During the First World War Germany struggled to produce its own tanks, with no more than 20 A7Vs being built, instead the Imperial German Army made liberal use of captured allied tanks. In my recent video looking at the British No.44 anti-tank rifle grenade I briefly touched on German use of capture tanks or ‘Beutepanzern’.
The German Army form ed its first Heavy Tank Detachments in late 1917, three of these were equipped with German-built A7V, but the rest were eventually armed with captured British MkIVs. Many of the British tanks were captured following the Battle of Cambrai. Little was changed on MkIVs except for armament with German quick-firing 57mm Maxim-Nordenfelt guns and MG08 machine guns replacing the British 6 pdrs and .303 chambered machine guns for ease of logistics. Though some Lewis Guns pressed into German service were reportedly used aboard the captured tanks.
In this footage from a German newsreel, we see some of the British tanks captured at Cambrai, as well as German soldiers examining the tank and demonstrating how it works. Finally the Kaiser watches a demonstration of the captured vehicle during a visit to the front.
German workshops converted most captured machine gun-only armed ‘female’ MkIVs into gun and machine gun armed ‘males’. They also added a 13mm T-Gewehr anti-tank rifle in place of their British tank’s forward Lewis machine gun. Some also had one of their sponson guns replaced with a T-Gewehr. An escape hatch was also added to the tank’s cupola-roof. Externally the Beutepanzern were simply painted with Iron Crosses (Eisernes Kreuz) for recognition purposes. Repair workshops were set up to repair and salvage captured British tanks including one near Charleroi (Bayerischer Armee-Kraftwagen-Park Nr. 20).
In terms of doctrine the use of tanks didn’t fit well with the Stormtrooper tactics used in 1918. The slow and cumbersome tanks weren’t ideal for keeping up with the rapidly moving stormtroopers but the tanks did see action throughout 1918. The captured tanks first saw action in March 1918, during Operation Michael, Germany’s Spring Offensive and later during the Hundred Days Offensive. The use of the Beutepanzern also lead to the unique situation – and the first instance of it happening in history – where the same type of tank engaged one another. MkIVs reportedly clashed near Mont Neuve Farm during the second Battle of Cambrai in October 1918.
Alongside battle losses the reliability of the Beute MkIVs also meant attrition of the captured vehicles was high. By September 1918 most of the German Army’s tank detachments had lost all of their vehicles.
The British MkIV was the most commonly used captured vehicle, although a small number of Whippet Light Tanks were captured as well as were various types of French tanks. Several MkIVs appear to have also been used during Germany’s internal strife in 1919.
While the use of captured tanks was far from ideal, the familiarisation with MkIVs did lead to them to influence German design thinking and a rhomboid layout was used on the A7V-U which was being developed at the end of the war.
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Beute Mark IV, Landships, P. Kempf, (source)
Beutepanzern, Weapons and Warfare, (source)
British Steel, Iron Cross, Britain at War, (source)
Beute-Tanks, R. Strasheim, (2011)