Assault Tank Prototype
The Sturmpanzerwagen Oberschlesien was proposed as a lightweight, mass-produced alternative to the lumbering and expensive A7V German tank of World War 1.
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The only true operational German-made combat tank of World War 1 became the ponderous Sturmpanzerwagen A7V series of which only 20 were acquired before the end of the fighting in November of 1918. The vehicle was a flawed concept from the outset, saved only by its strong armor protection. It was slow, a poor cross-country performer, required a crew of 18 or more personnel, and proved mechanically unreliable. To this was added the cost of producing the large vehicle and, as such, an alternative was sought in the form of a light-class system of more conventional tank design.
A design emerged as the "Sturmpanzerwagen Oberschlesien" - classified as an "Assault Armored Wagon" - and armed with a cannon in a traversing turret. The French were able to field their successful turreted Renault FT-17 light tanks in the war to great effect while the British preferred their turret-less lozenge-shaped steel beasts instead. As the large, turret-less A7V proved limiting for the Germans, the route of the French FT-17 was taken. The program idea sought to fill the German armored force with large stocks of fast, mobile tracked assault platforms that could be had in budget and mass-produced under the stresses of wartime. It bears mention that the German armored force, by war's end, was made up largely of captured British and French tanks.
The basic plan involved a 19 ton vehicle with a crew of five - a far cry from the 33 ton A7V with its 18-man crew. The vehicle would utilize many qualities proven in other armored vehicles of the period, particularly the filled track area comprising a portion of the hull sides and protecting the running gear to a large extent. The engine would be fitted to a rear compartment and a hull superstructure set under a 360-degree traversing turret. Vision slots would aid in situational awareness. Beyond the proposed cannon armament in the turret, a pair of 7.92mm Maxim MG08 machine guns would provide an anti-infantry measure while Armor-Piercing (AP) bullets could be used against enemy tanks in turn. Dimensions were a length of 6.7 meters, a width of 2.34 meters, and a height of 2.9 meters. Armor protection would peak at 14mm thickness.
Power was to come from an Argus gasoline-fueled engine. of 180 horsepower. This, coupled with the selected running gear arrangement and overall weight of the vehicle, would allow for road speeds of 10 miles per hour to be reached with off-road speeds reduced to about 5.5 miles per hour. Range was estimated at 35 to 37 miles. The smaller-output engine was made possible by the direction of a lightweight hull and chassis pairing - unlike the A7V that struggled mightily under its weight and underpowered propulsion system.
Work on the vehicle began in the middle of 1918 with the formal proposal handed down. Two prototypes then followed to prove the design viable though these were only partially completed before the mounting German losses of 1918 led to its collapse for the November 1918 Armistice. The pilot vehicles were being built by Oberschliesien Eisenwerk of Gleiwitz (Upper Silesia, Poland) up to October. Even before the design had been adopted for formal service, an improved model was being bandied about as the "Oberschlesien II". Regardless, none of the line ever saw the light of day due to the German surrender.
For its time, the Oberschlesien would have been a rather modern-looking combat tank though its combat effectiveness and performance can only ever be estimated. German war industry troubles would have most certainly hampered the arrival of the tank even further as a time when hundreds of British and French tanks were in use by the Allies. Certainly the German tank troubles of World War 1 were not to be repeated in World War 2.