April 24th, 1918 – The First Tank Vs. Tank Battle!

Today-In-History

The Mark IV was a British tank of the World War I introduced in 1917. It benefited from significant developments on the first British tank, the intervening designs being small batches used for training. The major improvements were in armour, the re-siting of the fuel tank, and easier transportation. A total of 1,220 were built: 420 “Males”, 595 “Females” and 205 Tank Tenders (unarmed vehicles used to carry supplies), which made it the most produced British tank of the War. The Mark IV was first used in mid 1917 at the Battle of Messines Ridge, but it was on April 24th, 1918 that its true metal was tested head-to-head with enemy tanks; the German A7V.

German A7V Tank 680

Three A7Vs taking part in an attack with infantry incidentally met three Mark IVs (two female machine gun-armed tanks and one male with two 6-pounder guns) near Villers-Bretonneux. During the battle tanks on both sides were damaged. According to the lead tank commander, Second Lieutenant Frank Mitchell, the female Mk IVs fell back after being damaged by armor-piercing bullets.

They were unable to damage the A7Vs with their own machine guns. Mitchell then attacked the lead German tank, commanded by Second Lieutenant Wilhelm Biltz, with the 6-pounders of his own tank and knocked it out. He hit it three times, and killed five of the crew when they bailed out. He then went on to rout some infantry with case shot.

British_Mark_I_male_tank_Somme_25_September_1916

The two remaining A7Vs in turn withdrew. As Mitchell’s tank withdrew from action, seven Whippet tanks also engaged the infantry. Four of these were knocked out in the battle, and it is unclear if any of them engaged the retreating German tanks. Mitchell’s tank lost a track towards the end of the battle from a mortar shell and was abandoned. The damaged A7V was later recovered by German forces.

a7v-villers-bretonneux-captured-postcardThree detachments (Abteilungen) of five tanks each were at Villers-Bretonneux at the head of the four German divisions committed over a 4 mile front. One tank refused to start, but the fourteen that saw action achieved some success, and the British recorded that their lines were broken by the tanks. Two A7Vs toppled over into holes, and some encountered engine or armament troubles.

After a counterattack, three fell into Allied hands. One was unusable and scrapped, one was used later for shell testing by the French, and the third was eventually recovered by Australian troops.

Flourish 3

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