The Tanks at Villers Bretonneux. 24th April 1918
With 228th, 4th Guards and 77th Reserve Divisions, III Corp, 2nd Army (OH)
Abteilungs 1, 2 and 3 had 13 A7V tanks in action on 24th April 1918 (S73.p46)
Groupe 1 - Obt Skopnik
No. 526, Abt 1, "Alter Fitze" (?), Obt Skopnik
No. 527, Abt 1, "Lotte", Lt Vietze
no. 560, Abt 1, Lt Volkhiem
Groupe 2 - Uihlien
No. 541, Abt 1, Lt Block
No. 562, Abt 1, Lt Bartens
No. 501, Abt 3, "Gretchen", Lt Lappe
No. 505, Abt 3, "Baden I", Lt Hennecke
No. 506, Abt 3, “Mephisto”, Lt Theunissen
No. 507, Abt 3, "Cyklop", Lt Burmann
Groupe 3 – Lt Stienhart
No. 504, Abt 2, "Schnuck", Lt Muller
No. 525, Abt 2, “Siegfried”, Lt Bitter
No. 561, Abt 2, “Nixe”, Lt Biltz
543, Abt 2, "Bulle" had been damaged and left behind at Monceau-sur-Sambre to be repaired (S73.p29)
503, Abt 3, "Faust", had broken down after detraining, it did not see combat and was returned to workshops (S73.p46)
Tanks numbers and names from Rainer Strasheim and Max Hundleby. (S73.p20ff)
Tank OICs mostly from Steven Zologa (s6.p15 and p19ff)
The OB differs between the sources, the Author has used that given by Rainer Strasheim and Max Hundleby. (S73.p46)
After the infantry had captured Villers Bretaneoux Groups 1 and 2 were to move forward and support the infantry in capturing their final objectives which were:
Group 1 with 228th Division final objective North of Villers Bretennoux.
Group 2 with 4th Guards Division to capture Bois D’Aquenne.
Group 3 with 77th reserve Division.
Account of Operations
Group 1 started at 6:50am and crossed the German front line at 7am. .
526 worked through Villers Bretennoux along the north of the railway until it reached the Roman Road on the west of the village. It had to turn back once to bring the infantry on. Meanwhile 527 and 560 silenced MG nests and enabled the infantries advance. The visibility improved about 8:45am and the three tanks met in front of the Brickworks and subdued the defenders therein. 527 and 560 then proceeded along the east side of the village, setting fire to the hangers and reaching the Roman Road. All three tanks rallied at Midday.
Group 2 crossed the German front line just after 7am.
506 advanced with the first wave of infantry, silenced several enemy MGs and then became ditched, on its side (S42) at U6b.1.2 (W26Aus)
505 and 507 advanced along the railway embankment towards Villers Bretenoux , subdued an enemy strongpoint, passed westwards though the Railway Station, engaged enemy reinforcements and reached the Roman Road below the Railway Crossing at 1am. The tanks then fired on enemy reinforcements in the Bois d’Arquenne and thus enabled the infantries advance. (S42)
501, 541 and 562 were all to advance on the fortified farmhouse (Monument farm (S73.p20)) South of Villers Bretonneux. 541 reached the enemy front line at 7:10am successfully subdued the farmhouse then joined 501 and 542, the three tanks advanced on Bois d’Arquenne and repulsed an enemy counterattack. 562 got lost in the mist and advanced too far to the North, it was then hit by heavy MG fire which wounded the driver, the tank broke down. The crew dismounted and advanced with the infantry, later returning and taking the tank forward to the Bois d’Arquenne where several enemy Mgs were silenced. 501 broke down 30 metres from the enemy, the infantry hadn’t followed the tank. The driver was wounded, the tank was partially repaired and limped back to rally. (S42)
Group 3 started at 6:40am.
504 was near 525 but did not see the Whippets and thus did not engage them (W73.p29)
542 got lost and went too far north (S73.p29) it cleared the enemies front line trenches, then advanced on a fortified farm and subdued enemy resistance south of the Railway Station capturing 175 prisoners. The tank broke down, was repaired but then fell onto its side in a shellhole, probably in O35d. (S42)
561 advanced towards Cachy silencing several MGs and enabling the infantries advance. The tank got to within 700 meters of Cauchy and fired on the village, it was then engaged by three enemy tanks. Lt Hawthorne’s and Lt Webber’s female tanks fired back with their MGs, but 561 hit and damaged both about 10am and they withdrew. About this time 561 was joined by a second tank, presumably Lt Muller-Albert who had also attacked Cauchy. The third British tank, male 4086 had been firing at 561, and finally secured three hits about 10:15am, tank was abandoned but later reboarded and nursed back to German lines. (s42.p115)
525 had also advanced on Cauchy and silenced several MGs, 4086 fired on this tank and 504 and claimed they both retired, this is not mentioned in the German sources and it is possible the two tanks inadvertently turned away from 4086 whilst manoeuvring; about 12:30pm 525 turned north and broke up an enemy counter attack in front of Cauchy.. (W1a)
Seven 3rd Battalion Whippets now attacked and routed two German infantry Battalions forming up 1000yds east of Cauchy U3d and u9b (S43.p194) (W3a), 525 engaged the Whippets, claimed to knock out three and force the others to retire, its main gun became defective during the action (S43.p114f). A 4th Gernan Guards Division field gun battery also claimed all 4 whippets as kills (S73.p29), and the Whippets Company commander and the Official history both state all 4 whippets were victims of artillery fire (OH) (W3a). The British were aware they were being fired on by a German tank in U10d but claim they withdrew once the infantry had scattered. (S42.p103f) 525 followed the retiring Whippets and fired on the north eastern outskirts of Cauchy. 4086 had continued to patrol and met another German tank which fired on 4086 then turned away, this is possibly 525. Just before 1am (S42.p103f) 4086 was hit and KO by an enemy minethrower (S73.p29) shell, 525 finally returned and rallied at 3:45pm.
The Official History states the two other German tanks (i.e. 504 and 525 were both disabled, one crew fleeing and the other surrendering. This does not agree with the german accounts. (s42.p.114ff) (S73.p29f)
The original entry in the 26th Australian battalions War diary states 506 was lying in O6b this has a query by it in pencil which indicates it may be U6b, the latter is probably correct (W26aus)
The account of the Whippets actions (S42.p103), indicates they attacked earlier than the German account indicates (S42.p113f).
Mitchell's account states his tank was 4066, but this tank had been burnt out when with 5th Battalion on 22 march 1918. It seams more likely Mitchell's tank was 4086 which was salvaged form the battlefield after the battle. (W32)
Total Tanks: 13
Failed to Start:
Ditched / Broke Down: 2
Hit and Knocked out: 1
561 is included in the Hit and knocked out figures and not the rallied figures.
506 - was partially blown up by German pioneers, and then recovered by the 26th Australian Battalion on 14th July 1918.
542 - was recovered by the French, with the assistance of two 1st Battalion tanks, on the 15t May (H1)
561 - The German account quoted in “Tanks and Trenches” indicates 561 was abandoned close to the front (W42.p115). Steven Zaloga indicates it was broken up in June (S6.p15) Rainer Strasheim states the tank withdrew 2 km, broke down and was blown up by its crew (S73.p29)
OH – Official History 1918 Vol II Chap XXI, pg 381ff
S42 – Tanks and Trenches (2001) David Fletcher W1
W1 – 1st Battalion’s War diary. Transcription from Bovington Tank Museum
W26Aus - 26th Australian Battalion War Diary, Appendix 3, Minor operations on 14/07/1918 in http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/AWM4/23/AWM4-23-43-36.pdf
W1a – HQ 3rd Tank Brigade. Report on operations South of the river Somme from 24th April 1918, to 26th April 1918 in PRO WO 95 / 109
W32 - War Diary of No 2 Field Salvage Company PRO WO 95-96
H1 – 1st Battalion’s War History. Transcription from Bovington Tank Museum
S6 - German Panzers 1914- 1918 (2006) Steven J Zaloga
S43 - Tank Warfare (1933, 1987 edition), Frank Mitchell MC
S73 - Sturmpanzer A7V, (2010) Rainer Strasheim and Max Hundleby.