Today, April 24th, is the anniversary of the first tank battle. As noted on this Wikipedia page, it was three British tanks against three German tanks, but there is no mention of the outcome in specific regards to the tanks themselves.

Are there any accounts of the battle specifically focusing on the armored elements?

  • 2
    Try the page for The Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux. It looks to me the British side "won", in that their tank(s) held the field.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 24, 2017 at 17:49
  • Also try Achtung Panzer, from Heinz Guderian. Who analyses early tank development,
    – Santiago
    Apr 24, 2017 at 18:02
  • Why do people always ask about tank vs tank battles? By WWII the main purpose for having tanks was often - not always - to fight the other side's tanks. But why care if the other side had and used tanks? because if you don't use your own tanks to hold the enemy's tanks in check the enemies tanks can do harm to your army. The first tanks in WWI were a failed attempt to break the stalemate of trench warfare. Tanks often destroy non tank forces and are often destroyed by non tank forces. Tanks vs tank fights aren't the sole purpose of tanks.
    – MAGolding
    Apr 25, 2017 at 3:09
  • 2
    The shocking part is the casualties that the Commonwealth soldiers endured. 1200 dead Australians for a town, and 12,000 casualties for a French commune? And in 1918, after what should have been 4 years of lessons about this? The casualties of WW1 are astounding by any measure. And the British labeled it a success - such was war reporting at the time.
    – Smith
    Apr 25, 2017 at 4:05
  • @T.E.D. Against the three A7Vs yes. The Battle did not end with the duel however, shortly afterwards, German mortars disabled the surviving British tank and it was abandoned. Germans managed to recover their A7V but the British failed to get theirs back.
    – NSNoob
    Apr 25, 2017 at 12:19

1 Answer 1


How the events unfolded

  1. Three German A7Vs and same number of British Mark IV units(Two females and one male) were supporting their respective infantry units in operations. Females had only machine guns while male was armed with 6 pounder gun.
  2. By happenstance, the two detachments came face to face.
  3. Female Mk. IV's were forced to retreat after taking damage as their armaments were useless against German armor.
  4. Male MK. IV took the initiative and knocked out the leading German A7V, scoring multiple hits on the enemy even after the tank was disabled and was being evacuated, resulting in death of 5 German soldiers.
  5. Remaining A7Vs retreat.
  6. Male Mk IV turns to German infantry, reinforced by 7 Whippet tanks.
  7. Four of the 7 Whippets get destroyed by German infantry.
  8. A German mortar team scored a hit on the sole Male Mk IV., causing it to lose a track, thereby forcing it to be abandoned.
  9. Germans successfully recover the abandoned AV7 of Wilhelm Blitz.

Documented Facts

This page mentions and I quote:

The A7V would be involved in the first tank vs. tank battle of the war on April 24, 1918 at the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux — a battle in which there was no clear winner.

Then if we look at operational History of the A7V tank, we get a brief overview of the Battle:

The first tank against tank combat in history took place on 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-armed tanks and one male with two 6-pounder guns) near Villers-Bretonneux.

During the battle, tanks on both sides were damaged.

According to the lead tank commander, Second Lieutenant Frank Mitchell, the female Mk IVs fell back after being damaged by armour-piercing bullets. They were unable to damage the A7Vs with their own machine guns.

Mitchell then attacked the lead German tank, commanded by Second Lieutenant 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.

The page for German commander in the Battle gives a little more information:

During the battle his tank encountered a group of three British Mark IV tanks – two "female tanks", armed only with machine guns and a single "male tank", armed with 6-pound guns.

Both the British female tanks were damaged and retreated, as their machine guns had no effect on Blitz's A7V. In a running battle that followed, both tanks manoeuvred to avoid the other's fire while lining up on their opponent. Biltz's tank lost the duel – it was hit three times by the British tank and heeled over on its side. The crew abandoned their A7V but five were killed by continued fire from the Mark IV, which went on to engage two more A7V tanks that had appeared on the scene.

Biltz's men were able to recover their damaged tank later.

The battle itself didn't end after this duel.

As Mitchell's tank withdrew from action (To engage German infantry), seven 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. Mitchell's tank lost a track towards the end of the battle from a mortar shell and was abandoned.


The engagement would be called indecisive because:

  1. Two of the British tanks had to retreat due to their inability to pierce armor of German A7Vs.
  2. One of the German tanks was knocked out but was successfully retrieved back by the Germans. British however failed to recover their abandoned tank.
  3. Both sides suffered damages
  4. Two of the surviving A7Vs also had to retreat.
  5. British tanks were also forced to retreat by the German infantry and mortar units.

Neither side decisively defeated the other side. However one could give slight advantage to the British purely on the ground that theirs was the last Tank standing on the field, when one of the A7Vs was knocked out and two were forced to retreat.

  • 2
    As near as I can tell, it really should be accounted as a battle between the three German A7V's and a single British Mark IV (and perhaps the 7 Whippets). The two "female" Mark IV's were essentially mobile anti-infantry platforms, not proper battle tanks.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 25, 2017 at 13:21
  • @T.E.D. That is correct, the MKIVf being focused on anti-infantry operations and therefore armed as such. I am more inclined to add them because 1. They were part of the armor detachments that faced each other. 2. They took part in the action, however brief. I have however edited the starting line
    – NSNoob
    Apr 25, 2017 at 13:24
  • 2
    Including them is a legit argument too, as they apparently didn't know they were useless in this kind of fight until they tried their luck and saw the (lack of) results. Quite forgivable ignorance, considering this was in fact the first tank battle.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 25, 2017 at 13:31

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