A7V Sturmpanzerwagen - Mephisto
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Unlike more modern tanks, Mephisto has no turret. The cannon is in a movable mounting on the front of the vehicle, and to aim at targets to the extreme left or right the whole tank must be rotated. The turret-like structure on the top is called a cupola, and was the position of the vehicle commander. The cupola could be folded flat to simplify rail transport through tunnels.
CH classification CIVIC MEMENTOES Souvenirs
CH classification MILITARY Army battlefield souvenirs
CH classification MEMORIALS War Memorials
Sourced from Mephisto blueprints in QM library (623.747620943 WHI) - Mephisto is 7315mm long, and 3075mm wide. The distance between the inside of the tracks is about 1700mm. Total height with cupola erect is about 3340mm, and about 2850mm with the cupola removed.
It weighs 30 tonnes fully loaded for combat, has a top speed of 10 km/h and a range of about 80 km. Its normal crew was 18 men.
Mephisto was in many ways supeior to contemporary British tanks. It was faster, has thicker armor and was more heavily armed. However, it has poor hill climbing and trench crossing ability compared to the British machines and the high centre of gravity made it unstable on slopes.
Only 20 A7V tanks like Mephisto were built. Mephisto is the only surviving example.
The vehicle, now known as Mephisto, was assembled by Daimler-Benz as part of the first A7V production run. Completed A7Vs were assigned in groups of five to one of three armoured units (Kampfwagenabteilungen), with another five held in reserve. This unit (Vehicle 506) was assigned to Abteilung 1: the A7Vs of this unit were identifiable by a skull and crossbones painted on the front armour. By January 1918, all three detachments were transported from Berlin to a base at Charleroi in Belgium. From here, they were taken by rail to assembly points along the Western Front. A7Vs were first deployed during the German Spring Offensive of March 1918. Vehicle 506, three other A7Vs plus five captured English tanks supported shock troop (Stosstruppen) assaults around St Quentin (the so-called Michael Offensive). Shock troops were infantry specially chosen, trained and armed to lead attacks on enemy positions. The tanks played a relatively minor role in the offensive, although 506 and 501 (later named Gretchen) were used to overcome strong points, such as the Pontchu Redoubt, with excellent results. The tanks returned to Charleroi for repairs, after which 506 was transferred to Abteilung 3. The name Mephisto was bestowed on Vehicle 506 at this time: most A7Vs were named at some point in their service life. Mythical, legendary or heroic names were particularly popular: Wotan, Siegfreid, Herkules, Cyklop. In addition, 506 also acquired a new overall camouflage colour scheme with Abteilung 1's skull and crossbones unit emblem being painted on its front armour replaced by the name and a picture of the devil (Mephistopheles) running off with a British tank under one arm. The German Spring Offensive was most successful in the south, where German forces were able to advance more than 60km before the Allies stabilised the front along a line east of Villers-Bretonneux, near Amiens. The scene was now set for the next A7V engagement when the Germans attempted to capture the village of Villers-Bretonneux and resume their advance on Amiens in late April. Mephisto and 13 other A7Vs were despatched as infantry support. The tanks were divided into three groups, with Mephisto being one of six tanks assigned to Group 2. The tanks crossed the German front lines, from their starting positions near Marcelcave, on the morning of 24 April 1918. Villers-Bretonneux was captured and the retreating Allied forces were pursued into the Bois d'Aquenne.
The Loss of Mephisto, its Capture and Recovery:
The Mephisto's group successfully cleared the British front before advancing on a fortified farm in Monument Wood. Despite temporary engine problems, Mephisto participated in the advance until it was driven into a fresh shell crater where it became firmly stuck. The Germans were unable to recover Mephisto, so it remained stranded here until July 1918, although it is said to have found some use as a German strongpoint. Australian troops of the 26th Battalion AIF (composed mainly of Queenslanders) eventually regained the lost ground, pushing the Allied front line past Mephisto's position during mid-July 1918. As a result, the battalion's commander Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) J.A. Robinson was able to order the capture of Mephisto. The operation was carried out on the night of 22 July 1918 when two vehicles from the British 1st Gun Carrier Company moved forward with artillery support and air cover, and successfully recovered Mephisto despite German attempts to prevent its capture.
Journey to Australia:
Mephisto was taken to the 5th Tank Brigade demonstration ground at Vaux-en-Amienois prior to being shipped to England in January 1919. During the following months, Mephisto was "decorated" with details of its capture, soldiers' names and a "British" lion with his paw on an A7V. Soldiers from the 31st Battalion AIF, who were training at Vaux at the time, went one step further and hammered their names onto its rear armour. Around this time, proposals were raised for the tank to be displayed as a "war trophy" in Queensland. Lieutenant-Colonel Robinson and other prominent Queenslanders including both the Premier and Governor supported the move. Mephisto eventually arrived in Brisbane aboard the S.S. Armagh in June 1919, where it was unloaded at the Norman Wharf, Brisbane River. Early on the morning of 22 August, two Brisbane City Council steamrollers towed the tank on its own tracks up to the Queensland Museum, which was then located in Gregory Terrace. Despite difficulties in turning corners, Mephisto "arrived at the Museum ... amidst excitement and in the presence of a fair crowd". It remained there until 1986 when it, and the Museum, relocated to the Queensland Cultural Centre, South Bank. Here it remains today.