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Sturmpanzerwagen A7V Armored Fighting Vehicle / Tank (1917)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 7/20/2012

The Sturmpanzerwagen A7V was the first German attempt at a tank - though overall a flawed design finding limited success.

The comical-looking Sturmpanzerwagen A7V series was the first German attempt at an armored fighting vehicle - a tank - and appeared in World War 1 to limited success. Early on, the Germans had approached the idea of developing such a vehicle to assist ground forces in their march across France. But by 1917, the Germans were on their heels and the idea of an offensive weapon such as this was far from the minds of military planners. After witnessing the successes of British use of tanks in a year before, fighting alongside their infantry and bristling with machine guns and cannon, the idea was revisited by the Germans in October of 1917. The resulting design was nothing more than an armored box placed upon a Holt tractor suspension system, which itself had been modified for improved performance and speed. The Sturmpanzerwagen A7V was born.

The A7V was a design-by-committee meaning that everyone involved had a say as to the overall end product. If the reader knows anything about weapons development it is that a weapon designed by a committee usually tends to fall excessively short of expectations. As was the case with the gangly-looking Sturmpanzerwagen A7V - the A7V originating from the committees own abbreviation designation.

Externally, the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V was an armored box with flat sloping plates all around the design. One of the telltale signs as to which end was the front of the machine was the inclusion of the captured Russian 57mm main gun to one end. Multiple points of entry were designed with one appearing atop whilst others were fitted to the sides. The armored box sat atop the short track system consisting of 15 road wheels to a side. Exhaust from the twin Daimler-Benz 100 horsepower (each) engine was jettisoned out from the left side of the vehicle.

Internally, the Sturmpanzerwagen was cramped, smelly and noisy. No fewer than 18 men were called upon to man the machine to full potential. With the 57mm main gun at front, internal operators had access to two 7.92mm machine guns at the rear along with a further four along the sides of the steel beast - two to a side. Each machine gun would need to be addressed by a further two personnel per gun - a firer and an ammunition re-supplier. The engine sat in the lower-middle of the design with the main gear components resting under the rear. A crew of two would man the front 57mm main gun, one firing whilst the other loading the weapon. Two drivers sat in the upper center budge area operating a steering wheel and lever controls. Stowage was allotted for individual crew weapons in the form of rifles. Grab ropes were provided throughout as the design had plenty of headroom space for the average soldier, though travel made for an uneasy and overall bumpy ride.

In theory, the idea of an armored box bristling with all types of deadly hardware seemed sound. In practice, however, the large design was far from perfect. The vehicle was excessively heavy, making it impractical to be used on uneven terrain. The system was slow as well, often meaning that it could be outpaced by the very infantry it was to assist. The short tracks of the tractor system also made the vehicle relatively unsafe and uncontrollable in some cases. If the A7V has one saving grace, it was that the all-around armor protection for the crew was second to none - even when compared to the British designs - over an inch in some areas. By the time of the arrival of the Sturmpanzerwagen, the Germans had already successfully developed their own brand of armor piercing projectile as well.

Some 100 Sturmpanzerwagen A7V systems were on order by the end of 1917, though by war's end only some 20 were actually available to German forces. The A7V did not have to wait long to see action as it was immediately involved in fighting in the war's final year (1918). In what turned out as a successful encounter for three A7V crews on April 24th, 1918, the A7V took part in the first known tank-versus-tank engagement against three British Mk IV tanks (only one being of the "male" type however). The end result was two damaged of the "female" tanks with only one damaged A7V.

The Sturmpanzerwagen was a good-enough design int he best of environments, meaning level and stationary. The A7V was something of a bane for German tank crews to the point that the Germans actually preferred to fight in captured British specimens instead of their own designs. The irony here is that with such a dismal initial effort, the world would be awakened to a much deadlier form of German tank combat in a world war some twenty more years away.

In the end, the limitations of the A7V design, being a part of the losing side of a war and fighting on the defensive all led to a very average first try in the realm of tank design for the Germans. The benefits of the system were far outweighed by the negatives and actual practice clearly showed this. In any event, the world was exposed to a new way of waging war, one that would soon render cavalry ineffective in much the same way that the cannon did to the catapult.

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Specifications for the
Sturmpanzerwagen A7V
Armored Fighting Vehicle / Tank

Country of Origin: Imperial Germany
Manufacturer: State Factories - Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1917
Production: 20

Focus Model: Sturmpanzerwagen A7V
Crew: 18

Overall Length: 26.25ft (8.00m)
Width: 10.04ft (3.06m)
Height: 10.83ft (3.30m)
Weight: 33.0 US Short Tons (29,937kg; 66,000lbs)

Powerplant: 2 x Daimler-Benz gasoline engines generating 100 horsepower each.

Maximum Speed: 8mph (12.9 km/h)
Maximum Range: 25 miles (40 km)

NBC Protection: None
Nightvision: None

1 x 57mm main gun
6 OR 7 x 7.92mm machine guns in port, starboard and stern positions.

Not Available

Sturmpanzerwagen A7V - Base Series Designation

Uberlandwagen - Unarmored, open top supply vehicle.

A7V/U - Proposed redesign with sponson-type all-around tracks.

A7V/U2 - Proposed model based on the A7V/U, this one having slightly smaller track sponsons.

A7V/U3 - Proposed "female" version of the A7V/U2, having only machine guns as armament.

Imperial Germany; Poland