Sunday 14 November 2010

German Panzers I WW

A relatively recent post in Sidney Roundwood's excellent blog (a MUST for any IWW wargamer fan) about the British Tank Corps in I WW, prompted my curiosity about the development of the German Panzers during the Great War.

I did some research in Internet and could really find little material (at least in English), just a book published by  Tankograd dealing primaraly with the AV7 development (probably too narrow in scope) and a work by Steven Zaloga (a well known military historian) called German Panzers 1914 -1918  published by Osprey.

Although not a big fan of Osprey's books, I decided to go for the latter, considering that it could be a good introductory work into this thematic. And I have to recknon that despite being a short 50-pages work it finally surpassed my initial (probably too low) expectations.

A brief history of the I WW Panzer development
The Germans arrived really late to the the armour race, as the only serious effort to develop a Panzer force went well into 1917; furthermore, their efforts were additionally hampered by the scarcity of raw materials (metal plates) competing with other war needs as well as the lack of serious planning (model development, testing and manufacturing chains were subject to frequent changes of opinions and sometimes contradictory orders).

In addition, the German High Command were neither utterly impressed by the initial performance of the British armour in 1916 nor were convinced about their usefulness in the defensive battles fought in 1916 and 1917. The change of opinion came only after the Battle of Cambrai (November 1917) and coinciding with the change of stance for the 1918 campaign (from defensive into offensive).

Therefore, the first time a "relevant" Panzer force showed in the battlefield was in March 1918 with Operation Michael in the St Quentin area... with a total of 10 (!!) tanks. As I mentioned before, the development of the German panzer force was hindered by the policy of stop-and-go of the previous years. And in fact the tank force used in this battle comprised just 5 made-in-Germany  A7Vs while the rest were made of "recycled" British Mark IV, from those abandoned in the fields of Cambrai the previous year.

The A7V probably made an impressive sight in the field, considering that this Behemoth was operated by a crew of 18 members. In addition it could double the speed of the Mark IV, reaching up to 9 mph, and therefore keeping  pace with the Sturmtruppen that they usually operated with (the slow British models usually were left behind by the infantry).

However, from reading Zaloga's book, the AV7 battle performance was plagued with lots of mechanical problems and you can infer from most battle reports that many of the units never made into the battlefield because of breakdowns befor reaching the starting line (something also usual on the British side, although they had the advantage of aligning a significant lager amount of tanks).

An interesting reading refers to the first-ever recorded tank battle that took place next to the village of   Villers-Bretonneux on April 24, 1918. This encounter saw the duel between the German A7V called "Nixe" and a gorup of Mark IVs of the 1st Bon Tank Corps. It ended up with two destroyed  Mark IVs but Nixe so seriously hit that had to be abandoned by the crew.

Incidentally in that same area,  A7V "Mephisto" run into a shell hole, got stranded and was later captured by the Australian forces in the area, being shipped into Australia and actually being the only original example surviving in the world (you can see a detailed "walk around" of this A7V currently in Queensland here).

By mid 1918 the A7V was out of production and the beleguered German tank forces were rebuilt using captured Mark IVs. Although other Allied models were notorously present in the European battlefields (French Schneiders and FT 17s or British Whippets) the Germans tend to disregard the lighter tanks and no records exist of units deploying other models than heavies.

Considerations of a wargamer

From the point of a wargamer, forming a German panzer unit probably makes little sense, specially of planning to acquire some of the emblematic A7V models, in the light of the previous comments: on the one hand, very few and highly scattered units saw combat and additionally the captured Mark IVs had an overwhelming presence relative to the A7Vs.

Even if you go for them the models would only be useful to play a short 8-month period of battles, running from March to November 1918, another point of consideration. Additionally, the Germans favoured camouflage patters for its tank units: painting can be a hindrance for guys like me that are totally hopeless with the airbrush.

I'm still deciding what to do, but probably  I'll finally paint a couple of models, both a Mark IV and an A7V. Great War sells both models although neither is specially cheap; I already bought a Mark IV model last Christmas that has seen some action already in 2010 in the Cambrai fields (see photo).

The Great War's model comes with a main resin-body part and several metal add-ons (rails, exhaust pipe, guns and Mgs). The main resin piece has an outstanding level of detail but I have some trouble in glueing the metal rail parts in place, but  in general I felt quite pleased with the model.

The price remains the main "con" of the model (currently running at 35 GBP) but I have not found alternatives so far... and well, Christmas is getting close... may be I will have to speak to both my wife and my mother about this year's Christmas gift...

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