The German tank, the Mephisto, was captured by a detachment of mainly Queenslander soldiers. Helen Goltz discovers how it arrived in Brisbane.
Extract from the Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries of the 26th Infantry Battalion:
Officer compiling: H.F. Pearson Lt. July 1919, Page 10 Villers Brettonneux, 14.7.18
Just after the relief was completed, a party under Lieut. J.O. Gibson pushed down Stamboul Trench and established a block with opposition at U5d7095.
Patrols were sent out but nothing unusual occurred. One patrol from ‘B’coy moved south along the road running N & S through U6a til patrol reached the southern edge of the wood, here they turned west and returned along the edge of the woods to our own lines.
An enemy working party could be heard about 400 x away in a southerly direction. Only slight movement was seen during the day in Y14b. At 6pm by peaceful penetration our line was advanced to the following line: U5 central – trench junction at U5d7070 – along Syria trench to monument – Ubb0030 – 036d8000. No resistance was met with except at Trench Junction
U5d7070 where a party under Lieut. J.O. Gibson had a very stiff bomb fight before turning the enemy out of the trench (oper. order & report of action attached). During this action, the enemy used for the first time against this Bn the ordinary cylindrical hand grenade with a detonated slab of guncotton attached.
Two prisoners of 148 I.R. were captured, 5 Germans were killed and the number
wounded was unknown. Our casualties were 2 O.R.s wounded.
During the attack the Bn captured the derelict German tank No. 506 Mephisto that was the first German tank to be captured by the British Army. Otherwise all was quiet on the front.
(Translations: IR= infantry register, O.R.= other ranks, Bn = Battalion, ‘B’ coy = B company)
The extract above describes how on the 14 July 1918 a group of men, soldiers a long way from home, came across a German tank, the Mephisto— an A7V Sturmpanzerwagen—in Monument Wood, an area close to Villers- Bretonneux in France.
The tank had became disabled after falling into a ditch at the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux on 24 April 1918; the dead crew remained trapped inside when it was surrounded by the allies.
The men of the 26th Battalion including a number of Queenslanders captured the tank for the allies so it could not be used by the Germans, and this very same A7V has been in Queensland since the end of the First World War.
In 1919, the Mephisto arrived at the Queensland Museum. Following the 2011 floods, it was removed for restoration work and is now housed at the Ipswich Workshops Rail Museum. It will return ‘home’ to the Queensland Museum in 2015 to mark the Anzac Centenary.
The writer of the war diary, Lieutenant Pearson, survived the war. He married Maude and had four children – three daughters and a son. He died in 1960 at age 61.
About the A7V tanks
The First World War highlighted that weaponryhad not kept pace with technology. In time, gas warfare and the tank joined the artillery of weapons.
It was the British Army in 1916 that employed the first tanks at the battle of the Somme and in 1917, the German Army produced 20 of the A7V Sturmpanzerwagens.
Eighteen men crewed these 7.34 metres long, 3 metres wide and 3.3 metres high metal monsters. While the tank had steel plate over it, it was not hardened armour plate, which meant it could not stop larger calibre weapons.
It had six machine guns and a cannon mounted at the front. Power was delivered from two centrally mounted Daimler 4-cylinder petrol engines. The tank was prone to getting stuck as was the case with the Mephisto.
The 26th Battalion
The 26th Battalion was raised at Enoggera in April 1915 from Queensland and Tasmanian enlisted recruits and formed part of the 7th Brigade.
They landed at Gallipoli on 12 September and played a defensive role, withdrawing from the peninsula on 12 December. With the 28th Battalion, the 26th mounted the first trench raid undertaken by Australian troops on the Western Front on 6 June 1916.
The Battalion fought in its first major battle around Pozières between 28 July and 7 August. They were disbanded in May 1919.
Be part of the ANZAC legend
Arts Minister Ian Walker says it is fitting to return the iconic Mephisto to the Queensland Museum, ensuring “this important story continues to be shared with future generations.”
The Queensland Government has launched a fundraising appeal to supplement the $49.3million earmarked for the centenary.
For more information on the Anzac projects, call the Anzac Centenary Unit ph: 3003 9170 or visit: www.qld.gov.au/anzac100
Our sincere thanks to: The Army History Unit for permission to reproduce the War Diary extract; Dr Roger Lee, Head, Army History Unit, and Army Historian; Dr Andrew Richardson, Historian – Army History Unit, Department of Defence; and, The Queensland Museum for images.