366 miles and 73 years is quite a journey for an inanimate lump of metal and glass, but then this item was once a vision block sitting in the command’s cupola of a German mid-production Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E. The German Tiger tank established a fearsome battlefield reputation on both the Eastern and Western fronts during World War Two. Today, only seven Tiger Is remain in various states of repair and preservation of the 1,347 manufactured. The star of Hollywood movie, Fury, the Tank Museum’s Tiger 131 is the only example still running. Therefore, I was very excited to find a genuine Tiger tank artifact at the 2017 Overlord Show.
I have mixed feelings about the trade in battlefield-recovered historic items, and think it must be strictly controlled. However, the opportunity to own just a small piece of the Tiger legend got the better of me. The extremely corroded condition of my vision block suggests if it had remained buried, it would have eventually disintegrated. Instead, I will do my best to preserve it and the history. So, how did my Tiger meet its end?
The final act of a savage campaign that started on the D-Day beaches of Normandy, the Battle of the Falaise Pocket was played out from the 12th to 21st August 1944. Having fought a tremendous but costly defensive battle across the Norman countryside, German Army Group B, the 7th Army and Fifth Panzer Army found themselves squeezed into a shrinking pocket around Falaise. Although the Germans were able to keep a corridor open for retreating forces, most of Army Group B on the western side of the river Seine was destroyed, opening the road to Paris.
Better suited to the open steppe of Russia than the claustrophobic sunken lanes and hedgerows of Normandy, the Tiger tank adapted well to defensive fighting. On June 13th 1944, the British 7th Armoured Division’s attack towards Villers-Bocage was blunted by a handful of SS Tigers tanks. Repeatedly, the Germans skilfully deployed their limited resources of equipment and men with devastating effect. Nevertheless, Allied numbers, air superiority, weight of firepower and logistical support eventually won the day. Gradually, British and Canadian operations such as Epsom, Charnwood, Goodwood and Bluecoat denuded German forces of their best, irreplaceable units. This freed the American Third Army under General George Patton to strike toward Brittany.
Rather than be allowed to organise a strategic withdrawal, Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, commander of Army Group B, was forced to launch a costly counterattack attack at Mortain. In reality, this weak German offensive actually placed them in greater peril than the American forces it was supposed to stop. On the 8th August, General Bernard Montgomery ordered Allied forces to converge on the Falaise–Chambois region. As the trap closed, the Germans started to withdraw, often having to fight their way through Allied lines, abandoning vehicles and heavy weapons. By the 21st August, around 50,000 German troops found themselves inside the Falaise Pocket. Just two days later, the Allies were in Paris.
The Battle of Normandy was exceptionally costly. British, Canadian and Polish ground forces suffered 83,045 casualties. The Americans lost 125,847. German casualties are harder to establish, but roughly 200,000 killed and wounded. Sadly, although far better than British tanks, the American mainstay was the M4 Sherman. This was no match for the Tiger. The US 3rd Armoured Division, for example, suffered a loss rate of 580 percent during its time fighting in Europe.
According to Stephen Napier’s book, The Armoured Campaign in Normandy, June – August 1944, the Germans lost 1,223 tanks and self-propelled guns in the Falaise Pocket, half the armour they committed to the Normandy campaign. 75% of those vehicles found in the pocket were either destroyed by their crews or simply abandoned. In comparison, the Allies lost 2,700 tanks destroyed in Normandy. This would suggest the Allies lost two to three tanks for every German panzer. At the same time, certain German units seem to have exaggerated their claims of Allied tank kills. Although relatively few in numbers, the Tiger tanks that fought in Normandy had a terrific psychological effect on the Allies. It is also true that occasionally, lone or small groups of Tigers savaged their opponents, but overall numbers were decisive in the Allied victory.
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