The A7V was a tank introduced by Germany in 1918, near the end of World War I. 100 examples were ordered for the spring of 1918, but only 20 were delivered. They saw action from March to October of that year, and were the only tanks produced by Germany in World War I to see operational use.
The project to design and build the first German tank was placed under the direction of Joseph Vollmer, a Reserve Captain and engineer. The new tank was to be a universal chassis which could be used as a base for both a tank and unarmoured Überlandwagen ("Over-land vehicle") cargo carriers. It was based on the Holt tractor, parts for which were obtained from Austria, where it was produced under licence.
The first prototype was completed by Daimler-Benz and tested in April 1917. A wooden mockup of a final version was completed in May 1917. The first pre-production A7V was produced in September 1917, followed by the first production model in October 1917.
The crew normally consisted of up to sixteen soldiers and two officers: commander, driver, mechanic, mechanic/signaller, twelve infantrymen (six machine gunners, six loaders), and two artillerymen (main gunner and loader).
The A7V was armed with six 7.9 mm MG08/15 machine guns and a 5.7 cm gun mounted at the front. The 'female' variant had two more machine guns in place of the main gun. It is not entirely clear how many started this way or were converted. Some sources say only chassis 501 saw combat as a female.
Power came from two centrally mounted Daimler 4-cylinder engines delivering 100 hp (74 kW) each. The top speed was about 15 km/h on roads and 5 km/h across country. The A7V carried 500 liters of fuel (132 imperial gallons).
It was as slow as other tanks of the day, but had very poor off-road capability and was prone to getting stuck. The large overhang at the front and low ground clearance meant trenches or very muddy areas were impassable. This was worsened by the fact that the driver could not see the terrain directly in front of the tank, due to a blind spot of about 10 meters. However, on open terrain it could be used to some success and offered more firepower than the armoured cars that were available. Power to weight ratio was 6.8 hp/ton (5.1 kW/ton), trench crossing: 7 ft (2.3 m), ground clearance: 7.5 to 15.75 in (200 to 400 mm).
30 chassis were assigned for completion as Überlandwagen supply carriers, but not all were completed before end of the war.
The design of the A7V featured on the Tank Badge of 1921, awarded to commemorate service in the German Panzer forces of 1918.
The first tank vs. tank fight in history took place on the 24 April 1918 when three A7Vs (including chassis number 561, known as "Nixe") taking part in an attack with infantry incidentally met three Mark IVs (two Female machine gun tanks and one Male with 6 pounder guns) near Villers-Bretonneux. During the battle tanks on both sides were damaged. According to the lead tank commander, 2nd Lt Frank Mitchell, the machine gun armed Female Mk IVs fell back after being damaged by armor piercing bullets. They were unable to damage the A7Vs with their own machine guns. Mitchell then attacked the lead German tank commanded by 2nd Lt Wilhelm Biltz with the 6 pounders of his own tank and knocked it out. He hit it three times, and killed five of the crew when they bailed out. He then went on to rout some infantry with case shot. The two remaining A7Vs in turn withdrew. As Lt. Mitchell's tank withdrew from action, 7 Whippet tanks also engaged the infantry. Four of these were knocked out in the battle, and it is unclear if any of them engaged the retreating German tanks. Lt. Mitchell's tank lost a track towards the end from a mortar shell and was abandoned. The damaged A7V was later recovered by German forces.
All 18 available A7Vs had been put into action that day with limited results; two toppled over into holes, some encountered engine or armament troubles. After a counterattack, three ended up in Allied hands. One was unusable and scrapped, one used for shell testing by the French, and the third taken by the Australians.
The A7V was not considered a success and other designs were planned by Germany, however the end of the war meant none of the other tanks in development, or planned ones, would be finished (such as the Oberschlesien, K-Wagen, LK I or LK II). The A7Vs final use in WW1 was in October 1918; a number were scrapped before the war ended in November.
The extremely limited production of twenty made a very limited contribution, and most of the tanks (less than a hundred) that were fielded in action by Germany in World War I were captured French or British tanks (Beutepanzer). In contrast, the French had produced over 3,600 of their FT-17, the most produced tank of World War I, and the British over 2,500 of their Mark I to V tanks.
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