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Mephisto's final days: 3D modelling to reveal WWI secrets

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The final days of a near-century-old World War I German tank could be partially relived through advanced 3D technology, thanks to research conducted by a Queensland scientist.

German tank Mephisto, which fought its first battle nearly 98 years ago, has been on loan to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra from the Queensland Museum since last year, where it will remain until mid-2017.

It was the last surviving original German A7V tank and was captured by Australian troops in 1918, when it was found abandoned at Monument Wood, near Villers-Bretonneux in France.

Mephisto was brought back to Queensland as a war trophy and had been on display at the Queensland Museum for about 70 years.

Griffith University PhD candidate Chris Little said Mephisto was more than just a tank – it had become a part of Australian folklore.

"War trophy or not, there are so many people who have had a personal connection or relationship with this tank," he said.


"So many people have memories of going to see it and climbing on it.

"One man I brought it up with said he could vividly remember the smell of the original oil inside."

Mr Little said he hoped to use cutting edge 3D technology to forensically analyse Mephisto's battle scars to eventually re-enact its final movements in Monument Wood.

"I'll be scanning the tank to try to come up with new forensic tools that won't only be used for the tank, but can be used in forensic applications," he said.

"Mainly, I'm looking at ballistics trajectories and things like that and trying to come up with answers using the tank as a case study, developing the tools for the software and then maybe, hopefully, coming up with some answers for all of the scarring, all of the bullet holes, that are on the Mephisto."

The research was more than just a forensics exercise, Mr Little said.

It would also serve as a heritage protection tool.

"So many people know this tank and to have a three-dimensional model of the inside and the outside that's accurate not only gives Queensland Museum a vaulted accurate copy, but they can also create an interactive virtual reality of the tank," Mr Little said.

"Because, as you know, it now sits in an airtight bubble for preservation, so people can't get up close and personal to the tank like they used to."

With the 3D technology, Mr Little said visitors would once again be able to get up close and personal with Mephisto.

"You can get up close and examine the bullet holes yourself," he said.

"You can start inspecting the explosion that happened on the roof of the tank. Nobody usually gets the chance to do those sorts of things."

Mr Little, who had a background in using 3D imagery in forensic police investigations, said the technology had started to be used for heritage protection.

He said he would eventually like to use virtual reality to put the tank back in Villers-Bretonneux to do a full forensic analysis of Mephisto's last days of service.

Mr Little will present his research project, Last Days of Mephisto – Forensic and Ballistic Science, at the inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane on March 10 at the Queensland Museum.

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