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Webmatters : Villers-Bretonneux : The first tank against tank battle
Rough map of area

Villers-Bretonneux

Tank against Tank

Sixteen kilometres to the east of Amiens, along the D 1029 towards Peronne, is the small town of Villers-Bretonneux. Just before you reach you cross the railway line and then at the bottom of the hill you will see signs for the village of Cachy — to the right if coming from Amiens.

Take the D 168 and within a kilometre take the road to your left fro Villers-Bretonneux. A few hundred metres on you left hand side you will see a small monument.

GPS N E OSM
Decimal 49.86047 2.49622 Map

The Villers-Bretonneux Tank Battle plaque

 

A new weapon

The British had pioneered the use of Landships and in September 1916 the first tanks had taken part in the battle of the Somme. Initially used piecemeal it was eventually conceded that they had greater potential when used en masse in support of infantry.

In 1917 the French followed the British, introducing their own lumbering beasts. A smaller and lighter French tank built by the Renault company would, however, become the mother of all modern tanks as it was the first to be equipped with a revolving turret.

At the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917 the British used over three hundred tanks to smash their way through parts of the Hindenburg Line. Bells were rung back in Britain but the success was to be short lived as the infantry failed to maintain the ground that had been won.

Surprisingly, the German Army didn’t really seem that interested in the tank as a weapon. They soon realised its shortcomings and adapted artillery to act as anti-tank weapons.

However, they did try using some captured British machines and developed a tank designated the A7V. At thirty-eight tons and with a crew of eighteen it looked like a mobile blockhouse rather than a fighting machine. Only twenty were ever built.

There is a model of the one, captured by the Australians in the museum — the original “Mephisto” is on display in Australia.

 

24 April 1918

The Villers-Bretonneux Tank Battle plaque

Looking from the plaque towards Villers-Bretonneux the view in front of you is slightly changed from that had by a section of three British tanks on the morning of 24 April 1918.

The Germans had been shelling the area with gas and explosives since 0345 hours in an attempt to dislodge the British and Australian troops who held the town. For once the Germans had been using tanks and a number of their A7Vs had caused considerable damage.

The British tanks started to move towards the town when suddenly from out of the mist and at a range of about 300 metres there appeared an A7V.

Whilst heavily armoured, the A7V only had six machine guns and a 57mm cannon. Against this, two of the British tanks were only equipped with machine guns whilst the third vehicle was armed with 6 pounder cannons.

The British designated their tanks with cannon, males and those with machine-guns, females. On the battlefield, the females with their multiple machine-guns tended to be more efficient in dealing with the enemy infantry.

The two female tanks soon realised that they were not so much out matched by the German machine but rather, simply ineffectual against it.

It was up to the remaining male which had continued to close on its adversary whilst it had been preoccupied. Finally getting within effective range it opened fire forcing the German machine to retire.