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German WWI tank in Ipswich for forensic analysis

COLD CASE: Police Ballistics Services officer Alan Piper (right) shows a mould taken from the First World War German tank Mephisto to Queensland Museum senior curator Michael Westaway. Police officer Ashley Huth is in the tank with another mould.
COLD CASE: Police Ballistics Services officer Alan Piper (right) shows a mould taken from the First World War German tank Mephisto to Queensland Museum senior curator Michael Westaway. Police officer Ashley Huth is in the tank with another mould. Sarah Harvey

THE world's only surviving First World War German tank, Mephisto, has been deployed to Ipswich for forensic analysis.

Queensland police forensic and ballistic experts, together with the CSIRO, yesterday conducted tests to identify what happened to Mephisto during its last moments of combat on the battlefield.

The 30-tonne tank, now temporarily housed at the Workshops Rail Museum, was deployed by the German Army against British and Australian forces in Villers-Bretonneaux, France, on April 24, 1918.

The A7V Sturmpanzerwagen tank was immobilised when it became stuck in a fresh shell crater at Monument Wood, just outside of Villers-Bretonneaux. The subject of fierce fighting for its control and capture, Mephisto was recovered by Australian troops from the 26th Battalion, mainly Queenslanders, on July 22, 1918.

Mephisto was sent to Australia as a war trophy, arriving at Norman Wharf in June, 1919 where it was towed by two Brisbane City Council steamrollers to the Queensland Museum.

CSIRO scientists and police forensics used scanners, including those used at crime scenes, to create a digital three-dimensional virtual tour of Mephisto.

Senior Sergeant Alan Piper, from ballistics, said the analysis sought to identify the calibre of ammunition and the weapons responsible for the battle scarring on the tank's armour.

"We're looking at the projectile damage to see if we can tell anything from a 100-year-old crime scene," Snr Sgt Piper said.

"When it was on the battlefield, the Germans tried to destroy it because they didn't want it captured by the British.

"We also have members from our bomb squad analysing damage from explosives."

The Workshops Rail Museum acting director Dr Geraldine Mate said the forensic analysis would contribute to the museum's research.

"There are historical accounts, but to actually see the real evidence of what happened to Mephisto is tremendous," she said.

Mephisto is in open storage at The Workshops Rail Museum while its permanent location is determined. Mephisto will be on display from Monday.

MEPHISTO FACTS

  • Mephisto was involved in the first tank versus tank combat.
  • Now it's the only remaining German WWI tank in the world.
  • Weight: 30 tonnes.
  • Conservators found WW1 barb wire and 20 litres of dust inside.

Topics:  csiro, workshops rail museum, world war 1, world war i


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