Clash of Steel
April 24th marked 100 years since history’s first tank versus tank battle, a relatively lackluster duel of new machines depicted here in these two images.
By the middle of April 1918, territorial gains made during the Battle of the Lys in the Flanders region of Belgium had brought the German Army within close proximity of the strategically significant French town of Villers-Bretonneux, situated south of the Somme River. On the evening of April 23rd, an attack to gain control of the town was launched by the German 2nd Army. The four infantry divisions involved in the operation were relieved to be accompanied by 14 A7V Sturmpanzerwagens; it was Germany’s first large-scale use of their tanks during the war.
The attack punctured through the positions of the British 8th Division, forming a gap in the Allied lines 3 miles wide. In response to the breakthrough, a trio of Mark IV tanks from No. 1 Section, A Company, 1st Battalion, Tank Corps were dispatched to defend against the enemy advance. Only one of the tanks was a “Male”, the variant which featured two 6-pounder guns, and it was under the command of Lt. Frank Mitchell.
All three British tanks were advancing when they encountered “Nixie”, an A7V of Abteilung III under the command of 2/Lt. Wilhelm Blitz. “Nixie” fired the first shot of the historic engagement, targeting the two “female” tanks armed only with machine guns, which by themselves were unable to penetrate the A7V’s armor. Both were damaged and were forced to withdraw from the fight.
The lone Mark IV “Male” opened fire on the opposing A7V, all the while on the move to avoid both tank and artillery fire, and eventually came to a stop to allow the gunner a clear shot. “Nixie” took three hits from the Mark IV and toppled over onto its side (possibly from driving up an incline from a bad angle). The crew of 18 fled the tank though half were killed by British fire.
Two more A7Vs with infantry support had arrived on the scene during this time, and Lt. Frank Mitchell’s tank was yet again faced with a predicament. His gunner opened up on the tanks and forced them to retreat. [Continued ↓]