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Tiger I - In Action!

Generalleutnant der Reserve Hyazinth Graf Von Gross-Zauche Und Camminetz

Generalleutnant der Reserve

HYAZINTH GRAF STRACHWITZ VON GROSS-ZAUCHE
UND CAMMINETZ


* 30.07.1893 in large Stein/Schlesien
+ 25.04.1968 in Winkl at the Chiemsee

Knight cross 25.08.1941
Oak leaves (144) 13.11.1942
Swords (027) 28.03.1943
Diamonds (011) 15.04.1944

Tank combat badge in gold (4th stage)
Citation in the Wehrmacht Report
German Cross in Gold
Wounding Badge in Gold

Hyazinth von Strachwitz

"Des Teufels General"
("The Devil's General")

By Wild Bill Wilder and Fabio Prado.

Those who have even a cursory knowledge of the use of armor in World War II immediately recognize the name of Michael Wittmann. He, with his daring solo attack on units of the British 7th Armored Division at Villers Bocage on June 12th, 1944, would go down in history as one of the best "tank aces" of the war. There were, however, numerous other tank commanders that, though largely unknown, performed almost miraculous service in the Panzerwaffe. Such a man was Generalleutnant Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Comminetz. His service to Germany was mostly on the East Front against the Russians. That in itself could account for the fact that so many westerners have not heard the name. He would eventually become known as simply "der Panzergraf". This name came primarily as a result of his aristocratic and military heritage.

Born on 30 July 1893 to a wealthy family in Upper Silesia, Graf (Count) Strachwitz (whose Christian name, by tradition in his family, was given to first born sons for over 700 years in homage to Saint Hyazinth) attended military school in Berlin and in 1912 joined the Regiment Garde du Corps as a commissioned officer. The unit was a very socially exclusive one, being the most senior regiment of the Prussian Army. Graf Strachwitz distinguished himself in sports before the First World War, and saw action as a junior officer, being captured during a patrol early in the war and spending long years in captivity after a death sentence (for wearing civilian clothes on the patrol) was commuted. Nonetheless, he had time enough to win both the Iron Cross II Class and I Class.

Another of the Panzer Graf's character traits was an almost inordinate boldness. He had no hesitation in doing the most unconventional if the situation demanded it. When the First World War did break out, Strachwitz was one of the first to offer himself for service. He specifically requested long-range patrol work behind French lines. His performance, though brief, was spectacular. It read like a novel. He was able to secure and pass on valuable intelligence on the enemy and also performed various acts of sabotage against the French. He had a number of close calls, barely escaping capture. On one occasion he and his men found themselves soaked to the skin in one of their operations. They stripped to dry themselves and their uniforms when they came under attack by French colonial forces searching for them.

The Count was able to procure civilian clothes for himself and his men (he spoke fluent French), but was captured shortly after. Having been taken prisoner in civilian attire, Strachwitz was put on trial as a spy, but was acquitted. He was, nevertheless sent to a penal colony instead of a prisoner of war facility. His health deteriorated rapidly. When moved to a POW camp, he attempted to escape but suffered serious injuries. Finally he feigned madness in such a way as to be committed to an asylum where he spent the remainder of the war.

Between the wars, Graf Strachwitz helped in the defense of Silesia against Polish incursions, in the turmoil that was post-war Germany, and after a time he left the military to run the family estate (Grossstein). As a reserve officer, he attended exercises of Reiter (Cavalry) Regiment 7 and Panzer Regiment 2 during the 1930s. He served with the latter regiment in Poland, France and the Balkans.

During this time Strachwitz had retained his commission as a reserve officer in the Reichsheer's Cavalry Regiment. In 1934 he attended some Army maneuvers of the newly forming German Army. He was captured with the idea of armored forces, their mobility and potential. This type of action fit the Count's personality well. It only took a moment for him to decide that this would be the branch of the military in which he would serve.

His application was accepted and he joined a large number of young Germans who would form the beginnings of Germany's first "Panzer" division. He became a lower ranking officer in the 2nd Panzer Regiment. The Count served with that unit in battles in Poland, France and the Balkans.

He performed well as a tank commander and his boldness knew no bounds. Early on he established a premise that he maintained throughout the war. "Tanks must not be allowed to stand still. They must be permanently on the move and always led from the front". This dictum ruled his life as a tank commander throughout his career.

Though always courteous and respectful, Strachwitz was a fighter. He showed the enemy no mercy. He never let fear or adverse circumstances control his efforts. During the campaign in France, Strachwitz, in his command tank, found himself cut off from their own forces and in a well-garrisoned French town. Knowing if he turned to flee, he would be cut down by a hundred French guns now trained on him.

So he dismounted from his tank, strode forward with confidence toward the sentries posted at the entrance to the town and demanded to speak to the French commander. Again in faultless French he announced to the French officer that unless he surrendered the garrison to him at once, his panzer regiment, hidden nearby would open fire. After a moment's hesitation, the officer capitulated and had his men lay down their arms.

By the beginning of Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia, Strachwitz had been promoted to Colonel and was leading a battalion of tanks across the Bug River. His divisional commander, Gen. Walthar Nehring, had hitched a ride with him. Once on the opposite shore, the Count took his commander to a rendezvous point with the rest of the divisional command and was off immediately. He and a number of his tanks quickly shattered some initial Soviet defenses and entered the rear area of the enemy's lines, creating havoc. It was estimated that with a platoon of PzKpfw. III tanks Strachwitz would account for over 300 trucks and other pieces of Russian equipment. With German tanks running amok in their rear, the soldiers panicked and headed east at top speed.

After six days of fast advances, the leading German tank columns of the 1st Panzer Group came under attack from a sporadic and poorly executed counterattack by four Russian Mechanized Corps, orchestrated by General Mikhail Kirponos, commander of the Southwest Front. It would be the largest single battle of tanks in history until the battle of Kursk two years later.

The Germans were hit hard repeatedly from both the north and the south in the Dubno area as the Soviets sought to cut off the leading German columns and annihilate them. The Russian tanks, though more numerous and at times more powerful than the German ones, were poorly led and fed piece-meal into the fight.

By the afternoon of the 29th, it was apparent that the major effort by the Russians had failed. The Germans had been stopped, that was true, but it turned out to be only a temporary delay. It seemed that the Russians had gotten their fill of battle and were ready to back off, but not so, the "Panzer Graf". As the enemy tanks and infantry began withdrawing under the cover of night, they were followed closely by tanks of Strachwitz's battalion.

Even though the last two days had been filled with fighting, burning tanks and fiery explosions, the Count, seemingly impervious to weariness and fatigue, led his men to hiding places near the Russian bivouac. At first light, when the Russian's forces began stirring, Strachwitz launched yet another attack, crushing the enemy and penetrating to the enemy artillery positions. It had been the Soviet artillery that had been one of the more serious problems in the earlier fighting and the Count was going to make sure that these guns would not be used against his brothers in arms again. Again the enemy suffered heavy casualties from the iron hand of Strachwitz.

Graf Strachwitz (holding the rank of Major) commanded the first battalion of Panzer Regiment 2, being awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 25 August 1941. Before the end of the year, Strachwitz would be the recipient of another rarely given German medal, the German Cross in Gold. It had been instituted in September 1941. It had a two-fold purpose. It was to be awarded in cases of bravery that went above the reach of the Iron Cross 1st Class but not quite to the level of the Knight's Cross. Strachwitz and a few others were awarded this medal after having already received the Knight's Cross in recognition of their continued valor and service to their country.

By 1942, the Count was known to all as "der Panzergraf". He seemed to lead a charmed life and was always in the van of the advance. His tank would be the first piece of German armor to enter the city of Stalingrad in the fall of 1942. On that occasion his tank and those of his men made a deep penetration to the Russian airfield. There he wrought more havoc with estimates as high as 150 aircraft destroyed during the battle. The Count was also present when the German Sixth Army found itself suddenly cut off and in danger of extermination. As the winter slammed into the fearful, half-frozen Germans within the Russian trap, Strachwitz and his panzers became a big part of the defenses. His tanks and men seemed to be always supplied. That was because the Count made one and another foray into and beyond Russian front lines to get the supplies he needed.

During this period he would be given the Oakleaves to add to his Iron Cross when he set up the perfect ambush for encroaching Soviet tanks. As was his custom, he had his men hide and make their tanks blend in with the countryside. As one after another of the enemy's armor appeared and approached, Strachwitz held his tanks in check, not allowing them to fire until the right moment. When it came, it was a disaster for the Russians. In a series of brilliant maneuvers the tanks of the Count accounted for over 100 enemy tanks without losing a single one of their own. It was a phenomenal exhibition of courage and cunning in the most adverse of circumstances. In the long run, however, the enemy would overpower the German Sixth Army. Even the skills of the Count could not keep his crews invulnerable. Sheer weight of numbers began depleting Strachwitz's tanks and men. There seemed to be no end to them. A few days later Strachwitz was seriously wounded and evacuated by air. He would not be at Stalingrad when the rest of the German forces surrendered to the Soviets.

After fighting in the Stalingrad area, von Strachwitz commanded as an Oberst the Panzer Regiment of the elite Panzer Grenadier Division Großdutschland. Having only a handful of tanks, the Großdutschland division needed capable men like von Strachwitz to lead their tanks against a numerically superior Russian Army. On one occasion, he laid an ambush with four of his panzers deep inside Soviet lines. The Russian tanks never expected the enemy so deep in their own rear, and the German group destroyed 105 Russian tanks in less than an hour, without the loss of a single panzer.

Once Strachwitz had been nursed back to health, he was given the command of one of the newly forming schwere Panzer Abteilungen (heavy tank battalions), equipped with the new monster, the Panzerkampfwagen VI E, "Tiger" tank. He was soon back in the thick of battle, this time with the top-notch Gross Deutschland Division, this time in the boiling "kessel" known as Kharkov. Being the key to movement to the east or west, Kharkov became one of the most contested cities in military history. It would swap hands four times during the German-Russian conflict.

It was early 1943 and General von Manstein, against the Fuhrer's directive, skillfully evacuated Kharkov and let the enemy overextend himself. He would then take the city back for himself. Late one evening Strachwitz was visiting one of his advanced observation posts and saw for himself the sudden appearance of dozens of Russian tanks as they crested the hill and descended into the valley. They were headed right toward him and his forces. The Count ordered his tanks to hold their positions. When the Soviet armor finally stopped, waiting for the dawn, Strachwitz got his forces in order. When the first rays of daylight began to change and pierced the blackness, the Russian tanks cranked their engines and began to move.

The Tigers of the Großdeutshland Heavy Battalion still had not been detected. Once more the audacious master of deception had fooled the enemy. Waiting can be perhaps the most trying element of war, but the Count's men were well disciplined and waited for the order to fire. When it came, the gates of hell seemed to open up before the Russian tank crews. As the German 88's cracked sharply in the early morning, they cut a path of death through the Soviet tanks. Within minutes over 18 enemy tanks were destroyed. The tank crews still alive immediately began to withdraw their vehicles. As was his custom, however, the Count would not allow this. He continued to pursue the Russians as they sought to leave the battlefield and before the day had ended, the entire Soviet tank force had been destroyed. Only one of the Tigers suffered any significant damage, but it was repaired by German mechanics brought forward by Strachwitz before darkness came.

On 13 November 1942, he became the 144th soldier to be awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. By January 1943, "der Panzergraf" (The Armored Count, as he was by then known) was an Oberst and given command of Panzer Regiment Großdeutschland. Not long after followed the award of the Swords to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, on 28 March 1943, for his part in the counterattack at Kharkov.

In 1943, the Generals Hubert Lanz and Hans Speidel and colonel Hyazinth Graf von Strachwitz decided with the headquarters of the group of armies B in Walki in Russia, to stop Hitler at the aerodrome of Poltawa with a quota carefully selected of the division armored under the command of von Strachwitz, and to cut down it in the event of resistance, which it was obviously necessary to take into account. The Field-marshal Rommel was also informed of these plans, but he was then in Africa. But Hitler landed against any waiting in Saporoshe and not with Poltawa. In November 1943, Strachwitz left the Großdeutschland on what were termed grounds of ill health in the official record. Off the record, tension existed between Graf Strachwitz and GD's divisional commander, Generalleutnant "Papa" Hoernlein. Some veterans feel that the true reason for his leaving lied there. Graf Strachwitz has been described as a good tactician at the battalion and regimental level, but also as being inflexible, not open to compromise.

Being recalled to active duty after extended sick leave in January 1944, and with promotion to Generalmajor d.R. (der Reserve), Graf Strachwitz went on to become the 11th soldier of the German Armed Forces to be awarded the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, on 15 April 1944. He briefly commanded the 1st Panzer Division during this time.Once again his tactical brilliance came to the fore. Scraping together whatever he could to form "Fire Brigades", Strachwitz continued to shore up the crumbling German defenses.

Again and again he was able to accomplish the impossible. In Army Group North a new saying arose, "Strachwitz is here - he'll sort it out!" This was the cry of more than one battlefield commander when the Panzer Graf came to the rescue. In late 1944 the Count, still conducting himself as a warrior instead of a military paper-pusher, executed victories far out of proportion to his resource. George Forty details a series of actions with Strachwitz in his Tiger for which he would receive the rarely awarded "Diamonds" addition to his Iron Cross. Only a handful of German soldiers and tankers would be awarded this highly distinguished medal during the war.

In an effort to recapture the Latvian port near Riga, Strachwitz took a small force of ten Tiger tanks and fifteen half-tracks full of Panzergrenadiers in a large loop around Tuccum. Surprising an entire battalion of T-34s in the town, all lined up neatly, he availed himself of the gunnery officer of the battleship Lutzow and had the big 11" guns destroy many of the Russian tanks. Strachwitz and his men finished off the rest, used the captured enemy fuel and supplies from a Russian supply area.

From there he took a small force, headed north surprised a Soviet armored Corps by getting behind it. He positioned his four Tiger tanks well and watched as the Russian tanks rolled onward. This was a favorite tactic of the Tiger tank commanders. When the time was right, the Panzer Graf had his tanks open fire. It created havoc among the Russian tanks. They thought they were being fired on from the front and did not realize the shells were coming from their flanks. Soon dozens of Russian tanks were left twisted smoking hulks. The Russian commander, with more Germans at the front of his column, thought he was surrounded by a much larger force and surrendered his entire corps. Leaving some infantry and halftracks to control the situation, Strachwitz continued on his war odyssey, reaching Riga, entering the town and capturing it. A group of high ranking German officers later entered the city, noticed the Panzer Graf sitting atop the turret of his Tiger and shouted, "Nice going, Lieutenant!" Strachwitz wore no rank badges in combat. Laughing, Strachwitz answered them, "You're not talking to a lieutenant. I'm only a general".

Colonel Count Strachwitz von Gross Zauche und Camminetz was the most decorated regimental officer of the German panzer army in WWII. He was awarded all the grades of the Iron Cross, including the Knight's Cross on August 1941 and Oakleaves on 13 November 1942, the Swords on 28 March 1943, and Diamonds on 15 April 1944 when commanding a battle group in the sector of Army Group North. Originally a cavalryman, Strachwitz belonged to an old military family with estates in Silesia. He served during WWI and with the Freikorps, and fought during the campaigns in Poland and France.

However, he made his reputation on the Eastern Front, exploiting with small battle groups to fight Russian armor. When isolated from friendly units he also showed courage outside his vehicle, fighting hand-to-hand against Russian infantry until his crew had repaired the tank. He became famous for his rapid advances, breaking through enemy lines and disrupting enemy headquarters and supply units. On one occasion he was the first to cross a river bridge, attacking a column of hundreds of Russian trucks and guns. As a result of this action, Strachwitz and his small Kampfgruppe would take 18,000 Soviet prisoners, 28 batteries of artillery and dozens of vehicles, including tanks, SP guns and many trucks. Such actions seem impossible to many westerners who fail to grasp the enormity of the war in the east.

After forming one of the first Tiger battalions, his disciplined crews were able to destroy many Russian tanks during the fighting for Kharkov. Von Strachwitz commanded the 1st Panzer Division and later as armor commander he was sent to Army Group North. Here he took part in the first offensive to reestablish contact with Army Group North which had just been encircled for the first time. From September 1944 the various elements of Gruppe Strachwitz were used to cover the retreat of Army Group North into the Courland Sector. Very late in the war, while being driven to the headquarters of one of the divisions under his command, he was badly hurt in an automobile accident. In spite of the severity of his injuries, including many broken bones and a fractured skull, the good count was not about to succumb to an untimely death outside of combat. His determination brought him back into the action just before the end of the war. Still on crutches, he formed a new command of anti-tank fighters at Bad Kudova. He eventually surrendered to the western Allies by traveling to Bavaria.

Although von Strachwitz was a wonderful tactician at the battalion and regimental level, he was inflexible at times and unwilling to compromise. These qualities limited his success with larger units, and he was never used as a real divison commander. But in a situation where a battlegroup could operate independently, and when Strachwitz did not have to deal with equal or superior ranked officers, he was a great armor commander. Wounded no fewer than fourteen times during the war, he survived the front. Having lost two sons during the war, he would go on to lose his wife while in captivity.

His Silesian estate was taken by the Russians, and Strachwitz remained in West Germany upon his release from US custody. After a brief journey to Syria to help organize the military there (and his subsequent flight from Syria after the ruling power was overthrown), he settled on an estate in Bavaria in 1951, where he lived until 1968, and officers of the Bundeswehr held a watch at his coffin as a sign of recognition for his outstanding military career. He lies today in Grabenstätt, Germany.


Großdeutschland Tigers after "Zitadelle"

The Tiger tactical number B01 of th 10th company of the III Abteilung of the "Gro▀deutschland" Division passes in front of some divisional vehicles.

1. Introduction:

After Operation "Zitadelle" (the Battle of Kursk) failed to achieve its objectives, the Russians launched a major offensive against the weakened Germans forces in both Heeresgruppe Mitte and Süd. The Panzertruppen were forced onto the defense and with rare exceptions had no choice but to continuously react to their opponents moves. The Panzer forces, which had already become very proficient in the counterattack tactics, now had to fight against overwhelming odds. No new tactics are revealed in the following reports, just the realization by most of the Tiger-Abteilungen commanders that in order to survive, Tigers had to fight in the same way of the other, lighter Panzers. In many cases the commanders of the units to which the Tiger-Abteilungen were attached did not even grasped the most fundamental concepts of the Tiger's capabilities or the basic principles of tank tactics. Not only did the Tiger-Abteilungen have to fight against overwhelming odds, they were frequently handicapped by the incompetence of their own higher commanders.

Additional units with Tigers sent to the East Front in the latter half of 1943 included the 3.Kompanie/schwere Panzer-Abteilung 505, the Stab.2, and 3.Kompanie/schwere Panzer Abteilung 502, the Stab.10 and 11.Kompanien/III.(Tiger) Abteilung/Panzer-Regiment Gro▀deutschland, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 506, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 509, the 1. and 2.Kompanien/schwere Panzer Abteilung 101/SS-Panzer-Grenadier Division "LSSAH" and schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501 .


Above: Tiger I (tactical number B12) of the 11th company of the III Abteilung of the Gro▀deutschland Panzer Grenadier Division during August and September 1943 in the region of Achtyrka-Kharkov-Poltava. Gro▀deutschland Tigers covered the German retreat towards the new lines for the defense on the Dniepr. This Tiger is completely camouflaged and with spare track links on the front plate.

2. Großdeutschland Tigers In Action: After "Zitadelle".

The third (heavy) Abteilung of the Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland was formed on 1 July 1943. Tigers from the 3.Kompanie/schwere Panzer Abteilung 501 (10 Tigers), and from 3./schwere Panzer Abteilung 504 (11 Tigers) were transferred, to form the new schwere Abteilung.

In mid-August, the Stab, 10. and 11.Kompanie of the III.(Tiger) Abteilung /Panzer-Regiment Gro▀deutschland joined the division at the front. On 31 August 1943, Major Gomille, commander of the III.(Tiger) Abteilung/Panzer-Regiment Gro▀deutschland , wrote the following report on how they were greatly hampered by not having their Werkstatt-Kompanie and other necessary services:

14 August 1943 - Abteilung command post in the forest 2 kilometers southeast of Jassenowole.

About midday, the columns from the last transport arrived at the command post. The trains were unloaded at Nisch.Ssirowatka, causing a road march of 110 kilometers. The general condition of the Abteilung was:

  • Stab : 3 Tiger-Befehlswagen
  • 7 S.P.W. of the Aufklaerungs-Zug without weapons
  • 10.Kp. : Complete (except for one Tiger still in Germany)
  • 11.Kp. : 4 Tigers and most of the equipment for the maintenance group burned out during transport.
  • 9.Kp. : Not a single operational Tiger (this was formerly the 13.Kp/Pz.Rgt.G.D. ).
  • Missing: The entire Stabs-Kompanie and Werkstatt-Kompanie (minus one Zug ), and all the vehicles for the Stab .

Three Tiger-Befehlswagen and 13 Tigers from the 10. and 11.Kompanien were operational on the evening of 14 August 1943. Ten Tigers had fallen out due to major and minor mechanical problems during the march from Nisch Ssirowatka to the Abteilung command post. The first major effects were already appearing that were caused by the Abteilung having to go into action without any supply, repair services, Bergezug (recovery platoon) and repair parts. The lack of any services necessary for maintaining a Panzer unit became increasing critical during the following days in action.

Orders came in from the Regiment at 12:00 hours for the Abteilung to be prepared for action by 03:00 hours the next day. They were to go into action toward Belsk (30 kilometers southwest of Akhtyrka), where the Russians had already crossed the Vorskla with their forces. It was thought that the enemy would reinforce this bridgehead with stronger forces and advance toward the north in order to envelop our own bridgehead at Akhtyrka from the west.

Leutnant Jantzke (leader of the Abteilung Aufklaerungs-Zug ) was sent out on a scouting patrol to determine the condition of the roads and bridges as well as the terrain in the entire sector up to Belsk. About 18:30 hours, the Abteilung moved out of the assembly area toward the southwest with an assignment that Grun was to be held, no matter what. However, the enemy had already taken Grun and had sent out his reconnaissance patrols further to war the north. By nightfall, the Abteilung had arrived at Persche Trawnja (5 kilometers northwest of Grun), where the Abteilung and other elements of the division prepared to attack the next day.

15 August 1943 - At 04:00 hours, commander conference at the southwest exit from Jassennowoje. The operations officer of the division, Oberst von Natzmer, commanded a Kampfgruppe consisting of Panzer-Regiment Gro▀deutschland ( Tiger Abteilung, I.Abteilung, and a Panther-Kompanie ), Aufklaerungs-Abteilung (mot) , and II.Sf./Artillerie-Regiment Gro▀deutschland , which was ordered to advance through Grun and Budy to Belsk and destroy the enemy that had broken through the front.

At 06:30 hours, the Kampfgruppe set off in the following formation: Tiger-Abteilung in the lead, followed by the I.Abteilung and Panther-Kompanie , which were to provide flank protection for the leading Tiger-Abteilung . The Panzer-Regiment was escorted by the Sf.Artillerie-Abteilung .

The Abteilung advanced toward Grun along both sides of the road. About 1 kilometer north of Grun, the Abteilung came under heavy anti-tank gunfire from the ridge line east of the north edge of the village, the first Tiger ran onto mines which caused only light damage. The Abteilung t hen received an order to attack along the edge of the village of Grun. The Abteilung turned to the left and gained the ridge line. From here two deep ravines, very difficult to negotiate and running across the direction of attack, had to be crossed. For this purpose, the main body of the 10.Kompanie was assigned to provide covering fire while the 11.Kompanie immediately continued to attack. When crossing both ravines, the Abteilung was subjected to raging fire out of the right flank from the edge of the village from numerous, excellently camouflaged heavy anti-tank guns and several assault guns on T-34 chassis. This enemy force wasn't completely silenced until after a lengthily firefight.

Hauptmann von Villebois, commander of the 10.Kompanie , was severely wounded during this action. His Tiger was hit eight times by 12.2 cm shells from the assault guns on T-34 chassis. One hit penetrated the hull side. the turret was hit six times, three of which caused only small dents, while two hits caused fractures and small pieces to break off. The sixth hit broke out a large piece (about two hand widths) from the turret armor that flew into the fighting compartment. The entire electrical firing circuit for the main gun was knocked out by the hits and several vision blocks were destroyed or broke out of the weak holders. The weld seam on the hull was sprung open for about 50 cm from the location of the penetration, so that it wasn't possible for the Werkstatt to repair it.



Tiger tactical number A02, 9th company, III Abteilung, Panzer-Grenadier Division Gro▀deutschland, 1943.

After reaching the cemetery, the Abteilung turned toward the right and entered the village, destroyed two assault guns on T-34 chassis in a short fight, and advanced up to the south edge of Grun without encountering any enemy resistance worth mentioning.

Now the Abteilung still had six operational Tigers, of which two were Befehlswagen . Five Tigers had fallen out due to damage caused by hits, one Tiger from mines, and the rest from mechanical failure. Driving in the lead, the Abteilung continued the attack toward the southwest, turned at the road from Grun to Budy, and continued to advance with the right wing along the road. The north edge of Budy was stubbornly defended by Russian anti-tank and anti- aircraft guns. The enemy was destroyed without a single loss. After filling up with ammunition and fuel, about 19:00 hours the Abteilung started off again toward Belsk, driving in the lead with the last three Tigers that were still combat operational. The middle of Belsk was reached at about 01:00 hours after, additional anti-tank guns were destroyed and a mine barrier cleared without any further losses. The Panzer attacks had been excellently supported by the II.(Sf.)/Artillerie-Regiment Gro▀deutschland .

Personnel Losses: One man killed, one officer severely wounded, and three officers and three men lightly wounded.
Equipment Losses: Six Tigers damaged by enemy action (five by hits and one by mines). Seven Tigers fell out due to mechanical failures (engine, transmission, and gun).
Results: 21 anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns and artillery pieces; eight tanks and assault guns; and one armored car destroyer.

16 August 1943 - March from Belsk through Grun to the forest 2 kilometers southwest of Akhtyrka. Five operational Tigers.

17 August 1943 - 10 operational Tigers.

18 August 1943 - The division was supposed to advance from Akhtyrka toward the southwest through Kaplunowka and Parchomokowa in order to gain contact with the SS units advancing south of the Merla. Elements of the 10.Panzer-Grenadier-Division on the right and elements of the 7.Panzer-Division o n the left provided flank protection for Gro▀deutschland . On the previous day, the Abteilung commander had previously scouted the assembly area and the terrain over which the attack was to occur. The terrain was very suitable for a Panzer attack due to very rolling hills. FKL-Kompanie 311 , attached to the Abteilung , was sent by the division to another location to provide security. Mines were not expected in the first sector to be attacked, because on the previous days the enemy had continuously pulled in new forces and had attacked with tanks and infantry almost without interruption.

For this attack, the I.(SPW) Battalion/Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment Gro▀deutschland and the II.(Sf.)/Artillerie-Regiment Gro▀deutschland were attached to the Panzer-Regiment ( Tiger-Abteilung, I.Abteilung, 2.Panther-Kompanie ). The Tiger-Abteilung had orders to drive in the front on a wide front along the right side of the road from Akthyrka to Michailowka to break through the first Russian position and gain the important heights by Point 171.1 (3 kilometers northeast of Michailowka) as quickly as possible. The I.Abteilung was assigned the task of screening the right and left flanks of the Tiger-Abteilung , while the Panthers had orders to provide covering fire for the Tigers from favorable firing positions overlooking the rolling terrain.

In order to deceive the enemy about our intentions, about 08:00 hours, after a short barrage from the artillery, the Fuesillier-Regiment Gro▀deutschland attacked the enemy-occupied village of Boich-Osero. About 08:30 hours, the Panzer-Regiment started their own attack. After leaving the city of Akthyrka, the Abteilung received anti-tank fire from the west and southwest edge of Boich-Osero. While going into firing positions, eight Tigers hit mines simultaneously. These were all German wooden box mines under which the enemy had sometimes laid one or two heavy shells (apparently 21 cm) to increase the explosive effect. The minefield was so thick that most of the Panzers hit three or four mines at the same time. While the simple wooden box mines caused only superficial damage, the mines coupled with shells resulted in heavy damage. Five Tigers were lightly damaged, while three Tigers were immobilized with major damage to the tracks and suspension. The Abteilung did not get into further action on this day because of the mine damage.

Personnel Losses: One man wounded (bomb fragment).

Equipment Losses: Eight Tigers on mines.

Results: Five anti-tank guns destroyed.

Four Tigers were operational in the evening.

19 August 1943 - The four operational Tigers of the Abteilung , under the command of Oberleutnant Arnold, joined up with the Regiment . These four Tigers were employed at the left front of the formation during the attack on Parchornowka. In this battle against a strong Russian anti-tank front, one Tiger was knocked out by a hit from an assault gun on a T-34 chassis. The round clearly penetrated the left side of the superstructure by the driver. After this strong anti-tank gun position was destroyed, the attack advanced toward Parchornowka, where the enemy quite stubbornly defended the edge of the village with anti-tank guns and T-34 and KV-1 tanks.

Personnel Losses: Three men dead, one wounded.

Equipment Losses: One Tiger heavily damaged (superstructure side penetrated), the guns on two Tigers damaged.

Results: 12 tanks, 12 heavy anti-tank guns, and six light anti-tank guns destroyed.

Five Tigers were operational in the evening.

20 August 1943 - During late afternoon, the unit moved south and gained contact with SS-Division Totenkopf . Five enemy tanks were knocked out by the two remaining operational Tigers. Three Tigers had suffered mechanical breakdowns; two of them had problems with their transmissions and electrical generators.

22 August 1943 - During a localized counterattack, directly Northwest of Parchornowka, one Tiger was sent in and destroyed six heavy anti-tank guns and numerous anti-tank rifles.

23 August 1943 - On this day, the Abteilung commander took over the Panzergruppe (two Tigers, nine Panthers, three PzKpfw IV lang, three PzKpfw IV kurz, three PzKpfw III lang, three Flammpanzer, and one PzBefWg.). In the sector of the Grenadier Regiment , east and northeast of Michailowka (12 kilometers of Southwest of Akthyrka). This was almost all of the operational Panzers in the Regiment . Operations were restricted to repulsing several enemy tank attacks.

Equipment Losses: One Tiger hit on the gun.

Results: 25 tanks and 7 guns destroyed.

24 August 1943 - During the night of 24/25 August, the division moved to to the west and southwest and prepared to defend an area in the general line about 2 to 3 kilometers west of the Parchornowka to Bugrowatij road. At the same time, all the operational Panzers from the Regiment arrived under the command of Major Gomille. While one group of Panzers was positioned in an especially threatened sector of the Fuesilier and Grenadier-Regiments , the Abteilung commander held back all of the rest of the Panzers near his command post, ready to attack at any time. During the afternoon, on orders from the division, any Panzers that were not fully operational had to be sent to Kotelwa in order to ensure that all Panzers could be pulled back behind the new main defense line during the maneuvers planned for that evening to break off contact with the enemy.

Only two Tigers and five Panthers were left with the Abteilung commander. About 17:00 hours, the enemy started to attack our weak lines with several tanks and very strong infantry. While the enemy penetration into the Grenadier-Regiment was brought to a halt by an immediate counter attack in which four enemy tanks were knocked out, the enemy broke through the 7.Panzer-Division to the left of Gro▀deutschland . However, no enemy tanks were located there when our own Panzers attacked to relieve the left-hand neighbor.

About 23:00 hours, the maneuvers to break contact were initiated. Only two Tigers were still operational, the rest having fallen out from hits or mechanical breakdown. With the aid of these two Tigers, after intensive effort lasting until dawn, the other damaged Panzers were able to be towed behind the new main defense line by Kotelwa.

26 August 1943 - After giving up the five Panthers, the Abteilung commander on the morning of 26 August remained in possession of only two conditionally operational Tigers, which had arrived in the new bivouac area for the Regiment at Budischtscha at about 11:00 hours. About 1300 hours, both of these Tigers had to be sent farther toward Kotelwa because the enemy had broken through directly east of Kotelwa with tanks and infantry. One of the Tigers broke down from engine and transmission failure in Kotelwa. After knocking out two T-34 tanks, the other Tiger was hit in the suspension, sight, and gun by 7.62 cm rounds so that it was no longer combat operational. Both Tigers were recovered.

9 September 1943 - 2 Tigers are lost in action.

27 September 1943 - Withdrawal across the Dniepr near Kremenchug.

29 September 1943 - 4 Tigers are lost in action.

9 October 1943 - 5 Tigers are lost in action.

18 October 1943 - 13 Tigers are lost, and 10 Tigers (ex-Pz.Lehr) that were to be delivered to III.Abt.Pz.Rgt.Großdeutschland are captured by the Russians while being transported by train.

20 October 1943 - 7 Tigers are lost in action, 23 Tigers on hand, taking part on the action near Krivoi Rog.

23 October 1943 - 6 Tigers are lost in action.

8 - 15 November 1943 - 3 Tigers are lost in action.

16 November 1943 - 1 Tiger is lost in action, 13 operational.

21 December 1943 - 7 Tigers operational, combat in the vicinity of Kirovograd.

6 March 1944 - 6 Tigers delivered, 19 operational.

8 March 1944 - 1 Tiger lost in action.

10 March 1944 - 3 Tigers destroyed by crew, to avoid falling into enemy's hands.

21 March 1944 - 1 more Tiger is lost, destroyed by crew, as above.

By the end of March 1944 - Transferred to Chisinau area.

20 April 1944 - 6 Tigers delivered, 20 operational.

6 May 44 - 8 Tigers delivered, 4 transferred to 3.SS.Panzerdivision Totenkopf, 24 operational.

18 May 1944 - 6 Tigers delivered, 2 transferred to 3.SS.Panzerdivision Totenkopf, 28 operational.

1 June 1944 - 2 Tigers are lost in action - aerial attack - 6 Tigers delivered, 19 out of 34 operational.

10 June-26 July 1944 - Rest and Refit near Bacau.

5 August 1944 - Arrival in Gumbinnen area. Immediately sent to combat.

6 August 1944 - 4 Tigers put out of action by JS-2 Stalin heavy tanks.

9 - 23 August 1944 - 6 Tigers lost in action, 12 Tigers delivered.

September 1944 - 7 Tigers are lost in action.

1 October 1944 - 11 out of 33 Tigers operational.

9 October 1944 - 8 Tigers are lost in action, 7 either destroyed by crew or by aerial attacks.

Late October 1944 - 10 Tigers written off, either lost in action or destroyed by crew.

1 November 1944 - 8 of 15 Tigers operational, unit refitting during November-December 1944.

13 December 1944 - The unit is designated as schwere Panzer-Abteilung Großdeutschland.

16 December 1944 - 4 Tigers delivered, 2 transferred to s.Pz.Abt. 502. Operational: 17 Tigers.

January 1945 - 6 Tigers lost in action.

1 February 1945 - 4 out of 11 Tigers operational. Incorporated into the division's Kampfgruppe.

19 March 1945 - The remaining Tigers of schwere Panzer-Abteilung Großdeutschland make their last stand, defending the Balga pocket in East Prussia.


PzKpfw VI Tiger I E versus JS-2 "Stalin" Heavy Russian Tank


Tiger I, sPzAbt.505, Russia, February, 1944.

In addition to sending new units to the East Front, both the schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 and 506 were issued new Tiger I and refurbished in rest areas behind the front in early 1944. Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 , decimated in March and April, was sent back to Germany and then employed on the invasion Front. The schwere Panzer-Abteilung 507 in March and schwere Panzer-Abteilung 510 in July were the two last units to be completely outfitted with the Tiger I and sent to the East Front.

The September 1944 issue of the Nachrichtenblatt der Panzertruppen included a report from a Tiger-Kompanie that had knocked out numerous Josef Stalin tanks in a short period:

The Tiger Kompanie was ordered to throw out the enemy who penetrated into a wood, and then continue to advance. About 12:15 hours, together with an Infanterie-Batallion the Tiger Kompanie started to attack. The thick forest caused extremely poor visibility (50 meters), and a narrow trail forced the Tiger-Kompanie to advance in a single row. The Russian infantry fled their positions as soon as the Tigers appeared. The anti-tank guns, which were pulled forward into position by the enemy within three-quarters of an hour after entering the woods, were quickly destroyed in spite of the difficulty of seeing the targets. Some of the anti-tank guns were destroyed by hits and some were rolled over. Numerous undamaged anti-tank guns fell into our hands.

After the lead Zug of the Tiger Kompanie advanced 2 kilometers through the forest, the Zug leader suddenly noticed knocked-down trees and saw a large muzzle-break (Josef Stalin) directly in front of him. He immediately gave the fire command: " Panzergranate! Cupola sight! Fire!" At the same time he was hit twice by 4.5 cm anti-tank gun shells that robbed him of his sight. In the interim, a second Tiger of the Zug driving through the woods pulled up on line with the Zug leader's Tiger. In spite of poor visibility, the Zug leader started the firefight at a range of 35 meters. In response, the Josef Stalin tank pulled back behind a small hill. In the meantime, the second Tiger had taken the lead and fired three shot at the enemy tank. When the round was fired, the Tiger itself was hit by a 12.2 cm shell on the front below the radio operator's section. Apparently this armor-piercing shell didn't penetrate through because the Tiger was standing at an angle from the target. The enemy tank was knocked out of action by a shot which penetrated the gun. A second Josef Stalin tank attempted to cover the first as it pulled back. During a short firefight, one of these two Tigers hit the second tank under the gun. This round penetrated, immediately setting the enemy tank on fire. The rate of fire of the Josef Stalin tanks was comparatively slow.


The Josef Stalin 2 heavy tank - heavy inclined armor plus a 122 mm D-25T gun.

The Kompanie commander made the following observations that were derived from their experience in fighting Josef Stalin tanks:

  1. When a Tiger appears, most Josef Stalin tanks turn away and attempt to avoid a firefight.
  2. In many cases, the Josef Stalin tanks let themselves engage in a firefight only at long range (over 2000 meters) and also only when they themselves are in favorable positions on the edge of of a wood, village, or ridgeline.
  3. The enemy crews lean toward evacuating their tank immediately after the first shot is fired at them.
  4. In all cases the Russian strived to prevent a Josef Stalin tank from falling into our hands and with all means available attempted to tow the tank away or to blow it up.
  5. The Josef Stalin can also be knocked out, even if a penetration of the frontal armor can't be achieved at long range. (A different Tiger-Abteilung reported that the front of a Josef Stalin tank can be penetrated by a Tiger only at ranges less than 500 meters.)
  6. An attempt should be made to gain the flank or the rear of the Josef Stalin tank and destroy it with concentrated fire.
  7. In addition, a firefight with Josef Stalin tanks should not be undertaken in less than Zug strength. Employment of single Tigers means their loss.
  8. It has been proven to be useful, after the first hits are registered, to blind the Josef Stalin by firing Sprenggranaten (high explosive shells).

Remarks by the Generalinpekteur der Panzertruppen:

  1. These experiences are in accordance with those of other Tiger units and are correct.
  2. In regard to point 4 - It would be desirable for the opponent to have observed the same attempt by all of our Tiger crews. " An undestroyed Tiger may never fall into enemy hands!" This principle must be achieved by every crew member by exemplary operational readiness.
  3. With regard to points 5 and 6 - At a time when there are 12.2 cm tank guns and 5.7 cm anti-tank guns on the Eastern Front, just like 9.2 anti-tank/anti-aircraft guns on the Western Front and in Italy, the Tiger can no longer disregard the tactical principles that apply to the other types of Panzers. Also, just like other Panzers, a few Tigers can't drive up on a ridgeline to observe the terrain. In just such a situation, three Tigers received direct hits and were destroyed by 12.2 cm shells, resulting in all but two of the crew members being killed. The principles of Panzer tactics - that Panzers should only cross a ridgeline together, rapidly (leaf-frogging by bounds) and under covering fire, or else the Panzers must drive around the height - were definitely not unknown in this Tiger-Abteilung . Statements like "thick fur", "impregnable", and the "security" of the crews of the Tigers, which have become established phrases by other units and also partially within the Panzertruppe , must be wiped out and debunked. Instead, it is especially important for Tiger units to pay direct attention to the general combat principles applicable for tank-versus-tank combat.
  4. In regard to Point 7 - This statement is correct; however, three Tigers should not flee from five Josef Stalin tanks only because they can't start the firefight at full Zug strength. Cases will also occur which an entire Zug isn't always available. Many times tank-versus-tank combat will be decided, not by the number of tanks, but much more by superior tactics.
  5. In regard to Point 8 - In connection with this it may be stated that the Josef Stalin tanks not only can be penetrated from the flanks and rear by Tigers and Panthers but also by the Pz.Kpfw.IV and the Sturmgeschütze .

For those interested in knowing the Russian side of the Tiger I versus JS-2 controversy, pay a visit to the Russian Battlefield website, and search for the IS-2 in Comparison with Its German Counterparts page.


Bibliography


  1. Germany's TIGER Tanks - Tiger I and II: Combat Tactics; Thomas L Jentz; ISBN 0-7643-0225-6
  2. An Illustrated Guide to World War II Tanks and Fighting Vehicles; Salamander Books Ltd.
    ISBN 0-86101-083-3
  3. TIGER I Heavy Tank 1942-1945; Thomas L Jentz, Hilary Doyle and Peter Sarson; Osprey Publishing Ltd.; ISBN 1-85532-337-0
  4. The TIGER Tank; Roger Ford; Motorbooks International Publishers and Wholesalers;
    ISBN 0-7603-0524-2
  5. TIGER in action - Armor Number 27; Squadron/Signal Publications; ISBN 0-89747-230-6
  6. TIGER I on the Eastern Front; Jean Restayn; Histoire and Collections; ISBN 2-908182-82-3

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