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.
- Four-wheel drive.
- 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).
- An engine of at least 40 hp.
- Sufficient engine cooling, despite covering armor plating.
- 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
|Dimensions||9.5 x 2.1 x 3.5 m (31.17×6.89×11.48 ft)|
|Total weight, battle ready||10.3 tons|
|Propulsion||6-cylinder Büssing “Otto” petrol, 90 hp (67.14 kW)|
|Speed||35 km/h (21.7 mph)|
|Range (road)||240 km (150 mi)|
|Armament||3 x Mg08/Mg15na 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine guns|
|Armor||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)