The armored car concept received its baptism of fire in World War 1 where mechanized vehicles soon took over for the once-vaunted cavalry units. The evolution was a natural and logical one for the advent of the machine gun as a battlefield implement soon limited the tactical use such light and unarmored units. As such, cavalry charges (or infantry charges for that matter) directly into defended enemy territory without much protection was more akin to suicide than military strategy. As the car itself was beginning to become a part of everyday life all over the world, this opened up military engineering minds to the prospect of serving forces the concept of the "armored car" - a concept showcased to good effect in early World War 1 by the Belgian Army and their "Minerva Armored Car", essentially militarized touring vehicles dressed up for war.
The armored car could now provide troops within the armor protection needed to survive against enemy machine gun spray while brandishing machine guns themselves, effectively making them mobile firing platforms. These systems could do much of what the mounted cavalry man could not by meeting the enemy head-on, either breaking through prepared defenses or utilizing guerilla-style tactics involving "hit-and-run" attacks to help frustrate the enemy. Its wheeled nature also allowed it to traverse terrain at relatively acceptable pace. Despite the promising nature of these new-fangled wartime devices, the armored car was still in its infancy by the time of World War 1 and their importance was only realized as the war progressed.
Having had experience with the receiving end of the Belgian Minervas early in the war, authorities of the German Empire took note and engaged in an internal program to produce an indigenous competing design. They contracted the German firms of Bussing, Daimler and Ehrhardt to each produce a corresponding prototype. Ehrhardt company responded with their "Panzerkraftwagen Ehrhardt E-V/4" armored car in 1915. The type was of a highly conventional design as vehicles go. She sported four spoked wheel concentrations at each corner of her rectangular design with the engine held forward and the driver's compartment just aft and the formal gunnery crew compartment was at the rear. The forward wheels were given flanges to help deflect mud build-up between the tire spokes. The wheels at the rear, partly covered over in side skirting armor, were in fact doubled to help with ground pressure concerns. What made this vehicle such a unique sight on the battlefield was its highly-faceted engine and operating compartments which were covered over in slab armor plating. Armor thickness at its greatest point measured in at 9mm. There were vision slots for the crew to see out and a traversing turret was set upon the crew cabin roof. The listed operating crew was up to nine personnel. This not only included the driver but also the gunnery crew that was to man machine guns - up to six 7.7mm general purpose machine guns could be fitted throughout the design of the Ehrhardt armored car. Some 1,250 rounds of 7.92mm ammunition were carried aboard.
The engine was aspirated through a slotted front grille and power was supplied by a single gasoline-fueled powerplant delivering 80 horsepower. Maximum speed was roughly 38 miles per hour on paved roads and obviously lesser than this on uneven terrain. Maximum range was approximately 155 miles. Weight was listed at 8 US Short Tons. The vehicle measured a running length of 17.4 feet with a width of 6.6 feet and a height over 9 feet.
Bussing and Daimler also submitted their designs with the Daimler one following more closely to that of the Ehrhardt. All three submissions were thoroughly oversized for the "hit-and-run" role that the German Army had envisioned for them (the Bussing submittal proved the largest of the three) and each were expectedly heavy and cumbersome to say the least - the price to pay for armor plating and armament. All required the use of multiple personnel to man both vehicle and armament.
The three prototypes were accepted for further evaluation and made up a pseudo-armored car platoon. They were at first shipped off to the Baltic region before making their appearance along the fabled Western Front and both of these experiences did not fare well for the new vehicles who were too heavy to navigate the uneven, muddy off-road terrains of Europe, more or less limiting their tactical usefulness. Another attempt was enacted which saw the three cars relocated to the Eastern Front against the forces of the Russian Empire. From there, its inherent value finally came to light to the point that German authorities issued a request for more armored cars.
Ehrhardt was asked to deliver an additional twenty cars and it was at this time that an attempt to rectify some of the earlier issues found with the prototype was made. The design was lightened by nearly two tons and the vehicles now saw their front armor plates revised. These cars were formally accepted into German Army service under the new designation of "Panzerkraftwagen Ehrhardt 1917" and were quickly sent to strengthen lines on the Eastern Front. From there, the Ehrhardt 1917 cars served through to the end of the year before being called closer to home for internal local security. It was in this role that the cars truly signed and more cars were ordered. The armored car proved so en vogue, in fact, that even captured enemy models were reconstituted back into German Army service. The German Empire finally capitulated under the Triple Entente war effort and the armistice was signed in November of 1918.
In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed that largely placed much of the blame of the war on Germany itself. The treaty also restricted its military tremendously by limiting her standing army to just 100,000 men with no tanks and no aircraft production of any kind. Of note was that the production of armored cars could continue and this effectively gave the Ehrhardt series an extended life. More were ordered in the year and the type soldiered on in operational service until just before the start of World War 2 some decades later. By then, the armored car would have gone on to evolve into a completely different beast able to mount various caliber armament and traverse even more unforgiving terrain.
Thirty-three E-V/4 armored cars were ultimately completed by Ehrhardt.
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