On April 24th, 1918, the first tank battle in history happened near a small city called Villers-Bretonneux in the north of France.
The British side was armed with a unit of three MkIV tanks, two "females" with machinegun armament and one "male" with two short barreled 6-pounder guns in its sponsons. The unit was commanded by Captain David Brown, who was in the "male" tank. The tank itself was commanded by Lieutenant Frank Mitchell. 7 medium Whippet tanks also too part in the battle, faster than the MkIVs, but with significantly poorer armour and armament.
Three German A7V tanks opposed the British. These tanks weighed 30 tons, and had decent armour for the time, but were clumsy and could not boast good off-road performance. The A7V was armed with a 57 mm gun in the front, and 6 Maxim machineguns around the perimeter. This monster was crewed by 18 men.
The Germans were advancing towards Amiens. In the early morning of April 24th, Captain Brown returned from a reconnaissance mission and reported that he discovered moving German infantry. Brown did not know that the Germans had tanks. British tanks moved out to the forest clearing in order to attack the infantry. Since the vision of these new tanks was poor, they had a forward observer. At about 9 am, the observer returned, reporting that he discovered a German tank.
Brown left his tank and ran towards the "females" to warn them of the danger (their machineguns could not harm the German tank, but the German tank's gun could knock them out). At the same time, Lieutenant Mitchell ordered to fire on the enemy.
When the MkIVs were turning around to retreat, the Germans spotted them. One of the tanks was hit, but could still move. Mitchell's tank was firing from its right sponson, but could not dial in and hit for some time. The German tank retreated, firing on the move at the British tank, with no results.
Frank Mitchell ordered the tank to stop. This allowed him to aim and hit the German tank three times. The Germans lose three crewmen and suffered damage of the oil system. The wounded A7V managed to retreat two kilometers in reverse, after which the engine stalled.
Mitchell's tank supported his infantry with cannon fire. At the same time, 7 Whippets broke through the barbed wire and suppressed the German soldiers with machinegun fire.
Unfortunately for the British tankers, two more A7Vs were nearby. The Germans destroyed two of the seven tanks like on a firing range. The rest began a hasty retreat. However, in mere seconds, the engine of a third Whippet gave out, and soon after, a fourth broke down. Only three British medium tanks came back out of 7.
Mitchell opened fire at a German tank, but luck was not on his side that day. First, his tank was hit by a British bomb after the pilot confused the tank for a German one, then it hit a mine, severing a track. Mitchell ordered the crew to abandon the tank and retreat.
The first tank battle was not large scale, but it demonstrated the advantage of cannons over machineguns. The presence of a cannon became mandatory for most tanks that were subsequently built in Europe and around the world.
Original article available here.