German Empire/United States of Mexico (1913-1914)
Armored Car – 2 Built
Before World War 1, armored vehicles had not yet come into fashion. Still early in their development, they could not yet prove their technical and tactical capabilities, but this did not prevent individuals and companies from building new vehicles. One of the companies that decided to build armored vehicles before the war was the German car manufacturer Protos Automobile GmbH based in Nonnendamm and subsidiary of Siemens-Schuckertwerke. At least two vehicles were built and sold to Mexico, the first German armored cars to be exported and see active, albeit limited service.
An Unknown Start
Nothing is known about the development of the Protos Panzerauto, but it presumably came to light as a private initiative, like many other armored vehicles before World War 1. The possibility that it was originally ordered by the German military is incredibly slim, as the armored car concept had been rejected some years earlier. When trials were held in 1909 with three armored cars, a German Daimler model and two French CGV 1906s, as well as one unarmored car, the German high command decided against their adoption. The armor was considered an unnecessary burden to the mobility of a vehicle, without providing sufficient protection. The lack of off-road capabilities and high maintenance costs were also decisive factors.
The Manufacturer Protos
The Motorenfabrik Protos was founded in 1899 by Dr. Alfred Sternberg. Initially, vehicles with small 1-cylinder engines were produced, but Sternberg started the development of larger and more powerful engines. Soon after, he introduced a 2-cylinder engine and in 1904, a 30 hp 4-cylinder engine. An improved model of this engine came out later and was able to produce 42 hp. This engine was used in E1 model cars. It seems that production of these models started in 1906 when the workshop moved to Reinickendorf, Berlin. In the summer of 1908, Oberleutnant Koeppen used a Protos E1 to win an automobile race around the world, leading Protos to become a renowned brand.
In October 1908, Protos was bought by the Siemens-Schuckertwerke [SSW] and became a division of that company. Manufacturing moved from Reinickendorf to SSW in Nonnendamm, Berlin. SSW had already been producing electrical vehicles and now, with the acquisition of Protos, also got a strong petrol car construction branch.
Design of the Panzerauto
The design of the vehicle was quite simple and, in some ways, everything that is to be expected of an early armored car. It was based on a regular commercial chassis, a Protos 18/42 Typ E1 that was first introduced in 1906. The 4 cylinder, 4.56 l petrol engine produced 42 hp and was placed at the front, protected by armor. It could be accessed via hatches from either side, which hinged upwards. The armored louvers on the front could be closed from within the crew compartment by a special bar placed over the engine compartment. Two large headlamps were mounted on the front of the vehicle, while two smaller ones were fixed just behind the engine, on the crew compartment.
The headlamps were of the acetylene type, known as ‘carbide lamps’. They worked by putting a piece of calcium carbide on the bottom while water was placed in the top part. This would drip down on the carbide and the chemical reaction that follows would form acetylene gas, which was lit, producing the light.
The crew compartment was located behind the engine. The driver sat on the right and could see through two large hatches in the front and a small closable hatch on his right hand side. No vision slits were made in the front hatches, so they could not be fully closed during driving. To the left of the driver, there was space for another crew-member, likely a commander or observer, but he would have blocked the sole entry point of the vehicle.
The whole crew had to enter through a door on the front left side of the hull. Central in the crew compartment, on a raised platform, stood a water cooled 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun on a pedestal which could also be used against elevated targets, such as potential aerial targets. When standing on the platform, the gunners and crewmembers would largely be exposed to enemy fire, but the machine gun was equipped with a gun shield to provide at least some protection. Furthermore, on both sides of the vehicle, two small closable hatches were located, which could be used by the crew to see through, or potentially to fire through with handheld weapons. Apart from the driver and commander/observer, there was room for at least six more men, including the gunners.
It is unknown what the rear looked like, since there are no photographs or descriptions of it, but photographs from the side and top seem to suggest that it was a flat vertical panel.
The wheels were shod with, what appear to be, regular pneumatic tires and suspended by leaf springs. The vehicles had common wooden spoked wheels, which were possible to be protected with an armored disk as seen on one photograph.
In terms of armor, a figure of 3-4 mm is given. If this is true, this would have been inadequate to effectively act as armor, as many projectiles would be able to penetrate it. Without being able to provide proper protection, the weight of the armor would only act as a disadvantage for the vehicle, making it unnecessarily heavy. That said, a variety of early armored vehicles were very thinly armored, like the Austro-Daimler Panzerautomobil with just 4 mm and the Ehrhardt BAK with just 3 mm, to name a few.
In case the given figure is wrong, one expects at least 6 mm of armor, the minimal thickness required to expect decent protection against bullets, at least when high quality steel is used, like a chrome-nickel alloy. Most armored cars that were built since 1914, although not all of them, featured at least 6 mm of armor plating.
In 1910, a revolution broke out in Mexico. Armed forces, led by Francisco Madero, Pascual Orozco, and Pancho Villa, engaged with government troops to contest the regime of President Porfirio Díaz following rigged Presidential elections. Díaz was forced to resign in May 1911 and went into exile. New elections in October made Madero the new president of Mexico. His presidency was tumultuous and, as former President Díaz put it, Madero had unleashed a revolutionary force he was not able to control.
During the Ten Tragic Days in February 1913, Madero and his Vice President were forced to resign and were assassinated after a military coup led by General Victoriano Huerta, supported both by the United States (until March) and the German Empire. In this context, at least two Protos Panzerautos were ordered by Huerta in early 1914. They were shipped to the port city of Veracruz, where they arrived either in July or early August.
However, on 15th July, Huerta was forced out of office by a coalition of several revolutionary forces that included the Constitutionalist Army of Venustiano Carranza, the Zapatistas of Emiliano Zapata, and the Villista of Pancho Villa. The Federal Army was officially dissolved on 13th August. Therefore, the Protos never saw any service with the Federal Army of Huerta. When the vehicles were transported from Veracruz to Mexico City, where they were unloaded at the Buenavista Railway Station, they fell into the hands of the Constitutionalist Army of Venustiano Carranza, which had entered Mexico City on 20th August. On 16th September, a Protos was used during a parade through the streets of Mexico City.
Shortly after the defeat of Huerta, the revolutionary coalition was dissolved and the Constitutionalist Army of Carranza saw itself fighting against the Conventional Army of Pancho Villa and Zapata. Based on photographic records, the Protos did not see much fighting. Instead, one seems to have broken down as, in one image, attempts can be seen to tow it away, while in another image, the rear axle is visibly broken. This was probably because the chassis was overloaded by the combined weight of the armor, machine gun, and the crew. Eventually, the vehicle was stripped of its accessories, including the headlamps and the armament. In this sorry state, it was likely captured by the Conventional Army when they entered Mexico City in December 1914. The vehicle disappeared afterwards and was probably scrapped. If the second armored car saw any service beyond 1914 is unfortunately unknown.
The Protos and Other Armored Vehicles in Mexico
The role of armored vehicles during the Mexican Revolution is very obscure and unfortunately ill-documented. It is for sure that by 1913, at least one armored train was used and that by 1914, three armored cars were in use, including two Protos in Mexico City and another armored vehicle in Northern Mexico that was used by the Brigada Zaragoza. This particular vehicle was also capable of traveling by rail. Later, the Salinas tank was built in 1917 by TNCA. Furthermore, around 1920, at least two other armored car designs were produced, and several features of these show a striking resemblance to the Protos. Both Protos vehicles, like most of these other armored vehicles, seem to not have been used extensively, probably due to the early breakdown of one.
A German Vehicle?
For a while, it was thought that a third Protos Panzerauto was built and used by Germany against the Russian Empire in the First World War. A wartime Russian publication called The Mirror published two photographs of a Protos, reportedly after capture. There is, however, no further evidence to support this claim, and these appear to be pre-war photographs. The photographs appear to show a unique Protos, with protective discs put over the spoked wheels and armor that extends over the rear wheels. However, this could well be explained by the notions that the discs were easily demountable, while the rear armor was maybe an earlier or later design iteration proposed by Protos, but never adopted. Provided the relatively poor quality of the pictures, contemporary manipulation of the photographs should be taken into consideration as well.
There is clear evidence for at least one armored vehicle that was present in East Prussia in the early days of the First World War, namely an armored truck of the Benz-Werke Gaggenau. The Protos joins the list of two French Charron Girardot Voigt 1905 models which were possibly still available as well, but there is no further evidence to purporter either claim.
The current knowledge on the Protos Panzerauto mainly stems from the available photographs, once again highlighting the importance of imagery for our understanding of the past. Long forgotten, the vehicle was rediscovered relatively recently and is gradually receiving more attention. The vehicle was a typical early armored vehicle, with some design issues, including an overly exposed armament. It was the only armored car designed by Protos, one of the first armored vehicles deployed during the Mexican Civil War but, just like the others, still shrouded in mystery.
Approximate Dimensions [LxWxH]
4,5 x 1,8 x 2 m [14.8 x 5.9 x 6.6 ft]
4-7? (driver, commander, 2-5 gunners)
Protos 18/42 PS, 4-cylinder, 4.56 l, petrol, 42 hp
3-4 mm [0.12-0.16 in]
1x 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun
Mexican Protos Armored Car – National Army (Ejército Nacional). México, 1914, José Luis Castillo, 13 December 2011, armoredcars-ww-one.blogspot.com. Panzerauto Protos (German Armored Car) M1913, José Luis Castillo, 22 January 2015, armoredcars-ww-one.blogspot.com. Panzerkampfwagen: im Ersten Weltkrieg, Typenkompass, Wolfgang Fleischer, 2017, Motorbuch Verlag. Panzer-Kraftwagen: Armoured Cars of the German Army and Freikorps, Tankograd 1007, Rainer Strasheim, 2013, Verlag Jochen Vollert. Siemens Zeitschrift Juli 1925: Die Geschichte des Protoswagens, Dipl.-Ing. M. Preuß, Automobilwerk der SSW, Siemens Automobilmotoren, bungartz.nl. “Autos aus Berlin: Protos und NAG” von Hans-Otto Neubauer, Verlag W. Kohlhammer GmbH, Stuttgart 1982, Protos Motoren Vorgänger der Siemens-Motoren, bungartz.nl.
The Protos: Siemens as an automobile producer, Siemens Historical Institute 2018, pdf.
German Empire (1880-1918)
Mobile Artillery – 444 Built
The Fahrpanzer served as a mobile artillery piece that was used in German border fortifications after its introduction into the German army in 1890. Prior to the First World War, the Fahrpanzer was sold to a plethora of countries. For that time, it was a very innovative weapon system thanks to its quick-fire gun and its ability to be deployed on both defensive and offensive operations. Approximately 444 pieces were in service with various countries during the Balkan wars (1912-1913) and the First World War.
Context- A New Era
After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the idea of open gun positions that were exposed to artillery was becoming obsolete. As a result, a lot of static turreted fortifications from Gruson’s foundry started appearing on Germany’s coastal borders. As artillery was becoming deadlier and more effective with the use of high-explosive (HE) shells, it was clear that a more mobile version was going to be needed. The stagnation of the First World War proved that the concept of a gun carriage was something that could not only serve as an excellent fortification, but as an assault weapon as well.
Designed by the German inventor and engineer Hermann August Jacques Gruson, the Fahrbare Panzerlafette für leichte Geschütze (English: movable armor carriage for light guns), later changed and shortened to Fahrpanzer (English: mobile armor), was patented in 1885 in Germany and 1887 in the United States. The design, however, predates both of those dates, as the patent application was filed by Gruson on 23rd July 1880. It was built as a transportable gun carriage that would provide adequate shielding for the crew whilst being able to provide fire support for the infantry. The design, even though it may appear odd, was made to be easy to deploy and move from point A to point B. Gruson was an industrial entrepreneur, so ease of production was taken into consideration while developing the Fahrpanzer. This explains why it was shaped like most of the German border fortifications of that era, since Gruson’s foundry was already producing such weapon systems.
During development, it was suggested that the concavo-convex roof could be supported by means of a central column, on which it would rotate: this design proposal was not selected, as Gruson instead preferred to transfer the weight of the roof to the upper edges of the side walls of the casing at the edges of the roof, thus achieving the same revolving effect. This was, in effect, a modern turret. This design was not only cheaper but also simpler. It had increased durability to shock and recoil damage, and was also more space efficient, allowing the crew to operate the gun more efficiently.
The original design was equipped with the Gruson 5.3 cm L/24 rapid fire cannon and operated by a crew of 2 soldiers. Other models and configurations of this gun carriage show that other guns were also used, such as the Gruson 5.7 cm turret gun M. 1892, the Austrian made 6 cm (actual caliber 5.7 cm) Fahrpanzer Kanone M98 and the 3.7 cm L/30 M.1887. In Tangerhütte (a town in the district of Stendal, in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany), Gruson AG erected a 10 km long firing range. The guns that were tested there were then exported around the world. Though patented by them, it is unclear if Gruson was the sole producer and manufacturer of the Fahrpanzer.
An illustration suggests that, at some point, there was the idea of a remote-controlled, machine-gun-armed Fahrpanzer, however, no photos or documents exist to suggest the idea ever evolved past the conceptual stage.
The gun carriage consisted mainly of three components: the revolving concavo-convex roof, the cylindrical casing (1,655 mm high and 1,540 mm in diameter) and the wagon with the wheels on which it was transported. The turret was given this shape in order to better withstand small arms fire. The casing was cylindrical so that the turret could rotate. Furthermore, in some configurations, the casing was mounted on top of two wheels, with the axles of these wheels secured to the casing. Most of the time the casing was supported by four small rollers.
The roof was supported by rollers which were placed in a circular rail that was installed on the casing, so that it could rotate on that axis. This was, in effect, a turret. At the rear, the casing had a double-sided door through which the gunner was able to enter and exit – these had to remain open most of the time, given the high rate of fire and the inability of the small opening that the turret had to vent the gun fumes. The armament’s trunnions were connected to the armor-plate top, so that the recoil could be absorbed by the whole body of the casemate. The gun’s depression could be adjusted with the assistance of a bell-crank lever that was operated by one arm. The gun was aimed through a hole in the turret, with an aiming point that was located to the right of it, and a sight that was located at the end of the barrel. To stay in any position, the gun’s trunnions were placed behind its center of gravity. Beneath it, near its center of gravity, a rubber roller (preferably rubber from India according to Gruson himself) was placed and served as a pivoting point while it also helped absorb shocks. The gunner inside the casing was provided with a seat on which he sit while aiming the gun, while resting his feet on the platform.
According to the original design and drawing that was presented to the United States Patent Office, the gunner was able to rotate the turret by pressing his feet on the platform and pushing with his shoulders against a U-like shaped bar that was connected to said turret. However, some later drawings and photos contradict the layout of the drawings that were presented at that time and clearly show that the turret was able to rotate with the use of a hand wheel that was connected to the main bar that supported the roof. The seat, the hand wheel and the bar were all connected to each other and were rising from the floor of the platform and branched out in order to be used by the gunner.
Means of transportation
The Fahrpanzer was meant to be transported on wheels by a special wagon and pulled by either a horse or a motor. The wagon had a set of rail tracks on which the casing was placed. It also had four wheels: two large ones that were placed on the rear, so that they could absorb the weight of the metal casing and two smaller on the front that would allow the wagon to turn. On the battlefield, the Fahrpanzer was placed either in a static covered location or on a 60 cm narrow gauge railway that allowed it to move in and out of cover, so that it would not be exposed to enemy artillery fire.
The turret could be equipped with a variety of cannons, such as the Gruson 5.3 cm L/24 rapid fire cannon, Gruson 5.7 cm turret gun M. 1892, the Austrian made 6 cm (actual caliber 5.7 cm) Fahrpanzer Kanone M98, and the 3.7 cm L/30 M.1887.
Gruson 5.3 cm field gun L/24, Model 1887/1916 :
The primary armament of the gun carriage was Gruson’s 5.3 cm field gun. This gun was designated as a quick-firing gun because the ammunition (the shell and the cartridge) were one item, thus speeding up the loading process. The gun itself could fire a maximum of some 30 shells per minute, and was served by a 2 man crew. It was also not stabilized, thus decreasing the accuracy. The most common shells in use were canister and shrapnel. The elevation is estimated to have been between -5° to +10° and the muzzle velocity was around 480-495 m/sec. The effective range of the weapon also depended on the type of shell that was fired. A rough estimate is 400 m to 3,200 m. The gun’s traverse, due to its placement in the turret, was 360° and a full rotation could be completed in 15 seconds or more, depending on the gunner.
Gruson 5.7 cm turret gun L/25.6, Model M.1892:
This gun was also designated as a quick-firing cannon for the same reason as the 5.3 cm gun. Being of a slightly larger caliber and having a lengthier cannon, this gun performed somewhat better than its 5.3 cm counterpart. It could fire the same shell types at longer distances and was also operated by a crew of 2. This specific gun was more popular with exports due to the fact that it was easier for the crew to traverse and conceal than other counterparts that existed at the time. The gun’s maximum range was 5,500 m. Elevation was between -10° to +10° and it could be fully traversed.
Gruson 3.7 cm turret gun L/30, Model M.1887:
The quick-firing cannon Gruson 3.7 cm turret gun L/30, Model M.1887, was also used alongside the variants mentioned above. The maximum range of the cannon was around 2,000 m, and the length of the barrel was 1,300 mm. It was also served by 2 soldiers. Elevation was also between + 10° / – 10° and this gun was also fully traversable.
The gun, despite being designated as a 6 cm, has a true caliber of 5.7 cm and this has to do with the way that the Austro-Hungarian army was naming their large caliber cannons (usually rounding up to the nearest integer). Due to the lack of information on this particular weapon, it seems that it could be a licensed production of the Gruson’s 5.7 cm gun but with a different cannon breech.
The casing was made of 40 mm thick cast-iron all around. This explains why the Fahrpanzer was susceptible to artillery fire and needed to be concealed when under enemy artillery fire. The casing could withstand small arms fire. Due to the fact that it was primarily used as an advanced fortification, if further protection was needed, the army could reinforce the Fahrpanzer’s position with earthworks and other protective means.
The gun carriage was operated by 2 soldiers; one was the gunner/loader and the other was the ammunition supplier (not to be confused with the loader). In order for the weapon system to be able to fire quickly, the ammo supplier would sit at the entrance of the Fahrpanzer, even though there were two seats in the fighting compartment. This arrangement of the crew was obligatory since it would be impossible to operate the gun efficiently with two people inside such a small space. The ammunition supplier was suspending ammo boxes from the railing that was placed under the turret ring, so that the gunner could always have easy access to the ammunition. Some modern images and sources place the ammunition on the floor of the platform, around the gunner’s feet, which is most likely where the ammo was actually located, since a small metal divider existed between the gunner’s position and the rest of the platform.
During transportation, the Fahrpanzer was placed on top of the wagon, with the gun facing the rear, while the crew was sitting on small seats and moving the whole thing like a normal horse pulled wagon.
A Bulgarian source reports that, during trials for the adoption of the Fahrpanzer, a variant equipped with a 7.5 cm gun was tested but ultimately was rejected since the 5.7 cm variant was easier to conceal and transport. Other variants could include some casings that had their small rail rollers completely removed in order to increase gun accuracy. These were not placed on the 60 cm narrow gauge railway but they were buried on the ground, making them more static and permanent defences. A source also suggests that some other ones from the Romanian Army were converted to anti-aircraft defences.
A multitude of countries operated the Fahrpanzer outside of the German Empire. The following countries either bought or captured and incorporated the gun carriages into their armies: Austria-Hungary, Kingdom of Bulgaria, Chile, Denmark, Kingdom of Greece, Kingdom of Italy, Kingdom of Romania, Russian Empire, Kingdom of Serbia, and Switzerland.
The biggest operator was the Kingdom of Romania, with reportedly 334 models of the 5.3 cm and the 3.7 cm being purchased and used during the Balkan wars and the First World War.
The German Empire was operating around 200 of the initial 5.3 cm variant from 1890 to the end of the First World War.
The Kingdom of Bulgaria also bought 30 of the 5.7 cm variant, and they arrived in Bulgaria between 1892-93.
The Kingdom of Serbia operated 4, probably of Bulgarian origin, that were captured as trophies of war during the Second Balkan war.
The Kingdom of Greece bought the 6 cm and 3.7 cm variants, probably from Austria-Hungary, as before the start of the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), Greece decided to equip its army with mostly Austro-Hungarian equipment. Two surviving Fahrpanzers that are located in the Athens military museum are of Bulgarian origin, so the Greek army probably managed to capture some of the Bulgarian weapons as well.
The Fahrpanzer was supposed to be, according to Gruson himself, “[…] very advantageous for use in the construction of temporary fortifications or entrenchments …”. The way of setting up the defensive position was as follows: after the guns were unloaded from their wagons, they were placed at a distance from each other and buried inside the earth at the turret’s ring height, with the exception of the doors that were placed on the rear. If more time was available, small concrete positions were constructed that acted as a place that the Fahrpanzer could withdraw to via small rail tracks if needed. When the enemy attacked, the guns could be moved to a firing position thus take the enemy by surprise or could hide if counter artillery was fired by the enemy. When the defensive line was no longer in use, the whole thing could be loaded back on the wagons and moved.
Service in the Romanian Army
The 3.7 cm variants were purchased for the first line of the fortification systems from Focșani and Turtucaia. Thus, in Galați, on the Danube and very close to the border with the Russian Empire, there were 45 batteries, with 5 pieces each on average, and around 14 pieces in Turtucaia, in south Dobrogea, in what is now part of Bulgaria. In total, there were 225 guns. They were still available in 1916, completed with 361,284 projectiles.
The 5.3 cm variants were purchased for the construction of the fortified line in Focșani, near the Carpathian Curvature (15 batteries of 6 pieces), in Nămoloasa (24 batteries of 3-5 pieces) and in Galați (30 batteries of 6 pieces, 10 batteries of 3 pieces and 10 pieces in the Brateș area). They were also placed in Dobrogea, at Cernavodă, Turtucaia and Silistra. These cannons were produced in Germany.
These cannons served for almost 20 years as fortress artillery but, during the period of neutrality (1914-1916), all 334 cannons were transformed into slow-fire infantry support cannons.
Service in the Bulgarian Army
After the Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885, Bulgaria started gearing up for a war against the Ottoman Empire. This meant that the Bulgarian army had to face the fortress of Odrin (Adrianople/Edirne), which could be regarded as the most powerful strongpoint in the Balkans. In 1891, Major Nyagul Tzvetkov was sent to the German firm Grusonwerk (Gruson’s foundry) at Magdeburg to test the 5.7 cm Fahrpanzer. Exhaustive tests with a 5.3 cm gun took place from the 22nd to 24th June at Sofia. They were repeated on 8th and 9th December at Hademköi, near Istanbul, with a 5.7 cm gun. On 25th May 1892, the 5.7 cm was chosen and 30 Fahrpanzers were bought. They arrived in Bulgaria in 1892-93. The gun carriages were most likely used during the siege of Adrianople.
There are a lot of surviving examples, some with their original carriages and some without them. They can be seen in a lot of museums.
Belgium: Army Museum in Brussels: One example without the carriage, caliber 5.3 cm.
Bulgaria: Sofia National Museum of Military History: One fully restored example, caliber 5.7 cm.
Greece: Athens War Museum: Two examples with their carriages (War trophies), caliber 5.7 cm
Switzerland: One example can be spotted on an old fortification.
France: Mutzig Fort – Feste Kaiser Wilhelm II: Two examples that still fire blank shots, caliber 5.3 cm.
Denmark: Royal Danish Arsenal Museum – one example without the carriage, caliber 3.7 cm.
Chile: Naval Gun Museum – two examples with their carriages, caliber 5.3 cm
Poland: Polish Army Museum and Museum of Polish Military Technology – some examples of the caliber 5.3 cm.
As a whole, the Fahrpanzer was a very innovative idea for its time, with capabilities that would lead other European nations to copy its design. The quick-firing gun and the ability to be moved easily gave it a unique role that could not be filled by other means of the time. These reasons played a major role when it came to its adoption by a significant number of militaries around the globe. In conclusion, even though it had many benefits, the lack of self-propulsion and the arrival of the first tanks were what ultimately brought the concept of the Fahrpanzer to an end.
x 1.655 height diameter 1.540
2 (one gunner/loader, one loader/ammo supplier)
2 / 4 horses
Gruson 5.3 cm L/24
Gruson 5.7 cm L/25.6
Gruson 3.7 cm L/30
German Empire (1918)
Light Tank – At Least 24 Built
The German delays in developing their own tanks were due to a report following the examination of a knocked out Mk.II tank in 1917. The British Mk.II tank had been built as a training vehicle with a soft-metal armor plate. Nevertheless, instructions were given for them to be transported to the battlefield and used in combat. The Germans conducted firing trials on this tank and concluded that it was not a serious threat, because the armor could be penetrated by machine-gun fire, artillery, and direct fire from anti-aircraft and field guns. The advances made at Cambrai with the fully armored Mk.IV tank changed their appraisal of the usefulness of the tank. The Germans started a process of recovering as many Mk.IV tanks as possible, rearming them with German guns and using them against their previous owners. They also built twenty Sturmpanzerwagen A7V break-through tanks. German designers realized they needed a more agile light tank to perform a cavalry role. Work started on designing a Leichter Kampfwagen, a light tank.
Did the Germans copy the British Whippet?
There is no documentary evidence to suggest that the Germans knew about the design and construction of the British Medium Mark A ‘Whippet’ light tank in 1917. The fact that the German Leichter Kampfwagen II (LKII) light tank looked very similar to the British Whippet is just a coincidence due to similar requirements.
The German words ‘Leichter Kampfwagen’ literally translates to ‘light combat vehicle.’ A better translation would be ‘light tank.’ The tank was also known as the LK.II. It had a top road speed of 16 km/h (10 mph). Although they were designed in 1917 and manufactured in 1918, they never saw combat with the Imperial German Army during WW1. After the war, some were sold to Sweden and Hungary. The Arsenalen Swedish Tank Museum has three surviving vehicles and a fourth can be seen at the German Tank Museum at Munster.
Development and production – Leichter Kampfwagen I (LK.I) light tank
In May 1917, German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank designer Joseph Vollmer became interested in developing a light tank, as he was disillusioned with the slow cumbersome, heavier tank designs. It needed to be constructed quickly, and the best way to do that was to use existing engines, transmissions, and other mechanical parts.
Joseph Vollmer submitted a light tank proposal to the German Supreme Command (Oberste Heeresleitung – OHL). In September 1917, a research project was authorized by the OHL that included the construction of a prototype. In the Autumn of 1917, tank production was not a priority for the OHL. They had seen the limited success of earlier British and French tank attacks that had been stopped by artillery and the muddy conditions of the churned-up battlefield scarred by deep shell craters. The OHL believed that further enemy advances with tanks could be stopped with the resources they already had. This view changed after the Battle of Cambrai, 20 November 1917. The temporarily substantial advances achieved in one day using combined arms tactics and the mass tank attacks shocked the senior German officers.
In March 1918, the first tracked light tank chassis, with a working engine and transmission, was ready for trials (this was the same month the British Whippet went into action for the first time). The trial results were disappointing, as the maximum speed obtained was only 18 km/h (11 mph). On 7 April 1918, when the armored superstructure and turret were bolted onto the chassis, this top speed was reduced to 16 km/h (10 mph). It was soon found that the 14 cm (5.5 inches) wide tracks were too thin. New 25 cm (9.45 inches) wide tracks were ordered to be fabricated. This caused a delay, as they did not arrive until 20 April 1918. However, work started on producing an alternate design to this first version of the Leichter Kampfwagen.
Development and production – Leichter Kampfwagen II (LK.II) light tank
At the same time, Joseph Vollmer had been working on a second design that would become the Leichter Kampfwagen II (LK.II). The original Leichter Kampfwagen was now given the designation LK.I. The new tank design had thicker armor than the LK.I, making it heavier. The tracks were the new 25 cm (9.45 inches) wider version.
On 26 April 1918, German intelligence sources reported to the OHL that the French were mass-producing their own 5-6 tonnes light tank, the Renault FT. On 13 June 1918, Joseph Vollmer demonstrated the LK.I prototype to Lieutenant-Colonel Max Bauer, head of OHL operations section II at the Krupp proving ground. In June 1918, the first LK.II prototype was finished.
On 17 July 1918, after further meetings, the OHL placed an initial order for 670 LK.II tanks, with the option of increasing that to 2,000 tanks by 30 June 1919 and a further 2,000 to be finished by December 1919, bringing the total to 4,000. The first production LK.II left the production line on 10 October 1918. The order was canceled the following month when the First World War ended.
The following sections will describe the design of the machine-gun armed variant of the Leichter Kampfwagen II, of which at least 24 vehicles were built.
The LK.I and LK.II light tanks were developed independently but roughly at the same time. The main difference was the length of the tracks. The LK.I prototype had a long protruding track frame at the front of the tank meant to make crossing trenches and getting up the far side of shell craters easier. This apparent sensible design feature was abandoned for a more compact frame. They found that there was too much track in contact with the ground. This made the tank very hard to steer and turn.
The British tank designers had found the same problem when they lengthened the frame of their Mk.V tank by six feet (1.82 m). This tank was called the Mk.V* tank (it was pronounced mark five star tank). The Mark V tank could turn very well, but the Mk.V* had great difficulty turning tight corners. The British designers corrected this fault on the Mk.V** (‘double star’) by making the bottom of the track frame more curved to reduce the amount of track in contact with the ground on solid terrain. The Mk.V** did not enter mass production due to the First World War ending.
There is a lot less track in contact with the ground on the LK.II light tank compared with the LK.I. The front of the track still juts out in front of the tank body, so it is the first thing to make contact with the far side of an enemy trench or shell crater, but not as much as the track system on the LK.I light tank.
The German light tank designers did not fall into the same poorly designed track system seen on the British Lincoln No.1 Machine, the French Schneider tank, the French St Chamond tank, and the German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank. The bodies of these four tanks were in front of the tracks and came in contact with the mud first. This caused the tanks to get stuck in the sludge of trench walls and shell crater earth banks.
Reducing the length of the tracks at the front of the tank on the LK.II light tank did away with the need for a strengthening metal frame having to be installed between the two tracks, as on the LK.I light tank. That frame would have dug into the mud and hindered the tank from climbing out of a ditch.
During trials, it was found that the engine overheated. Conditions inside the fighting compartment were also uncomfortable due to the heat, fumes, and noise. The louvered grill at the front of the tank and those on the side did not ventilate the engine compartment sufficiently. In October 1918, the solution was found. A big fan was fitted next to a large radiator in front of the engine. This required a redesign to the front of the tank. The louvered grill was removed and replaced with a solid sheet of armor that sloped in the opposite direction to that of the grill on the LK.I tank. It was hinged at the bottom to enable the protective metal armored plate to swing down to allow access to the radiator and fan for maintenance. The angling of the armored plate increased the amount of metal an enemy’s armor-piercing bullet would have to pass through. It would also increase the chance of bullets ricocheting and aid the tank to slide up the muddy bank of a trench or shell crater. The protruding tracks would bite into the mud first, but the mud between the tracks needed to slide off the tank’s body, not dig into the mud wall.
On the LK.I light tank, the track frame, road wheels, drive sprocket, and idler wheel were all protected by slab-sided armor plates. This caused problems with a build-up of mud. On the production version of the LK.II light tank, two long mud shoots were built into the top of the armored track cover.
The road wheels on the LK.II light tank were all sprung. They were not on large springs, but they did have a small range of movement that helped give a smoother ride. Each wheel was attached to a ‘bogie’ suspension unit. There were four road wheels attached to each unit. Each one of these units had an additional amount of rotation to help the tank get over small obstacles and rough ground.
The track tensioning system was exposed and looked very similar to the system used on British tanks. To make an adjustment, a crew member would loosen the hexagonal locking nut on the outside of the tank track suspension protective armor at the front. He would then use a spanner to change the settings on the tensioner rod that could be accessed via a rectangular panel and then tighten the locking nut again.
The tank chassis was riveted. Welding was not used in manufacturing during the First World War. The superstructure was bolted onto a metal frame. The front radiator armored plate was 14 mm (0.55 inch) thick and angled. It was hinged to allow access to the engine compartment for maintenance. The bolts that kept the armored plate in place had conical tops to protect them from damage. The front, side, and rear armor ranged in thickness between 12 mm (0.47 inch) and 14 mm (0.55 inch). The armor on the top of the superstructure and turret was 8 mm (0.31 inch) thick. The belly armor was only 3 mm (0.12 inch) thick.
The LK II was powered by a German Daimler-Benz Model 1910 4-cylinder 55-60 hp petrol engine. It had two, 2-cylinder banks that were bolted onto the same crankshaft. A wide leather belt came off the crankshaft and turned the fan blades for the large single radiator. The engine compartment was separated from the fighting compartment by a firewall that was mainly made of wood. It did not entirely seal around the edge of the compartment frame, as there were gaps that allowed airflow, flames, toxic and flammable gases to pass along the outer skin of the vehicle with ease. The wooden firewall would provide a few additional vital minutes to allow the crew to escape the tank in the event of an engine fire. A wooden firewall is not ideal but any firewall is better than nothing and wood is cheap, easy to put in place, and repair.
The fuel tanks were on each side of the engine compartment. To fill them, a crew member would have to open the engine hatch and undo the filling cap. He would then have to use a hose or long funnel to pour fuel into the tank. An external filling cap was not fitted. He would have to repeat this process to fill the fuel tank on the other side of the engine.
To start the tank, the crew had to turn the hand crank at the front of the vehicle. This was very hazardous in a combat situation. In 1929, an internal engine crank handle and an electric starter were fitted to the upgraded Swedish Army version of the LK.II, the Stridsvagn m/21-29 tank.
Both the LK.I and LK.II light tanks were armed with a 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun in a fully rotating turret. The 57 mm gun version did not have a turret. The machine gun was water-cooled and was fitted with a large protective metal tubular jacket around it. It was fixed into position on a ball mount that had some spring stabilization. There were additional pistol ports on each side of the turret. If for some reason, the turret ring got jammed, the commander could fire his personal issue PO8 Luger out through these holes. They could also be used as vision ports.
To traverse the tank turret, the commander had to grab two handles, brace his back against two pads at the back of the turret and use his legs and arms to physically move the turret by brute force. There was no electric turret traverse motor or a manual handle attached to a geared wheel. The commander had vision slits in the side of the turret and in the cupola. These were not protected by blocks of thick bulletproof glass. If they were hit by an enemy bullet while the commander was looking through them, he would receive eye and facial injuries.
What looks like a fire extinguisher at the back of the turret is, in fact, a small fuel tank for the internal lighting system. There were no electrical lights inside the tank. The tank commander could enter and leave the tank via a large rear hull door.
Towing and Recovery
The LK.II light tank had a large ‘A’ frame at the rear of the tank, below the door. It was designed to be used to tow artillery pieces, trailers and recover disabled tanks or be used to be towed if it suffered a mechanical breakdown. The chain was stowed above the rear door on the left. It just hung down and was attached to the rear ‘A’ frame towing bracket with a D-shaped lock. It must have made a very loud noise going over rough ground as it constantly banged against the side of the tank. Next to the chain, fixed to the rear hull to the left of the door, was a long metal ‘tankerbar’.
Additional Machine Guns
Although the tank could be operated by two crewmen, the driver and the commander/gunner, there were four additional machine gun mounts built into the LK.II tank hull. There was one in the front of the hull superstructure, on the left of the driver’s position. There was one built into the back door and one on each side of the hull. These could not all be manned at the same time due to a lack of space, and whoever operated the extra machine gun would have had to change position depending on where the threat came from.
The additional machine gun would be stowed inside the tank and only fitted in the gun mounts when required. The Swedish Army operated these tanks with four crew members. The two additional members manned the side machine guns. It is not known how many men the Imperial German Army would have assigned to these tanks if they had been used in combat.
The Driver’s Position
The LK.II tanks sold to Sweden were converted to be right-hand drive vehicles. Prior to 3 September 1967, traffic in Sweden drove on the left side of the road and all vehicles were right-hand drive. The German, Berlin-based, company Steffen and Heymann sold the LK.II as a “heavy tractor.” This company did not build the vehicles. They acted as intermediaries and negotiated contracts. Photographic evidence suggests that the conversion of the driving position to the right-hand drive of tanks being shipped to Sweden was done in Germany prior to transportation.
The driver had a forward-looking vision slit and two more to his left and right. These vision slits were built into hatches that could be opened and removed when not in a combat zone, to give better visibility. To the right and left of the driver were access/escape doors. The foot controls were not in the order seen on modern cars, with the clutch on the left, brake in the center, and accelerator on the right. For this vehicle, the clutch pedal was on the left, the accelerator in the middle, and the brake on the right. As the driver put his foot on the brake, the clutch pedal automatically depressed. This reduced the chance of stalling the engine.
The driver steered the tank with two tillers: the lever on the left controlled the left track and the one on the right controlled the right track. As the tiller moved back, it disengaged the clutch on one side and engaged the brake. The four-speed gearbox control lever was on the right of the driver. There was no speedometer. The only instrument dial that the driver had to monitor was the oil pressure gauge.
On 30 August 1918, a Leichter Kampfwagen light tank prototype was transported to a military training ground near Saarburg, near the Luxembourg border. The German Army Group Herzog Albrecht was given the job of appraising the tank and using it in training exercises. It is not known if this tank was a LK.I light tank, a LK.II armed with a 57 mm gun or a LK.II machine gun light tank.
On 7 September 1918, a Leichter Kampfwagen light tank was recorded as being present with a Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank and taking part in a demonstration exercise. It is not known what type of Leichter Kampfwagen tank took part.
So far, no records have been found stating that production LK II tanks were issued to military units. No LK.II light tanks took part in active combat operations with the German Army.
Export sales of the Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tank
Under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Germany was not allowed to build or use tanks. It secretly sold its stock of LK.II tanks to Sweden and Hungary. The Hungarians were also on the losing side of the First World War and their purchase and ownership of military weapons was severely controlled by the same treaty conditions. Nevertheless, in early 1920, the Hungarian Government purchased one machine gun-armed LK.II light tank from Germany. They then bought a second, followed by a final order for twelve more.
The Hungarian Government had witnessed the German Revolutions that followed the Armistice and seen the use of armored cars and tanks on the streets of Germany. They had also suffered invasion by their neighbors, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, all with French support. The Hungarian Government wanted to be prepared for any further civil unrest or confrontations with its neighbors. All fourteen LK.II light tanks were to be issued to the Hungarian Police training school (RUISK) based in Budapest. But when they arrived, the Treaty of Trianon was in effect banning the Hungarians rearming, so they had to be hidden from the Treaty inspectors and were taken apart. The hulls were hidden in country estates of trusted farmers, disguised as ‘agricultural tractors’. The armored bodies were put inside cattle wagons and kept moving around the country. The Treaty Inspection Committee, on one occasion, visited a train station where there were some railway cattle wagons containing LK.II tank bodies, but they were not discovered.
In March 1927, Hungary was no longer subject to rearmament inspections. The first tank company was formed in 1928. In April 1930, after careful inspection of the condition of the disassembled LK.II hulls and bodies, they assembled 6 tanks and started using them for crew training, until more modern vehicles became available. The new Italian FIAT 3000 light tanks were purchased and used by the 1st Training Company and five of the LK.II tanks were used by the 2nd Training Company. The other hulls were kept for driver and maintenance training.
During the second half of the 1930s, the LK.II tanks were seen as obsolete and scrapped by the garrison. Two turrets were used later for an armored train. In 1939, one LK.II tank was found hidden in a closed shed within the garrison grounds. As that tank did not exist in the official records and was deemed obsolete, it was sold for scrap metal.
In 1921, the Swedish Government purchased ten machine gun-armed Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks. They were given the name Stridsvagn m/21 and issued to the Army in 1922. Five of the tanks were upgraded in 1929 and given the new designation Stridsvagn m/21-29. Sweden was also interested in buying the Renault FT light tank and had one on trial but they were too expensive. Sweden paid one third the price for an LK II compared to the cost of a Renault FT in 1921. So in other words, Sweden would have only got three French-built Renault FT light tanks for the cost of nine German LK II light tanks.
How many Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tanks were produced?
It is not known exactly how many Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks were manufactured. It can be confirmed that ten were sold to Sweden and fourteen to Hungary. This makes a total of twenty-four completed production tanks. There may have been others but, so far, no photographs or documentary proof has been found.
Development and production – Leichter Kampfwagen (LK) gun tank
On 13 June 1918, a Leichter Kampfwagen I light tank prototype was driven around the proving ground at Krupp’s factory premises, near Berlin, to demonstrate its abilities to members of a military conference. Ten days later, on 23 June 1918, the OHL placed orders for the LK.II light tank. At the same time, trials started on a prototype gun tank based on the LK.I light tank hull. Initially, instructions were given that this tank should be armed with a 57 mm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun, as used on the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank.
The gun was designed and built in 1887 by the British Maxim-Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company for the Belgium War Ministry. It was a short-barrelled 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) 26 caliber gun made of steel, with a vertical sliding-block breech. It was initially used to arm the Belgium fortresses of Liege and Namur. In 1914, the German Army captured a large number of these guns. It could fire high explosive 57 x 224R Fixed QF ammunition at an effective range of 2.7 km (1.7 mi). The shell weighed 2.7 kg (5 lb 15 oz).
The gun would be too large to fit into the revolving turret used on the machine gun armed LK.I and LK.II light tanks, so a decision was made to construct a rigid casemate at the rear of the tank that could accommodate the size of the cannon.
An initial look at the drawings and photographs of the prototype gun tank may make it appear that it was based on the LK.I tank because of the front armored louvered radiation grill. This is confusing. When the construction of two gun tank prototypes was authorized, the designers chose to use LK.II tank hulls but included some of the superstructure features of the LK.I light tank.
On 20 August 1918, it was reported that the LK.II tank was found to be too small and light to handle the recoil of the 57 mm gun during firing trials. It was also discovered that the extra weight at the rear of the tank made the tank difficult to steer, as it was tail heavy. It made the tracks at the front of the tank have problems gripping as the tank was driven cross-country because there was not enough weight above them.
On 30 September 1918, the OHL instructed that Krupp’s new 37 mm gun was to replace the 57 mm gun and the ratio of gun and machine gun armed tank orders should be two-thirds armed with a 37 mm gun and one third were to be armed with a machine gun in a revolving turret. By the end of the war in November 1918, no Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks armed with a 37 mm gun had been produced. This may have been due to the fact that the Krupp 37 mm gun was still in development and had not been produced in enough numbers for production to start.
The Leichter Kampfwagen III (LK.III) light tank
Just before the end of the war, tank designer Joseph Vollmer submitted a proposal for the Leichter Kampfwagen III (LK.III) light tank. The LK.II hull, track and suspension system would be used. The engine and gearbox would be placed in a compartment at the rear of the tank instead of at the front, as found in the LK.I and LK.II tanks. The engine would be kept cool by a large armored louvered grill on the back of the tank and two vents on the side of the engine compartment.
The driver’s position at the front of the tank would enable him to have better vision than being sat at the rear of the tank and having to peer over a long engine bonnet, as in the LK.II tank. During combat conditions, he would look through vision slits in armored hatches in the front and side of the upper superstructure. Just behind him, on the left and right sides of the tank, there were large escape hatches that swung out forwards. This configuration of the door would give the crew some armored protection as they left the tank if it was on fire, ditched or knocked out on the battlefield. These hatches could be opened outside of a combat area to give the driver better vision and increase the airflow inside the fighting compartment.
The turret was above and behind the driver’s position. It would have had vision slits, side pistol ports, and a hatch on the top. This layout was very similar to the French Renault FT and modern tanks.
Although, initially, it was intended to arm the tank with the same 57 mm gun used on the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank, firing trials with the 57 mm armed LK.II prototype tanks had found that the LK.II hull and suspension system were too frail. It was found that, when the 57 mm gun was fired, the vehicle could not cope with the stresses of the recoil. The production gun version of the LK.II tank was going to be armed with the new lighter Krupp 37 mm gun. It would be safe to assume that the same decision would apply to the LK.III tank, as it used the same LK.II hull and suspension system. The OHL had given instructions that one 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun armed LK.II tank was to be built for every two 37 mm gun armed LK.II tanks built. These same ratios might have been applied to the production order of the LK.III. The Treaty of Versailles banned Germany from building tanks after 1918. No Leichter Kampfwagen III light tanks were ever built.
The Leichte-Zugmaschiene (Krupp Light Prime Mover)
On 22 May 1918, the German manufacturing company Krupp submitted a proposal to build a lightly armored, armed artillery prime mover to tow field howitzers, based on the LK.II hull and suspension system. It was called the ‘Leichte-Zugmaschiene’ (English: light train machine) or ‘Kraftprotzen’ (English: mechanized limber). This was done on the instructions of Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) Max Bauer, head of OHL, Section II, who was concerned about the lack of horses available to move artillery guns on the battlefield. Krupp’s design did not have a turret. The 7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun was fixed in place in a casement tower at the rear of the vehicle. The armor was not as thick as that on the LK.II. It would only protect the crew from small arms fire, not armor-penetrating bullets.
The proposal was rejected in favor of mass-producing the LK.II light tank. The Chief of Motor Transport (Chefkraft), Colonel Hermann Meyer, made a compromise to gain the support of Oberstleutnant Bauer for the LK.II light tank project. He instructed that all LK.II tanks would be fitted with strong towing hooks at the rear of the tank.
The Kleiner Sturmwagen
On 13 June 1918, at a meeting held in Krupp’s office in Essen, Germany, tank designer Vollmer and the Chief of Motor Transport (Chefkraft), Colonel Hermann Meyer, demonstrated the prototype Leichter Kampfwagen I light tank by having it drive around the company’s proving ground in front of a specially invited audience of Government ministers and Army officers. Krupp took the opportunity to show the plans for a new tank called the ‘Kleiner Sturmwagen’ (English literal translation: ‘Small assault vehicle’, although a better translation would be ‘Light assault tank’). It was larger than the Leichter Kampfwagen II. There would be two versions: one armed with a 7.92 MG 08 machine gun and the other with a 52 mm gun. These plans have not survived. On 23 July 1918, the Krupp and Daimler manufacturing companies formally submitted a joint proposal for the Kleiner Sturmwagen light assault tank. The proposal was eventually rejected, as the decision was made to produce the Leichter Kampfwagen II light tanks.
Surviving Leichter Kampfwagen LK.II light tanks
There are four surviving German-built LK.II light tanks. Only one survives in the original 1918 specifications. It is on display at the Arsenalen Tank Museum, 645 91 Strängnäs, Sweden. The Swedish Army called it the Stridsvagn m/21 tank. The other three surviving LK.II light tanks were upgraded and were re-designated Stridsvagn m/21-29 Tank. Two are at the Arsenalen Tank Museum in Sweden. The third is on display at the Deutsches Panzermuseum, Munster, Germany.
The German design took too long and was objectively not much better than the British Whippet Medium Tank. The failure to have light tanks available to exploit the German breakthrough during the spring 1918 Kaiserschlacht was a severe failure, however, it is unlikely that the Germans would have won the war even if these were available.
Leichter Kampfwagen LK II specifications
Machine-gun armed LKII
Length 5.1 m (16ft 9in)
Width 1.9 m (6ft 3in)
Height 2.5 m (8ft 2in)
Length 5.1 m (16ft 9in)
Width 1.9 m (6ft 3in)
Height 2.5 m (8ft 2in)
Total Weight, Battle Ready
German Daimler-Benz Model 1910 4-cylinder 60hp petrol engine
Cone clutch to four-speed and reverse gearbox to worm reduction and bevel drive, chain loop to drive sprocket, one for each track
Maximum road Speed
14-16 km/h (8.69 – 9.41 mph)
300 litres in two 150 liter fuel tanks
Around 60 – 70 km (37.28 – 43.5 miles)
3.04m (10 ft)
7.92 mm MG 08 machine gun (s)
57 mm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun (fitted to prototype)
37 mm Krupp gun (propose production gun)
Armor, front, sides and rear
12 mm – 14 mm
Total Known Production
“Die technische Entwicklung der deutschen Kampfwagen im Weltkriege 1914-18” by Erich Petter, Berlin 1932
“Die deutschen Kampfwagen” by Alfred Krüger, published in “Militärwissenschaftliche und technische Mitteilungen”, Vienna, volumes 1/2 1924 and 3/4 1924
Arsenalen, Swedish Tank Museum
German Tank Museum, Munster
Thorleif Olsson ‘Tank Hunter World War One.’ By Craig Moore
“Tank Forces of Foreign States” by S. Vishenev, 1926
German Empire (1916)
Armored Personnel Carrier – 1 Built
The Gepanzerte Mannschaftstransportwagen (Eng: Armored Troop carrier) was, as the name suggests, an armored personnel carrier, built by the company Mannesmann-MULAG in 1916 on their own initiative with the German Army in mind as a potential buyer. Not much is known about this vehicle, but it would remain the only attempt of the company to build an armored vehicle. It is also one of the earliest examples of an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) and the first of its kind designed in Germany.
The Company Mannesman-Mulag
In 1900, the Fritz Scheibler Motorenfabrik AG (Aktiengesellschaft: joint-stock company) was founded, based in the city of Aachen. In 1909, it fused with the Maschinenbauanstalt Altenessen AG which led to the new name Motoren und Lastwagen AG (Eng: Motors and trucks), shortened to ‘MULAG’. After one year, in 1910, the company was taken over by the brothers Carl and Max Mannesmann, who renamed the company in 1913 to Mannesmann-MULAG. Their main business was building cars and commercial vehicles. The company was disbanded in 1928, and taken over by Büssing.
During the First World War, the company repaired a variety of army vehicles, as well as aircraft engines. It also produced lorries for the army, referred to as Heeres-LKW (Eng: Army-lorry), based on a commercial model from 1913, with a 42 hp engine. In 1916, work started to build an armored vehicle based on this chassis. The drive shaft connected to a differential on the rear axle. The wheels, shod with solid rubber tires, were suspended on semi-elliptical springs at the front and rear.
Why an APC?
The fact that this vehicle was specifically built as an Armored Personnel Carrier is very important as it would mean that this is one of the very first examples of such a vehicle. The design was a private project by Mannesmann-MULAG, and was not necessarily inspired by army doctrine, although the Supreme Command (OHL) had realized the potency of armored cars already at the end of 1914. By 1916, the Western Front had changed into a stationary war and no man’s land was transformed into a moon landscape, impassable for wheeled vehicles.
The armored car development, then going on in Germany, was slowed down by the fact that armored cars were nearly useless on a static front and only at the very end of 1915, the first three armored cars were ready. It would take several more months until these vehicles, built by Büssing, Ehrhardt, and Daimler were organized in an active unit. This unit was initially sent to the Western Front, but could not be used due to the terrain so, consequently, they were pulled back and transferred to the Eastern Front where they were rather successfully used against Romanian troops.
The Mannschaftstransportwagen shares some clear similarities with the other three armored cars, like the way machine gun ports are designed, which indicates that it was at least inspired by these cars. However, if the Mannschaftstransportwagen design was based on experience gained by the operational use of those armored cars is not clear and yet impossible to prove, especially given that no exact dates are known when work started on the vehicle or when it was completed. The general concensus is that the vehicle dates from 1916.
A wheeled APC could have been very effective on the Eastern Front which saw much more mobile warfare than the Western Front. On this front, the Germans sometimes used unprotected trucks carrying infantry to flank enemy troops. Although this worked, an APC would have provided much more protection for these troops.
The Mannschaftstransportwagen retained the same layout as the truck it was based on with a 42 hp engine in the front, cab in the middle, and transport area in the back, but now completely armored. Louvers were installed in front of the engine for air-intake. The engine itself could be reached by opening hatches mounted on top of the engine compartment. One big headlight was located in front of the engine compartment and attached to it with three connections allowing it to be turned. Another light was mounted on a rotatable mount at the rear of the vehicle.
The cab could be entered through two doors, one at each side of the vehicle. There was a place for two crewmen, one being the driver and the other being an attendant or maybe a commanding officer. They each had one hatch to their disposal in front of them, consisting of two parts folding sidewards. In each part, one vision slit was located which were used when the hatches were closed in a combat situation.
A total of five shooting hatches were made in the sides of the passenger compartment (two per side and one in the rear) so when attacked, the soldiers could defend themselves by using their hand weapons or possibly machine guns. How many soldiers were supposed to fit in the vehicle is not specified, but probably about ten men. These men could enter through a door at the back of the vehicle. The shooting hatches were in a similar style as to those on other German armored cars like the Büssing A5P or Ehrhardt E-V/4 with two parts folding sidewards.
Very little is known about any operational use of this vehicle. Built in 1916, it could have been used both at the Eastern and Western Front, however, if it actually did is unclear. The author Walter Spielberger mentions that it was used for delivering replenishments and for security tasks, but when or where is not specified. If used, the Mannschaftstransportwagen would be the only purpose-built APC in German service during the First World War.
Due to the lack of information, it is hard to say whether the vehicle was used by the army or not. However, the vehicle does not seem to be used during the revolution in Germany after the war ended, which indicates that the vehicle was already scrapped during, or at the end of the war.
Illustration of the Mannschaftstransportwagen Mannesmann-Mulag by Yuvnashva Sharma, Sponsored by our Patreon Campaign.
This article was written by Queensland Museum, in partnership with Craig Moore. This Australian museum holds ‘Mephisto’, the only surviving A7V in the world.
The Rarest Tank in the World: 506 ‘Mephisto’
A mere twenty German A7V Sturmpanzerwagen tanks were built during the First World War, in three production runs of 5, 5, and 10 vehicles, respectively. Fitted with either Röchling or Krupp armor plate, the first vehicle rolled off the assembly line in October 1917. Only one of these twenty tanks has survived, the vehicle bearing chassis number 506 named Mephisto.
The only surviving Sturmpanzerwagen A7V, Mephisto, as it stands today in the Queensland museum. A part of the armament and the markings are clearly visible in this photo, including the red devil carrying a British rhomboidal tank on the front. Source: Gregory Czechura, Queensland Museum
This A7V, which was captured and later recovered in the dead of night by Australian soldiers of the 26th Battalion during July 1918, survived thanks to its unlikely journey to Brisbane, Australia. 506 Mephisto is not only an incredibly rare tank but a significant artifact of the First World War. The centenaries of Mephisto’s operations on the Western Front and its eventual capture and retrieval (which commenced the tank’s connection to Queensland and Australia) were marked between March and July 2018.
After capture, Sturmpanzerwagen A7V 506 ‘Mephisto’ was painted with a British Imperial Lion putting its large paw on top of a German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank (Photo: Queensland Museum)
Mephisto being restored in Australia. (Photo: Queensland Museum)
Tanks were developed as a weapon to break the defensive trench warfare that had prevailed on the Western Front since 1914. The Allies were the first to develop, produce and deploy tanks beginning in 1916 (Great Britain) and 1917 (France). The German Sturmpanzerwagen A7V represented a reply to the ever-increasing numbers of Allied tanks, but it suffered from being too few in number and too late in entering service to have any decisive impact on the outcome of the final battles of the war. Indeed, most of the tank force fielded by the Germans during the last years of the war was composed of captured Allied, mainly British, models.
The German A7V was essentially an armored box mounted on a tracked chassis that was powered by two water-cooled, 100-horsepower petrol engines. Although a fully operational A7V weighed around 30-tonnes, it was capable of reaching speeds of up to 10 km/h. Armament consisted of eight 7.92 mm MG 08 machine guns (females) or a 57 mm Maxim-Nordenfelt main gun and six MG 08 machine guns (males). The short combat career of the German A7V was due, in part, to lengthy bureaucratic delays and approvals, as well as correction of several crucial design flaws that resulted from the tank having to be built on an all-purpose chassis. The driver’s position, high atop the vehicle, compromised visibility and produced a blind spot directly in front of the driver’s field of vision, which resulted in individual A7Vs being driven into pits, quarries and, in one case, a village pond.
Mephisto in the garden of the Queensland museum next to some similar sized dinosaur models. Source: Queensland museum.
Like all First World War tanks, A7Vs were dogged by mechanical problems (especially overheating and transmission failures), as well as design problems such as low ground clearance, low track height and a chassis that flexed when the tank was in motion. These issues contributed to A7Vs suffering breakdowns and incapacitation by barbed wire and uneven ground in action and training. Modifications were carried out in the field and on the factory floor to rectify some of these problems. Despite these issues, the A7V proved superior to its counterparts, such as the British Mark IV, in both speed and firepower, especially when deployed on firm, even terrain, although when they met in combat for the first time at Villers-Brettoneux in April 1918, it was the British tank which triumphed.
Vehicle 506 was one of the first five A7Vs to be built as part of what is known as the First Lot (Röchling) production run. It was assigned to the first of three A7V detachments (Abteilungen) during December 1917-early January 1918 but did not reach Abteilung 1 at Beuveille until 20 January 1918. Features, including field modifications, of the first A7V production run can be seen on 506 Mephisto. These include a cupola with a single hatch for the driver and the commander, single sheet side armor, and a Blocklafette gun mount with open sights, among others.
Inside the front section of the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank 506 Mephisto. The 57 mm gun can be seen on the right and the machine gun mount on the left of the door. (Photo: Queensland Museum)
The History of ‘Mephisto’
A7Vs made their combat debut at St Quentin on 21 March 1918 during the 1918 German Spring Offensives. Five A7Vs were assigned to provide close support for infantry assaults on British positions south of St Quentin. Only two of the tanks were able to participate, a female (501) and 506, which was gun-armed. German and British accounts attest to the effectiveness of the gun-armed tank, in neutralizing strongpoints and concentrations of infantry. The A7Vs were then returned to their base near Charleroi for repair and maintenance. At this point, 506 was transferred to Abteilung 3, where it was repainted and named Mephisto after the Devil in the Faustus legend (another A7V, 503, was named Faust).
Sturmpanzerwagen A7V Mephisto after it has arrived at the Queensland museum. The original paint scheme and the imperial lion can still be seen. Source: Queensland Museum, The Gregory Czechura collection
In late March and early April 1918, the Germans attacked the small, strategically placed town of Villers-Bretonneux, France in an effort to capture or neutralize the vital Allied transport hub of Amiens. Villers-Bretonneux was held after a successful Allied counter-attack led by Australian troops from 9th Brigade. The Germans staged a second attack on Villers-Bretonneux on 24 April 1918 that included three groups of A7Vs. 506 Mephisto was assigned to the second group of A7Vs, consisting of six tanks, given the objective of taking objectives (Monument Farm, Monument Wood, and the Bois d’Aquenne) immediately to the south of Villers-Bretonneux. The German attack on the first day was successful and during the battle, the first tank versus tank battle was fought between elements of the third group of A7Vs and British medium and heavy tanks operating near Cachy to the southwest of Villers-Bretonneux. During the fighting around Monument Farm, Mephisto became stranded when the edge of a shell crater it was passing over collapsed under its weight.
Mephisto was abandoned by its German crew but not before being stripped of its machine guns, the gun’s breechblock and other essential items according to standard operational practice. Mephisto lay in No Man’s Land for three months before its capture by the 26th Battalion AIF (commanded by Major, later Lieutenant-Colonel, James Robinson) on the night of 17/18 July 1918 and its subsequent recovery, with the assistance of the British 1st Gun Carrier Company, from under the noses of the German troops opposing them on the night of 22-23 July 1918. The dangerous retrieval operation was carried out under fire on the very night that the Germans unleashed a heavy poison-gas barrage on the Villers-Bretonneux area. Most of the Australian and British soldiers involved in the recovery became gas casualties, but the operation was nonetheless successfully completed. The war prize Mephisto was now securely in Allied hands and quickly moved under cover in the nearby Bois l’Abbé.
Mephisto being moved into the Queensland museum yard. The two steamrollers used to tow it can be seen in the photo. Source: Queensland museum.
Mephisto was then moved to the British 5th Tank Brigade’s Training Ground at Vaux-en-Amienois where it became an object of curiosity and ‘canvas’ for soldier art, including that of a British lion resting its paw on an A7V. Among the soldiers who visited Mephisto were the six ‘TANK BOYS’, who left their names hammered into the rear armor of Mephisto. They were not participants in the capture and recovery of Mephisto but were part of the Australian contingent training and preparing to work with British tanks and crews in the planned Battle of Amiens and other Allied offensives along the Western Front in the last 100 days of the war.
A Home Down-Under
From Vaux-en-Amienois, Mephisto was moved to London via Dunkirk before being shipped to Brisbane on the SS Armagh, leaving England on April 2, 1919, and arriving in Brisbane on the June 2. It remained at the wharves for six months before being moved to the Queensland Museum, Fortitude Valley, on 23 August 1919. It was an eleven-hour operation which required the use of two Brisbane City Council steamrollers to tow Mephisto to its new home. It was initially placed on display outside, exposed to the elements in the gardens of the museum, where it remained as an iconic object greeting visitors for over sixty years.
Front view of the Mephisto at the Queensland museum. The top compartment, which housed the driver and the commander, is visible on top, along with their viewports. The wedge shape of the front armor is also apparent, used decades before the Soviet IS-3. Source: Gregory Czechura, Queensland Museum
In 1986, Mephisto was moved to Queensland Museum’s new location at South Brisbane where it remained until it sustained minor damage in the 2011 Brisbane floods when water reached the level of its tracks. Mephisto has undergone extensive conservation and restoration treatment during its time with the Queensland Museum, even at one time being preserved in a climate-controlled plastic bubble at the Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich. Between 2015 and 2017, Mephisto was loaned to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra as part of the Centenary of the First World War.
After being held in the Workshops Rail Museum, Mephisto finally returned to the Queensland Museum, South Brisbane in late 2018. The tank now features as a major interpretative and commemorative element of the Queensland Museum’s new Anzac Legacy Gallery that opened to mark the centenary of the Armistice on Remembrance Day 2018.
To commemorate the centenary anniversary of A7V Mephisto’s capture and recovery, Queensland Museum has released a fully illustrated reference guide to the tank’s history and its journey to Australia. Mephisto: Technology, War, and Remembrance by Jeff Hopkins-Weise and Gregory Czechura includes detailed diagrams, technical schematics, damage reports, and photographs of Mephisto as it was during the First World War, and as it is found today. Mephisto details the history of this primitive armored vehicle against the backdrop of the industrial innovations and societal changes of the First World War.
The Queensland Museum has published a Mephisto discovery guide book covering the history of the tank. This is the front cover. (Photo: Queensland Museum) Mephisto: Technology, War and Remembrance book is available now through the Queensland Museum Shop website HERE.
To see the single surviving Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tank in the world in person, entry is free to the Anzac Legacy Gallery at Queensland Museum, Brisbane, Australia.
Grey St & Melbourne St
South Brisbane, QLD, Australia
Illustration of the Sturmpanzer A7V number 506 ‘Mephisto’ in its original markings. Colors based on the restored version presently at the Queensland Museum, Australia. Illustrated by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.
Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #1 Republished
The first issue of the Tank Encyclopedia Magazine has been remastered and rereleased. It covers vehicles ranging from the French WWI Frot-Turmel-Laffly Armoured Road Roller up to the Salvadoran Cold War Marenco M114 converted vehicles. The star of this issue is a full article on the Improved Protection version of the famous M1 Abrams – the M1IP.
Our Archive section covers the history of the Mephisto A7V tank, the only one of its kind that still survives to this day in Queensland museum in Australia.
It also contains a modeling article on how to create Weathering and Mud Effects. And the last article from our colleagues and friends from Plane Encyclopedia covers the story of the Sikorsky S-70C-2 Black Hawk in Chinese service!
All the articles are well researched by our excellent team of writers and are accompanied by beautiful illustrations and photos. If you love tanks, this is the magazine for you! Buy this magazine on Payhip!
The Büssing A5P is one of few armored vehicles built by the German Empire during the First World War. Its symmetrical design and great dimensions make it stand out from other designs of the time. With the order given to the company Büssing to design an armored car at the end of 1914, work progressed the following year and production of one vehicle started. Two other companies; Ehrhardt and Daimler, were also tasked to develop an armored car and all three companies finished their vehicle at the end of 1915.
Although several armored cars were built in Germany before the First World War, like the Ehrhardt BAK and Opel Kriegswagen, both from 1906, the German army had no armored cars for tactical roles in their inventory when they went to war on August 1, 1914. This was due to the assumption of the Militär-Verkehrstruppen (Eng: military transport troops) that armored cars had not enough tactical or strategic impact in a war scenario, a view shared by many other European armies before the First World War. However, when the German troops encountered improvised armored cars at the front, such as Belgian Minervas, they quickly realised that the armored car actually had a great value.
The Oberste Heeresleitung (Eng: Supreme Army Command) was also convinced that armored cars had to be built, and on October 22, 1914, it requested the Kriegsministerium (Eng: War Ministry) to take the needed steps to start building armored cars as quickly as possible. The Minister of War approved this request five days later and ordered the Verkehrstechnische Prüfungskommission (VPK, Eng: transport technical testing commission) to make a list of requirements. Together with the Gewehr Prüfungskommission (GPK, Eng: Gun Testing Commission) and Abteilung A2 Infanterie (Eng: Department A2 Infantry) of the War Ministry, they presented a list on November 3, 1914.
The armored cars to be designed had to fulfill the following sixteen requirements:
An armament of three machine guns, one of them being a spare. Both guns should be able to fire simultaneously in any direction.
Ammunition load-out of at least 16,500 rounds.
A crew of eight: Commander, driver, and six machine gun operators (later changed to a crew of ten with two extra drivers).
Completely armored, with a minimum thickness of 5.5 mm (excluding roof armor).
A maximum weight of crew, armor, armament, and ammo combined of 2,500 kg (2 MG: 75 kg, ammo: 660 kg, crew: 600 kg, armor: 1000 kg).
The possibility of driving forward and backward at the same speed, without turning the vehicle.
A turnable driver seat in the middle of the vehicle (not required with a driver in the front and rear), closable observation slits for the driver, machine-gun operators should not be hindered by the driver.
As good off-road capabilities as possible, therefore one gear with short gearing and carry wheel belts and ramps.
A maximum speed of 40-60 km/h (forwards and backward).
Steel wheels (when possible disc wheels, not steel spoked wheels).
Solid rubber tires with armored protection.
On both front and rear, two Acetylene headlamps, one movable electric searchlight, and electric lighting in drivers cabin.
Armed with this list, the VPK approached the firms Büssing, Ehrhardt, and Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, which all agreed to build one vehicle. When completed, the vehicles were to run factory tests, after which they had to be handed over to the army battle-ready. Due to time restrictions, the vehicles were not to be initially tested by the crews. After completion, the vehicles were instead to be assigned to one unit and sent to the front. The vehicle that performed best was likely to be taken into serial production.
However, when development was carried out, the Western Front turned into a static war, eliminating the battle worthiness of armored cars, meaning that priority was given to development and production of trucks, artillery towing equipment, infantry weapons, and ammunition. As a consequence, the production of the three armored cars slowed down. Finally, on December 10, the VPK could report to the Ministry of War that the Daimler/15, Ehrhardt/15, and Büssing/15 were completed and ready for testing by the factory, meaning that development and production lasted for a bit longer than one year.
The Büssing Company
Why was Büssing tasked with producing an armored vehicle? The firm Büssing was founded in 1903 by Heinrich Büssing, in the city of Braunschweig (Lower Saxony, Germany). It produced trucks, as well as omnibuses, of which 400 were delivered to be used in London before the War broke out in 1914. In 1908, the first steps were taken to build trucks to be used in the German army. From 1914, Büssing delivered three types: the Type III (3500 kg payload), Type IV (4000 kg payload), and Type V (5000 kg payload). Due to a subsidization program launched by the Prussian government which improved sales of trucks, together with military orders coming in, Büssing had a solid financial basis.
So around 1910, it was possible for Büssing to dedicate itself more to the development of new technologies in the area of commercial vehicles as they had the financial resources. In this way, Büssing could take a technological lead in Germany, which meant that during the First World War, Büssing could build quite a lot of special purpose vehicles for the German army. Some of these pioneering breakthroughs, just made before the War, were 4-wheel drive chassis with steering both forward and backward, and 4-wheel steering. So Büssing had the possibility to fall back on an advanced chassis, which was a reason for the company to accept the order to build an armored car.
The design Büssing came up with had huge dimensions. With a length of 9.5 m, the A5P is still the biggest armored car that has ever been built and put in active service. Due to the size, the vehicle had a weight of 10,250 kg, which all had to be powered by a four-stroke, Otto type, six-cylinder, water-cooled engine, producing 90 hp at 850 rpm. Power was transmitted to all four wheels, which were shod with solid rubber tires. Furthermore, the vehicle could be steered from both sides with a driver in the front and one in the rear. All factors combined resulted in a maximum speed of 35 km/h, both forwards or backward.
The fully symmetrical armored hull, made of chromed nickel plates, had a thickness of 7.5 mm at the front and rear, and 5.5 mm on the sides, while the roof had a thickness of 3.5 mm. The 7.5 mm plates provided enough protection against S-bullets (Spitgeschoß, meaning pointed bullet) from over 100 meters.
On top of the vehicle, a fixed turret was located with four machine gun hatches, facing to the front, rear and sides of the vehicle. The box-like crew compartment had two driver positions, with each driver having one viewing hatch to his disposal. Beside each driver’s viewport, one machine gun hatch was located. Furthermore, two machine gun hatches were installed on both sides of the crew compartment. The crew could enter through two doors, one on each side.
During the design stage, it is likely that Büssing, Daimler, and Ehrhardt worked together as all three vehicles share common features, like the way the machine gun ports are arranged and the shape of the crew compartment with a slightly sloped roof at the front and rear, as well as a round fixed turret in the middle.
The vehicle carried three MG 08 water cooled 7.9 mm machine guns, of which one was a spare. They were in use with the German Army from 1908 onwards. A munition loadout carried consisted of 11.500 S bullets and 5200 SmK bullets, carried in drums of 100 bullets or boxes of 250 bullets.
Experimentally, the Büssing was equipped with a 20 mm Becker M II TAK cannon for a short period. The cannon was initially designed as a gun to be mounted on airplanes and was for the first time experimentally fitted to a Gotha bomber in 1915, however, after the first British tanks were encountered on the Western Front in September 1916, it was further developed as an AT gun. It could fire both single or multiple shots.
After it was tested, the weapon was withdrawn by the OHL, based on the belief that MG 08 machine guns firing SmK ammunition were superior in battle over the 20 mm gun.
In January and February of 1917, the armored cars were equipped with a Funkentechnischen FT-Gerät (Eng: radio technical device), when they were in repair after their service in Romania. The conversion was completed at the end of February 1917. When installed in the A5P, the radio had a 30 km range, but only 15-20 km in the Ehrhardt and Daimler.
Being symmetrical, it appears to be difficult to tell whether one is looking at the front or rear, but in fact it is not very hard to tell the difference. The main differences are that the front armor plate is flat, while the rear plate has a hatch in it with two handles. Furthermore, a crank shaft was located at the front, and the engine in the front could be accessed by hatches from the side. These side hatches and the crank shaft are absent at the rear.
Throughout its service, the Büssing received several different markings which can help to determine the time frame a picture was taken in. Initially, the vehicle was painted in a field grey color (probably grüngrau, RAL 7009). After being handed over to the army in May 1916, the abbreviation P.Kr.MG Z.1 was painted on the front and rear. It also bore the registration plate G 1595. When the vehicle was sent to Romania at the end of 1916, big black iron crosses on a white background were painted on the sides and front. It also received a different registration number and the abbreviation was changed to P.Kr.MG A.1
When the vehicle was sent to Ukraine in 1918, it received a camouflage scheme after a proposal made by the OHL in September 1918 in the colors green, ocher yellow, and russet. Furthermore, iron crosses were painted on the front and right side.
Only one vehicle was built, although it is sometimes mentioned that three vehicles were made, this probably comes from an error made by the editorial of Waffen Revue, because they describe an image that shows three Büssing armored cars. However, the other two cars on the picture are the vehicles built by Daimler and Ehrhardt.
There were several reasons why no more A5Ps were built. First of all, the vehicle did not always perform as hoped, mainly caused by the heavy weight, limiting its operational use. The 4-wheel steering caused also more problems than advantages. Secondly, the firm Büssing was not capable to produce more armored cars as they were already busy with the production of artillery tractors and lorries and also got involved in the A7V tank programme.
The most important reason, however, was that the OHL had ordered vehicles from three different manufacturers as a sort of competition to eventually end up with the best option. When it was decided in December that an additional twelve armored cars were to be built, an improved list of requirements was made. After reviewing these new requirements, it became apparent that both the Büssing and Daimler vehicles could not be improved in such a way, and as a result, Ehrhardt received the order to build these vehicles, which would become the Ehrhardt E-V/4.
The sole vehicle was completed at the end of 1915. After running factory tests, the vehicle was handed over to the army on May 22, 1916. It was assigned to the Panzerkraftwagen-MG-Zug 1 which was at that moment already active at the Western Front in the area north of Verdun. On June 19, the A5P reached its unit. The armored cars could not be used effectively and were instead sent to Buchsweiler (Bouxwiller) at the end of June. During the following months, the unit saw only combat seven times while stationed in the Alsace.
It would be the introduction of British tanks to the battlefield that caused the vehicles to be redirected to the Eastern Front. The OHL, encountering something they never had seen before, wanted to hear the opinion on these tanks from the commander of the armored car battalion. During this circumstance, the staff chief of the 9. Armee, Oberst Hesse, became aware that this unit was basically doing nothing.
However, on August 27 1916, the until then neutral country of Romania declared war on Austria-Hungary. The Transylvanian Carpathian mountains were crossed, and several cities were occupied by the new belligerents. On September 9, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Bulgarian troops went to counterattack. The German troops that took part in the counteroffensive were part of the 9. Armee, so Oberst Hesse lobbied that the cars should be moved to the new Romanian Front, which was approved by the OHL, and on October 12, the unit was on its way to Romania.
Situation in Romania
On October 18, 1916, the unit arrived in Transylvania. The unit was unloaded in Hermannstadt (Sibiu). The Büssing was put under command of the I. Res.-Korps from 23 to 26 October. The Ehrhardt and Büssing drove on the 24th from Kronnstadt (Brașov) to Oituz and performed several reconnaissance maneuvers, but the conditions were not positive for armored cars to be used so, on the 26th, they were sent back to Kronnstadt and reunited with the other armored cars.
On October 27, the vehicles moved from Sibiu to Hațeg, where it became apparent that there was a fracture in the rear axle of the Büssing, meaning that the vehicle had to be sent back to the factory in Braunschweig to be repaired; as a consequence, the Büssing was barely used in Romania. The other four armored vehicles (Daimler/15, Ehrhardt E-V/4, and two captured Belgian Minerva’s) were plagued by technical breakdowns as well. One after another suffered from severe breakdowns until only the Daimler/15 was left, however, on December 1, 1916, its engine broke too, meaning that all fighting vehicles were now out of service.
As long as these vehicles were in repair, the remainder of the Abteilung was stationed in Berlin. On March 18, 1917, the unit was put under command of the military in Antwerp, Belgium. On March 25, the Büssing arrived in Kapellen, North of Antwerp. The Daimler and Ehrhardt would arrive later.
The vehicles did not see any action, but a lot of training took place. In this period, the 20 mm Becker was tested, as well as training with the new radios which were mounted in the vehicles during the executed repairs. On July 11, the unit was sent back to Berlin where it arrived on July 13. In the same month, preparations were made to send some armored vehicles to the Middle East, excluding the Büssing as it was too heavy, however, it was realized that the roads in Syria were too bad for armored cars and the initial plans were abandoned.
Instead, while other armored car units were also formed with Ehrhardt E-V/4 model 1917 armored cars, it was decided that the 1st armored car unit was to be sent to Ukraine. The Büssing saw limited operation, caused by its heavy weight and big size. Eventually, it was assigned to another unit, Zug 2, which was located in Kiev. The decision was made as it was felt that the Büssing would perform better in a city which had good roads. The vehicle was stationed there until the end of the war. During this time, the vehicle received a camouflage pattern, and a nickname: ‘Grobetier’, meaning ‘Rough Animal’.
After the truce was signed on November 11 1918, which basically ended the war, German troops started to retreat to Germany, and the Büssing A5P was moved to the region Wünsdorf/Zossen. In 1919 it was still standing near the Kokampf Barracks at the city of Lankwitz and apparently saw no action, however, a user of the Landships forum mentions that he has a postcard from 1919, showing the Büssing A5P being used by the German Freikorps. It is still bearing the camouflage and nickname received in 1918. The vehicle was very likely scrapped in 1919/20.
Being the only armored vehicle built by Büssing during the war, it was a remarkable achievement to build such a behemoth, which survived throughout the war. However, having served at both the Eastern and Western Front, the vehicle did not live up to expectations.
Büssing A5P specifications
9.5 x 2.1 x 3.5 m (31.17×6.89×11.48 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
6-cylinder Büssing “Otto” petrol, 90 hp (67.14 kW)
35 km/h (21.7 mph)
240 km (150 mi)
3 x Mg08/Mg15na 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine guns
3.5-7.5 mm (0.14-0.3 in)
Die deutschen Radpanzer im Ersten Weltkrieg Technische Entwicklung und Einsätze, Heinrich Kaufhold-Roll, Biblio Verlag, 1996.
Panzer-Kraftwagen Armoured Cars of the German Army and Freikorps, Tankograd No 1007, Rainer Strasheim, Jochen Vollert Verlag, 2013.
Die gepanzerte Radfahrzeuge des deutschen Heeres 1905-1945, Walter J. Spielberger, Hilary L. Doyle, Motorbuch Verlag, 2002.
Typenkompass Panzerkampfwagen im Ersten Weltkrieg, Wolfgang Fleischer, Motorbuch Verlag, 2017.
Waffen Revue 123, Karl R. Pawlas, Journal-Verlag Schwend, 2001.
Private Conversation with Chris (Landships Forum username ‘elbavaro’) concerning post-war images of the A5P.
Short film fragment, taken in Kiev, showing the Büssing A5P and an Ehrhardt E-V/4 1917. Note the crude way how the camouflage is applied: (WATCH HERE)
In 1916, both the British and the French introduced tanks on the battlefield and gradually improved their performances and design through frontline experience. But still, even by 1917, the German high command still considered they could be defeated by using special rifle bullets and artillery, in direct or indirect fire. The impression they had was mixed, seeing their breakdowns and apparent difficult crossing of the heavily cratered no man’s land. But the psychological effect on an unprepared infantry was such that this new weapon had to be seriously taken in consideration.
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The traditional view still prevailed, seing infantry as the most versatile way to make a breakthrough, notably the famous elite “assault squads”, or “sturmtruppen”, equipped with grenades, small arms and flame-throwers. They proved successful during the spring offensive and further hampered the need for a tank.
Designed by Joseph Vollmer
Despite initial resistance against tanks, their first, shocking appearance on the battlefield in the fall of 1916, led, in September of the same year, to the creation of a study department, the Allgemeines Kriegsdepartement, 7 Abteilung, Verkehrswesen. (Department 7, Transport)
This Department was responsible for all the information gathering on Allied tanks and for formulating both anti-tank tactics and devices and specifications for a possible indigenous design. Based on these specifications, the first plans were drawn by Joseph Vollmer, a reserve captain and engineer. These specifications included a top weight of 30 tons, use of the available Austrian Holt chassis, ability to cross ditches 1.5 m (4.92 ft) wide, to have a speed of at least 12 km/h (7.45 mph), several machine guns and a rapid-fire gun.
The chassis was also to be used for cargo and troop carriers. The first prototype built by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft made its first trials on April 30, 1917, at Belin Marienfeld. The final prototype was ready by May 1917. It was unarmored but filled with 10-tons of ballast to simulate the weight. After successful trials in Mainz, the design was modified once more to incorporate two more machine-guns and a better observation post. Pre-production started in September 1917. Production started in October with an initial order of 100 units and a training unit was formed in the process. By then, this machine was known after its studying department, the 7 Abteilung, Verkehrswesen (A7V), “Sturmpanzerkraftwagen” meaning “assault armored motor vehicle”.
The only operational German tank of WWI
When the A7V was first introduced in the two first operational units, Assault Tank Units 1 and 2, it had already revealed some flaws, notably the relatively thin underbelly and roof (10 mm/0.39 in), not able to resist fragmentation grenades. The overall use of regular steel and not an armored compound, for production reasons, meant that the effectiveness of the 30-20 mm plating was reduced. Like contemporary tanks, it was vulnerable to artillery fire.
It was overcrowded. With seventeen men and an officer, the crew comprised a driver, a mechanic, a mechanic/signaler and twelve infantrymen, gun servants and machine-gun servants (six loaders and six gunners). Of course, the restricted interior wasn’t compartmented, the engine was situated right at the center, diffusing its noise and toxic fumes. The Holt track, using vertical springs, was hampered by the overall weight of the tall structure and its very low ground clearance and large overhang at the front meant very poor crossing capabilities on a heavily cratered and muddy terrain. With this limitation in mind, these first two units (ten tanks each) were deployed on relatively flat grounds.
The amount of ammunition carried was considerable, further reducing the internal space. Around 50-60 cartridge belts, each with 250 bullets, plus 180 rounds for the main gun, split between special HE explosive rounds, canisters and regular rounds. In operation more shells were loaded, up to 300. During operations, a single tank was converted as a “female” with two Maxim machine guns replacing the main gun. As initially no engine was powerful enough to move the 30 tons of the A7V in the restricted allocated space, two Daimler petrol 4-cylinder engines, each delivering about 100 bhp (75 kW), were coupled together.
This solution produced the most powerful tank of the war, with a speed even greater than British late tanks (Mk.V). 500 liters of fuel were stored to feed this engine, but due to the enormous consumption, the range never exceeded 60 km (37.3 mi) on road. Top speed off-road was limited to 5 km/h (3.1 mph) at best. The driver had very poor vision. The A7V was committed mostly on open terrains and roads, just like armored cars, were its speed and armament could reveal its true potential. Last but not least, the A7Vs were all hand-built and of great manufacture quality (and very high cost). Every model had unique features as no standardization was achieved.
The A7V in action
The first five squads of A7Vs from the 1st Assault Tank Unit were ready by March 1918. Led by Haumptann Greiff, this unit was deployed during the attack on the St Quentin canal, part of the German spring offensive. Two broke down but successfully repelled a localized British counter-attack. On April 24, 1918, however, during the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, three A7V leading an infantry attack met three British Mark IVs, a male and two females. As the two females, damaged, were unsuccessful in damaging the German tanks with their machine-guns, they withdrew, and left the leading male (Second Lieutenant Frank Mitchell) dealing with the leading A7V (Second Lieutenant Wilhelm Biltz), in what was to become the first tank-to-tank duel in history. However, after three successful hits, the A7V was knocked-out and the crew (with five dead and several casualties) promptly bailed out.
The disabled tank was recovered and repaired later. The victorious Mark IV roamed the German lines, creating havoc and was joined later by several Whippets. But after murderous mortar fire, this attack was stopped in its tracks. Three Whippets were destroyed, as well as the Mark IV. This attack included all available A7Vs, but some broke down, other toppled into holes and were captured by British and Australian troops. The entire attack was deemed a failure, and the A7V removed from active service. The 100 machines order was cancelled and several were scrapped in November.
The commitment of all available tanks with poor results increased the resistance from the German high command. Some successes were achieved by the most numerous German tank in service during the spring offensives, the Beutepanzer Mark IV and V. Almost 50 captured British Mark IVs or Vs were pressed into service under German markings and camouflage. They showed the advantage of full-length tracks over difficult terrains. They influenced, along with the few captured Whippets Mark A light tanks, the design a new enhanced model, the A7V-U. U stands for “Umlaufende Ketten” or full-length tracks, a German-made but British-looking rhomboid tank.
Its featured two 57 mm (2.24 in) guns in sponsons and had a tall observation post similar to the A7V. Although the prototype was ready by June 1918, this 40-ton monster proved to have a high center of gravity and poor maneuverability. However twenty were ordered in September. None were completed by the armistice. All other paper projects (Oberschlesien), mockups (K-Wagen) and prototypes of the light LK-I and II also laid unfinished in November 1918. Starting late in the war, the Germans never had the opportunity to fully develop their tank arm both tactically and technically. This was achieved, mostly clandestinely, but successfully, during the twenties and early thirties. Nevertheless this early and deceiving attempt was a landmark in German development.
The only German tank to ever roam the battlefields of France and Belgium during WWI was nicknamed by the British the “moving fortress”. Big, tall and symmetrical, with sloped armor, surprisingly fast, bristling with machine-guns, it was indeed more akin to a moving fortification than a real tank. As it was basically an “armored box” based on the Holt chassis its crossing abilities were far from equal to the contemporary British Mark IV or V. With only 20 built of the 100 initially ordered, it was more a propaganda tool than an effective breakthrough apparatus.
A7V replica on display at the Munster Panzer Museum. All A7Vs were christened by their crews. The “Nixe” for example took part in the famous duel at Villers Bretonneux, in March 1918. “Mephisto” was captured on the same day by Australian troops. It is now displayed at Brisbane Anzac museum. Other tanks were named “Gretchen”, “Faust”, “Schnuck”, “Baden I”, “Mephisto”, “Cyklop/Imperator”, “Siegfried”, “Alter Fritz”, “Lotti”, “Hagen”, “Nixe II”, “Heiland”, “Elfriede”, “Bulle/Adalbert”, “Nixe”, “Herkules”, “Wotan”, and “Prinz Oskar”.
An A7V at Royes, during the spring offensives, March 1918.
The First World War’s fierce battles saw the need to develop military technology beyond anything previously imagined: as exposed infantry and cavalry were mowed down by relentless machine-gun attacks, so tanks were developed. Stunningly illustrated in full colour throughout, Tank Hunter: World War One provides historical background, facts and figures for each First World War tank as well as the locations of any surviving examples, giving you the opportunity to become a Tank Hunter yourself.
German Empire (1917-1918)
Anti-aircraft SPG – 3 Built
The rise of a Flakpanzer
In WW1, the Germans used the A7V chassis as a starting point to develop several other variations. Although most would be used for the A7V Überlandwagen rough terrain tracked supply vehicle, others were used to create unique vehicles, such as a trench digging machine and the anti-aircraft version known as the A7V Flakpanzer.
Plans were also made to produce an A7V Funkpanzer wireless communication tank fitted with a Graben-Funkstation 16 radio transmitter and large circling antenna on the roof.
In order to combat the ever more numerous amounts of aircraft in the skies, German Army needed something that could fend off the enemy aviators, but also be able to relocate to a more defensible position if necessary. Little is known about this mysterious A7V Flakpanzer save for a few photographs. Three prototypes were being trialed in the closing stages of World War One.
1918 trials of the A7V Flakpanzer anti-aircraft tank. Two ammunition boxes can be seen with their lids open behind each gun. Both guns are in the full recoil position – Photo – Thomas Anderson
The A7V Flakpanzer is the earliest recorded tracked anti-aircraft vehicle in history. The fate of these machines is unknown. It is possible that they were captured by the Allies and scrapped or they were dismantled and the parts were used for other things.
The guns themselves were positioned at each end of the platform. Ammo boxes were placed around the driving position and just under the guns themselves. The Flakpanzer A7V was very similar to the Uberlandwagen. It also had the A7V chassis and suspension, with the engines mounted centrally. The driving compartment was placed above them. This compartment was open and unarmored, but had a tarpaulin holder, to be used in bad weather.
The cargo bays were extended well over the front and rear of the vehicle, making the Flakpanzer longer. Each of these bays held an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pedestal.
These guns could traverse 360 degrees and could also elevate to fire at enemy planes.
Also present were two elevated guard rails, which seem to have had a double purpose. They could keep the crew from falling off the vehicle and serve as sitting places when moving. Under them were the ammunition compartments, which could be accessed from the outside of the vehicle, when the wooden side panels were lowered.
The crew consisted of around 10 men. Four men were needed to service each gun. There was also a driver and a commander, although it is not clear if these positions weren’t somehow amalgamated.
There is no verified information on the armament used by the Flakpanzer. However, it is believed that two of the prototypes were equipped with captured Russian M1902/30 76.2 mm (3 in) field guns. They were mounted on a new trunnion and elevation assembly to enable high-elevation. This allowed the gun to be fired at enemy aircraft
The Germans had captured copious amounts of such guns from the Tsarist Empire and pressed them into service. They even manufactured the ammunition for them.
The third prototype A7V Flakpanzer was equipped with a German Krupp-manufactured gun. It is believed that it was a 7.7 cm (3.03 in) German leichte Feld Kanone (l.F.K.) 1896 n/a (7.7cm light field cannon). Only one gun was fitted to this vehicle.
Whether these guns were effective against their intended targets remains a mystery, as no paperwork related to these guns use has been found.
Geländewagen A7V at the factory with the cargo wooden panel sides in the down position
A7V chassis development
The situation in 1915 – 1916 was dire, as Germany, Britain and France had settled into a stalemate. In order to solve the ‘bloody equation’ formed by the artillery-barbed wire-machine gun combination, both Britain and France began development of a vehicle that had the ability to cross trenches with ease and be able to withstand enemy machine gun fire. This tracked vehicle would eventually revolutionize the battlefield. Thus the tank was born.
Although the tanks suffered from mechanical failures and inadequate crew training, they had a major physiological impact on the German soldiers. German intelligence subsequently submitted reports to the Oberste Heeresleitung (German supreme command or OHL for short), which then lobbied the War Ministry for an equivalent. However, some of the senior officers of the time were more focused on artillery and infantry tactics rather than the development of the tank or similar armored vehicles.
The committee, headed by chief designer Joseph Vollmer, rejected the trench crossing rhomboid shape track system as used on the British tanks because they wanted to build a chassis that could be used on a tank and a ‘prime mover’ heavy artillery gun tractor. This approach lead to problems.
Two Caterpillar-Holt tractors were obtained and adapted to build a working prototype. It had a better speed than the very slow British tanks but its trench crossing abilities were not as good.
Eventually, the Heeresleitung got some funding from the war ministry to make an equivalent. After months of testing and building, they came up with the A7V. The OHL ordered 100 chassis to be built. The rest were used to develop several A7V variants including the Überlandwagen and an Anti Aircraft version, called the Flakpanzer A7V.
Germany only produced 20 A7V tanks in World War One. Britain and France built over 8,000 tanks between 1916 – 1918. In the battles of 1918 the German Army used more captured British tanks than they did tanks built in Germany.
The Germans were not very imaginative when they gave a name to their first tank. The letters A7V stand for the committee of the Abteilung 7 Verkehrswesen (Department 7, Transport) of the Prussian War Office.
An article by Toby Harris and Craig Moore
Flakpanzer A7V Specifications
76.2 mm (3 in) Russian Field Gun M1902/30 or
7.7 cm (3.03 in) German leichte Feld Kanone (l.F.K.) 1896 n/a
The First World War’s fierce battles saw the need to develop military technology beyond anything previously imagined: as exposed infantry and cavalry were mowed down by relentless machine-gun attacks, so tanks were developed. Stunningly illustrated in full colour throughout, Tank Hunter: World War One provides historical background, facts and figures for each First World War tank as well as the locations of any surviving examples, giving you the opportunity to become a Tank Hunter yourself.