular Science Monthly

Better luck in Switzerland?

While living in Switzerland, Goebel tried to revive his career. He rented a workshop in Dietikon, near Zürich, where he started work on a new vehicle. Promising to build a new and wondrous “Wüstenschiff” or desert ship, he managed to find new investors who were willing to pay with the promise the invention would be worth millions of dollars.

In 1924, the curtain fell for Goebel. The construction of his wondrous desert ship dragged on and on. This delay raised some eyebrows and eventually, it was found out that Goebel was under criminal investigation in Germany and that he had been described as chronically paranoid by psychiatrists. In response, he was taken into custody by the local authorities and a search of his house revealed the addresses of all his financiers who could then be informed. They had been scammed by the promise of millions of dollars of profit once the invention was up and running. All the money was gone, and all that was left was the frame of the truck. What happened to Goebel afterward is unknown but he eventually returned to Berlin, where he died in poverty on 31 October 1931.

An older Goebel. Source: Dutch National Archives (‘Collectie Het Leven’)

Further developments by Viag

The idea of a walking vehicle was further pursued by the company Viag (Venzlaff-Industrie A.G.), led by Richard Venzlaff, Walther von Mumm, and Arthur von Mumm. They designed a first prototype in 1922, which was completed and patented in 1923, while a second prototype was finished in 1925. In April 1923, the truck appeared as a ‘new invention’ in the Popular Science magazine. It was described as an invention of a German engineer and based on the ‘tank concept’. It is unknown to what extent Goebel was involved with the design process, or if he was involved with it at all.



This vehicle was completed by Viag in 1923. The design utilized parts of a Dürkopp truck. The movement principle was identical to that envisioned by Goebel. First, the outer set lifts up, moves to the rear, settles down, and the motion is repeated by the inner set. Source video: История русских танков часть 1; Source image: Wheels & Tracks no.73 via


Although of novel construction, the Landkreuzer failed to gain enough attention and the accident during Pentecost meant the project was exterminated. Goebel fixed the problem and supposedly got the idea in September 1914 to armor it, but nothing came to it. In September 1916, it quickly became a German propaganda tool after the British and French tanks were unleashed on the battlefields of the Western Front. Years later, Goebel himself claimed that his invention could have won the war. However, his design had fundamental problems, and given that the earliest reference of armoring the vehicle only goes back to September 1914, there is no real evidence that an armored vehicle could have been built before the war.

In fact, it appears that Goebel suffered from delusions and that he was more capable to make debt, rather than an actual armored land cruiser. Despite this, when he died, newspapers reported it as the death of the inventor of the first tank.


The internet is a great place for myths to circulate on. Although many wrong things have been written about Goebel, which were hopefully all rectified in this article, one myth needs to be discussed separately. For years, pictures of a rather advanced tracked tractor circulated on the internet with the claim it was designed by Goebel during the First World War, but that is totally untrue. In fact, it is a non-suspended tractor made by the Leipzig-based firm Wotan-Werke in 1926 and is known as the Type A. It was built to test the differences between a suspended, and non-suspended tracked chassis.

The Wotan-Werke Type A tracked tractor, built in 1926, had nothing to do with Friedrich Wilhelm Goebel. The claim that Goebel designed this vehicle during the First World War is nonsense. Source: Walter J. Spielberger
An illustration of the 1917 scale model. This model looked a bit different to an earlier artist’s impression, and how Goebel envisioned a full-sized vehicle is unclear. An illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.


Friedrich Wilhelm Goebel, 1913, Antriebsvorrichtung für Räderlose, mit Hilfe kufenförmiger Stützen sich fortbewegende Fahrzeug, DE Patent 300981, issued 14 March 1913
Friedrich Wilhelm Goebel, 1914, Improvements in and relating to vehicles, UK Patent 6432, applied 13 March 1914, issued 28 May 1914.
Friedrich Wilhelm Goebel, 1914, Véhicule sans roues, FR Patent 469610, applied 13 March 1914, issued 25 May 1914.
Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung, No. 19, 10 May 1914, p.21-22.
Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung, No. 44, 29 October 1916, p.11-13.
Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung, No. 51, 17 December 1916, p.31.
Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung, No. 49, 9 December 1917, p.32.
Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung, No. 23, 9 June 1918, p.37-38.
Neues Wiener Journal, 22 September 1909, p.9.
“Landpanzerkreuzer”, Neue Freie Presse, 3 January 1917, p.15.
Een Land-Pantserkruiser, De Tijd, 15 February 1917, p.2.
Wheel-less Truck Walks on Metal “Feet”, Popular Science April 1923, p.48. Accessed on
Der “Landpanzerkreuzer”, Reichspost, 20 March 1924, p.5.
Der deutsche erfinder des tanks gestorben, Freie Stimmen, 5 November 1931, p.4.
Wiener panzerungeheuer, Kleine Volks-Zeitung, 12 November 1931, p.6.
De Tank. Uitvinder miskend en in armoede gestorven, Het nieuws van den dag voor Nederlandsch-Indië, 15 December 1931, p.19.
Der May-Freund Hans Möller
Was wir vom Weltkrieg nicht wissen, Walter Jost & Friedrich Felger, 1938, H. Fikentscher Verlag, p.317.
Viag 1917-1926, pdf posted by Hedi on the Landships Forum.
German Panzers 1914-1918, Steven Zaloga, Osprey Publishing, p.5-6.
Die Rad- und Vollkettenzugmaschinen des deutschen Heeres 1870-1945, Walter J. Spielberger, Motorbuch Verlag, p.139, 143. used to convert currency.
NB Austrian newspapers and magazines accessed at
Dutch newspapers accessed at

WW1 German Prototypes

Opel-Darracq Kriegswagen für höhere Truppenführer

German Empire (1906)
Armored Car – 1 Built

The Opel-Darracq Kriegswagen für höhere Truppenführer (Staff War Car) was first presented to the public in early 1906 at the automobile show in Berlin. At this show, the newest vehicles and trends in automobile building were presented to the world, including this open-topped armored car. Built by an Opel workshop in Berlin, it was one of the first (partially) armored cars made in Germany, closely followed by the Ehrhardt Ballon-Verfolgungsfahrzeug. Production of one vehicle took place in 1905 and it was offered to the German War Office.

Period artwork of the Car. Photo: Motorbuch Verlag

Early Armored Car Development

The idea of an armored carriage or vehicle to be used during battle dates back to the Middle Ages, but remained imagination until the invention of the internal combustion engine and the following emergence of commercial automobiles. With chassis becoming more durable, and engines more powerful, it was finally possible to mount armor on a self-propelling vehicle without too many limitations. Early examples are Simms’ War Car and the Austro-Daimler Panzerwagen, however, the function of these vehicles in combat was still to be discovered during the years preceding the First World War. Various roles were considered, like armored machine gun platforms and self-propelled (Anti-Balloon) guns. Anti-balloon was an important feature as they were used for artillery spotting and similar tasks. The Opel Kriegswagen, on the other hand, was developed to explore what role an armored car could have as a command car.

The Opel Company

Opel built its first automobile in 1899, but production did not get off the ground. It became more serious in 1901, when a contract was finalized with the French car manufacturer Darracq, and Opel received permission to build Darracq vehicles under license. A year later, Opel used Darracq chassis to built their own built bodies and advertised these vehicles as Opel-Darracq.
Opel also started to develop more powerful engines, and in 1903 it successfully built its first 4-cylinder engine. The first 4-cylinder engines were designed at the very end of the 19th century and were still an important novelty in 1903. In 1905, a service center and showroom opened its doors in Berlin and in this service center, the armored car was assembled. It was based on a 40-PS-Opel-Darracq-Fahrgestell. The vehicle was designed by Ing. Emil Aug. Schmidt.

The Opel 35/40 PS Luxus Doppel Phaeton, using the same chassis as the Kriegswagen was based on. Photo:


The layout of the Kriegswagen resembles commercial Opel-Darracq cars and seems to be based on the 35/40 PS Luxus Phaeton, possibly the doppel variant, with the engine in the front, the driver’s compartment in the center, and the passenger compartment in the back. Due to the vehicle being open-topped, a foldable canvas roof was installed. The vehicle was painted in a light color, probably light yellow or grey. A German Army eagle was also painted on the front and sides.
A covered spare wheel was mounted on the back of the vehicle and a luggage rack was mounted below it. The vehicle also carried a toolset for field repairs.

Technical Specifications

The vehicle was rear wheel driven and powered by a 4-cylinder Opel engine, producing 40 hp (29,8 kW) at 1500 rpm with a volume of 6.8 liters. The engine was water cooled and a ‘beehive’ cooler and fan were also installed. The engine power was transmitted using a four gear transmission. The fuel tank volume was around 40 liters. The wooden spoked wheels were equipped with pneumatic tires and suspended by semi-elliptical leaf springs.

Armor and Armament

The Commercial Motor Magazine from 15th February 1906, states that the armor, made of Spezialstahl (‘special steel’) and produced by the Krupp firm, had a thickness up to 2.362 inches (60 mm), but this is an error and should be 0.2362 inches (6 mm). The surface was designed with as few extensions as possible to increase the chance of bullets glancing off.
The armament consisted out of two quick-firing Mauser guns, which had a fire rate of 100 rounds per minute, and four Mauser C96 pistols. The guns were not mounted in a fixed position so they were hand-held by the crew and could be used in any position. When the vehicle was displayed at the show in Berlin, one gun was placed through one of the front vision ports.

An artist impression of the Opel Kriegswagen during action. Photo: Kriegstechnischen Zeitschrift 1906

Illustration of the Opel-Darracq Kriegswagen für höhere Truppenführer produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Crew and Officers

A total of six seats were mounted in the vehicle. Two were meant for the general in command and his personal assistant. A further two revolving seats were meant to be used by staff officers while the two seats in the front were reserved for the driver and an attendant, who operated the front machine gun.
On each side of the passenger compartment, a telescope was installed. These could be used by the officers and were mounted on immovable stands. Two desks were mounted inside the vehicle that could be used for laying out maps or other similar equipment, used by officers. Two small electric lamps were also installed to allow vision when dark.
Other special arrangements, made for the officers, were the addition of two cases to store maps, two provision cases, one chronometer, a compass, and two sword sheaths.

The vehicle at the Berlin exhibition in 1906. Photo: The Commercial Motor Vol.11, No.49.


In 1905, the armored car was ordered by the German War Office and bought for an unknown amount of money. The exact date of when the vehicle was finished is unknown, but it was before the exhibition at the Berlin Automotive Show in February 1906. After the vehicle was inspected, the War Office was not satisfied with the vehicle, and no more vehicles were built.
During the same year, the company Ehrhardt developed and built a fully armored self-propelled anti-balloon vehicle (the first of its kind) but this vehicle was also rejected by the German War Office. Only in 1908 did interest in armored vehicles reappear, and several armored vehicles were used during the army maneuvers in 1909, including two French-built Charron Girardot & Voigt armored cars.


Crew 2 (driver, attendant)
Passengers 4 (Officers)
Propulsion 40 hp, 4-cylinder engine
Speed 40 km/h
Armament 2x Mauser quick-firing guns, 4x Mauser C96 pistols, 2 swords
Armor 6 mm (0.24 in) all over
Total production 1

Links & Resources

Second report of the Berlin Show, 15th February 1906. From Commercial Motor, Vol. 11, No. 49.
Opel Militärfahrzeuge 1906-1956, Eckhart Bartels, Karl Müller Verlag, 1999.
Die gepanzerte Radfahrzeuge des deutschen Heeres 1905-1945, Walter J. Spielberger, Hilary L. Doyle, Motorbuch Verlag, 2002.
Die deutschen Radpanzer im Ersten Weltkrieg Technische Entwicklung und Einsätze, Heinrich Kaufhold-Roll, Biblio Verlag, 1996.
Kriegstechnischen Zeitschrift, 1906.
Pkw-Modellprogramm 1899-1995, Opel-Motorwagen 35/40 PS, page 18.
Opel History

WW1 German Prototypes

Ehrhardt Ballon Abwehr Kanone (BAK)

German Empire (1906)
SPAAG – 1 Prototype Built

The beginning of the twentieth century saw the emergence of the first armored car designs. The first vehicles were partially armored, like the British Simms’ War Car and the French Charron, Girardot & Voigt (CGV) of 1902. Fully enclosed vehicles started to appear in 1905, like the armored car from CGV and the Austrian Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil. Inspired by these vehicles, German engineer Heinrich Ehrhardt started to develop an armored car as well, but he had a new idea in mind; exploiting it as an anti-air vehicle.

Contemporary artist impression of the Ehrhardt BAK acting as infantry support during an attack. Source: Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad

Heinrich Ehrhardt

Heinrich Ehrhardt was a German entrepreneur and industrialist. He was born in 1840 in the town of Zella-St. Blasius (Zella-Mehlis). Ehrhardt founded several factories, including the well-known Rheinmetall factory in 1889, located in Düsseldorf, as well as several car factories. In 1903, he founded the Gustav Ehrhardt Automobile AG in his hometown, which started producing both civilian and military trucks. From 1906 onwards, the factory started to produce trucks for the military only. During the First World War, these factories played quite a big role in the German war effort, with their most famous vehicle probably being the Ehrhardt E-V/4 armored car. Ehrhardt died in 1928, at the age of 88.

The Balloon and its Opposition

The development of the Ehrhardt BAK is not only connected to the development of armored cars in the early 20th century, but is also related to the development of military aircraft, especially balloons, during the same period. The 19th century saw the rise of a new weapon, the balloon. Its potential strategic and tactical use for military operations, like observing the battlefield, was well-recognized, especially in Germany, the home of Zeppelin. However, a new weapon also required a new weapon to fight it.


Already in 1905, Ehrhardt experimented with the idea of an anti-air gun on a car chassis, when he mounted a small-caliber gun on an Ehrhardt-Décauville 16/20 PS chassis. Although the pivot design was inspired by anti-air guns made by Friedrich Krupp since the Franco-Prussian war from 1871, the elevation system and the gun itself were made by Rheinmetall, the company founded by Heinrich Ehrhardt.

The Ehrhardt-Décauville from 1905, equipped with a Rheinmetall gun. Source: Stanislav Kirilec
During 1906, Ehrhardt designed and built the Ehrhardt BAK. It was ready in time to be presented at the VII. Automobil Ausstellung (Car Exhibition) in Berlin at the end of 1906. It was the biggest car exhibition in Germany at the time and was also visited by the German Emperor Wilhelm II. He also inspected the Ehrhardt. It was the second time an armored car was exhibited at the show, as Opel already presented their Kriegswagen during the previous exhibition in early 1906.


Like many early armored vehicles, the Ehrhardt BAK does not have an ‘official’ name. The most common designation: Ehrhardt Ballon Abwehr Kanone (Anti Balloon Gun), BAK for short, is also used in this article, but the vehicle often goes under different names like Panzerautomobil (armored car), Panzerkraftwagen (armored truck), Ballon Verfolgungsfahrzeug (balloon suppression vehicle), or Ballonabwehr Automobil (anti balloon car). Essentially, these different names are all descriptions of what the vehicle really is, an armored self-propelled anti-air gun, the very first of its kind ever produced.

The Ehrhardt being inspected by the German Emperor (x) at the VII. Car Exhibition in Berlin. Note the 5 cm shells standing on top of the engine compartment. Source: Public domain


The Ehrhardt BAK was based upon a conventional chain driven light lorry, with rear wheel drive, the engine in the front, and driver compartment in the middle. The vehicle was protected by 3 mm thick armor all around and louvers were made on the front and sides of the engine for sufficient cooling. The armor thickness was criticized by military experts as they rightfully noted that the armor was too thin to stop enemy fire, and so it was only an unnecessary ballast and waste of precious resources.
The driver’s compartment offered space for the driver on the right and a commander on the left side. Both had one vision slot facing forwards and the complete front armor plate could be folded upwards for better vision but should be closed in case of direct combat. Doors were installed on both sides of the vehicle.
Although no official documentation is known about the color of the vehicle, a visitor of the Exhibition in Berlin notes in a Dutch newspaper that the armored car was grey. On pictures of the Exhibition, the Ehrhardt seems to be painted in a light color which suggests a lighter shade of grey.

A retouched image showing the vehicle with a half-opened front plate and gun in lowest depression of 5 degrees. Source: Contemporary newspaper

Illustration of the Ehrhardt Ballon Abwehr Kanone, produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Engine and Performance

The vehicle was powered by a 4-cylinder petrol engine, producing 50-60 hp which powered the back wheels by means of a chain-drive. The vehicle, complete with five men crew, fuel, and 100 shells would weigh 3,200 kg. Mobility was sufficient to be able to cross muddy roads and it could take slopes up to 22 degrees (40%). The wheels were shod with solid rubber tires. According to the official specifications, the vehicle could reach a speed of 45 km/h (28 mph) on roads, but this was heavily contested by military officials as they did not believe a vehicle on solid rubber tires could reach that speed without heavily tearing the engine or suspension.

The 5 cm gun which was the main armament of the Ehrhardt BAK. Source: Österreichische Illustrierte Zeitung

Detailed view of the shell. The left shows the interior of the shell and seen on the right is the aluminium double-detonator with the three open wings made of brass. Source: Illustrierte Aeronautische Mitteilungen – Deutsche Zeitschrift für Luftschifffahrt 13.1909


The vehicle was armed with one 5 cm Rheinmetall gun which fired shrapnel rounds weighing 2.4 kg at a velocity of 450 m/s. The round contained 40 g bursting charge, 128 hard cast lead bullets of 8 g, and 36 hard cast lead pieces of 9 g. A total of 100 shells could be carried, having a combined weight of 240 kg, which were stored in the back of the vehicle.
The maximum horizontal firing range was 7,800 m with an elevation of 43 degrees. The maximum elevation was 70 degrees which would result in a shooting distance of 3,800 m. The gun could depress 5 degrees and turn 60 degrees, 30 degrees to each side. The limited turning radius was one of the most criticized aspects by contemporary military officials, as it would limit the utility of the vehicle significantly. It would not only reduce the vehicle’s flexibility against air targets but also severely limit the vehicle’s capability to defend itself against close land targets.

The armored car with a fully elevated gun. Note the man sneakily looking through the left vision hole. Source: Österreichs Illustrierte Zeitung

Further Development

After the vehicle was rejected, Ehrhardt did not give up on the concept. He took the main criticism into account and presented a new vehicle which shared the same chassis, crew layout, and gun, but without the big armored superstructure. Only the lower half remained armored, which meant that weight was reduced, the ‘useless’ armor was done with and the gun now had a much better effective firing range. It was this simpler concept that was further developed during the following years leading up to the First World War. When Ehrhardt presented this vehicle remains a bit unclear, as dates range between 1907 and1909.

The new vehicle without the armored superstructure. The registration plate (IZ-4259) indicates that the vehicle was registered in the Rhine Province, home of Rheinmetall. Source: Bain Collection


In the end, the Erhardt was both a breakthrough and a failure. The armor was too thin, the effectiveness of the gun was limited, and the vehicle was not mobile enough. Nevertheless, it was an important milestone in armored vehicle development as it fulfilled a role which is still in use today. The vehicle was to be followed by many anti-air vehicles produced in Germany, either armored or unarmored, which were developed before the war and extensively used during the war.


Total weight, battle ready 3,200 kg (7,055 lbs)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, two assistants)
Propulsion 4-cylinder petrol, 50-60hp
Speed 45 km/h (28 mph)
Armament 5 cm Rheinmetall gun
Armor 3mm (0.12 in)
Total production 1


Die gepanzerte Radfahrzeuge des deutschen Heeres 1905-1945, Walter J. Spielberger, Hilary L. Doyle, Motorbuch Verlag, 2002.
Die deutschen Radpanzer im Ersten Weltkrieg Technische Entwicklung und Einsätze, Heinrich Kaufhold-Roll, Biblio Verlag, 1996.
Militaire Spectator: Tijdschrift voor het Nederlands Leger jrg. 67, B. ten Broecke Hoekstra, January 1, 1907.
Автомобили-зенитки Первой мировой войны. На передовой «войны моторов», Станислав Кирилец [Stanislav Kirilec], Яуза [Yauza], 2018.
“Brieven uit Berlijn. Mondain.”. “Leeuwarder courant”. Leeuwarden, 12-11-1906. Consulted on Delpher.

WW1 German Prototypes


German Empire (1916-1917)
Wheeled Tank – 1 Prototype Built

The Treffas-Wagen seen from the left front. The armament is not installed. The rear wheel is turned. Source:

After the British Army introduced the Mark I tanks on the battlefield for the first time in September 1916, the German War Ministry responded by ordering several German firms to design and produce a prototype for a similar war machine. One of the approached firms was Hansa-Lloyd based in the city of Bremen, which came up with a working design. Ten prototypes were planned to be built. The engineers of Hansa-Lloyd, having no experience with designing either armed or armored vehicles, came up with a big-wheel design which they called Treffas-Wagen. A single prototype was completed on February 1, 1917.


The company Hansa-Lloyd Werke A.G. was set up in 1914 as a merger between Hansa-Automobil GmbH, established in 1905, and Norddeutsche Automobil- und Motorenwerke Aktiengesellschaft (NAMAG), established in 1906, which owned and produced the Lloyd car brand. The firm was located in Bremen in the Hastedt subdistrict, part of city district Hemelingen. Producing cars, trucks, and tractors, the firm had no experience with building any kind of armored vehicles when they were approached by the German War Ministry in September 1916 to build one. The director of Hansa-Lloyd, Robert Allmers, was part of the A7V committee in which several other representatives and leading experts of the German industry were seated.


The vehicle is easily recognizable by its two wide and large front wheels, with a diameter of roughly 3 meters. Between these two large wheels, an armored fighting compartment was located which extended to the back in a tail-like shape. At the very end of this tail, a castor like steering wheel was attached which gave the vehicle a tadpole tricycle layout. The engine delivered enough power to reach the maximum speed of 10 km/h. The fighting compartment housed a crew of four; a commander, a driver, a gunner, and a loader. The armament installed during initial tests consisted of two Panzerbüchsen (AT rifles), which were capable of penetrating the British Mark I tank’s frontal armor.

A design drawing of the Treffas-Wagen which is called ‘Version I’, armed with a 5.7 cm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun, the same as on the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank. This drawing differs from the built prototype in the design of the ‘tail’. The pipe above the tail is the exhaust pipe. Source:

What guns these were is a bit unclear, with sources either mentioning a Mauser type or 2 cm TuF guns. After some tests, the armament was removed. An alternative design, although never executed, saw the use of a 5.7 cm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun, the same gun as used in the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank.


When the vehicle was subjected to thorough tests in February and March of 1917, many fundamental problems were encountered. The guns had such a powerful recoil that, after firing just a few shots, the gunner could not continue shooting due to significant head and shoulder pains, which raised grave concerns over the vehicles operational ability. Another issue was the center of gravity which was too far forward. When driving over a ditch, there was a high chance the vehicle would flip itself, which actually happened during a test in the summer of 1917. The vehicle dug itself in, got stuck, and eventually flipped itself over.

All issues combined, this vehicle had serious engineering problems caused by the design, which is not so strange given that this vehicle was one of the first of its type and the first armored vehicle designed by Hansa-Lloyd. On May 14, 1917, a demonstration was held which included the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V wooden mock-up, the Orion-Wagen, the Dür-Wagen, and the Treffas-Wagen. After these trials, the OHL (Oberste Heeres Leitung – Supreme Army Command) concluded that the Treffas was unfit for combat use and rejected the design. Besides the fact that the vehicle did not perform very well, a reason for the rejection was the better alternative design, the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank, built by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, which went into serial production in October, the same month in which the Treffas was dismantled.

The back of the vehicle, taken in the same area as the other picture. The height of the vehicle can be appreciated when compared to the man standing next to it. Source: Motorbuch Verlag

The Idea of Big Wheel Tanks

The idea of armored big wheel tricycle vehicles emerged in other countries as well, most notably the Tsar Tank from the Russian Empire, although this vehicle was developed from a rather different perspective, and had different design problems. A vehicle, a bit more similar to the Treffas, was the Steam Wheel Tank developed in the US, although this vehicle had a delta tricycle configuration instead of a tadpole tricycle. The Steam Wheel Tank in itself is said to be a development of the Big Wheel Landships designed in Britain in 1915.
There were two main reasons why big wheels were thought to be practical, the first being that larger wheels make more ground contact which could reduce ground pressure, improving off-road maneuverability. The other reason was that large wheels can more easily overcome obstacles.

The Wargel LW 3

The Lauster Wargel LW 3, commonly confused with the Treffas-Wagen. Although showing similarities, it has no connection with the Treffas. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although the Treffas-Wagen was the only Big Wheel vehicle built during the First World War and interwar period in Germany, during World War Two, a similar vehicle was built by Lauster, called the Wargel LW 3. Although the vehicles were not related, they do show similarities.


Baffled by the introduction of the tank, the German War Ministry hastily ordered several armored war machines. Although looking promising on paper, the Treffas-Wagen turned out to be a failure due to fundamental flaws in the design. The vehicle was scrapped in October 1917 and the experience gained by designing and testing the vehicle was never used in future projects. The Treffas-Wagen was one of many armored vehicle projects that never passed the blueprint or prototype stage in the German Empire during the First World War.


Dimensions (L-H) 6 x 3 meters
Total weight, battle ready 18 tonnes
Crew ~ 4 (Commander, driver, loader, gunner)
Armament 1x 5.7 cm Maxim-Nordenfeldt or a 2 cm gun
Speed 10 km/h (6.2 mph)
Total Production 1


German tanks in World War I, Wolfgang Schneider & Rainer Strasheim, Schiffer publishing, 1990.
Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der Reichswehr, Wehrmacht, und Bundeswehr, Werner Oswald, Motorbuch Verlag, 1982., 18 untaugliche tonnen stahl, Max Polonyi., Treffaswagen, Tim Rigsby.

Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #2

Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #2

The second issue of the Tank Encyclopedia magazine covers the fascinating history of armored fighting vehicles from their beginnings before the First World War up to this day! This issue covers vehicles such as the awe-inspiring rocket-firing German Sturmtiger, the Soviet SMK Heavy Tank, the construction of a replica Italian FIAT 2000 heavy tank and many more. It also contains a modeling section and a feature article from our friends at Plane Encyclopedia cover the Arado Ar 233 amphibious transport plane! All the articles are well researched by our excellent team of writers and are accompanied by beautiful illustrations and period photos. If you love tanks, this is the magazine for you!
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