A fter inspecting a German tank detachment during preparations for the famous Michael Offensive in March 1918, Chief of the General Staff Paul von Hindenburg said that these vehicles probably would not be of much use. He conceded that since they had been built, the German offensive might as well employ them.
The German tanks made their initial combat appearance at San Quenten, on March 21, 1918, at the start of the Michael Offensive known to the Germans as “der grossen Schlacht in Frankreich (“the Great Battle in France”). The armored force consisted of two tank detachments, each with five tanks.
The First Detachment fielded five German-built A7V tanks and the Second Detachment operated five captured British tanks. At this time the German crews began painting their A7V tanks with a skull over crossed bones insignia. This evolved into the skull and crossed bones of the German WWII?tanker collar patches.
The A7V (Allgemeine Kriegsdepartment 7. Abteilung Verkenweisen–“General War Department 7, Transport Branch”) was made by the Daimler Motor Company, with their production beginning in late 1917. The first delivery occurred in December 1917.
The A7V was huge: 24′ long, 10′ wide, and 11′ high. It weighed 33 tons, and carried a crew of from 18 to 26 men. The tank carried a forward firing 57mm cannon and six machine guns at the sides and rear. At the end of the war, one A7V was shipped to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, where the brilliant Colonel Jarrett, the father of the Aberdeen Tank and Weapons Museum, had it restored to full operating condition. Unfortunately, in another example of the oxymoron “military intelligence,” a later commanding officer who was tired of the unsightly monster, had it cut up for scrap. Therefore, the world’s only surviving A7V is in Australia at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane.
The “Battletank Badge” (Kampfwagenab-zeichen) was not a wartime insignia, but rather, an immediate post-war offering. Reichswehrminister Dr. Otto Ge?ler established the award on July 13, 1921, “In order to keep awake among the German people the memory of the battle vehicle units…”
To qualify for the badge, a tanker had to have participated in three assaults against the enemy, but this requirement could be waived if the tanker was wounded. Men who served in the A7V tanks as well as in captured British tanks qualified for the award. The former tankers had to apply to the Inspectorate of Motorized Troops at the Defense Ministry to receive the badge. A certificate was awarded but the badge had to be purchased by the recipient of the certificate.
The Berlin firm of C.E. Junker was the first company authorized to produce the badge. The badge is metal, with a dull silver finish, 65mm high and 45mm wide, oval shaped, with a skull and crossed bones atop an oval wreath of oak leaves on one side and laurel leaves on the other, enclosing a scene of an A7V tank crossing a battlefield with shells bursting above it. The enclosing wreath is tied at the bottom with a bow.
Only about 100 of these badges were awarded, although the Germans had about 90 tanks, of which 75 were captured British machines. The limited award of the badge–although more than 100 were probably produced by various manufacturers during the 1920s and 30s–still make this a rare and much sought after item by First World War collectors or those interested in the history of armored forces.