Mephisto on display at Queensland Museum

Mephisto

Mephisto, the sole surviving A7V Sturmpanzerwagen in the world, is somewhat surprisingly one of the best-known objects in Queensland Museum’s collection.

Despite an often-recited combat history on the battlefields of France in the First World War, for over 100 years the tank has been associated with Brisbane and the Queensland Museum. Over the years the tank has been the subject of significant research and conservation work.

On display for almost 80 years outside the former Queensland Museum building in Bowen Hills, Mephisto is now on permanent display in the Anzac Legacy Gallery at Queensland Museum, South Bank.

Mephisto outside the old Queensland Museum campus

Mephisto remained on display outside Queensland Museum, on Gregory Terrace, for more than 60 years. Image: Queensland Museum.

Combat History

Mephisto’s beginnings in the First World War made it part of one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of humankind. The war witnessed the mechanisation of armed forces across the world, and all sides raced to develop new weaponry that would bring some advantage over their opponents.

In 1916 the British Army deployed the first tanks at the battle of the Somme, and allied forces continued to use tanks in ever increasing numbers in 1917. It wasn’t until late 1917 that the German Army produced a modest number of A7V Sturmpanzerwagen’s which were deployed in combat the following year.

The A7V’s were involved in the first tank versus tank action. Crewed with 18 men, the cumbersome war machines clambered into action in April 1918.

Along with several A7V Sturmpanzerwagen’s, Mephisto participated in a tank battle in late April 1918 near the French town of Villers-Bretonneux, where it was immobilised after falling into a shell crater.

In July 1918 a detachment of soldiers from the 26th Battalion of the AIF helped recover the abandoned tank and drag it back to the allied lines. It was eventually sent to Australia as a war trophy.

Australian soldiers surrounding and inspecting Mephisto during the First World War

Australian soldiers inspecting Mephisto at the 5th Tank Brigade's demonstration ground near Vaux-en-Amienois, France, on 4 August 1918. Image: Queensland Museum.

Mephisto’s long journey

The recovery of Mephisto in France was only one part of a long history of movement for this only remaining example of a German First World War Tank.

Having been produced in a factory in Marienfelde near Berlin in Germany, Mephisto was first moved to the battlefields of France via rail. Under its own power the tank moved across the battlefields around Villers-Bretonneux. Following its abandonment, the tank was salvaged by soldiers from the 26th Battalion, comprised mainly of Queenslanders, who helped recover the tank and drag it behind Allied lines.

From there it was sent to Australia via Vaux, Dunkirk and London, the war trophy arriving at Norman Wharf, Brisbane, in June 1919.

Mephisto being transported to Queensland by crane

Mephisto being unloaded from S.S. "Armagh" at the Norman Warf, a week after its arrival in Brisbane on 2 June 1919. Image: Queensland Museum.

In August 1919 it was towed from there to the Queensland Museum on Gregory Terrace by two Brisbane City Council steamrollers. The tank remained on display outside the old museum building for more than 60 years where it was a familiar icon.

In 1986, Mephisto was relocated to the South Bank campus of the Queensland Museum. It resided in a purpose-built climate controlled space in the Dinosaur Garden until the floods of 2011.

Mephisto being transported by crane to Queensland Museum

Mephisto being moved from its first Queensland home to the new Queensland Museum in 1986. Image: Queensland Museum.

Following the floods Mephisto made the journey north of Brisbane to a facility where it underwent conservation and in early 2013 was moved to The Workshops Rail Museum.

Mephisto on the back of a heritage flatbed rail wagon being transported

Mephisto being transferred into The Workshops Rail Museum, riding on a heritage flatbed rail wagon, much as it would have been transported in the First World War. Image: Queensland Museum.

From July 2015 to June 2017, Mephisto was on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the only time the tank has been out of Queensland since it arrived in 1919.

Mephisto now sits in its permanent home in the Anzac Legacy Gallery at Queensland Museum, South Bank.

Mephisto's specifications

Weight: 33.4 tonnes (73,700 lbs)
Length: 8 metres (26 ft 3in)
Width: 3.2m (10ft 5in)
Height: 3.3m (10ft 10in)
Range: 40km (25 miles)
Speed: 16 km/h (10mph) – with ‘tail wind’
Armour: 10-30mm
Crew: 18

Mephisto on display at The Workshops Rail Museum

Mephisto on display at The Workshops Rail Museum, 2013. Image: Queensland Museum.

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Over 500 items of our First World War collection are now accessible online for free. All you need is your device and a little bit of inspiration to explore Queensland’s cultural and natural heritage.

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