GERMAN ARMOR OF WORLD WAR ONE
An Overview, Description, and Assessment
By Edwin Dyer
[Introduction] [Genesis] [The A7V Sturmpanzerwagen] [Production of the A7V] [Camouflage Schemes of the A7V] [The A7V in Poland] [The A7V "clone"] [The A7V-U Sturmpanzerwagen] [The K-Wagen] [The Leichter Kampfwagen (LK) Series] [The "Oberschlesien" Assault Tank] [Conclusion] [Bibliography]
One cannot deny that the German tank industry, its designers and engineers specifically, developed some of the best fighting vehicles to see action in World War Two and that some of these designs, such as the PzKpfw V "Panther" and the PzKpfw Tiger Ausf B "Konigstiger", forced the Allied industry to keep pace (which, in some cases, didn't happen until the waning months of the war) and in the post-war years, influenced the minds of tank makers to follow the panzer formula.
But the German tank industry was not always at the forefront of the armor technology curve. In fact, it was to find itself in a desperate race to play catch up with those powers in opposition to Germany during the Great War, World War One. But lessons learned are lessons not forgotten and in the brief time that the German arms industry was to frantically produce tanks to be fielded, the forethought and the advanced thinking was to emerge in designs which, in many cases, failed to leave the drawing board when the war for Germany was over in 1918. And these concepts and lessons didn't die out when the tragic Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. They were fostered, reworked in secret until, though the rest of the Allies fell into a state of armor apathy, the German panzers exploded onto the scene in the 1930s and the Allies were to be the ones playing catch up.
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I don't want to fully delve into the long history of the first armored vehicles. Such an item would make for a very long essay as well as leaving the main focus of this article. Suffice it to say...the concepts of the tank in the eyes of the military in many nations in the late 1890s and early 1900s was not a concept to find favor as a vehicle for battle. Producing armored cars was the rule of the day and those few tracked vehicles which were deployed in the military role (such as the Holt tractor) were almost always confined to the role of artillery prime movers and supply train haulers. As World War One ground down into the war of the trenches, with its dug-in positions, machinegun nests, and barbed wire, a way to counter this had to be found. Thus, in Britain, development of the tank began in 1915 (almost the same time the French undertook their tank developments, independent of the British). Thru trails, the classic British rhomboids emerged as the tool to break the stalemate. As the French and British sped ahead in their tank production and industry, the Germans languished. This was to change in 1916, when the British deployed tanks in the battle of the Somme. Few in number, the tanks nonetheless were helpful in the advance. The Germans did, however, hold the line. Apparently, this new weapon did not outright jar the German military to come up with an answer for it. Cambrai, in November of 1917, did jar the Germans, badly. But by then, the German tank industry and arm was in a race it would not win.
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The A7V Sturmpanzerwagen
The success of British tanks in 1916 did not worry the German General Staff. They felt their troops could defeat the tank threat and that the overall condition of the various theaters did not warrant the efforts in producing a tank. Despite this, the War Ministry, on November 13, 1916, issued a contract to the Motor Vehicle Technical Testing Commission (VPK) to develop a tank. As a ploy to maintain secrecy, this tank was to have the name A7V, which stood for Allgemeine Kriegsdepartment 7 Abteilung Vehkerwesen (which translated to War Department General Division 7 Transport).
The specifications issued by the War Ministry called for a vehicle with a gross weight of 30 tons, able to traverse cross-country, span a ditch 1.5 meters wide, and reach a road speed of 12kph. It was to be armed with two cannon, one at the front of the tank, one in the back, plus several machine guns. A motor developing between 80 to 100 horsepower was to be sufficient.
With contract in hand, the lead designer for the project was Reserve Hauptmann und Oberingeneur Joseph Vollmer. He headed up a commission, along with the VPK, comprised of military and business officials with whom to conduct the efforts of putting a design together. During the design phase, demands such as making the tank proof against artillery to using is only as a overland tractor were put forth but mostly ignored. Having nothing to truly draw upon in terms of tank and fully tracked vehicle production and also due to the pressures of time and the lack of strong support and backing, Vollmer contacted Herr Steiner of Holt-Caterpillar Company after Vollmer's first prototype tank failed because of weak tracks. The Holt tractor chassis was brought out of mothballs in Austria and lengthened. When the plans of this tank were made public in December 22, 1916, it sported two engines instead of one. By April and May of 1917, the first A7V chassis was under test at Berlin-Marienfelde. The wooden mock-up body had been made at the Daimler works and was mated to the chassis. This prototype (which had ballast to simulate the armament and armor) was displayed before VPK officials and OHL (Army High Command) officials in the months of April and May. Later, in June, it was displayed before the Kaiser himself.
Though the chairman of the VPK, General Friedrich, wasn't too pleased with the performance of the tank, he nevertheless authorized more work. Also, the desire to put the A7V at the top of the priority list for war materials was soundly rejected by the OHL. Despite this, an order for 100 Holt chassis was placed. Initially, 38 A7Vs (some sources say 35) were to be built using the Holt chassis...but, this was cut down to between 20 to 23.
During the testing months, many of the faults of the A7V appeared. Things such as engine overheating, low ground clearance, being underpowered, finding a suitable cannon to mount, constant running gear troubles, armor plating, lack of climbing ability, and a high center of gravity leading to maneuverability woes all worked against the A7V. But the German general staff couldn't wait for anything better and ordered that the A7V be ready for operations for the 1918 spring offensives, months after the initial acceptance date of July, 1917.
The A7V was, to put it bluntly, an armored box on tracks. Uninspired to say the least and almost seeming to pander to the "land fortress" design the Kaiser dreamt up in 1900, his being a steam-driven, wheeled box with cannon and spikes protruding from its slab sides. The chassis was a lengthened Holt tractor (as a side note, both the French M.16 CA1 Schneider and the M.16 St. Chamond used the Holt tracked chassis) with the dual Daimler engines situated in the center of the chassis. Each of the in-line engines were four cylinder and watercooled and produced 100hp at 1,600rpm. A large radiator was situated in front of the engines. These engines were tied into a Adler gearbox thru dual transmission shafts. Drive was transferred by shafts to the sprockets, the shafts going thru the steering brakes. The exhaust muffler (one for each engine) was located inside the tank, the exhaust pipe coming thru the armor plate to the outside. The sprocket and drive train was at the rear of the vehicle, driving two, approximately 60 link, tracks. The tracks were made of pressed steel plates bolted to cast steel links. There were three sets of bogies, each consisting of five road wheels and two return rollers. The suspension consisted of two springs, arranged much like a rail car. These bogies were all connected to each other and the chassis thru tie-rods. To contend with the tracks slipping off the rollers (a problem which occurred on several occasions with the prototypes), grousers were added to the bogies to help keep the tracks in place. Track tension adjustments were made with the mechanism at the idler wheel at the front of the vehicle.
Situated over the engines, on a raised platform, was the driver and commander compartment. The driver was surrounded by the controls needed to drive the tank. They were:
The first prototype had two driver stations, one to operate the tank in forward motion, the other in reverse. This was dropped from all subsequent A7Vs.
The question of the armament was not finally resolved until the spring of 1918. Initially, it was to be the 2cm Becker cannon which would provide the heavy firepower. Looking much like an oversize, clip fed, machine gun, the Becker proved to be both a unreliable weapon and also one which proved to be lacking in hitting power. Also, it was initially stated that four machine guns would compliment the Beckers, with all weapons being able to be interchangeable within their mountings.
With the poor showing of the Becker, it was decided to utilize weapons from the stock of old Belgian 5.7cm Maxim-Nordenfelt casemate cannons (also identified as Sokol cannons; manufactured c.1888). These weapon had been utilized in open mountings on trucks by the Germans following Cambrai as anti-tank artillery. They were quite capable of penetrating all known armor out to 2,000 meters (recall that the greatest armor thickness fielded by the Allies was between 16mm to 19.5mm; this could be defeated even by the 13mm Mauser Tank-Gewehr M1918 anti-tank rifle!). Another asset of the cannon was its low recoil, only 150mm. The original request for two cannons was dropped to one, the 5.7cm cannon being mounted in the front of the A7V. Two different mounting styles for the cannon were to be seen on production A7Vs. The first was the trestle mounting, developed by the Artillery Testing Commission. The cannon was set into the mantlet, with a balance weight, and two hand wheels were used for traverse and elevation aiming. Aiming was done via two sights, one inside the tank, the other on the end of the barrel. The slit to allow for aiming exposed the gunner to small arms fire. The second, and more common mounting, was the socket mantlet, produced by Spandau's artillery shops. This mount was, in fact, designed for the A7V-U project (discussed later). It was found, however, to be perfectly suited for the A7V and even for use in captured British tanks. The gunner sat on a seat which was connected to the cannon so that, were his cannon went, so did he. He used a dual handwheel combination which elevated and traversed the cannon. Over this handwheel was the sight. A slit in the mantlet allowed for aiming. To the right of the cannon was the firing lever. In action, though, this mount had the potential to disorientate the gunner as the tank moved. The gunner was provided with a direction indicator thru which the commander could give a rough direction of targets. This was located over the recoil brakes of the cannon. To the right of the mount was a series of lights that the commander would use for cannon fire control. A white light ment attention, a red light ment fire the cannon, and no lights ment load the cannon.
Secondary armament of the A7V consisted of six Maxim MG08 machine guns. This was two more than initially called for. Two machine guns were located on the sides of the A7V and two were located in the rear of the tank. No machine guns were mounted up front. The gunner sat in a seat which was attached to the mantlet port thus when he turned the weapon, he went with it. Under his seat were stored the ammunition to feed his weapon. Each of the six machine gun stations had the same white/red indicator lights as the cannon gunner.
Should the tank be involved in shock-troop operations, it would carry the Maxim 08/15 light machine gun, several rifles (typically the M1898), and hand grenades to supplement its already large firepower.
One A7V, Tank 501, mounted two flamethrowers during its trials but these were not retained. However, for shock-troop missions, flamethrowers were listed as planned equipment though they were not used in action.
Ammunition carried varied. The book standard was 180 rounds of 5.7cm rounds. In practice, between 300 to 500 were carried. These were stored in a box in front of the radiator. The usual mix of 5.7cm ammunition was the following: 50% canister rounds, 30% anti-tank rounds, and 20% impact fused HE rounds. For the machine guns, between 10,000 to 15,000 rounds were carried, broken down into 250 round belts. These belts were kept in Type 15 cartridge-belt cases and distributed to machine gun stations for storage under the gunners seat.
The armor for the A7V was one which generated some variation in appearances. Krupp and Rochling both produced five of the armored hulls. The Krupp plating was held up when it had to be cut to fit onto the A7V chassis' skeletal box frame. What resulted was a five sectioned hull, a two sectioned front, and a two sectioned rear. You can see this in the rivet patterns as compared to the single sectioned sides of other A7V tanks. In any event, each of the A7Vs, in both chassis and armor, were mostly handmade and thus differences in external rivet and bolt order, dimensions, and segments vary. Armor skirting was dipped to just above the bogies. A7Vs in the field removed this skirting since it inhibited the self-cleaning of the tracks and running gear.
The armor thickness of the A7V was as follows: Front= 30mm, sides=20mm, rear=20mm, top=7.5mm, "turret"=15mm.
As can be seen, this armor was far superior to any Allied tank fielded. In fact, it might very well have been proof to the British 6pdr. which typically armed British "Male" rhomboids. However, most of the armor supplied to protect the A7V was unhardened, thus lowering the effective value of the armor thickness. As in all World War One tanks, "splash" and "spray" (both terms for the results of hits to the armor and the affects on the interior; "splash" is molten metal played about the interior after a penetration and "spray" is metal flakes sent around the interior after a non-penetrating strike to the outside armor) were common hazards.
Two towing hooks were to be found on the front and rear of the A7V. To protect them and prevent snagging, a flap of armor plate hung down over them. A access door into the A7V was found on the front, left hand side of the tank and the rear, right hand side of the tank. An armored panel could be removed to give access to the idler wheel and the sprocket. Two pistol ports were to be found on each side of the A7V. On the top deck, both in front and behind the "turret", were ventilation louvers. At the rear of the A7V, below the stern armor, was a round escape hatch. Vision slits, protected by armored shutters, were to be found on the front (two), the sides (one per side), and the "turret" (two on the front face and rear, and one on each side face).
A feature to help protect the unarmored underbody consisted of armored plates which hung down from the front and rear sections of the A7V, much like the neck guard of baseball catchers.
The "turret", and I use quotes since it really isn't a turret in the true sense, was situated in the middle of the armored body, over the driver/commander compartment. Asides from the vision slits, it had two hatches in the top and the entire "turret" could be laid flat for transport by rail.
Here is a listing of statistics concerning the A7V:
* These statistics can vary ( though not by much ) due to the variations in production of the A7V
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Production of the A7V
The A7V units were first formed on September 20, 1917. The War Ministry ordered that Assault Tank Units 1 and 2 be created. Unit 3 was ordered to form on November 6, 1917. Each unit consisted of five officers, 109 non-coms and enlisted, five A7Vs, nine trucks, two cars, one field kitchen trailer, and one motorcycle. The first A7V wasn't ready until October 1917. Unit 1 reported to Berlin on January 5, 1918 and was transferred to the training/driving school at Sedan. It was during this training time that many of the faults of the A7V were to come to light. It should be pointed out that the crews for the A7V were drawn from no less than three branches of the German army. The driver and the mechanic were enlisted from the engineer corps., the cannon operators from the artillery branch, and the machine gunners from the infantry. This often led to factions within the tank which, given the harsh conditions inside the tank during battle (heat, noise, and the like), did not make for good team work and coordination, so important in a tank's crew and their ultimate survival. So with a new military arm learning how to use a new machine, the War Ministry made things that much more difficult.
March 21, 1918 saw Unit 1 in the field and in action, making it the first action involving the German-born tank. Under the command of Hauptmann Greiff, Unit 1 went into battle south of St. Quentin as part of the "Michael Offensive". Of the five tanks Greiff had, one A7V went down and shortly two more went down with problems. This left him two tanks, Tank 501 "Gretchen" and Tank 506 "Mephisto", with which to carry on the battle to the British. The tanks, which were supported by five captured British Mark IVs, routed the British. Shortly after the battle, "Gretchen" and "Mephisto" were retired to the rear for overhauling at Charleroi. Tank 507 "Cyklop" joined up with Unit 1 after the St. Quentin battle.
April was to prove to be one of the firsts of World War One, tank versus tank. On April 24, 1918, all three German tank units joined with the 2nd. Army in an attack on British and French forces at Villers-Bretonneux and the surrounding area. Two A7Vs failed to even make it to the assembly points. Tank 540 "Heiland" of Unit 2 broke down prior to their loading onto the train. Tank 503 of Unit 3 went down with a cracked cylinder head, taking it out of the coming action. The remaining thirteen A7Vs were split up among the participating forces as follows:
Group 1 (3 of Unit 1's tanks), under the command of Oberleutnant Skopnik, were assigned to the 228th. Infantry Division and would attack at Villers-Bretonneux.
Group 2 (4 tanks of Unit 3, 2 of Unit 1), commanded by Oberleutnant Uihlein, were to attack against the south edge of Villers-Bretonneux and the Bois d'Aquenne.
Group 3 (4 tanks of Unit 2), commanded by Oberleutnant Steinhardt, were assigned to the 77th. Reserve Division, attacking at Cachy.
The morning of the attack found a thick fog which helped mask the tanks from British field artillery. Group 1 (fielding Tank 526, Tank 527 "Lotti" [commanded by Lt. Vietze], and Tank 560 "Alter Fritz" [commanded by Lt. Ernst Volckheim]) helped the 228th. clear Villers-Bretonneux by noon, the British unable to stop the German infantry and their armored support. This tactic of infantry following the tanks and rolling up the line to the flanks was one which would be commonplace in the coming war, World War Two.
Elsewhere, Group 2 was split into two troops to support the 4th. Guard Infantry Division. Troop 1 (with Tank 505 "Baden I" [commanded by Lt. Hennecke], Tank 506 "Mephisto", and Tank 507 "Cyklop") advanced around the south edge of Villers-Bretonneux. "Mephisto" ran into difficulty with plugged jets. This was cleared up only to be put out of action for good when it fell into a shell crater and tipped over. Troop 2 (with Tank 541, Tank 562 "Herkules", and Tank 501 "Gretchen") moved against the enemy at Bois d'Aquenne. "Gretchen" went down with a overheated motor and pulled back. Tank 562 fell when the driver was wounded which caused the brakes to seize and the gearbox to suffer damage as a result. An attack by enemy infantry caused the loss of some of the crew. Tank 562 did manage to resume the advance after fending off the attack. "Baden I" had found itself in possession of defective ammunition for its cannon, rendering it useless. But it still rolled into action with a machine gun jutting out of the right front vision port, thus remaining capable of bringing fire to bear in the front arc.
Tank 541 dealt with a fortified farmyard south of Villers-Bretonneux then joined up with "Baden I" and "Cyklop", covering the advance of infantry into Bois d'Aquenne.
Group 3, meanwhile, had to detour past a badly torn up woodland area. Tank 542 "Elfriede" (commanded by Lt. Stein) strayed too far to the north and ended up as "Mephisto" had, tipped over, "Elfriede" in a sand pit as opposed to a shell hole. Lt. Stein was killed in action defending the tank. Tank 561 "Nixe" also strayed too far north. As the tank neared Cachy thru the fog, it came face to face with three British tanks, two Mark IV "Females" and one Mark IV "Male" belonging to the 1st. Section, 1st. Battalion. In the fire fight which resulted, the "Females" were heavily damaged and were forced to leave the field, their machine gun armament useless against the A7V. "Nixe" scored a hit against the "Male", disabling it. The crew of "Nixe" thought they had silenced the "Male" when, with its 25th. round, penetrated the A7V's armor at the right, front port, taking out the gun crew. "Nixe's" commander ordered the evacuation of the tank after which, it took two more hits to the right flank. As it would have it, the engines of "Nixe" were still running and, after the "Male" had been silenced by a mine thrower (a small trench mortar), the crew boarded "Nixe" and moved out again, only to have the engines seize after 2 klicks of travel.
Elsewhere, Tank 525 "Siegfried" (commanded by Lt. Bitter) and Tank 504 "Schnuck" made it to Cachy as planned and ordered. However, the 77th. Reserve Division faltered and crumbled when seven Medium A "Whippet" tanks from the 1st. and 3rd. Tank Battalions tore thru them, causing chaos and many casualties among the Germans. "Siegfried" rolled into action against the "Whippets" as did a shocktroop from the 4th. Guard Infantry Division. When all was said and done, one "Whippet" was knocked out, three were disabled, the rest fled. Whether or not "Siegfried" scored a victory against the "Whippets" in a tank-on-tank duel cannot be verified.
After the gains made by the Germans, the Australian 15th. Brigade and 13th. Brigade, with support from British units, took to a counterattack which ultimately swept the Germans back. In so doing, three A7Vs were in danger of being captured. "Nixe" was to have been recovered before the Australians got to it and a German demolition team sent into to destroy "Elfriede" ended up destroying "Mephisto". As it would have it, "Mephisto" was still behind the German lines, useless, while "Elfriede" was towed away by the French and British and examined and tested with great relish. It finally ended up in France, had plates cut from it for armor penetration testing, displayed in Paris until 1919, then junked. As the lines shifted, the abandoned "Mephisto" ended up in Australian hands, taken to Australia where is remains to this day, the last surviving A7V. "Nixe", with its seized engines, could not be repaired by the Allies and was scrapped.
As a side note, after the action at Villers-Bretonneux, some of the A7Vs went around to various armies to be demonstrated. One such tank which made the rounds was Tank 543 "Adalbert".
Unit 2 saw action near Reims on May 31, 1918. Right away, two tanks went down with problems. As the remaining tanks entered the combat zone, Tank 529 "Nixe II" (commanded by Lt. Biltz), was shot up by French artillery and put out of action for good. The other two tanks in the attack gave up and retreated. The Americans went in and recovered "Nixe II" and brought her to the U.S. where she ended up on the scrap heap in 1942.
June 1, 1918 saw Unit 1 take to the field in a battle northwest of the Fort de la Pompelle. Again, like what happened to Unit 2 earlier, two tanks went down with mechanical trouble. Tank 527 "Lotti" (commanded by Lt. Bergemann) became stuck in the mud and received a direct artillery hit to the "turret". "Lotti" had already been abandoned before the hit. Tank 526 also ended up bogged down and was shot up so badly it was written off. The last tank, Tank 560 "Alter Fritz", disengaged from the attack and retreated. Both Tank 526 and "Lotti" were left where they were stopped until 1921, when they were finally removed from the battlefield and scrapped.
The remains of Unit 1 and Unit 3 were assigned to the 18th. Army which was operating south of Noyon. In these actions, which took place beginning on June 9, 1918, Unit 1 lost Tank 560 "Alter Fritz" to artillery fire. Oberleutnant Skopnik and Lt. Bartens lost their lives in this artillery attack. Tank 562 "Herkules" ended up falling into a shell hole and wasn't recovered until days later. Tank 541 went down after its engine and gearbox acted up. Unit 3, however, fared much, much better, having achieved all of its objectives. Only Tank 564 came to grief after is was stuck in a village and put out of action.
Units 1 and 2 were later shifted to the 7th. Army on July 15, 1918. In the actions they participated in, no losses were incurred. This was not to be the case come August 31, 1918. A German counterattack was to be staged near Fremicourt. Unit 1 failed to make it to the combat assembly point in time and was left behind. The forces Unit 1 was to have supported were soundly defeated. Unit 2 ran right into the grinder. The fog of war claimed Tank 504 "Schnuck", German artillery putting it out action with two hits to the frontal armor. The crew abandoned the tank. Tank 526 became stuck as it tried to retreat while Tank 562 "Herkules" was put out of action by air bombs. Tank 563 "Wotan" limped back to the German lines after suffering mechanical difficulties. The New Zealanders claimed "Schnuck" and Tank 528 "Hagen" ("Hagen", commanded by Lt. von Jamrowski, became stuck and was abandoned). Both were taken to Britain and junked in 1919. Following the misfortune and folly at Fremicourt, Unit 2 was disbanded and what remained was absorbed into Unit 1.
Unit 3's successful showing during the action around Noyon was followed up some months later in support of the 3rd. Army during their counterattack at St. Etienne on October 7, 1918. In this battle, all of Unit 3's tanks suffered damage of one sort or another. In the end, the attack had to be broken off when it was found that the bridges over the Arne River had been destroyed.
The last and final action undertook by German A7Vs took place on October 11, 1918. Unit 1, reinforced and having six tanks on roster, went into action near Iwuy. Tank 562 "Herkules", though on roster, ended up abandoned and written off (recall it had broken down earlier). It was decided to use "Herkules" for spare parts. The British later captured "Herkules" and it ended up on the scrap heap in France.
The remaining tanks, Tank 525 "Siegfried" (commanded by Lt. Wagner), Tank 563 "Wotan" (commanded by Lt. Goldmann), Tank 501 "Gretchen" (commanded by VzFw. Lommen), Tank 540 "Heiland" (commanded by Lt. Schuck), and Tank 560 "Alter Fritz" (commanded by Lt. Volckheim), were successful in putting down and plugging a British breakthrough. It was not without loss, however. "Alter Fritz" shed a track and ended up being spiked.
And so it came to a close with Germany's fledgling panzer force. Those tanks which remained and their crew were transferred to Erbenheim, near Wiesbaden where they were disbanded after November 11, 1918.
So how did the A7V stack up against its opponents? The main predator of the A7V was the British Mark IV "Male" (incidentally, the suffering the Mk. IV "Females" endured from the A7V led to the British to equip them with one sponson mounting the 6pdr., leading to the "Hermaphrodite"). Note that I've not included the French tanks since there was no evidence of A7Vs engaging French armor. In size and weight, both the A7V and the Mk. IV were fairly close. In armor, the A7V was clearly superior with 20mm-30mm of armor to the maximum 16mm of the Mk. IV. The main enemy to both tanks was artillery which easily put them out of action (in fact, Rheinmetall developed a purpose-built 3.7cm anti-tank gun). In terms of weapons, the Mk. IV sported two 6pdr. QF cannons to the A7Vs one 5.7cm gun. In the conflict in which the Mk. IV battled the A7V, it would appear that the 6pdr. was not adequate in dealing with the armor of the A7V, the penetration occurring at the weak spot of the port. The A7Vs gun was more than capable of putting down the British tanks as it did with the Mk. IV "Male" in the first tank duel. It was crew error that they did not follow up the kill (which the Americans would often do in World War Two). Also keep in mind that, though the British tank had two cannon, depending on the direction of attack, it might only be able to bring one to bear due to the positioning of the weapon in the sponson. As far as secondary arms is concerned, the A7V had double the machine guns the Mk. IV "Male" had (and equal in number to the "Female"). The A7V could lay down a withering fire in all of its arc save the front where only the cannon was to be found (The Mk. IV did have a frontal machine gun). However, the shape of the A7V made for a number of blind spots, one of which was to the detriment of the driver. To the front of the tank, the cannon could only cover a 90 degree angle outwards as could the first machine gun on the sides. This left a large gap in coverage to the front left and right. A smaller gap was to be found in the rear left and right. To combat this, the driver would use a zig-zag motion to prevent exploitation of these gaps. Other than this, the A7V could cover itself very well unlike the British Mk. IV which had no coverage to the rear itself. The driver's problem with the A7V came from the fact that, because of his location at the top of the tank, he could not see the first nine meters of ground in front of the tank. In terms of cross-country performance, the British rhomboids were the clear winner. Their shape allowed them to climb obstacles (something the A7V couldn't do as Allied tests showed it could not even climb a 1.2 meter bank), traverse trenches (at least 9ft. to the A7Vs barely 7ft.), and handle rough ground due to its high ground clearance. Neither tank offered the crew any sort of comfort but the British crews already had experience under their belt by the time the German tanks entered the fray and thus, by extension, had crew unity, something the German tank crews did not have. The crew size for the Mk. IV was less than half that of the A7V at seven. The A7V, with a crew of eighteen, needed not only the signal light arrangement, but a signaler, a man who moves thru the tank, relaying orders of the commander to the gunners. The British used a simple code method involving a series of bangs on the engine cover. In this way, the British gunners had only to hear for the commands and didn't need to take their sight away from the outside. The A7V gunners had to look momentarily away to the lights and/or have their attention drawn away by the signal man as he passed on the orders. These seconds could make the difference between victory of defeat.
One of the great problems which plagued the A7V was the engines. Prone to overheating (since airflow to cool the radiator was about nonexistent) and having to cope with the mass of the A7V, the Daimlers broke down often which was why a mechanic was carried on-board. Granted, engine trouble also was the bane of the early British tanks but by the time the A7Vs went into action, the British had made strides to solve the problem in their later Marks. Yet another engine related comparison was this; the A7Vs were lucky to get spare parts (as was seen, some tanks were reduced to parts tanks) to maintain them in the field, something the British didn't have to worry about. One thing the A7V had which the British tanks didn't was the fact that the armor of the A7V protected the tracks to a degree whereas the rhomboid's tracks were fully exposed to hostile fire. As far as speed went, the A7V and the Mk. IV were about equals in road speed...but overland, the A7V suffered in comparison to the Mk. IV. Deployment, on the other hand, was clearly in favor of the British who learned some lessons in 1916 and 1917. The Germans had nothing to learn from and deployed their tanks in penny packets and as mobile pill boxes, the effects achieving success only on the local level and not in the overall scheme of maneuver. In a sense, though, both the British and the Germans at first thought of their tanks as infantry support vehicles, not elements of attack unto themselves. By the time the Germans might have considered this, it was too late for the British already had and the war was over for Germany.
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Camouflage Schemes of the A7V
The A7Vs sported any number of color schemes and various cross designs and other markings.
Unit 1 sported death's head markings on the front of their tanks. The skull and cross bones was apparently white and the skull had a smile to it. At least two tanks ("Gretchen" and "Mephisto") had a dark circle as a backdrop with the death's head over it. "Mephisto" later replaced the death's head with a German cross. Later on, Unit 1 was not to be the exclusive bearer of the death's head markings.
Tanks which sported names had them written in a light hue either on the top, left hand side of the front of the tank or the top, right hand side.
The German crosses were placed on the front, sides, and rear of the tank. Typically, for those tanks without the death's head on the front, one cross was placed just under the cannon. Those with the death's head had two placed on either side of the cannon. The sides sported two crosses (less common was a singe cross) while the rear had one. Some tanks also had a large cross over the front roof ventilator louver, no doubt for aerial recognition.
The appearances of the cross varied quite a bit. One style was the curved black cross with the white outline (the most common). A plain, straight light hued cross with a white outline was also used. Black, straight crosses with the white edging along the cross angle edges (the type most often seen on German vehicles in World War Two) was used and also straight, black crosses on white squares were to be seen in use as well.
Some of the tanks sported a Roman numeral I and II, depending on the unit the tank was assigned to, which was placed under the side vision slit on the side of the tank. This numeral was a dark shade with a white outline.
The only tank which sported (that is known) "nose art" was "Mephisto". A red devil, seeming to wave to the viewer, is shown running off with a British rhomboid under its arm, was painted in the upper left hand side of the front of the tank. After "Mephisto" fell into Australian hands, somebody painted the British lion, crown and all, with its paw on top of the tank "Mephisto" along the left side of the tank. When this tank was restored (at least the exterior) in 1972, it was repainted in the tank's original colors and the British lion "revenge" illustration was removed.
Camouflage colorations were varied as much as the crosses. Some tanks were painted totally in field gray with the usual cake of dirt and dust. Still others were painted in rather bright colors consisting of frost green, lime yellow, and red-brown over the standard field gray. In some cases, the frost green was left out. Early on, the camouflage consisted of irregular spots and stripes of red-brown, light green, and lime yellow. Other sources document the colors as ochre (the base color) with blotches of dark green with chestnut brown.
In several images, camouflage tarps and netting was hung over the A7Vs when they were traveling, both on their trains or on the road. Also, when the tanks were at rest, the netting was in place or ready to be unfurled. This was no doubt to give added defense against detection by aircraft and the enemy. In action, these tarps or netting were not used lest they slip and block and/or tangle up the weapons.
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The A7V in Poland
Though the war ended for the A7V in German military hands, it saw new service in the hands of Poland.
Poland found itself in a powerful state following World War One. Under the leadership of Jozef Pilsudski, Poland went into battle to expand its territory. Even before the peace treaty was signed, Polish units were in action in the Ukraine and were involved in skirmishes with German Freikorps units along the River Netze on the Silesia and Brandenburg frontiers. Pilsudski came into alot of German military surplus following his offer of safe conduct to German occupying forces out of Poland and eastern territory. His condition for this safe passage? Leave all of the weapons behind. This the Germans did in their desire to return home. Following the added land grabs granted to Poland from the Treaty of Versailles, Poland again went on the road to war, this time to the east. With the departure of the Germans from this region, the Russians swiftly filled the vacancy, much to Polands chagrin. Polish frontier troops clashed with Russian units near Brest-Litovsk in January, 1919. In fact, some of the German Freikorps were still in action within Lithuania, fending off the Russian advance. The presence of these Freikorps troops was one of the deciding factors against Poland's attacking of the Republic of Lithuania and Poland knew they would stop any Polish attacks. Still, politics and skirmishes gave Poland more land as they sought to stop Russia. From France came nearly 60,000 Polish troops, all fresh and very well equipped. With these troops, the Polish army made plans to assault Russia. At this time, Russia was embroiled in a civil war between the White Russians and the Red Russians. Poland saw this opportunity to launch an attack against a divided and engaged Russian military. They did so on April 25, 1919. In swift order, Polish troops took Kiev. The tables of victory were to be swiftly turned around. General Budienny lead a cavalry charge into the Polish lines south of Kiev on June 6, 1919. The Poles crumbled. Kiev was evacuated five days later. Not to let the Polish relax, General M.N. Tukhachevsky launched an offensive which drove the Polish army back to the gates of Warsaw. In a series of brilliant counterattacks and thanks to strategic mishaps on the part of the Russians, the Polish forces pushed back and soundly defeated the Russians who retreated in total disorder.
It was during the actions in and around Warsaw that the A7Vs, five in all, were to see service. Whats comes to question is how they arrived into Polish hands. As far as is known, no A7V in German service saw action on the eastern front during the war. Some of the possibilities include Germany having to pay war reparations to Poland in the form of war material. According to Walter Spielberger's "Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und Panzer der deutschen Wehrmacht" (Stuttgart, 1992), remaining A7Vs were brought back into Germany and used during the civil unrest in Berlin, brought up to battle readiness, then sent to Poland for deployment during the Russo-Polish War of 1919-1920 (Spielberger, 10). While this is certainly a very good possibility, one has to wonder where these tanks came from. The remaining A7Vs fell into French hands and ended up scrapped at the close of December of 1918. Of course, it all depends on how one defines "scrap". Does this mean put to the cutting torch? Or simply that the tank(s) are sitting in the junk yard, rusting. Perhaps more than the 20 to 22 A7Vs which saw service had been made but were too late to see service (see the entry about the A7V "clone" below). Perhaps France, which supported Poland during this time with arms, hauled some of the tanks they captured and sent them off to Poland. Be that as it may, five A7Vs were deployed under the Polish banner. There, they fought alongside British Mark V* tanks which the Polish had captured from the Russians.Just how, where, with who, and when these A7Vs fought and were deployed is not known. Were they engaged in tank against tank battle (recall the Russians fielded British Mk. IV and Mk. V* tanks plus French tanks such as the St. Chamond) is not known either. Apparently the tanks survived these actions (if they went into combat at all) and remained in Polish service as the A7Vbis until 1921. The author could find no photographs depicting these Polish A7Vs which he feels would solve some of the mystery regarding the origin of these tanks (perhaps adding to the life story of some of the German A7Vs).
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The A7V "clone"
Following the war and the chaos, both politically, economically, and militarily, which resulted, the German Freikorps was born. Formed from staunch members of General Erich Ludendorff's military, the Freikorps were loyal to the old ways and vowed to restore Germany's dominance. These units of hardened soldiers, armed, and unified, went into battle in Latvia and Lithuania to hold the gains made since 1914. During the Berlin Uprising which began in January of 1919, a tank resembling the A7V rolled in with the loyalist troops (who were also using armored Marienwagen II halftracks). Outwardly, it resembled the A7V. It still had the box shaped hull but the "turret" was replaced by two cylindrical "cupolas". It may be these could be lowered into the tank itself. It had no cannon but at each corner of the tank was a socket mantlet mounting a Maxim 08/15 machine gun, making a total armament of four machine guns. Where a cannon would have been on a true A7V, there were two open vision ports which apparently had closable shutters on the inside. Two access hatches were to be found, one on each side of the tank. It had crude death's heads painted onto the front and sides with the slogan "Panzer-Kraftwagen-Abteilung Regierungs-treue-Truppen" (which loosely translates as "Tank Motor Vehicle Department Loyal Government Troop") whitewashed onto the front of the tank with the number "54" whitewashed on the lower corners of the front as well. This tank later appeared in Leipzig with the name "Heidi" on its hull. It was later turned over to the occupying forces and scrapped. Exact specifications are lacking.
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The A7V-U Sturmpanzerwagen
Impressed by the handling characteristics of the British rhomboid tanks (the majority of the armor deployed by German were captured machines), the OHL put in an order in March of 1917 to build an A7V which mimicked the British tanks. This was the A7V-U (the "U" standing for "umlaufende kette", loosely translating as "track runs around car"). Using the Holt chassis, it was modified into the basic shape of the British rhomboid. In comparison, the A7V-Us general appearance was of a Mk. IV but the hull shape was more "upright" than the "streamlined" British version. The sponsons were also set further back than on the British tank. Thirdly, the "turret" was very high and served as a weapon station, the machine gunner's seat being located inside. The commander and driver were positioned in the forward part of hull, just like the British rhomboids. The sponsons were just about an exact copy of the British tanks. Each of the two sponsons mounted one 5.7cm cannon in a socket mantlet. A gun port was located just behind the cannon. An access hatch was to be found on the rear of the sponson with a gun port set into the hatch. Scattered across the hull were more gun ports. Asides the two on the sponsons, one was to be found in the hull side, forward of the sponson while the "turret" has six ports (two in the front, two in the back, one on each side). It can be taken that these ports were for the gunners to poke their weapons thru and not the mountings as seen on the A7V. The only visible vision port is to be found on the side of the tank, one per side.
The overall weight of the A7V-U stood at 40 tons, its length was 8.38 meters, and its width was 4.69 meters. This compares to a weight of 29 tons, 8.05 meter length, and 3.89 meter width of the British Mk. IV "Male". Obviously bigger and heavier, the A7V-U was no doubt a sloth in motion. No specifications could be found on the speed nor the engine(s) used in the A7V-U. But if the same Daimler engines were mounted in the A7V-U, the fact that they would be pushing an added ten tons of weight, that would conclude that the speed, let along the reliability of the motors (already questionable with the A7V), would be very poor and not stand it well against the tanks it mimics.
The A7V-U prototype was ready for trials in the late summer of 1918. In these tests, several problems arose. The first was the fact that the tank tended to tip forward when it traversed rough ground. Perhaps the fact that the A7V-U was not as "streamlined" as the British rhomboids and also weight distribution within the tank (it may be that the engine(s) were mounted forward of the cannon stations due to the sponson positioning) caused this difficulty. Another problem, one the British had to contend with, was that the track runs on the upper part of the tank became clogged with mud and dirt, fouling the tracks. Yet another problem was the fact that the driver opposition with the A7V-U was 40% more severe than with the A7V. All this added up to cause the OHL, on September 12, 1918, to order work on the A7V-U stopped and the vehicle to be scrapped.
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Perhaps foreshadowing the late war developments of such German tanks as the Maus and the E.100 during World War Two and the folly (though, from a technical and engineering standpoint, valuable) of such efforts when the assets, money, and the time could be better spent on proven arms to support the war, the K-Wagen was to World War One German armor projects what the Maus and E.100 was to World War Two German armor projects.
In early 1917, the Chief of Motor Vehicles of the War Ministry placed the contract for the construction of the K-Wagen. The specifications of the contract called for a tank able to cross a trench at least 4 meters wide, have front and side armor up to 3cm thick, mount one to two cannon of 5cm to 7cm in caliber, mount four machine guns, mount two flamethrowers, be powered by a motor(s) developing 400hp, have an 18 man crew, and be able to be broken down into 30 ton loads for transport.
In committee discussions over the K-Wagen, much criticism was put forward over the impracticality of the design, both in the specifications and the reality of its deployment and success in the field. These voices were ignored and on June 28, 1917, the order for ten K-Wagens to be built was issued. And to top it off, the OHL ordered that the projected construction time of one year be cut to eight months.
From the start, the design ran into trouble. The designers had nothing to work from...they had to build a tank practically from the ground up. All new building techniques had to be fashioned and implemented and nearly all the components had to be made from scratch. Where possible, shortcuts were found such as the tracking which was adapted from power shovel machines. But things such as gearing and the clutch assembly all had to be made to specifications. Contracts were given out to the Riebe Ball Bearing Works in Berlin-Weissensee and the Waggonfabrik Wegmann in Kassel to build five K-Wagens each. As the two companies got to work, problems arose at every corner.
It was found very quickly that the original call for a 400hp engine arrangement was totally inadequate to grant the K-Wagen useful locomotion. Instead, two Daimler 6-cylinder marine engines were used, each engine developing 650hp. These engines were to give the K-Wagen a speed of 5mph (which is probably the road speed). Fuel tankage was 3,000 liters and to what range this would have allowed the K-Wagen to travel is not known. The weight of the K-Wagen had crept up to about 150 tons from its original 140 tons. By shortening the vehicle, it was speculated that the weight could be brought down to 120 tons. The original crew size of 18 was found to be too little to man the tank and it was increased to 22.
For armaments, Idstein Fortress provided 7.7cm cannon for the K-Wagens. These were mounted in socket mantlets very similar to the 5.7cm cannon on the A7V. The K-Wagen was armed with four of these 7.7cm cannon and the original call for four machine guns (no doubt Maxim 08/15s) increased to seven, the flamethrowers apparently having been deleted. Total rounds carried for the cannons was 8,000 (mix not known) and for the machine guns, one can assume over 15,000 rounds were on-board.
For armor, the specifications for 3cm of protection was met. Though, whether this armor thickness was maintained in all of the K-Wagen's sections is not known as well as if this armor was of the hardened or unhardened type.
Overall, the K-Wagen resembled a long shoe-box. It was, vaguely, rhomboidal in the sense that the tracks went over the top of the tank. The ends of the tank were rounded and didn't have the point the British tanks had. The K-Wagen's tracks benefited from armor protection in that they ran up under the the roof armor plating and sported some measure of defense from the front and rear armor plates. Overall, the K-Wagen had very little riveting, the armored hull's sections being apparently made in whole units. Attached to the side of the box hull were the sponsons. Unlike the movable (and in some cases, removable) sponsons of the British tanks, these were bolted to the hull. In a bulge in the sponson were mounted two 7.7cm cannon. One cannon faced forward while the other faced towards the back. Situated between the cannon was a machinegun. At the rear of the sponson was another, rear firing, machinegun. At the front of the tank, separated from the fighting compartment by a bulkhead, was to be found the two driver stations and three machine gun positions (one gun faced forward, the other two facing the sides). Approximately in the middle of the fighting compartment was a raised platform where the commander and an artillery officer sat, looking out thru a raised, cylindrical cupola on the top of the K-Wagen. Positioned in the front of the engine compartment was the signalman (whose duties were no doubt similar to those of the A7V signalman). Two mechanics were carried on-board to service the two engines (and probably assist in assembling the K-Wagen for action after transport). Behind the engine compartment, in the rear of the tank, was the gearbox assembly. Venting was provided by louvers on the top of the sponsons while the dual exhaust stacks were mounted on the roof a bit behind the cupola. For vision slits, the K-Wagen has a surprising lack of them. Aside from the ones in the cupola (which are dotted around the cupola to grant all around sight), the only other vision slits can be seen on the sponson, between the cannon. The front, where the drivers are, seems to have no vision ports at all! And since the driver stations were set back from the front of the tank, one wonders how they were to see where they were going. The K-Wagen's dimensions were as follows: Length= 41ft.3in. (12.6m), Width= 19ft.6in. (5.9m), Height= 9ft.10in. (2.9m), Clearance= unknown.
As the troubled progress on the K-Wagen went on, the A7V had been deployed and the Germans had been on the receiving end of successful Allied employment of armor. All this seemed to grate on the war offices and doubts crept into their minds as to the value and practicality of the K-Wagen. This culminated in the Testing Department of Field Vehicles issuing a statement on October 18, 1917 that the only suitable deployment of the K-Wagen would be in positional warfare, i.e. static defenses, a pill box on tracks (something that the World War Two Jadgtiger was often deployed as).
The K-Wagen program slogged on thru technical problems and also from difficulties in getting parts and components from outside suppliers. However, the close of hostilities also brought to a close the K-Wagen project. Riebe Ball Bearing Works had one K-Wagen in the final stages of completion with a second one in a lesser state and sans engines. Wegmann had, in all this time, nearly finished one K-Wagen armored body.
The K-Wagen was a project which had little to gain in terms of a tank which would have found success on the field. In mobile warfare, it would have found itself at a supreme disadvantage. Its speed of 5mph, which is probably a road speed, would have dropped to a horrid rate overland. And with a weight of over 120 tons, it surely would have bogged down in the mire and soft earth of the battlefield, leaving it vulnerable to artillery, tank fire, and close assault. How strong the tracks were, given their civilian roots (recall they were from power shovel machines), might be called into question and that fouling and clogging of the upper gear would have been a serious problem. Its sloth-like speed would have been to its detriment against swifter tanks such as the cannon armed FT-17 and bold anti-tank infantry teams. And that this tank needed two drivers attests to the difficulty in handling the machine. If the problems with the A7V in terms of crew efficiency in action were difficult, it had to have been worse with the K-Wagen. Given that there seems to be no vision ports for the drivers, they would have had to rely on orders from the commander, passed thru to them via the signalman, as to where to drive. And with the location of the cupola, the commander had an even bigger dead angle to the front than with the A7V. Apparently, the artillery officer would have had the task of commanding the gunners. One can imagine the signalman would get quite a workout having to deliver orders from two officers. In terms of weapons, the K-Wagen can be considered the most heavily armed tank to have been built during the war. The performance of the 7.7cm cannon is not known but would probably have been more than capable of penetrating the armor of any Allied tank. The coverage of the machine guns would have been good with the only real blind spot being the direct rear of the tank. Armor-wise, the K-Wagen would have still had the edge in protection. Transportation of this tank posed a serious problem as can be seen in the fact that one of the requirements was that it was to be capable of being broken down into sections. Thus, this limits the tactical flexibility of the K-Wagen in that it could not be rapidly deployed and sent into action. And if there were bridges to be crossed, the K-Wagen would probably have had to have been broken down again, taken across, then reassembled. In static warfare, which, as was seen, was to be the suggested role of the K-Wagen, it might have proven a problem to deal with if deployed right. Its fire control would have improved as the commander wouldn't have to worry about giving the drivers directions and could concentrate, along with the artillery officer, on target acquisition. However, like any other pill box, use of artillery and combined arms would have rendered it vulnerable, its only saving grace being that it might be able to move from spot to spot. From a technical standpoint, the K-Wagen was an interesting project, too little, too late in the war which was already lost. And even if it had taken the field, the K-Wagen would have fallen prey to the new generation of combat tanks such as the Mk. VIII "Liberty" heavy tank and the Medium B and C fast tanks.
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The Leichter Kampfwagen (LK) Series
When the French deployed their FT light tanks and later the British their Medium A "Whippets" with success on the battlefield, the German tank arm was want to duplicate what the Allies had (as they sought to do with the Mk. IV in their A7V-U). What resulted was a duel of sorts between two firms, Chefkraft and Krupp, in the closing months of the war. What came out of this competition to produce a light tank would lay the basis of design and foundations for the German panzer arm in the upcoming years.
Chefkraft, having heard of the positive results of Allied light armor in action, proposed to the OHL on December 29, 1917 that a light tank be built using a wheeled motor car chassis, grafting tracks onto the chassis. Chefkraft pointed out that there was an abundance of the car chassis to be had, which would speed efforts to produce the tank. January 17, 1918 had the OHL turning down Chefkraft's suggestion on the basis that the armor of the tank would have been too light. What Chefkraft didn't know was that the OHL was already working with Krupp on their own light tank design since the consensus was that Chefkraft's experience in the field of tank development was lacking. As it would have it, Chefkraft was later brought into the project.
One thing which should be pointed out is that the shape of the LK tanks could have come from one of two ways. The first is that captured Medium A "Whippets" were looked at, studied, and duly duplicated. The second is that the decision to utilize motor car chassis would instantly give the tank the front engine mounting, a centrally located driver, a turret or gun position to the rear, and also the drive train being in the rear of the vehicle. Even in the latter case, the influence of the "Whippet" cannot be ruled out.
The design specifications called for a tank able to reach speeds of 12kph to 15kph, climb at least 45 degree gradients, and be able to cross trenches at least 2 meters wide. Armament was to be a 5.7cm cannon.
The resulting vehicle, which was drive tested in March, 1918, was the LK I. The track arrangement bore a strong resemblance to the "Whippet" but without the mud chutes to keep the upper running gear clean. Seven bogie assemblies per side carried the tracking with the idler up front, the drive sprocket in the rear. The hull looked alot like an armored car hull. The engine (of which various types were used) was located up front, airflow to the radiator provided by an armored shutter. Panels on either side of the hull and the top allowed access to the engine for repairs and the like. Behind the engine was the driver who sat in a seat with the steering wheel, clutch pedal, and brake levers around him. The driver had five vision slits available to him which, however, gave him a rather limited forward view. The fighting compartment was behind him where the gunner/commander resided, handling the fully revolving turret which was to house a machinegun (it doesn't appear that it was fitted in the prototypes though the housing and apature were in the turret face). The turret has a top hatch. Another machine gun was to be mounted in the rear of the hull as well. A hatch was fitted on each side of the hull at the fighting compartment to allow entry and exit into the tank along with another in the rear of the hull. A notable item was the placement of the fuel tank. Unlike the "Whippet" whose fuel tank was located right at the front of the vehicle, the LK I had its in the very rear of the tank. No doubt somewhere it was witnessed the folly of placing the fuel tank in so vulnerable a place as the front of the tank...the very place where the chances of being hit were great.
The LK I had the following dimensions: Length= 18ft. (5.5m), Width= 6ft.6in. (2m), Height= 8ft.3in. (2.5m). Its weight was 7.7 tons.
Speed for the LK I was 12mph (20kph) which clearly surpassed the original speed specification while armor protection was a maximum 8mm.
Even as the testing of the LK I was under way, an improved model, the LK II was begun. This model was to sport heavier armor which, obviously, increased its weight. Both Chefkraft and Krupp presented their designs, Chefkraft the LK II and Krupp their Krupp-Wagen, on July 23, 1918. Krupp's design sported a 5.2cm cannon and a machine gun and was bigger than the original LK I. Chefkraft's LK II, however, was to be the winner when, after finishing the prototype on October 2, 1918, Krupp's design was found to be unsatisfactory and the initial orders (65 tanks in all) for it canceled. The deciding factor in the LK II winning out was that it has a superior trench crossing capacity thanks to the lengthening of the tracks.
The LK II had much the same appearance as the LK I. It was shorter, having only six bogie assemblies to the LK I's seven. The hull was more sloped but with a forward raked front. The shutters to allow air to the radiator were replaced with a solid metal plate which would be placed over the opening in battle. Mud chutes were added. With the change in the hull shape, access panels to the engine were reduced to two and the driver's vision slits were dropped to four although his vision range was improved. The turret was retained and a raised cupola was added to the top of the turret.
The LK II was to come in two versions. The first was the machine gun armed LK II (described above) and the other, the LK II "Kanonenversion". The cannon armed version of the LK II was quite different from the machine gun variant. Instead of a turret, it had a heightened rear hull into which a forward firing socket mantlet was placed. The forward hull was akin to the LK I, having the shuttered radiator grill once again. Testing of the 5.7cm cannon mounted on a prototype LK II "Kanone" concluded on August 29, 1918 that the LK II's body and chassis could not handle the recoil stress. It wasn't until September 30, 1918 that the OHL ordered that the Krupp 3.7cm KwK cannon be utilized. The socket mantlet allowed the 3.7cm cannon to move in a 60 degree arc. In each of the two access hatches was a port to mount a machine gun. Whether or not these were to be standard equipment is not known.
The LK II "Kanone" had the following dimensions: Length= 16ft.7in. (5.06m), Width= 6ft.4in. (1.95m), Height= 8ft.2in. (2.5m). Weight was 9.4 tons. The Daimler 4-cylinder, water cooled, in line engine drove the LK II "Kanone" at 10mph (16kph). Range was 40 miles (65km) thanks to a 150 liter fuel capacity, could cross a trench 6ft.9in. wide (2.04m), and climb a gradient of 45 degrees. Power to weight ratio was 6.6hp per ton. Protection was, at the minimum 6mm up to a maximum of 11mm to 14mm. Crew was 3.
At the close of the war, Joseph Vollmer proposed the LK III which would have added a small, rotating turret on top of the LK II "Kanone's" superstructure and mounting a 3.7cm in it. Another proposal was to add a fourth crew member and a radio to act as a command tank. Yet another proposed change was to have the motor moved to the rear of the tank. Vollmer also put forward designs of a armored limber and artillery tractor based on the LK II. This turret-less tractor was to have a six man crew with the driver seated to the right with a machine gunner manning the weapon to the left.
The LK II, in both versions, would have been the light tank the German army would have fielded (all told, perhaps no more than 2 LK IIs were made and about the same for the LK I). How did it stack up to the Medium A "Whippet"? Weight-wise, the LK II was almost half the "Whippets" 15.7 tons. The LK II was also smaller in all aspects of size and faster than the "Whippet". Most notable was that the LK II supported almost the same level of armor protection as the "Whippet " at a greatly reduced weight. As far as armaments goes, the LK II "Kanone" would have outgunned the "Whippet" while the machine gun version of the LK II would have been on equal terms gun to gun. The LK II could make better use of its speed and maneuverability than the "Whippet" and the driver of the LK II had a much easier time in controlling the tank thanks to its single engine compared to the dual Tylor engine arrangement (one engine per track) on the "Whippet" which required a very skilled driver to handle the two sets of gears without stalling out one of the engines. The commander of the LK II was freed from the duty of firing and operating the cannon or machine guns, thus, he could concentrate on his job of commanding the tank, something the British "Whippet" commander could not do. Where the "Whippet" did prove the better of the LK II was in the range of action, nearly double what the LK II could muster. In the nutshell, the LK II was everything the "Whippet" wanted to be. Even the Medium B and Medium C would have been at a disadvantage when stacked up to the LK II. Only the Medium D, had the war gone on, would have offered a serious challenge to the LK. But unlike the "Whippet", the LK II was not to fire its weapons in anger.
The story of the LK series did not end with the close of World War One. Though few working prototypes were made, there was a great many LK IIs on the assembly lines. With the strict restrictions imposed on the German arms industry and military, ten LK IIs were completed and the designs sold to Landsverk in Sweden in late 1921. There, they were produced, with the help of Krupp, as the Stridsvagn m/21 and incorporated some of the design changes ment for the LK III, including the addition of the turret and the radio. It was the m/21 which began the Swedish tank industry to which, later, Krupp would still play a part in. The m/21 was to remain in Swedish service for many years until retired. Also, in secret to bypass the Treaty of Versailles restrictions, German tank designers were at work, formulating the plans of the panzers which would dominate the battlefield in the 1930s and 1940s and in those early years, the legacy of the LK was to appear in 1926 in the design of the Leichter Traktor (Light Tractor), a name chosen to mask its true face. With a hull which combined the aspects of the LK series and that of the British Vickers Medium, the Leichter Traktor featured a fully rotating turret mounting a 3.7cm KwK. Armor was sloped very well and the weight was raised but agility and speed did not suffer. Through 1926-1931, Krupp and Rheinmetall-Borsig worked on the Leichter Traktor project with several prototypes and test vehicles being produced. The general Leichter Traktor had a length of 13ft.7in. (4.21m) and a height of 9ft.8in. (3m). Its weight varied between 8 to 9.5 tons, the Rheinmetall versions being powered by a 100PS motor.
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The "Oberschlesien" Assault Tank
In the waning months of the war, it can be said that the seeds of what was to form the panzer corps, were firmly rooted and growing. The designers were rapidly learning from their early efforts and seeing the results of the Allied employment and tactical use of armor. The fact that the LK II, in so short a time, whether by luck or design, would have totally outshone the Medium A "Whippet" on which it was based on, shows that the technical prowess of German tank makers was coming to the fore. And this foresight was to be repeated in the flurry of assault tank designs which appeared in 1918, most notably a design put forward by Hauptmann Muller of Vakraft, the "Oberschlesien".
It was seen that the A7V was, on the whole, an unsatisfactory vehicle. By June of 1918, several designers were seeing that heavy and super heavy tanks were slow, clumsy, tactically limited, and a great consumer of materials. What was needed was an assault tank which was fast and light, armed with cannon and machine gun that could be produced rapidly and in numbers. Although the new vogue was to fast and light, production of the massive K-Wagens was not stopped and was allowed to continue, burning up massive amounts of raw materials which could be ill afforded. Also at this time, thinking was paid to light armored carriers, armed with machine guns, for the purpose of towing cannon and weapons as well as infantry into battle, thinking which was to find fruit in many nations (such as Britain with the Cardon-Lloyd carriers ) but also in the panzergrenadiers and mobile warfare which was to come. More than thirteen firms submitted concepts and designs of the new assault tank. Many of them never left the initial drafting stage. Firms such as Wegmann had their "Hessen-Cassel" infantry tank and Louis Ehlers designed the "Hannover" tank. But of the host of tank designs put forth, none showed the trend of what was to dominate the post-war tank programs than Hauptmann Muller's "Oberschlesien".
Muller's concept, while under Vakraft, was taken over by the Upper Silesian Steel Works in Gleiwitz. It was put forward along with the other projects in October of 1918. At this time, it was given the code name "Oberschlesien", meaning "Upper Silesia".
The tank featured many concepts which would be standard in many tank projects following the war. The hull itself was fairly standard, the track arrangement resembling the early British Vickers. Special attention was paid to the tracking and running gear. The drive wheels were located in the middle of the tank with geared arcs which encircled fixed drums located at the ends of the tank. The front armor was well sloped and rounded, the rear decking being more level and having venting for the rear mounted engine, which was to be a Argus AS 3 aircraft motor developing 180hp at 1,400rpm. The driver was in the front of the tank, separated from the fighting compartment. He was provided with two, small raised vision cupolas. There was also a small, auxiliary turret mounted centrally in the front of the tank which contained a machine gun. Atop a sloped rise in the hull sat the main turret which was to mount the 5.7cm cannon. It had full traverse and had a cupola on the top. In the hull, under the turret, one per side, was a hatch. Behind the main turret was a second auxiliary turret, facing to the rear and mounted centrally. It too contained a machinegun. The engine was separated from the fighting compartment.
Specifications for the "Oberschlesien II" (the final design) are as follows: Height= 9ft.6in. (2.9m), Length= 21ft.7in. (6.6m), Width= 7ft.6in. (2.3m), Clearance= 1ft.9in. (.59m), Ground pressure= .5kg/cc, Weight= 19 tons, Speed= 16kph, Range= unknown, Fuel capacity= 1,000 liters, Crew= 5.
The "Oberschlesien II" was given the go-ahead by the OHL on October 5, 1918 for the construction of two test models. However, the end of the war was to deny this prophetic tank life.
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One can plainly see that, though the Germans were to be initially behind the times in terms of tank development and production, they learned their lessons very quickly and forged ahead with novel (for the time) concepts which would foreshadow the trends and the technology which followed World War One. One could draw a parallel here in that, by the time the Germans were on the road to producing vehicles equal to or better than those of their opponents, World War One was over just as it was to be in World War Two when such tanks as the PzKpfw V Ausf G "Panther", Jagdpanther, and PzKpfw VI Ausf B "Tiger II" who, in the short time they were in the field and dominated their enemies, were not there in quantity to save Germany from the inevitable.
Whether the designs set forth by the World War One German tank engineers and technicians made any impact on the creators of tanks of the Allied nations is not certain but can't, of course, be dismissed. It is evidenced that many of the tanks which were produced after World War One were not very inspired except for a few which showed much promise but were not taken seriously due to the apathy and the general feeling of complacency in the world political scene of the victorious Allied nations. It cannot, however, be dismissed the impact and shock of the new German panzer arm when they rolled into Poland, smashed France, and went on to produce superior armor throughout the war. For here, as Germany bore the burden of the Treaty, the panzer arm went about the task of learning those lessons, remembering those lessons, and advancing those lessons from World War One into the force that was to be the Panzertruppen in World War Two.
That I know of, there is only one surviving A7V left. It is "Mephisto" and it can be found at the Queensland Museum in Queensland, Australia. It is currently displayed with its cupola, cannon, and replica Maxim machineguns.
A Stridsvagn m/21 can be found at the Pansarmuset, Axvall, Sweden.
A replica A7V can be found at the Panzer Museum in Munster, Germany. Also located here is a Stridsvagn m/21 which is currently being displayed at the Wehrtechnische Studien- sammlung, Koblenz, Germany.
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Many thanks to Claus Bonnesen and Ralf Thiel for their assistance in the production of this article. And many thanks to Sebkha of Queensland, Australia for the gift of the "Mephisto" poster.
Copyright by Edwin M. Dyer (firstname.lastname@example.org),