Military history

- Chapter 25 -

The Two Extremes

The Tiger I enjoyed some spectacular triumphs on the battlefield, but it also endured its fair share of ignominious set backs. These two contrasting combat reports demonstrate the two extremes of the Tiger I experience.

On 21st April 1943, a Tiger I of the 504th German heavy tank battalion, with turret number 131, was captured after being knocked out on a hill called Djebel Djaffa in Tunisia. A round from a Churchill tank of the British 48th Royal Tank Regiment hit the Tiger’s gun barrel and ricocheted into its turret ring. The round jammed the turret traverse mechanism and wounded the commander. Although the vehicle was still in a driveable condition the crew flew into a panic and bailed out. The complete tank was captured by the British. The tank was repaired and displayed in Tunisia before being sent to England for a thorough inspection.

In complete contrast to the dismal performance of Tiger 131 the Tiger I commanded by Franz Staudegger enjoyed an amazing string of successes. On 7th July 1943, this single Tiger tank commanded by SS-Oberscharführer Franz Staudegger from the 2nd Platoon, 13th Panzer Company, 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler engaged a group of about 50 T-34s around Psyolknee in the southern sector of the German thrust into the Soviet salient known as the Battle of Kursk. Staudegger used all his ammunition and claimed the destruction of 22 Soviet tanks, forcing the rest to retreat. For this amazing feat of arms he was understandably awarded the Knight’s Cross.

The Tigerfibel emphasized the smooth ride of the Tiger I comparing it to a sports car.



An anti-Nazi prisoner of war, discussing the various methods of combating German tanks, makes some useful comments. Although they are neither new nor startling, they are well worth studying since they are observations made by a tank man who fought the United Nations forces in Italy.

German tanks undoubtedly are formidable weapons against a soft-shelled opposition, but become a less difficult proposition when confronted with resolution combined with a knowledge not only of their potentialities but also of their weaknesses.

When dealing with German heavy tanks, your most effective weapon is your ability to keep still and wait for them to come within effective range. The next most important thing is to camouflage your position with the best available resources so that the German tanks won’t spot you from any angle.

If these two factors are constantly kept in mind, the battle is half won. Movement of any kind is a mistake which certainly will betray you, yet I saw many instances of this self-betrayal by the British in Italy. Allow the enemy tank to approach as close as possible before engaging it — this is one of the fundamental secrets of antitank success. In Italy I often felt that the British opened fire on tanks much too soon. Their aim was good, but the ranges were too great, and the rounds failed to penetrate. My own case is a good illustration: if the opposition had held its fire for only a few moments longer, I should not be alive to tell this tale.

By letting the German tank approach as close as possible, you gain a big advantage. When it is on the move, it is bound to betray its presence from afar. Whereas you yourself can prepare to fire on it without giving your own position away. The tank will spot you only after you have fired your first round.

A tank in motion cannot fire effectively with its cannon; the gunner can place fire accurately only when the vehicle is stationary. Therefore, there is no need to be unduly nervous because an approaching tank swivels its turret this way and that. Every tank commander will do this in an attempt to upset his opponents’ tank recognition. If the tank fires nothing but its machine guns, you can be pretty sure that you have not yet been spotted.

Consider the advantages of firing on a tank at close range:

(1) In most cases the leading tank is a reconnaissance vehicle. Survivors of the crew, when such a short distance away from you, have little chance of escape. This is a big advantage, inasmuch as they cannot rejoin their outfit and describe the location of your position to the main body.

(2) Another tank following its leader on a road cannot run you down. In order to bypass the leading tank, it has to slow down. Then, long before the gunner can place fire on you, you can destroy the tank and block the road effectively. Earlier in the war, a German tank man I knew destroyed 11 hostile tanks in one day by using this method.

Two Tigers pictured just before they were to go into combat at Villers Bocage in June 1944.

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