The First World War was the first war in history in which armored vehicles were used in significant numbers, by all sides. The Netherlands, as a neutral country, only observed from the sideline. However, in 1914, one Belgian armored car was interned when it crossed the Dutch border, becoming the first armored vehicle on Dutch soil. Before it was given back to Belgium in 1919, the Dutch interned another vehicle during the German retreat at the end of 1918. This time, it was a semi-armored Ehrhardt self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. This vehicle would eventually be converted into a true armored car which became known as the Ehrhardt Potkachel.
During the First World War, the German forces made extensive use of semi-armored SPAAGs, anti-aircraft guns on truck chassis with an armored bonnet. Several reasons have been put forward to explain how this specific Ehrhardt BAK model 1913 ended up in the Netherlands. Some sources claim that the vehicle was bought from Germany several years after the war. Another source claims it was already in the Netherlands before the war. However, the current consensus, and the most likely story, is that the vehicle was left behind by German troops in 1918. After the armistice was signed, German troops wanted to return to Germany as quickly as possible. For some units, the fastest way was to go through the Dutch province of Limburg. They got permission to do so from the Dutch Army, but only if they handed over their weapons and equipment. This way, the Dutch received a lot of German weapons, possibly including the Ehrhardt.
It was not the first SPAAG the Dutch got their hands on. During the war, in August 1916, the Army had managed to acquire three flatbed Thornycroft trucks from Britain, armed with Vickers 13-pounder 9-cwt (76.2 mm) guns, designated 8tl in Dutch service. All of them were operated by the Motorized Anti-Aircraft Battery. It is unconfirmed that the Ehrhardt was operated by this unit as it was put into storage after it was handed over by German troops.
The Ehrhardt put to use
Somewhere between 1920-1923, the gun was replaced by a 57 mm gun, designated 6tl in Dutch service and one of the standard anti-aircraft guns. The vehicle would make its public appearance during the army maneuvers in the autumn of 1924. These maneuvers were the first in the Netherlands that included armored cars, or at least vehicles that were supposed to represent armored cars. Among them were the Ehrhardt, as well as a mock-up armored car based on a GMC chassis. Neither foreign observers nor the domestic newspapers were impressed by the vehicles and the maneuvers in general. One newspaper reported: “The army maneuver is imitating a war from 0 A.D. with one, say one prehistoric armored car, which already broke down on the first day of fighting”. Despite this, the use of these vehicles was very successful from a tactical view, and both the GMC and Ehrhardt were used during the following years.
It is not decisively known when the armored superstructure was added, but reports from newspapers, as well as photographs, suggest that the vehicle was not fully armored before 1927.
The only other training armored car, the GMC, was dismantled in 1931. In 1929, plans were made to acquire foreign armored vehicles but this came to nothing. In 1931, three GMC armored cars were made but these were assigned to the Second Company Police Troops in Amsterdam. Five Carden-Loyd tankettes arrived in 1931, but these were withheld from combined exercises. Three new Morris armored cars were only to be built in 1932 and ready at the end of the year. It is the author’s belief that, in this turmoil of events, the decision was made to armor the Ehrhardt, possibly in the second half of 1931 or more likely the first half of 1932. What is certain is that the Ehrhardt was not available for the army exercises of 1932, and neither were any other armored or mocked-up vehicles. When the vehicle was armored, it also received a different gun. Although the consensus is that this gun was of 37 mm caliber, maybe even the former gun of the GMC that was dismantled at the end of 1931, there are also claims that it was a 50 mm gun.
The armored superstructure was designed and built by the factory of HIH Siderius. This is a somewhat mysterious and controversial company. Between the truce of November 1918 and the final peace treaty of Versailles in June 1919, German weapon industries brought many documents, drawings, and part of their inventories to safety, as they rightfully feared Allied commissions would want this to be destroyed. One of the main destinations was the Netherlands, as it had played no part in the war.
As such, a lot of equipment and resources from the Rheinische Metallwaaren und Maschinenfabrik (Ehrhardt) were moved to the Netherlands and taken over by HIH Siderius. Some of the personnel also moved to the Netherlands and were employed by HIH, explaining why the Ehrhardt was upgraded by them. Furthermore, HIH reportedly worked on another armored car design during the early 1930s, based on a 6×4 Daimler chassis. Unfortunately, design plans are unknown. Due to the modifications, the vehicle is also referred to as Ehrhardt-Siderius in some publications.
The Ehrhardt mostly retained the layout of the original vehicle. The engine compartment remained the same. The gun stayed in the approximate position as well, maintaining the original balance in the design, but it was now limited to a small firing arc and unable to fire at airplanes. The added boilerplates that acted as armor were 6 mm thick on the sides and rear, except on the front where it was 12 mm thick. Five firing ports were made as well, with one facing to the front, one to each side, and two to the rear. Behind the driver’s position, a small round cupola was added from which the commander had an all-round vision.
The use of boilerplate, or the peculiar shape of the vehicle, maybe both, quickly led to the vehicle being nicknamed the ‘Potkachel’, Dutch for ‘Pot Stove’. Officially, the vehicle had no nickname and was just referred to as Ehrhardt, although after the armor was added by HIH Siderius, it was sometimes called Ehrhardt-Siderius. The vehicle had steel wheels, solid tires, and four-wheel drive. The official registration number was M-27011.
The engine could only be started with the help of a rigid starting handle. Once running, the vehicle was so difficult to drive that only three people in the army were capable of doing it. This was the main reason why the vehicle was rarely driven although it was often present during the annual war games.
During exercises in September 1933, the Ehrhardt was used, together with three new Morris armored cars that had been delivered in October 1932. Disaster struck when the Ehrhardt accidentally went off the road into a ditch, landing on its side. It got worse when a passing civilian driver saw the scene a few hours later and started yelling, calling the driver a fool, and lamenting what had happened to ‘little Ehrhardt’ (Dutch: Ehrhardtje). It quickly turned out that the civilian pedestrian was actually a volunteer at the corps and one of the people that regularly drove the vehicle. It is not known who drove the vehicle at the time.
The vehicle nearly saw its first operational use during the Jordan Riots in 1934. Driven by a high unemployment rate and lowered social benefits, big riots flared up in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam police force asked the military to help and they sent multiple armored cars. The Ehrhardt should also have been among them, but when the vehicle drove away from its storage unit, the steering rod broke, meaning the armored car was out of service for some time.
By 1938, new armored cars bought from Sweden had been accepted into the Dutch inventory, and plans were made to take the Ehrhardt out of service in that year, but these plans never came to fruition. In May 1940, the vehicle was found by the invading German troops, together with the unused Wilton-Fijenoord armored car, in a storage depot of the Artillery Corps in the city of Arnhem. It was taken away by the Germans and disappeared during the war, just like all the other outdated Dutch armored vehicles, without leaving a trace. The logical explanation is that they were all quickly scrapped and the armor recycled.
The Ehrhardt Potkachel has an odd place in the Dutch inter-war army. It was not their first armored car, nor their first SPAAG. It was not a particularly good vehicle either, yet it became the armored car with the longest service history in the pre-World War II Dutch army. It was a training vehicle at best, and not designed to ever see actual combat. This meant, combined with the fact that it was hopelessly outdated, that the vehicle remained in storage during the invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. Any attempt to use the vehicle would likely have failed. Yet the fact that it was still around at this time is a testament to the strength and workmanship of the original chassis design by Ehrhardt, especially when it is considered that the vehicle was outfitted with an armored superstructure the chassis was not designed to bear.
|Total weight, battle-ready||8,300 kg (18,300 lbs)|
|Crew||4 (driver, commander, 2 gunners)|
|Propulsion||80 hp engine|
|Speed||50 km/h (31.1 mph)|
|Armament||37 mm gun, 1-2 6.5 mm Lewis M.20 machine guns|
|Armor||6-12 mm (0.24-0.47 inches)|
|For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index|
C.M. Schulten, J. Theil. Nederlandse pantservoertuigen, Van Holkema & Warendorf, 1979.
Haagsche Courant, 13 September, 1933.
Arnhemsche Courant, 25 September 1924.
Hoefer, Armamentaria 3, Stichting Het Nederlandse Leger- en Wapenmuseum, 1969.
Militaire Spectator, jaargang 97, 1928.
Die deutsche radpanzer im ersten Weltkrieg, H. Kaufhold-Roll, p.44.
100 jaar na WO1: Duitse troepen huiswaarts via Limburg, 1Limburg, Frank Ruber, 11-11-2018.