Chassis No. 542
Some 105 years ago today, after helping to break the British lines at Villers-Bretonneux, German A7V (Abteilung 7 Verkehrswesen) tank No. 542, better known as “Elfriede,” to the crew manning her, was overturned in harsh terrain and abandoned. This happened on 24 April 1918.
Elfriede was lost during the first recorded tank-vs-tank battle in history, where three A7Vs ((including 561, “Nixe,” and 506, “Mephisto“) faced off with three British Mark IVs (two female machine gun-armed tanks and one male with two 6-pounder guns).
Elfriede went on to become one of the most photographed of her type.
As detailed by Brooklyn Stereography:
A month later, a British unit managed to right the tank, which remarkably, was still in operational condition. After Armistice, Elfriede was put on display at the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Two stereoviews of Elfriede wound up in A.O. Fasser‘s collection – though he had returned to America by the time these were taken:
During its time on display, barricades were in place to prevent visitors from vandalizing Elfriede, taking souvenirs, etc. However, soon after, it was taken away and tested out. At this point it was covered in graffiti, as seen in a film taken by the French government to display the tank in motion. Its history between 1919 and 1940 is shaky – there is documentation in 1940 that mentions that it had been scrapped. But when was it scrapped? So far, no information on this is forthcoming. Most A7V tanks were scrapped in 1919 for their steel, and most historians believe that Elfriede was as well. But without documentation, it’s possible that the tank had some second life for another 21 years!
Only about 20 A7Vs were made and, while it appears that 18 of them were captured by the victorious Western allies, the only confirmed chassis remaining is, ironically, Elfriede’s old buddy from the Villers-Bretonneux tank scrap, Mephisto, which was captured by the 26th AIF Bn and is preserved in the Queensland Museum and dubbed by the Australian War Memorial, “The Rarest Tank in the World.”
Fascinating article on early tanks – they were really like a ship mounted on treads. These pictures show way current tanks are low and squatty.