‘Mephisto’ has now left the Australian War Memorial and been returned to the Queensland Museum, Brisbane, Queensland, where it has been for nearly 100 years. The tank is still worthy a review lest you visit Queensland too.
Tanks made their first appearance in the theatre of war during World War I, as did aeroplanes, submarines, flame throwers and chemical weapons, with Britain and France first to deploy them. After Britain deployed its tanks at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 Germany set about developing its own tank though it wasn’t until 1918 that they were ready and went into service on the Western Front.
Germany built and deployed only 20 A7V Sturmpanzerwagen tanks in WWI. Today only one of these tanks survives – number 506, “Mephisto”. A few replica A7V’s exist.
The A7V Sturmpanzerwagen was much larger and imposing than British tanks and could accommodate crews of between 18 and 26.
Early tanks on both sides were hot, noisy and cramped but the value in being able to get around in armoured machines was prized. Until the Germans developed their own tanks it was not uncommon for them to salvage and reuse broken British tanks, taken from the battlefield.
It was common for German tank crews to name and, to a degree, decorate their tanks. Tank 506 was painted with the figure of Mephistopheles, the red, smiling Faustian demon, on the upper front left armour plate (picture 2 above) and named Mephisto. Mephistopheles was painted carrying a rhomboid-shaped British tank under his arm. On Mesphito the factory issue white skull-and-crossbones under the main gun on the front was replaced with a single cross pattée, or German cross, making it stand out in the first German army tank detachment, of which it was part.
Mesphito was first deployed at St Quentin on 21 March 1918. The following month it saw service at Villers-Bretonneux, a small French village that was recaptured by Australian soldiers at the cost of 1,200 lives. During fighting here Mesphito became stranded in a shell crater and was abandoned by its crew. The tank was subsequently recovered by men of the Australian Imperial Force and their British comrades who added their names, drawings, and paintings, including a crown-wearing British lion with its right paw resting on an A7V tank, to the crew’s decorations.
In 1919 Mesphito was brought to Australia as a war trophy.
In 1988 the heavily restored tank was repainted to reflect how it would have looked when abandoned by the German crew.
Mephisto was on display at the War Memorial until April 2017 at which point it returned to its home at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane.