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Old 07-01-2009, 03:11 PM
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Default A7V "Sturmpanzer"

Several designs for cross-country armoured “landships” - both tracked and wheeled - were submitted to the German High Command both before the war and right up to the time the first British tanks went into action on 15 September 1916. The moral effect of this attack was out of all proportion to its tactical success, which was small, and led German Army commanders on the Western Front to press for a German equivalent. The High Command had already had some inkling of what was going on in England but now took action for the first time to promote the development of a German landship by appointing a committee composed of engineering experts from leading heavy engineering and automotive firms to study this question. The committee was known for security purposes as “Allegemeine Kriegsdepartement 7, Abteilung Verkehrswesen” or “General War Department 7, Traffic Section”.

A general specification was laid down and as a first step towards design the committee obtained a Holt tractor from Austria: this American-designed caterpillar tractor (built under licence in Budapest) was at that time the only suitable tracklaying vehicle available to Germany for experiment. It is interesting to note here that the Holt had also inspired Colonel Swinton's landship proposals put before the War Office in Britain and also formed the basis for the French heavy tanks.

After trials of the Holt tractor, a lengthened version of the chassis was designed by Josef Vollmer, powered by two Daimler engines of 100 h.p. each (the original proposals for one 80-100-h.p. engine being recognized as inadequate) and, fitted with a wooden mock­up of an armoured hull, was first demonstrated in the Spring of 1917­. There were some changes in the original requirements laid down for armour and armament because the protection was intended to be 30mm. thickness overall, but this was later altered, to reduce total weight, to 30mm at the front only, the remainder varying between 15 mm. and 20 mm. For the main armament, different guns were tested and the choice eventually fell on the 57mm Nordenfelt, a weapon taken from the Belgians, of which a small supply was available. However, only one gun was fitted (at the front) instead of the original intention of having a shell-firing weapon at both ends. In addition six water-cooled machineguns (MG08) were carried - two on each side and two at the rear.
The design was accepted and the tank (known as A7V from a contraction of the design committee's title) was put into series production, the contracts having already been awarded. One hundred vehicles were ordered, of which only twenty were finally completed as tanks, the first of these being ready in October 1917.

The first action in which the A7Vs took part was at St Quentin on 21 March 1918; the first tank versus tank action on 24 April. This encounter showed one fundamental advantage of the German tanks in that all were equipped with a gun, the British Tanks Mark IV, Female version, equipped with machine-guns only, being helpless against the 57mm gun of the A7V. The central placing of the A7V's main gun was also a better feature than the sponson mountings of the British tanks. The design of the A7V was better than that of the British vehicles in some of the details - sprung tracks for example ­ and in some of the wider conceptions, such as thicker armour and a higher power/weight ratio. It's engine was also relatively powerful, making it almost twice as fast as corresponding British tanks (9 km/h), if moving on dry, flat and hard ground. And it's armour was thick: in places it was triple the maximum thickness found in tanks like the Schneider CA 1.

Overall, however, the A7V was far less successful as a battle vehicle. The most serious fault was in cross-country performance and trench-crossing ability which were poor because of the high centre of gravity and low tracks with the hull overhanging at front and rear. Also, due to the large transmission housing, the vehicle had a ground clearance of only 20cm (!), which meant that it could get stuck almost anywhere. And technically there were many weak points in the vehicle, and it broke down often. The Nordenfelt guns had a lower rate of fire than the British 6-pdrs. Early tanks had mechanical faults and the armour plate was badly fitted and in some cases of inferior quality. These faults were corrected later (some tanks had single large side plates instead of several sections, for example) but the basic design could not be altered. The Germans made as much use as possible of captured tanks and the A7V's successor was modelled on the layout of the British machines.

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