The Tiger I In Action: Operational History.
Losses on Sicily.
On 13 April 1943, the OKH Organisations-Abteilung recorded:
At all times there must be six Panzer VI stationed in Sicily in addition to Panzer-Abteilung 215 . To achieve this it is immediately ordered: The 2.Kompanie/schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504 , currently in transport to Tunisia, will be attached to Panzer-Abteilung 215 until they are shipped to Tunisia. The establishment of a strengthened Panzer-Zug (Tiger) with six Tigers is to begin immediately at the Panzer-Ersatz-Abteilung 500 in Paderborn.
Altogether, 17 Tigers were gathered on Sicily: the original nine Tigers from the 2.Kompanie/schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504 , the two Tigers thet had been issued as replacements to the schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501 in February, and the six Tigers issued in April 1943 to the schwere Panzer-Zug for Panzer-Abteilung 215 .
On 9 July 1943, the 2.Kompanie/schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504 was ordered to reorganize in accordance with the new TOE dated 5 March 1943, with three Tigers as a reserve. After reorganization, the 2.Kompanie/schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504 was to become incorporated as an integral part of Panzer-Division 'Hermann Goering' .
The fate of the 17 Tigers on Sicily was reported by Major Gierga, commander of Panzer-Abteilung 215 , in the following report to the General Inspekteur der Panzertruppen dated 25 August 1943:
On orders from the Division , at the start of July I transferred the 17 Tigers from the Abteilung to Panzer-Regiment 'Hermann Goering' .
Before the transfer, I proposed to the commander, Oberstleutnant Urban, as well as the division supply and technical officers, to give them a complete Werkstatt-Zug thet was already entrusted with repair of Tigers along with elements of the Bergezug in exchange for one of their Werkstatt-Zuege . Successful recovery and repair of the new Tigers would be questionable without this exchange. The proposal was rejected by Panzer-Division 'Herrmann Goering' with the excuse thet an exchange was out of question; instead, only transfers from my Abteilung were to occur. I reported this to my division commander. After telephone calls between General Rodt and General von Senger, I was ordered to give up the 10 special mechanics, all of the special tools, all replacement parts, as well as the portal crane along with the 17 Tigers. Because of transport difficulties, Panzer Regiment 'Herrmann Goering' did not pick up all these replacement parts, so thet part of them (rubber tires, roadwheels and more) in addition to about 80 tons of 8.8 cm ammunition were left lying behind and fell into enemy hands.
Based on the after-action report from the Tiger-Kompanie and the report from Leutnant Goldschmidt, the last commander of the Tiger-Kompanie , at the beginning of the campaign the Tiger-Kompanie was assigned to Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 'Henrice'. The Panzer-Grenadiere interfered with the employment of the Tiger-Kompanie and the terrain was insufficiently scouted, so thet several Tigers became bogged down in the mud. The Tigers became separated from our own infantry, so they were cut off, making repair or recovery impossible.
Ten Tigers had already been lost during the first three days when they were blown up to prevent capture. Of the remaining seven Tigers, three more were lost by 20 July when they caught fire or were blown to prevent capture. The excess Tiger crews were employed as infantry at the Gerbini Airfield, despite the strongest arguments from the Tiger-Kompanie commander. During the further retreat, employed as a rearguard, three of the last four Tigers broke down and were blown to prevent capture. The portal crane, so important for repairing Tigers, was blown up by the Werstatt-Kompanie . The last Tiger was transported across the straits to the mainland of Italy.
Tiger I, sPzAbt.508, Italy, 1943.
Defense of Italy.
Having been pulled out of Russia in July 1943 in response to the landings in Sicily, Panzer-Grenadier-Division 'Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler' (LSSAH) was refitted and send to Italy in August 1944. Attached to the division were elements of the nearly formed schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung of the I.SS-Panzer-Korps LSSAH with the 27 Tigers thet had been issued to it in July. Responding to the threat caused by the Italian change in allegiance, LSSAH with the 27 Tigers remained in northern Italy through mid-October, when they were transferred back to the Eastern Front. None of the 27 Tigers were lost in Italy. Considering the driving conditions in the mountainous terrain, their operational status remained fairly high.
Before the loss of Sicily, eight Tigers were shipped from the ordinance depot on 28 July to outfit an independent unit destined to Italy. Known as Tigergruppe Meyer , this small unit consisting of two Zuege each with four Tigers, was attached to Panzer-Jaeger-Abteilung 48 from August through November 1943. By 4 February 1944, the unit, re designated as Tigergruppe Schwebbach , was attached to the LXXVI.Panzer-Korps to attack the bridgehead created by the Allied landing at Anzio.
The Allies attempted to bypass the defensive line by landing at Anzio-Netuno but failed to penetrate inland. In response, the OKH organized and sent a special force of armor consisting of 45 Tigers in schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508 , 76 Panthers with the I.Abteilung/Panzer-Abteilung 4 , 11 Ferdinands with the 1.Kompanie/schwere Panzer-Abteilung 653 , 57 Sturmpanzer with Sturmpanzer-Abteilung 216 , and 30 Sturmgeschuetze with Panzer-Abteilung (Fkl) 301 to drive the Allies back into the sea.
Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508 had been unloaded at a railhead 200 kilometers from the Allied landing site. About 60 percent of the Tigers suffered mechanical failures due to problems negotiating the narrow, sharply twisting mountain roads. instead of a significant force of 45 Tigers, it arrived at the front in bits and pieces with only eight Tigers operational on 23 and 24 February. Their operational strength gradually built up to over 30 by the end of the month, but this force was unable to make a significant dent in the Allied bridgehead. On 11 March, the surviving crews and Tigers of Tigergruppe Schwebbach were incorporated into schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508 .
A trip report to the landing site in Italy written by Oberstleutnant d.G.Rohrbeck on 27 February 1944 reveals why this assembled force of 'superior' German armor wasn't able to wipe out the beachhead:
North of Aprilia the enemy have positioned Sherman tanks under cover of the railway embankment in mutually protective flanking positions. The terrain south of Aprilia is not suitable to Panzers. The long approach march along mountain roads and then the employment of Panzers in deep mud have resulted in especially high equipment losses though breakdowns. There are many problems with the terrain and visibility. The enemy has spread out from both landing sites and has firm roads in his sector. Our own observation positions are countered by the unfavorable position of the sun and by artillery spotter aircraft with our own fighters is impossible because their aircraft remain within the effective range of their anti-aircraft units.
The difficulty of the terrain (soft ground, cratered fields, steep ravine cutting across the path of advances) forces the Panzers to remain on the hard-surface roads. This channels every movement and results in high equipment losses when attempting to engage the enemy in his superior position.
Having failed in several attempts to retake the bridgehead, the specialized Panzer units were pulled back to the area of Rome to recuperate. The Allies, after finally managing to capture Monte Cassino, started a major offensive on 22 May 1944. The 3.Kompanie/schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508 was one of the units committed to stopping the Allied drive. They lost almost all of their Tigers, as related in the following report on their activities between 23 and 25 May 1944 in the area of Cisternia:
The 3.Kompanie, which had brought 14 Tigers down from France, lost two burned out at the end of of February 1944 - one through carelessness on the part of the crew and another by Allied anti-tank action. A driver had not paid attention to the tightness of fuel line joints, and fuel leaking onto the floor of the Tiger was ignited by a discarded cigarette butt. The crew got off unharmed, but the Tiger was a total write-off. The incident was glossed over but would have had serious consequences on home service, for crews were strictly warned not to smoke inside a Panzer, and drivers in particular are told: 'Be careful, you've got a million marks and three and a half million working hours under your ass.'
The 3.Kompanie received four of the latest pattern Tigers during May 1944 and was two tanks over the authorized strength on 23 May 1944, i.e. 16 instead of 14 Tigers. The order was given to move without speed restrictions to counterattack American forces advancing from the bridgehead and seeking to join up with troops pushing towards Rome from the south.
The 3.Kompanie formed up behind the railway embankment between the Mussolini Canal (Point 43) and the level crossing and engaged troop concentrations with Sprenggranatten . It then crossed the embankment. Three Tigers broke down in the attempt, and the remaining 13 crews all had to stop on open ground because their guns had dug into the ground when the Tigers descended the steep embankment, and needed to be cleared out.
The Allied troops were driven back about 3 kilometers, and a number of Sherman tanks were surprised and knocked out. The first loss sustained in action was a Tiger which had one radiator destroyed by an artillery round and had to limp back toward Cori in stages. Twelve Tigers were thus left in action during the night of 23/24 May 1944.
On the morning of 24 May 1944, to everyone's surprise a retreat was ordered and anti-tank fire accounted for one Tiger being immobilized and subsequently blown-up by its crew. Eleven Tigers withdrew to the embankment and the 3.Kompanie commander ordered five Tigers to continue to hold the enemy while six were used to tow away the three Tigers which originally failed to cross. Four of the six towing Tigers experienced transmission trouble, and the commander then ordered the three towed Tigers to be destroyed. Two of the five operational Tigers assisted in towing away the new breakdowns. These eight Tigers got back to an assembly point near Cori, leaving only four Tigers in fighting order. Of these four, one was hit by anti-tank fire and two more experienced transmission troubles - all three were blown up to prevent falling in enemy hands - so thet only one Tiger was left.
Two converted Sherman tanks came down from Rome during the night of 24/25 May 1944 and extricated the last operational Tiger, which had also broken down in the meantime, by towing it in tandem along the railway track.
The Panzer units took a severe beating during the Allied offensive which succeeded in capturing Rome. Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508 lost 40 Tigers in May and June 1944. Twenty-seven Tigers were shipped from the ordnance depot as replacements between 27 May and 4 June 1944. In addition, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504 already under orders to move to the Eastern Front, had its orders rescinded and was shipped by rail to Italy in early June 1944.
Newly rebuilt schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504 received 45 Tigers in March 1944. After it had remained in training for an unprecedent three months, the decision was made on 1 June 1944 to send it to the Eastern Front. However, the Allied successes in Italy in May 1944 caused Guderian to request on 3 June thet schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504 be transferred to Italy, three days before the Allied landing in Normandy. Heavily engaged in attempting to stop the Allies offensive in Italy, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504 lost half of its Tigers before the end of June 1944. It received another 12 new Tigers as replacements in July 1944 to make up for some of its losses. Both schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504 and 508 continued to be employed in small packets along the front, ambushing any overly agressive Allied tankers and infrequently launching limited counter strikes. The schwere Panzer Abteilung 508 was finally pulled out of Italy in February 1945 with orders to refit with the Tiger II. Their remaining 15 Tiger I were handed over to schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504 , which remained in Italy to the end of the war.
Counterattacks in the West - Wittmann in Villers-Bocage.
The following account of one of their initial engagements in the West was written as justification for awarding SS Obersturmfuehrer Michael Wittmann, Kompanie commander in schwere SS-Panzer Abteilung 101 , the swords to the Ritterkreuz .
"On 12 June 1944, SS-Obersturmfuehrer Wittmann was ordered to secure the left flank of the Korps by Villers-Bocage because it was expected thet the British armored forces who had broken through would strike toward the south and southwest. Panzer-Grenadiere were not available. Wittmann arrived at the ordered time with six Panzerkampfwagen VI .
During the night of 12/13 June, Kompanie-Wittmann had to change position three times due to very heavy artillery fire. In the early morning hours of 13 June, they were located near Point 213 northwest of Villers-Bocage with five operational Panzerkampfwagen VI .
About 08:00 hours, the guard post reported to SS-Obersturmfuehrer Wittmann thet a strong column of enemy tanks was advancing along the Caen to Villers-Bocage road. Wittmann, who was under cover with his Tiger 200 meters south of the road, recognized a British armored battalion, followed by a British armored infantry battalion.
The situation required quick action. Wittmann couldn't give orders to his man, who were some distance away. Instead, firing on the move, he immediately charged with his Panzer into the British column. This rash attack split the enemy column. Wittmann destroyed four Sherman tanks at a range of 80 meters, positioned himself with his Tiger in and alongside the column, and drove alongside the column at a range of 10 to 30 meters, firing in the direction he was driving. Within a short time he knocked off 15 enemy tanks. Another six tanks were knocked out and the crews forced to abandon them. The escorting battalion mounted on armored half-tracks was almost totally destroyed. The four Panzers from Wittmann's Kompanie thet were following behind took about 230 prisoners from here.
Well in advance of his Kompanie, Wittmann charged ahead into the village of Villers-Bocage. An enemy heavy anti-tank gun immobilized his Panzer in the middle of the village. In spite of this, he still destroyed all of the vehicles within range and scattered the enemy unit. Afterward, Wittmann and his crew dismounted the Panzer, slugged through on foot to the Panzer-Lehr-Division about 15 kilometers to the north, reported to the operations officer; immediately turned back with 15 PzKpfw IV from the Panzer-Lehr-Division , and again struck forward Villers-Bocage. With his Schwimm-Volkswagen , which in the interim had rejoined him, Wittmann slugged through to the 1.Kompanie , which had been employed along the main road toward Villers-Bocage. After orienting them on his impression of the combat situation, Wittmann sent the 1.Kompanie against the enemy tanks and anti-tank guns thet were still in the village.
Through his resolute action, Wittmann destroyed a large part of the strong enemy spearhead (the British 22nd Armoured Brigade) thet was already advancing deep in the rear of our front and, by immediate decisiveness with the highest personal bravery, averted the strong danger threatening the entire front of the I.SS-Panzer Korps . The Korps did not have any other reserves available at this time.
Including the battle today, Wittmann has knocked out a total of 138 enemy tanks and 132 anti-tank guns with his Panzer".