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

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


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

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


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.

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.

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: Landships


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

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.

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


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 2x smaller guns
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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