BEUTEPANZERN

Captured British Mark IV Male Beutepanzer. The British 6-pounder gun was replaced with a Belgian 7.5cm Model 1905 gun that had a range of 8km. The tank was redesignated Panzer 107 ‘Ännchen’. It was abandoned by its German crew near Fort de la Pompeile on 1 June 1918.

Captured Beutepanzer medium Mark A Whippet. Large German Army Bundeswehr Schwarzes Kreuz black crosses were painted on the captured tanks to identify the fact that they were under new management.

Captured Mark IV Female. The design of the German identification black cross changed in the second half of 1918 to the ‘Balkenkreuz’ (beam or bar cross). Some of the later repaired Beutepanzern had this newer cross design painted on their sides instead.

The German Army only operated twenty A7V heavy tanks and it deployed more captured British tanks on the battlefield than German-built ones. They were known as beute-tanks or Beutepanzern – trophy tanks. As most of the captured tanks were British Mark IV heavy tanks they were also referred to as schwerer-Kampfwagen (beute).

By the beginning of summer 1918 the Germans had recovered a large number of abandoned Allied tanks. After the successes of the spring offensive in 1918 and the recapturing of most of the November 1917 Cambrai battlefield, more than 300 damaged tanks were now situated behind German lines.

The Bayerischer Armee-Kraftwagen-Park (BAKP 20, the Bavarian Army-Motor-Park) special recovery units went out on to the old battlefields with the objective of salvaging as many Allied tanks and parts as was possible and bringing them to their tank repair workshops in Monceau-sur-Sambre, Marchienne-au-Pont and Roux, all near Charleroi. It was here that the tanks were refurbished and prepared to fight for their new masters. This unit, commanded by Oberst Meyer, had been operational at this location since 12 November 1917 after it transferred from the Eastern Front following the Russian Revolution and the subsequent ceasefire. It was at full capacity by February 1917 and more than 100 captured tanks are known to have been repaired.

Apart from changes made to the weaponry of the captured tanks, very little was altered apart from a large escape hatch being fitted to the driver’s cabin. This feature later appeared on the British-operated Mark V tank. (No British Mark V tanks were ever used as Beutepanzern during the war.)

The Germans had access to a supply of Belgian 5.7cm quick-firing Maxim Nordenfelt Model 1888 guns and ammunition. Supplies of British 6-pounder ammunition were very hard to obtain so the guns on the Male tanks were replaced. The 1888 could fire two types of rounds: a 2.7kg shell with a range of 2.7km and a grapeshot shell used by the Navy that could project 196 lead balls against infantry up to a range of 300m. The German Army called these guns ‘Belg 5.7cm K’.

Grapeshot was recorded being fired at British infantry from a Belgian 5.7cm-armed Mark IV Male Beutepanzer belonging to Abteilung 16 as it joined a German counter-attack near Séranvillers on 8 October 1918. It avoided the British tanks and withdrew once it had used up all its ammunition. Its Lewis guns were damaged and five of the tank crew wounded.

It had been accompanied by two other machine gun-only Female tanks but they were both knocked out by 6-pounder shells and set on fire during a tank battle with two British Mark IV Males, L45 and L49, from ‘C’ Company, 12th Tank Battalion, Tank Corps.

On some vehicles Mauser 13mm Tankgewehr (anti-tank rifles) replaced machine guns. Produced after May 1918, the Mauser was a single shot bolt-action rifle that fired armour-piercing, hardened steel-cored, 13mm semi-rimmed cartridges. Each round had an initial velocity of 785m/s (2,580 ft/s) and could penetrate 22mm armour plate at 100m.

Each Beutepanzer appears to have had its own different camouflage pattern. There does not seem to be any standardisation, although some of them were painted very similarly to the German-built A7V tanks. This may have been because these tanks were also serviced at this location. Some of the workshops were based in Belgian railway facilities. It has been suggested that the paints used by Belgian railway engineers were commandeered by the Germans and used to paint the A7V tanks as well as the captured Allied tanks.

The colours used for the Belgian railway rolling stock were cream/ivory, red/brown and dark green. The Germans would have had access to their Army-standard feldgrau grey paint. A large German Army black cross, called a ‘Bundeswehr Schwarzes Kreuz’, which was a type of Christian cross with arms that narrowed in the centre and had a white border, was painted on the captured tanks to identify the fact they were under new management. The design of the German identification black cross changed in the second half of 1918 to the ‘Balkenkreuz’ (beam or bar cross). Some of the later repaired Beutepanzern had this newer cross design painted on their sides instead.

The British tanks in 1918 were now painted with large white-red-white strips on their sides and roofs so they could be distinguished from German-operated Mark IVs.

When a Beutepanzer suffered a mechanical breakdown or ditched on the battlefield they were very rarely recovered; after the weapons were removed the tank was abandoned and blown up. A newly repaired one from the Charleroi workshops was sent to the front to fill the gap in the Abeteilung (battalion) allotted vehicle strength. As time went on and losses increased, BAKP 20 could not keep up with the demand for newly repaired captured tanks.

A small number of other captured Allied tanks were used by the Germans. Between ten and fifteen medium Mark A Whippets were captured but only two were repaired to operational condition and painted with Bundeswehr Schwarzes Kreuz crosses. One of them was sent to Abteilung 13 for the German tank crews to use. Whippets that were beyond repair were still sent to the Abeteilungs so they could inspect them and be familiar with the enemy’s tanks. There are no records of a Whippet Beutepanzer being used in action during the war.

Most of the captured French tanks were used for evaluation and not operationally. There is a First World War photograph of a Renault FT, known as the leichten Kampfwagen FT-17 Renault ‘Hargneuse III’, parked next to a Beutepanzer Mark IV but there is no evidence to suggest it was used in action. There are lots of photographs of Renault FTs with black Balkenkreuz crosses on them but nearly all these were taken during the Second World War when they were used for internal security work in occupied countries.

There are a number of photographs of a working Saint-Chamond French tank under German control. It was called ‘Petit Jean Pas Kamerad’ (‘No Mercy Little Jean’) and it is believed to have been used just for evaluation. The same weapons used on the Mark IV Beutepanzern, the Belgian 5.7cm QF gun and the 13mm Tankgewehr (anti-tank rifle), were intended to be fitted to the tank but it is not known if they were mounted and tested as there are no documents or photographic evidence to prove this at present.

There is a photograph of a late production French-built Schneider CA.1 Beutepanzer that had been used in action against the US 1st Infantry Division and was then knocked out by artillery shells near Froissy on 20 July 1918. There are no documents or other evidence that shows the use of any more Schneider CA Beutepanzern by the German Army.

Mark IV Beutepanzern were involved in the last recorded battle of the First World War where German-controlled tanks were used on a battlefield. This occurred on 1 November 1918 near Sebourg. Five tanks were due to move off from the start line at the beginning of the counter-attack, but only three managed to advance with the infantry. Two were quickly knocked out by artillery shells. The third tank lagged so far behind the attacking soldiers that it never saw action.

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