The Tiger Tank–Overcoming Misperceptions

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A thorough study of various battles and engagements from Allied unit histories and published historical accounts reveals strong biases within the Allied forces. Among the Allied armies, units continually reported that Tiger tanks were in their sector or that they had destroyed Tiger tanks. A casual reading of many Allied accounts during the battle of the Bulge, for example, would indicate that at least half of the German tanks employed there were Tigers. Actually, no more than 136 Tigers were involved, with the vast majority of German tanks in the battle being Panthers and Panzer IVs. The Soviet reports also have to be treated with the same skepticism in some instances. Soviet propaganda, for example, claimed that 700 Tigers were destroyed during the battle of Kursk. This number is five times more than the actual number engaged in the fighting.

Generally, this phenomenon should be attributed to the formidable reputation of the Tiger among its adversaries, and sort of parallel to the insistence by many American infantrymen that they were being continuously shelled by “88s,” when, in fact, they were almost always being bombarded by the 105mm and 150mm howitzers standard to a German divisional artillery regiment. Just as the deadly 88mm artillery piece was the most dreaded German gun, so also was the Tiger the most feared-and therefore, most often misidentified- German tank.

To obtain the most accurate picture possible, this study uses many different sources. Tank kills reported by the heavy tank battalions against the British and U. S. were verified in specific engagements from a variety of records, including unit histories, after-action reports, diaries and other personal accounts. Not surprisingly, Soviet tank losses were often omitted in their unit histories and in personal accounts, making an accurate count much more difficult to obtain. Several western sources provide some analysis of Soviet tank losses in several battles and were used to evaluate German claims.

A source of confusion in reporting tank losses and kills is the definition of what constitutes destruction of a tank. Tanks of World War II, especially the Tiger, were robust and resilient and could be repaired and put back into action if they were recovered and brought back to a maintenance unit. One side may have claimed the destruction of an enemy tank, but in reality, that tank was repaired and returned to service.

The German heavy tank battalions submitted regular reports on Tigers destroyed and also on the quantity that were operational. An unserviceable tank required the unit to make a report, identifying the chassis number, a survey of the damage, and an estimate of the time needed for the repairs. A second report was made at a higher level, indicating the number of tanks in working order for the unit, and the number of tanks under repair.” In all cases, clarity and accuracy were required. This makes obtaining an accurate accounting of the number of German tanks destroyed easier with one notable exception. The records for the King Tiger equipped units, especially those fighting the Russians, are incomplete because the unit war diaries and other unit records were either destroyed or captured by the Soviets.

The accuracy of German reporting, in terms of Tiger losses, can be verified literally almost down to the last vehicle against American and British forces. This is in part from the outstanding historical coverage by both the American and British military establishments at many different levels, from small unit journals to official army level reports. Included in these are a number of battle studies, including the “official histories,” which received exhaustive coverage after the war, incorporating documents and sources from all sides. Another reason is that there were never more than three heavy tank battalions committed against American and British forces at any one time, thereby reducing the overall number of Tigers employed against them. In other words, when American and British forces destroyed a Tiger, it was a noteworthy event.

The result is that, at least in the West, the German daily strength reports- and therefore losses-can be verified with a relatively high degree of accuracy. Usually, in cases where a conflict exists, records and a small amount of research will reveal the truth. For example, on 17 December 1944, in the Ardennes, a King Tiger of SS-Heavy Tank Battalion 501 was immobilized and subsequently abandoned as a result of a strike by P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter bombers of IX Tactical Air Command. Later, as German forces withdrew, the commander of an American Sherman from the 740th Tank Battalion reported destroying it. Although both forces justifiably claimed the King Tiger, the end result was still only one loss for the Germans.

Given the credibility of German reporting in the West, there is no reason to doubt the veracity of German Tiger losses in the east. Caution must be exercised, however, in assessing the number of tanks operational. As a member of the 1st Panzer Division stated:

I must honestly confess that since 1942 we always reported we had 15-20 percent less than our actual combat-ready strength available to be put into action . . . . Any commanding general of any panzer division at that time was very happy if he could assemble 20 or 25 tanks. For that reason, as we well knew, if he reported we had 60 tanks, we were sure that on the next day, as we defended on our own front line 40 kilometers wide, we would have only 20 tanks because the high command would take them away to where the more critical points were.

Due to extended frontages and heavy demand from higher echelons, it is logical and possible that some heavy tank battalions employed in the East also followed this unofficial practice of reporting fewer vehicles operational than were actually available. Unit commanders, however, wanted replacement vehicles as soon as possible and a replacement vehicle could only be requested if a vehicle was lost, not just inoperable, so it is highly likely that the heavy tank battalions would have been meticulously accurate in reporting the loss of any Tigers. The primary obstacle to overcome in researching engagements in the East against Soviet forces is confirming the kills made by Tigers.

While their accounts and reporting may indeed be accurate for the most part, German sources normally fail to provide a contextual background for the account, especially at the operational level of war. If an opponent’s actions are included in the German account at all, it is usually cursory, superficial, focused at the tactical level, and does little to help explain the reasons behind German actions that resulted in failure or success. German sources may simply state, for example, that a large number of Tigers were destroyed by their own crews to avoid capture after they had broken down. They fail to include in their account how or why those Tigers were threatened with capture and what action their opponents had taken to put those vehicles in an untenable position. Rather than being an impediment that cannot be overcome, however, the lack of context in German accounts simply reinforces the necessity of using sources from as many different perspectives as possible.

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German Sdkfz.251 halftrack

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The SdKfz 251 stands with the Panzer IV at the focal point of Wehrmacht armor. Its only rival for “best of its kind” was its US army counterpart. It was a bit of a military afterthought. German infantry had regularly ridden trucks to the combat zone during maneuvers since the Reichswehr years. In the early days of the armored force, motorcycles were so popular that five of the nine rifle companies in a panzer division’s rifle brigade rode them. Trucks and cycles, however, shared common problems: high vulnerability and limited off-road capacity. On the other hand, the panzers’ commitment to the principle of close tank-infantry cooperation was reinforced by the experiences of both sides in the Spanish Civil War, when tanks operating alone in broken or built-up terrain proved highly vulnerable to infantry who kept their heads. In a 1937 exercise, the modified civilian two-wheel-drive trucks assigned to the motorized infantry performed so badly that Guderian, still a mere colonel, directly challenged the armís commander in chief, Werner von Fritsch, to remedy the situation.

“Had my advice been followed, we would now have a real armored force” were bold words, often cited to prove Guderian’s professional conviction, his moral courage, and his arrogance, depending on the author’s perspective. In fact, exercises and maneuvers were historically regarded as high-stress situations where such outbursts were more or less predictable, and Fritsch had a known high tolerance for young enthusiasts. Guderian, moreover, was widely understood as Lutz’s protégé (an alternate German word is Protektionskind, “favorite child”). In short, he got away with it.

In concrete terms, Lutz and Guderian pressed for the development of an infantry-carrying vehicle with sufficient cross-country mobility to accompany tanks into action, and with enough armor and firepower to allow the crew to fight from it, if necessary. Such a vehicle had to meet two external requirements. It had to be cheap, and it could not interfere with tank production. That ruled out prima facie any kind of full-track design. Trucks were disqualified because any reasonably armored version would be heavy enough to overload suspensions and to lack off-road capacity. The answer came from the artillery—and indirectly from France.

Even before World War I, truck companies on both sides of the Atlantic had been experimenting with replacing rear wheels with some sort of track in order to lessen ground pressure and improve mobility in mud, snow, and sand. Most prominent in this effort was French engineer Adolphe Kegresse, whose successful conversion of some of Russian Tsar Nicholas’s autos inspired the Putilov armaments works to consider a project for military half-tracks. After the war the French firm of Citroën developed several civilian versions, staging well-publicized desert crossings in North Africa and central Asia and attracting the particular attention of a French army still engaged in Morocco and southern Algeria.

From the later 1920s, half-tracks made up a steadily increasing percentage of France’s military motor vehicles. Initially and primarily used as artillery and engineer vehicles, they found their way to the mounted troops as well. The French cavalry division as reorganized in 1932 had 150 armored versions as reconnaissance and combat vehicles. Another hundred, unarmored, carried the men and weapons of the battalion of Dragons portés (motorized dragoons) newly created for each mounted division.

With such an example so ready at hand, as early as 1926 the Reichswehr’s Weapons Office began preparing its own design for half-track tractors. Daimler-Benz began working on a production version in 1931; by 1936, a series of vehicles from one ton to eighteen tons were on the drawing boards or in the field, mostly as artillery tractors. That reflected, in passing, the artillerís continued reluctance to accept the urging of the Lutz/Guderian school and fully mechanize the panzer divisions’ fire support by developing self-propelled mounts. This was more than commitment to branch self-interest and a tradition of towing guns into battle. Tracked vehicles were still fragile relative to the weight and the recoil of even a light field piece like the standard 105mm howitzer. In addition to probable effects on accuracy, a breakdown took the gun out of action as well. Not until well into the Cold War would even the US army abandon towed guns as standard divisional-level weapons.

On the bright side from the panzers’ perspective, Hanomag’s three-ton tractor seemed well suited to carry a rifle squad. The armored chassis was provided by Büssing and the fit, if not perfect, was close enough for government work. At eight tons, with between 8 and 15mm of armor and mounts for two light machine guns, the 251 was tough and durable, eventually serving as the mount for a bewildering variety of weaponry. Tracks extending to nearly three-fourths of the chassis, plus a sophisticated steering system, compensated for an unpowered front axle and gave the vehicle better cross-country abilities than its US counterpart and eventual rival.

The technical hair in the soup of the 251 was its complexity. It may be argued as well that neither the infantry nor the panzers sufficiently internalized the need to emphasize rapid, large-scale production. The first A-model versions did not begin service trials until 1939, and there would never be enough of them to equip more than one battalion in all but a few favored panzer divisions.

Production delays bedeviled as well the 251’s smaller cousin. The SdKfz 250 developed out of a growing mid-1930s belief that reconnaissance was too vital an element of mobile war to be trusted to existing combinations of motorcycles and armored cars. At times it might be necessary to fight for information; at times it might be necessary to traverse rough ground to secure information. The solution was a half-sized half-track built on the chassis of the 1-ton artillery tractor. At 5.4 tons, with up to 14.5mm of armor, an open top, and a six-man crew, the 250 could move at almost 40 miles per hour, cover 300 miles on a single fueling, and, when necessary, put a few boots on the ground to search, destroy, and provide fire cover. It would not see service until 1940, but eventually it would prove almost as versatile a weapons platform as the 251.

There were four main model modifications (Ausführung A through D), which formed the basis for at least 22 variants. The initial idea was for a vehicle that could be used to transport a single squad of panzergrenadiers to the battlefield protected from enemy small arms fire, and with some protection from artillery fire. In addition, the standard mounting of at least one MG 34 or MG 42 machine gun allowed the vehicle to provide support by fire for the infantry squad once they had disembarked in battle.

Positive aspects of the open top included greater situational awareness and faster egress by the infantry, as well as the ability to throw grenades and fire over the top of the fighting compartment as necessary while remaining under good horizontal cover. The downside was a major vulnerability to all types of plunging fire; this included indirect fire from mortars and field artillery, as well as depressed-trajectory small arms fire from higher elevated positions, lobbed hand grenades, even Molotov’s cocktails, and strafing by enemy aircraft.

The first two models were produced in small numbers from 1939. A and B models can be identified by the structure of the nose armor, which comprised two trapezoidal armor panels – the lower of which had a cooling hatch. The B model, which began production in 1940, eliminated the fighting compartment’s side vision slits. The C model, which started production in mid-1940, featured a simplified hexagonal-shaped forward armored plate for the engine. Models A through C had rear doors that bulged out. The C model had a large production run, but was quite complex to build, involving many angled plates that gave reasonable protection from small arms fire. From early 1943, the D model was developed with the purpose of halving the number of angled body plates, simplifying the design and thus speeding up the production. D models can be easily recognized by their single piece sloping rear (with flat doors).

The standard personnel carrier version was equipped with a 7.92 mm MG 34 or MG 42 machine gun mounted at the front of the open compartment, above and behind the driver. A second machine gun could be mounted at the rear on an anti-aircraft mount.

When comparing the M3 with the German Sdkfz.251 halftrack, you will find both of similar size, speed and weight, but the M3 had over 20% more internal capacity due to its boxy hull shape. The 251 halftrack was more thickly armored, and the armor was angled to derive the best protection possible. But, due to the greater horsepower from the US vehicle’s engine, and the powered front axle, the M3 was a greatly superior vehicle for cross-country travel. Unfortunately, both vehicles were lacking in over-head protection, a problem that plagued occupants throughout WWII.

A7V FLAKPANZER

The A7V Flakpanzer anti-aircraft tank had two Russian M1902/30 76.2mm (3in) field guns mounted on each end.

ANTI-AIRCRAFT TANK

In the First World War, the Germans used the A7V tank chassis as a starting point in the development of several other variations. Although most would be used for the A7V Überlandwagen rough-terrain tracked supply vehicle, others were used to create unique vehicles, such as a trench-digging machine and the anti-aircraft version known as the A7V Flakpanzer.

Plans were also made to produce an A7V Funkpanzer wireless communication tank fitted with a Graben-Funkstation 16 radio transmitter and large circling antenna positioned on the roof.

In order to combat the ever more numerous aircraft in the skies, the German Army needed something that could fend off the enemy aviators, but also relocate to a more defensible position if necessary. Little is known about this mysterious A7V Flakpanzer – the earliest recorded tracked anti-aircraft vehicle – save for a few photographs. Three prototypes were being tested in the closing stages of the First World War.

The fate of these machines is unknown; it is possible that they were captured by the Allies and scrapped, or dismantled and the parts used for other things.

The guns themselves were positioned at each end of the platform. Ammo boxes were placed around the driving position and just under the guns. The Flakpanzer A7V was very similar to the Überlandwagen, which also had the A7V chassis and suspension, with the engines mounted centrally. The driving compartment was placed above them and was open and unarmoured, but had a tarpaulin cover to be used in bad weather.

The cargo bays were extended well over the front and rear of the vehicle, making the Flakpanzer longer. Each of these bays held an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pedestal. These guns could traverse 360 degrees and could also elevate to fire at enemy planes.

Also present were two elevated guard rails, which seem to have had a double purpose. They could keep the crew from falling off the vehicle and serve as sitting places when moving. Under them were the ammunition compartments, which could be accessed from the outside of the vehicle when the wooden side panels were lowered.

The crew consisted of around ten men, with four needed to service each gun. There was also a driver and a commander, although it is not clear if these positions were somehow amalgamated.

THE ARMAMENT

There is no verified information on the armament used by the Flakpanzer. However, it is believed that two of the prototypes were equipped with captured Russian M1902/30 76.2mm (3in) field guns. They were mounted on a new trunnion and elevation assembly to enable high elevation.

The Germans had captured copious numbers of such guns from the Tsarist Empire and pressed them into service; they even manufactured the ammunition for them.

The third prototype A7V Flakpanzer was equipped with a German Krupp-manufactured gun. It is believed that it was a 7.7cm (3.03in) German leichte Feld Kanone (l.F.K.) 1896 n/a (7.7cm light field cannon). Only one gun was fitted to this vehicle.

Whether these guns were effective against their intended targets remains a mystery as no paperwork related to their use has been found.

BEUTEPANZERN

Captured British Mark IV Male Beutepanzer. The British 6-pounder gun was replaced with a Belgian 7.5cm Model 1905 gun that had a range of 8km. The tank was redesignated Panzer 107 ‘Ännchen’. It was abandoned by its German crew near Fort de la Pompeile on 1 June 1918.

Captured Beutepanzer medium Mark A Whippet. Large German Army Bundeswehr Schwarzes Kreuz black crosses were painted on the captured tanks to identify the fact that they were under new management.

Captured Mark IV Female. The design of the German identification black cross changed in the second half of 1918 to the ‘Balkenkreuz’ (beam or bar cross). Some of the later repaired Beutepanzern had this newer cross design painted on their sides instead.

The German Army only operated twenty A7V heavy tanks and it deployed more captured British tanks on the battlefield than German-built ones. They were known as beute-tanks or Beutepanzern – trophy tanks. As most of the captured tanks were British Mark IV heavy tanks they were also referred to as schwerer-Kampfwagen (beute).

By the beginning of summer 1918 the Germans had recovered a large number of abandoned Allied tanks. After the successes of the spring offensive in 1918 and the recapturing of most of the November 1917 Cambrai battlefield, more than 300 damaged tanks were now situated behind German lines.

The Bayerischer Armee-Kraftwagen-Park (BAKP 20, the Bavarian Army-Motor-Park) special recovery units went out on to the old battlefields with the objective of salvaging as many Allied tanks and parts as was possible and bringing them to their tank repair workshops in Monceau-sur-Sambre, Marchienne-au-Pont and Roux, all near Charleroi. It was here that the tanks were refurbished and prepared to fight for their new masters. This unit, commanded by Oberst Meyer, had been operational at this location since 12 November 1917 after it transferred from the Eastern Front following the Russian Revolution and the subsequent ceasefire. It was at full capacity by February 1917 and more than 100 captured tanks are known to have been repaired.

Apart from changes made to the weaponry of the captured tanks, very little was altered apart from a large escape hatch being fitted to the driver’s cabin. This feature later appeared on the British-operated Mark V tank. (No British Mark V tanks were ever used as Beutepanzern during the war.)

The Germans had access to a supply of Belgian 5.7cm quick-firing Maxim Nordenfelt Model 1888 guns and ammunition. Supplies of British 6-pounder ammunition were very hard to obtain so the guns on the Male tanks were replaced. The 1888 could fire two types of rounds: a 2.7kg shell with a range of 2.7km and a grapeshot shell used by the Navy that could project 196 lead balls against infantry up to a range of 300m. The German Army called these guns ‘Belg 5.7cm K’.

Grapeshot was recorded being fired at British infantry from a Belgian 5.7cm-armed Mark IV Male Beutepanzer belonging to Abteilung 16 as it joined a German counter-attack near Séranvillers on 8 October 1918. It avoided the British tanks and withdrew once it had used up all its ammunition. Its Lewis guns were damaged and five of the tank crew wounded.

It had been accompanied by two other machine gun-only Female tanks but they were both knocked out by 6-pounder shells and set on fire during a tank battle with two British Mark IV Males, L45 and L49, from ‘C’ Company, 12th Tank Battalion, Tank Corps.

On some vehicles Mauser 13mm Tankgewehr (anti-tank rifles) replaced machine guns. Produced after May 1918, the Mauser was a single shot bolt-action rifle that fired armour-piercing, hardened steel-cored, 13mm semi-rimmed cartridges. Each round had an initial velocity of 785m/s (2,580 ft/s) and could penetrate 22mm armour plate at 100m.

Each Beutepanzer appears to have had its own different camouflage pattern. There does not seem to be any standardisation, although some of them were painted very similarly to the German-built A7V tanks. This may have been because these tanks were also serviced at this location. Some of the workshops were based in Belgian railway facilities. It has been suggested that the paints used by Belgian railway engineers were commandeered by the Germans and used to paint the A7V tanks as well as the captured Allied tanks.

The colours used for the Belgian railway rolling stock were cream/ivory, red/brown and dark green. The Germans would have had access to their Army-standard feldgrau grey paint. A large German Army black cross, called a ‘Bundeswehr Schwarzes Kreuz’, which was a type of Christian cross with arms that narrowed in the centre and had a white border, was painted on the captured tanks to identify the fact they were under new management. The design of the German identification black cross changed in the second half of 1918 to the ‘Balkenkreuz’ (beam or bar cross). Some of the later repaired Beutepanzern had this newer cross design painted on their sides instead.

The British tanks in 1918 were now painted with large white-red-white strips on their sides and roofs so they could be distinguished from German-operated Mark IVs.

When a Beutepanzer suffered a mechanical breakdown or ditched on the battlefield they were very rarely recovered; after the weapons were removed the tank was abandoned and blown up. A newly repaired one from the Charleroi workshops was sent to the front to fill the gap in the Abeteilung (battalion) allotted vehicle strength. As time went on and losses increased, BAKP 20 could not keep up with the demand for newly repaired captured tanks.

A small number of other captured Allied tanks were used by the Germans. Between ten and fifteen medium Mark A Whippets were captured but only two were repaired to operational condition and painted with Bundeswehr Schwarzes Kreuz crosses. One of them was sent to Abteilung 13 for the German tank crews to use. Whippets that were beyond repair were still sent to the Abeteilungs so they could inspect them and be familiar with the enemy’s tanks. There are no records of a Whippet Beutepanzer being used in action during the war.

Most of the captured French tanks were used for evaluation and not operationally. There is a First World War photograph of a Renault FT, known as the leichten Kampfwagen FT-17 Renault ‘Hargneuse III’, parked next to a Beutepanzer Mark IV but there is no evidence to suggest it was used in action. There are lots of photographs of Renault FTs with black Balkenkreuz crosses on them but nearly all these were taken during the Second World War when they were used for internal security work in occupied countries.

There are a number of photographs of a working Saint-Chamond French tank under German control. It was called ‘Petit Jean Pas Kamerad’ (‘No Mercy Little Jean’) and it is believed to have been used just for evaluation. The same weapons used on the Mark IV Beutepanzern, the Belgian 5.7cm QF gun and the 13mm Tankgewehr (anti-tank rifle), were intended to be fitted to the tank but it is not known if they were mounted and tested as there are no documents or photographic evidence to prove this at present.

There is a photograph of a late production French-built Schneider CA.1 Beutepanzer that had been used in action against the US 1st Infantry Division and was then knocked out by artillery shells near Froissy on 20 July 1918. There are no documents or other evidence that shows the use of any more Schneider CA Beutepanzern by the German Army.

Mark IV Beutepanzern were involved in the last recorded battle of the First World War where German-controlled tanks were used on a battlefield. This occurred on 1 November 1918 near Sebourg. Five tanks were due to move off from the start line at the beginning of the counter-attack, but only three managed to advance with the infantry. Two were quickly knocked out by artillery shells. The third tank lagged so far behind the attacking soldiers that it never saw action.

AEC Command Vehicle

In 1944-1945, the Armored Command Vehicle AEC 6×6 Mk I (or AEC O857) had been producing. This machine was created on the chassis of AEC O854 and had an armored bonnet body with an open top. Armored Truck produced in two versions (high power HP and low power LP according to the type of radio), weighed 17 tonnes and was equipped with a 6-cylinder diesel engine AEC A198 with output of 150 hp and 4-speed gearbox. Maximum speed was 48 km/h. The Mk I was followed by the Mk II with short bows and a frame on the roof to take tarpaulin cover over the less critical HQ equipment like tables and chairs. 151 trucks were made.

The larger 6×6 Command Vehicles had space for a Generator Set to run in the truck, a battery room, and room for anywhere from 6-8 staff to work wireless sets and the like while on the move. They could also set up a large tent and larger antenna masts for additional connectivity as well as wired switch board interfaces.

You can see the AEC 6×6 command truck has 4 compartments. The front driver’s compartment which had a pair of control boxes for the driver and officer riding up front. The Next compartment is the staff compartment. It had space for the wireless sets, control boxes, and various work surfaces for maps, paperwork and other tasks. There were 3-4 staff in here. The next compartment is a 2 person enlisted technicians compartment for two more staff (just not officers) who assisted the staff in the main compartment. The rear compartment is the generator compartment. The batteries and 1-2 generators (Onan types) were operated here so as to provide charging of the batteries when they were low. The enlisted technicians had to manage the batteries and effect repairs to sets as well as other adjustments of the sort needed to keep the Officers in the middle compartment working.

From a space sense, these ACVs are much larger than a modern command vehicle in terms of head room and space. They do of course stick out like a sore thumb from just about every other vehicle. The proliferation of antenna from most command vehicles however doesn’t do them any justice when it comes to blending in, they’re not quite as obvious. Though with an M557 vs an M113, it’s pretty obvious which one has the staff flunkies in it.

The Command vehicles more or less had what in the larkspur days was a B-Harness. Basically multiple control boxes allowing control of multiple wireless sets for various staff. This allowed re-transmission, talking on multiple nets, coordination between nets and general sorts of command staff functions.

As far as wireless fit, WS-19s and their HP versions, Reception sets, and some of the larger long range sets like WS-53s. There were accessories for the control harnesses allowing interface of wired communications into the mix allowing a radio call to be shunted to a field phone net. Obviously this only works for a station that’s not on the move.

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SCHWERE PANZER-ABTEILUNG 501

PzKpfw Tiger ausf E. 2.Kompanie, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501. Byelorussia. Winter 1943-44. Photographed during the battles along the Dnieper in the Orscha region of what is today Belarus, this tank is probably one of the mid production models the battalion received in November 1943. This unit used the official three-digit numbering system to identify its tanks, the numbers rendered as a black outline only with the whitewash camouflage carefully painted around the edges. Note that the number on the rear stowage box appears to have been painted over the whitewash and this seems to have been common, if not universal. Also note the barbed wire fixed to the exhaust covers. Almost all the tanks of this battalion had their hulls covered with wire to some degree, most far more extensively than shown here, presumably to deter or impede tank-hunting Russian infanytrmen.

PzKpfw Tiger ausf E. 3.Kompanie, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501. Byelorussia. Summer 1944. This mid production model was built between August 1943, when the single headlight at the hull front was introduced into production, and some time before October when the pistol port on the turret side was discontinued. The turret number, as can be seen from our photograph, is a decidedly darker shade than the base coat of Dunkelgelb confirming that not all the tanks of this battalion had their numbers rendered as a black outline only. Although it is impossible to determine the colour with any certainty it is rendered here as Olivgrün, which is at least possible. Several photographs of this tank exist and the image shown at right is probably the earliest, made during April or May 1944 when the battalion received a large store of spare parts and was able to repair all its damaged tanks. This would explain the apparently fresh camouflage scheme and the dark coloured replacement gun barrel, almost certainly painted in RAL 7021 Schwartzgrau. In what we can safely assume to be the last photograph made of this Tiger, abandoned by the roadside while German prisoners are marched past, little has changed with the exception of the kill rings on the barrel. Damage is limited to the mudguards and fenders and the engine access door has been left open. In his account of the battalion’s history Wolfgang Schneider lists the number of tanks lost in June and July stating that all were completely destroyed either by enemy action or by their own crews with the exception of one Tiger which was abandoned on 4 July 1944, some 20 kilometres east of Minsk after breaking down. Although we can never be certain it is tempting to speculate that this may be the same tank.

Panzerbefehlswagen Tiger ausf B. Stab, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501. Poland. Autumn 1944. Photographed in the village of Ogledow, some 25 kilometres west of Sandomierz, this command version of the Tiger II was captured intact on 13 August 1944, together with Tiger 102 and Tiger 234, and today resides at the Kubinka Museum outside Moscow. The three tanks of the battalion staff were numbered 001, 002 and 003 and for some inexplicable reason the Soviets changed this vehicle’s original number of 002 to that shown here, almost certainly before the tank was moved. Note that when this tank was captured, and therefore when it was in combat, all three radio antennae were in place including the distinctive Sternantenne Don the hull rear deck for the FuG8 radio and the two metre antenna for the FuG5 radio on the turret roof, the latter not depicted in our illustration.

The army’s first heavy tank battalion was formed on 10 May 1942 from schwere Panzer-Kompanien 501 and 502, which were later renamed as the battalion’s first and second companies. Further personnel were drawn from Panzer-Ersatz-Abteilung 1, a replacement and training unit stationed at Erfurt in Germany and from Panzerschiess-Schule Putlos, a tank gunnery school near Holstein.

It was originally intended that this battalion would be equipped with the Tiger (P) which was then being developed by Porsche and a number of drivers were sent to the Nibelungenwerke at St.Valentin in Austria to be trained on the new tanks. The decision to drop the Porsche design in favour of Henschel’s proposal in July delayed the battalion’s training and formation and the first two Tigers did not arrive until 30 August 1942. The battalion’s first and second companies were sent to North Africa, the latter via France, with the first tanks arriving on 23 November 1942. So precarious was the supply route from Italy to the African coast that the last Tigers did not reach Tunisia until late January 1943 and the battalion’s 3.Kompanie, which was not fully formed until 6 March, remained in Europe and was eventually attached to Panzer-Regiment Grossdeutschland as a tenth company. On 12 May 1943 the remnants of the battalion, which had been combined with elements of the newly arrived schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504, surrendered to the British near El Alia in Tunisia. Beginning on 9 September 1943, and employing some 150 veterans of the original formation, the battalion was rebuilt under the command of Major Erich Löwe, an experienced tank officer who had been awarded the Knight’s Cross as a company commander during the 1940 French Campaign. The battalion spent the following months in training and on Sunday, 5 December 1943 began moving to the Eastern Front. From 19 December until the end of the year the battalion was involved in the fierce fighting between Losovka and Vitebsk and it was here, on 23 December, that the battalion commander was killed.

In January and February 1944 the battalion was operating in the area around Vitebsk, north-east of Minsk in modern day Belarus, in support of Panzergrenadier-Division Feldherrnhalle and 14. Infanterie-Division. Despite the heavy fighting just one Tiger was lost at this time when an artillery shell landed directly on the turret roof of Leutnant Schröder’s tank. In early March 1944, with just seventeen serviceable tanks, the battalion took part in Operation Hubertus, a limited offensive to retake the village of Osipenki west of Vitebsk near the current Belarus frontier, with the assault guns of Sturmgeschütz-Brigade 281 and the grenadiers of 256.Infanterie-Division. In early June nine Tigers were handed over to schwere Panzer-Abteilung 509 leaving just twenty tanks in total. On 23 June 1944, the day after the commencement of the Soviet Operation Bagration, the battalion was rushed to the area north-east of Orscha, an important rail and road junction on the Dnieper river, and immediately faced strong Russian armoured units including a number of JS-2 heavy tanks. The fighting here was extremely confused and the tanks of the battalion were widely dispersed. During the withdrawal across the Dnieper the tank of the first platoon commander crashed through the bridge and could not be recovered. In addition several other tanks were abandoned due to lack of fuel. The battalion continued to withdraw to the west and on 2 July 1944 the six remaining operational Tigers were ferried across the Berezina river.

EQUIPMENT ALLOCATIONS AND LOSSES, SCHWERE PANZER-ABTEILUNG 501,1944

Over the next few days a number of tanks were delivered from depot workshops and thrown into the defence of Minsk but most were abandoned after they ran out of fuel and two simply went missing and were never seen again. All surviving crews were withdrawn to Germany where, on 17 July 1944, the battalion was reformed. Equipped with a full complement of tanks the second and third companies returned to the front and on 11 August and were attached to 16. Panzer-Division and immediately thrown into an attack between Chmielnik and Szydlow in central Poland in an effort to reduce the so called Sandomierz Bulge. At the same time, 1.Kompanie was leaving Ohrdruf in Germany and within a week, in a dramatic turn of events, the battalion commander, Oberstleutnant von Legat, was removed from his post over suspicions of his involvement in the July plot to assassinate Hitler. In September the battalion was attached to XXXVIII.Panzerkorps and took part in the defensive battles near Kielce and Ostrowiec on the western bank of the Vistula. At this time a number of Tiger I tanks were handed over from schwere Panzer-Abteilung 509, which was returning to Germany, and by the end of September the battalion reported that fifty-three tanks in total were on hand, with thirty-six of those being combat ready. On 1 December 1944 the battalion was able to field fifty-one operational Tigers and on 21 December was renamed schwere Panzer-Abteilung 424 to avoid confusion with schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501. On the last day of 1944 the battalion reported that seventeen Tigers were fully operational.

British Invention “Tank” I

The first tank to engage in battle, the British Mark I tank (pictured in 1916) with the Solomon camouflage scheme.

WWI. Canadian soldiers aboard a Mark I, the tank invented by the British.

The requirement to be able to move readily across open countryside with ample armor protection drove Richard Hornsby & Sons, developer of a track system for oil-engined tractors, to successfully experiment with a militarized version in 1905. Again, the War Office declined to support the venture beyond that point. Still, with the efforts of Daimler and Benz, and the Hornsby experiment, two key components of the tank, a reliable power plant and a track system to replace wheels, had been put in place. The years before 1914 saw various limited developments in the field in France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain with the resulting vehicles being used in local conflicts with varying degrees of success. The intransigent, reactionary war ministries and general staffs of the time stolidly maintained their hostile attitudes, delaying and sabotaging such developments wherever possible. Their inability to learn from and properly interpret their own battlefield experience, coupled with their persistent delusions about future tactics and requirements, left them essentially confused and generally ill-prepared for the Great War that was coming.

It should have been abundantly clear to most military commanders at the beginning of the First World War that neither massed ranks of infantry nor charging cavalry could survive in the face of fire from breech-loading, rifled weapons. Most commanders, though, refused to even consider any alternative to sending their troops “over the top” to cross a pock-marked, denuded wasteland through a withering hail of bullets. “War is good business. Invest your sons,” wrote a wag of the day.

The armored car was the first fighting vehicle to enter wartime service. It was built by the Belgians and by the British Royal Navy, and was tested and put into action on the Western Front in 1914. In the thick and sticky mud of the battlefields, however, these new and promising wheeled vehicles were largely unsuitable. In an irony ahead of that conflict, an Australian engineer named Lancelot de Mole had designed a practical armored tank vehicle that was, in fact, superior to that which the British Army would field on the Somme in 1916. But, when de Mole submitted his clever design to the War Office there was virtually no reaction. So, in 1915, he tried again to interest the decision makers of the War Office and was again rebuffed.

“Caterpillar landships are idiotic and useless. Nobody has asked for them and nobody wants them. Those officers and men are wasting their time and are not pulling their proper weight in the war. If I had my way I would disband the whole lot of them. Anyhow, I am going to do my best to see that it is done and stop all this armored car and caterpillar landship nonsense” declared Royal Navy Commodore Cecil Lambert, Fourth Sea Lord, in 1915. Lambert clearly disapproved of the Royal Navy Armored Car Division, which had been established in October 1914 with the enthusiastic support of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, to develop a new line of purpose-built armored cars.

From a letter in January 1915 from Winston Churchill to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith: “. . . fit up a small number of steam tractors with small armored shelters, in which men and machine-guns could be placed, which would be bullet-proof . . . The caterpillar system would enable trenches to be crossed quite easily, and the weight of the machine would destroy all wire entanglements . . .”

Urgent diplomatic intercepts: St Petersburg, 29 July 1914, 1 a.m. Czar Nicholas II to Kaiser Wilhelm II: “I FORSEE THAT VERY SOON I SHALL BE OVERWHELMED BY THE PRESSURE FORCED UPON ME AND BE FORCED TO TAKE EXTREME MEASURES WHICH WILL LEAD TO WAR”.—Nicky

Berlin, 30 July 1914, 1:20 a.m. Kaiser Wilhelm II to Czar Nicholas II: “THE WHOLE WEIGHT OF THE DECISION LIES SOLELY ON YOUR SHOULDERS NOW. [YOU] HAVE TO BEAR THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR PEACE OR WAR.”

—Willy

There’s a little wet home in the trench,

That the rain storms continually drench,

A dead cow close by, With her hooves in the sky,

And she gives off a beautiful stench.

Underneath us, in place of a floor,

Is a mess of cold mud and some straw, And the Jack Johnsons roar as they speed through the air

O’er my little wet home in the trench.

—anon

After the German defeat in the Battle of the Marne, a few Royal Navy units were sent from England to protect the air base at Dunkirk. They were also ordered to assume the rescue of pilots who had been shot down in the area. To that end, the Admiralty Air Department stepped in and provided some armored cars. They bought 100 of the vehicles from Rolls-Royce and shipped some of them directly to France where they were fitted with a box-like arrangement of armor covering the main unit and rear wheels, and other small, raised armored boxes to cover the front wheels and the driver’s head. The rest of the Rolls-Royce cars were modified in England where they remained until put into action in the autumn of 1914 where they performed relatively effectively, but also demonstrated that their crews were inadequately protected from overhead sniper fire. That led to development of a new version which incorporated a top-mounted machine-gun turret and overhead armor. The early examples of the new vehicle reached France in December 1914 and were immediately seen to be a great improvement over their predecessors. But, they had come into service at a point in the war when all significant movement on the battlefields had stopped. The armies of the two enemies were dug in behind wire barriers and fortifications and, while the new armored cars were promising, they were incapable of crossing the trenches or the wire.

Winston Churchill formed the Naval Landships Committee in February 1915 to design and build a new armored tracked vehicle based on a 1914 idea of Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Swinton, Royal Engineers. Swinton believed that a caterpillar-tracked armored vehicle could be created to destroy machine-gun positions and barbed wire barriers and, most importantly, to cross the great trenches and other obstacles on the battlefield with relative ease. The initial trials of the “Machine-Gun Destroyer” as it was referred to, were hugely disappointing, but Churchill and the committee were determined to continue the effort. They purchased two Bullock Creeping Grip tractors and imported them from the United States, and from them developed a new vehicle they called the Lincoln Number One Machine. They then redesigned the track and suspension units and modified the resulting vehicle which was soon delivering the kind of performance sought by the committee. They named the new vehicle Little Willie.

This time, the interest of the British Army was aroused by the possibilities it foresaw for such a machine. What they required, however, was a machine with about twice the capability of Little Willie. It had to be able to cross a trench eight feet wide as well as climb a parapet four and a half feet high. And then, two of the committee members, William Tritton and Lieutenant W.G. Wilson joined forces to come up with a new design, a combination of the best qualities and characteristics of both the Lincoln Machine and Little Willie, an entirely new fighting vehicle with tracks that ran around the perimeter of its rhomboid sides. Its overall height was kept to a minimum through the use of sponsons on either side of the vehicle, each mounting a six-pounder naval gun, rather than a a top-mounted turret. It had fixed front and rear turrets, with the front turret accommodating the commander and the driver sitting side by side. The rear turret housed a machine-gun. The vehicle contained four Hotchkiss machine-guns and there were four doors behind the sponsons as well as a man-hole hatch in the top of the hull. To the rear of the hull was attached a two-wheel towed steering tail. This new design was known as Big Willie, but more commonly referred to as Mother. It was eight feet in height and twenty-six feet five inches long, not counting the added steering tail. With a weight of twenty-eight tons, Mother was powered by a 105-hp Daimler sleeve-valve engine.

In February 1916, a trial of Mother was held at the Hatfield Park, Hertfordshire estate of the Marquess of Salisbury. The audience included Minister of Munitions Lloyd George, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, the Minister of Defence, and some other representatives of the Army and the Admiralty. During the trial, Mother was put through her paces over a specially-prepared obstacle course containing a variety of craters, ditches, streams, wire entanglements and wide trenches, and she acquitted herself well according to the Landship Committee members present. Although Kitchener himself was not especially enthusiastic about what he witnessed that day, the Army representatives were quite impressed and by the end of the event, a production order for twenty-five of the vehicles was awarded to Foster’s and one for seventy-five of the machines went to the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Company. Fifty Mothers were to be built with the same armament as the prototype. Strangely, they would thereafter be referred to as “males,” with the balance of the vehicles armed with six machine-guns, four of them mounted in smaller side sponsons. These units were called “females.” Their role in combat was to protect the males from being swamped by enemy infantry. After the Hatfield Park trial, the King was given a ride in the prototype and emerged saying that a large number of the vehicles would be a considerable asset to the Army.

In the secrecy of the Foster’s workshops the workers and executives referred to the unusual new vehicles they were building as “tanks,” an odd reference to the new weapons system destined to entirely reform land warfare. They were trying to conceal what they were working on. Swinton and Lt. Col. W. Dalby Jones discussed the matter and they considered calling the thing “container” or “cistern” before finally agreeing on “tank,” which, they thought, implied some sort of agricultural machine . . . something the company might be expected to produce normally. Foster’s personnel even hinted broadly that the new products were to be shipped to Russia. And so the word “tank” entered into common usage and was soon generic for the war machine.

The pressure on the manufacturers to get the Mark I into production inevitably resulted in a vehicle something less than perfect. The makers took this first production tank from drawing board to assembly in just twelve months and, among its many drawbacks was a gravity-fed fuel system which could starve the engine when the vehicle was maneuvering with its front end in a steep, climbing or descending attitude. The fuel tank was positioned inside the vehicle and greatly increased the fire risk. And, in a particularly bizarre design solution, the vehicle required the teamwork of four crew members to steer it, even with the aid of the wheeled steering tail. David Fletcher, Librarian of the Tank Museum, Bovington, England, a leading authority on tanks and author of The British Tanks 1915-19: “Four of the crew served the guns; a gunner and loader on each side. The others were all required to operate the controls. The driver, sitting to the right of the commander, was effectively there to make the tank go. Apart from the steering wheel that was almost useless, he had no control whatever over turning, or swinging the tank, to use the contemporary term. He controlled the primary gearbox, clutch and footbrake which acted on the transmission shaft, along with the ignition and throttle controls. The commander operated the steering brakes and either man could work the differential lock which was above, between and behind them. The two extra men worked the secondary gearboxes at the back, on instruction from the driver, who had to work the clutch at the same time.

“It was, according to the instruction book, possible to steer the tank by selecting a different ratio in each of the secondary gearboxes, although experience soon proved that this would result in twisted gear shafts. Thus, except for slight deviations when the steering brakes were used, the standard procedure for steering was to halt the tank, lock the differential and take one track out of gear. First was then selected in the primary box and the other secondary box, the brake was then applied to the free track and the tank would swing in that direction.”

By February 1917, the Marks II and III had gone to war incorporating only minor improvements over the Mk I, but, by April the substantially improved Mark IV had entered service, protected by much better armor. It also featured a vacuum-feed fuel system, a new cooling and ventilation system, an exhaust silencer and a rear-mounted external fuel tank. While the males had the same armament as the prototype, the females were armed with six machine-guns (five Vickers and one Hotchkiss). A total of 420 male and 595 female tanks were produced before the arrival in May 1918 of the Mark V, by far the best and most dramatically advanced version of this pioneering fighting vehicle. The Mk V incorporated an entirely new epicyclic steering system designed by the former Lieutenant, now Major, W.G. Wilson, as well as an extended hull to increase its trench-crossing capability. With enhanced power from a 150 hp Ricardo engine, the Mk V was capable of 4.6 mph maximum speed, compared to the 3.7 mph top speed of the earlier marks. Mark V production totalled 400 male and 632 female tanks.

The armored strike force of the British Army was forming in 1916 and the Army wisely decided to establish it as a new branch under the overall command of Ernest Swinton. Lt. Col. Hugh Elles, a Royal Engineer officer, was appointed field commander in France. Elles had been GHQ representative for tank development and policy. The new organization was called the Tank Detachment until June 1917 when it was redesignated the Tank Corps and, in 1923, it became the Royal Tank Corps, the award coming from King George V. In 1939, the Royal Tank Corps was renamed the Royal Tank Regiment and became part of the Royal Armored Corps, along with other units, mainly former cavalry regiments.

Elles put together a small staff of officers in 1916 who brought considerable intelligence, enthusiasm and foresight to the war front in France. Realizing the enormous potential of the tank weapon, Elles’s key staff, including Captain G. Martel and Major J.F.C. Fuller, predicted the coming battles between opposing tank forces and other advanced tank tactics that were destined to change land warfare forever. It was Fuller who, in 1917, wrote of the tank, “It is in fact an armored mechanical horse.”

At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun, In the wild purple of the glow’ring sun, Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud The menacing scarred slope, and, one by one, Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.

—from Attack by Siegfried Sassoon

Well, how are things in heaven? I wish you’d say Because I’d like to know that you’re all right. Tell me, have you found everlasting day, Or been sucked in by everlasting night? For when I shut my eyes your face shows plain; I hear you make some cheery old remark—I can rebuild you in my brain, Though you’ve gone out patrolling in the dark.

—from To Any Dead Officer by Siegfried Sassoon

Flers-Courcelette 15 Sept 1916