One of the earliest tanks to be produced, the A7V was supposed to deliver German soldiers a mobile fortress to breakthrough Allied lines, but wasn’t a great success…
Designed specifically to counter the emergence of British tanks on the Western Front during World War I, the A7V was a medium-armoured tank designed by the German General War Department in 1916. The vehicle resembled a mobile pillbox or APC (armoured personnel carrier) and delivered a steel-plated body for 18 soldiers, a 57-millimetre (2.2-inch) cannon and six to eight 7.9-millimetre (0.3-inch) machine guns. Its role, as hinted at by its German classification -Sturmpanzer-Kraftwagen translates roughly as ‘assault armoured motor vehicle’ – was to assault and break through fortified Allied lines.
The first preproduction A7V was delivered in September 1917 and was closely followed by the first production model in October of the same year. Despite this, the first deployment of the A7V had to wait until March 1918, where five of the total 20 made were deployed north of the St Quentin Canal in northern France. Unfortunately, this is where the first design flaws of the vehicle were first encountered. Three of the five tanks broke down during operation due to mechanical faults.
Despite these issues, the A7V fleet was then deployed en masse, with 18 vehicles partaking in the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918. Although reports from Allied soldiers at the time state that the A7VS armour made direct attack from their handheld weapons impossible, the A7VS modest armour was easily breached by the Allied Mark IV’s six-pounder cannons. Further, due to the low clearance and crude design of the A7VS suspension and tracks, many got stuck on difficult off-road terrain and two even toppled over into holes. In addition, after a swift counterattack by Allied forces, three of the stranded A7VS were captured.
As such, even though 100 A7VS had originally been ordered, their limited impact led to the programme to be scrapped, with many of the remaining vehicles dismantled as early as October 1918. Today, no original A7V has survived, with the majority scrapped after the war. However, a replica based on original designs was built between 1987 and 1990 and can now be viewed by the public at the Panzermuseum in Munster, Germany.
Armament – The main weapon of the A7V was a 57mm (2.2in) Maxim-Nordenfelt cannon, which was equipped to all male variants. The secondary armament was a series of six to eight 7.9mm (0.3m) MG08 machine guns. The tank could carry 180 shells for the cannon.
Suspension – The A7V was equipped with helical springs, rear-drive sprockets, front-mounted idlers and 24 roller wheels in bogies. The lack of shock absorbers made the ride incredibly bumpy and the low clearance (190-400mm/7.5-15.7in) led to poor off-road capabilities.
Armour – Despite having 20mm (1.2in) steel plate at the sides, 30mm (0.8in) at the front and 10mm (0.4m) on the roof, the A7V was easily penetrated by cannon fire. This was because the steel was not hardened armour plate. As such, it could only stop smallarms fire.
Crew – An A7VS crew consisted of 17 soldiers and one officer. These were needed for the following roles: commander, driver, mechanic, two artillery men (gunner and loader) and 12 infantry men (six gunners and six loaders).
Engine – The A7VS power came courtesy of two centrally mounted Daimler four-cylinderpetrol engines, each capable of generating 75kW (100hp). The engines were fed by a 500l (132ga) fuel tank. At full power, the A7V could travel at a maximum speed of 15km/h (9mph).