Tanks were a new feature of fighting in the First World War, first deployed by Britain at the Somme in 1916. German commanders were initially sceptical of the armoured vehicles’ potential. Tank building was not prioritised by the Germans, with only a small number of the monstrous A7V tanks being fielded by them. While terrifying in appearance, the A7V had the fundamental problem of not being very good at crossing terrain that had been ploughed up by artillery, which greatly limited its effectiveness on Western Front battlefields.
As the war went on the Allies began to use tanks more and more in their offensives, with Cambrai first showing how effective tanks could be when combined with infantry and well targeted artillery. Tanks played an important part in the Allied counter-offensives at the Marne and Amiens.
The increasing use by the Allies of tanks forced the Germans to develop tactics against the metal monsters. While artillery was the most effective weapon against tanks, infantrymen sometimes found themselves facing them on their own. As can be imagined, this could be a rather terrifying encounter.
The illustration shows German soldiers battling against two British tanks. Under the direction of their commander, the machine-gunners are opening fire, perhaps as a diversion or perhaps they are armed with high-velocity bullets that can penetrate weak points in a tank’s armour. To the commander’s left, three men armed with cluster grenades are preparing to move forward. When thrown onto the top of a tank, the cluster grenades had some chance of penetrating its armour; they could also be used to immobilise a tank by breaking its tracks.
The weight of cluster grenades meant that they could not be thrown a great distance, which required soldiers to move as close to their targets as possible. That German troops were still knocking tanks out with them at Amiens suggests that the German army was not yet ready to throw in the towel in August 1918.
German anti-tank squad (Weapons and Warfare: Tanks at Amiens 1918 I)