100 Years Ago, British and German Tanks Clashed in the First Tank Battle in History

    Sebastien Roblin


    “The initially skeptical German Army began forming its own tank corps using abandoned British and French tanks.” 

    One hundred years ago, on the evening of April 23, 1918, a thousand German artillery pieces unleashed a holocaust of high explosive shells and mustard gas around the French town of Villers-Bretonneux. Imperial Germany had launching a last-ditch Spring Offensive in the sector around Amiens in an attempt to defeat French and British forces before U.S. reinforcements could tilt the balance of power against them.

    The French village had the misfortune of being situated on a high plateau which offered a good observation point for bombardment of Amiens. British and Australian troops had repelled an initial German attack in the first week of April after a six-day battle.

    The morning of April 24, three shadowy shapes loomed out of the fog of dust and poisonous gases kicked up by the bombardment. Three strange rhombus-shaped behemoths made of brutally angular dark grey armor plates riveted together at the seams emerged from the murk, spitting bullets and cannon shells.

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    This was an A7V, Germany’s first home-built tank. The keels of the thirty-six-ton vehicles were armored in thirty millimeter of steel and resembled the ironclad warships of the U.S. Civil War. A stubby fifty-seven-millimeter cannon protruded from the monster’s prow, while three MG08 Maxim machine guns poked from each side of its seven-meter long hull. The top-heavy vehicles were prone to tipping over, and could manage nine miles per hour on roads, or half that cross-country.

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