vendredi 26 avril 2024

The story of Saumur's Tiger II

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A real star at the Musée des blindés in Saumur, the Tiger Ausf B has lived many lives, and its past, until recently, was not all that clear. Veteran of the Normandy battles, serving in the French Army, movie star in the early 1990s. Today, HistoReich tells you the eventful story of this tank, or rather of these...tanks.

The Tiger Ausf B

The Tiger Ausf B is the successor to the well-known Tiger Ausf E heavy tank, which we saw at the Musée des blindés in Saumur and Vimoutiers. Aesthetically, if the Tiger Ausf E was closer to the Panzer IV, the Tiger Ausf B is closer to the Panther. But let's be clear: the Tiger Ausf B was not a good tank. Expensive to build, unreliable, slow and clumsy, its main quality lay in its front end, with its sufficiently armored glacis and excellent gun. 

Tiger Ausf B of s.Pz.Abt.503

There are two turret variants of the Tiger Ausf B, one produced in 50 units and the other in 439 units.

The two types of turret are different, but they are built by Krupp and designed by Wegmann, as declassified German archives reveal.

Prior to the discovery of the archives, it was common practice to name the turrets "Porsche" or "Henschel", but this error stemmed from a 1979 book entitled "The Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two". Since the discovery of the archives, the authors have corrected their blunder, but the error is still repeated, as British author Craig Moore demonstrates in his article "The Tiger's Turret, the importance of correcting fake news". 

The Tiger's engine is a Maybach HL 230 P 30 with 700 hp at 3,000 rpm. This gives it a top speed of 35 km/h and a range of 140 km with its 7 tanks totalling 860 liters of fuel. Off-road, its range is no more than 100 km (90km), so to say it's a fuel guzzler is an understatement. Despite this power, the engine and transmission prove unreliable, and the tracks also show weaknesses. Weighing in at 70 tons, the Tiger is underpowered, making it a slow-moving armored vehicle, especially in the sandy Polish soil.

Its armament is a highly effective 8.8cm kwK 43 L/71 gun, with 86 projectiles in a box allowing 5 to 6 shots per minute. It can also count on 2 MG 34 7.92 mm guns with a total of 5,850 rounds. The sighting optics are of good quality.

It has a crew of 5 men

The interior of the Tiger Ausf B is smaller than that of the Ausf E, but ergonomics are excellent. Like the Panther, visibility for the crew is considered unsatisfactory.

Our Tiger's battles in Vexin

From "Tigers in combat" by Wolfgang Schneider: At Mailly le camp on July 31, 1944, the 3./schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 received 14 Tiger Ausf Bs, including 2 "Porsche" models. They are then painted in their 3-tone colors, and the track mudguards are installed.

In early August 1944 at Mailly le Camp, could the Tiger Ausf B Nr 300 of s.Pz-Abt 503 be our Tiger?

On August 12, during the convoy to the Normandy front, the train was attacked by enemy aircraft. Some ammunition wagons were hit, and von Rosen's Tiger 311 overturned on the side of the track. The remaining Tiger units of the 3. Kompanie were then unloaded from a rail convoy east of Paris and sent to Beauvais. They never reached Normandy, but the Vexin.

During the air raid, Unteroffizier Ernst Wehrheim, born February 13, 1920 in Bad Homburg, died near the village of Meilleray. He is now buried in the German military cemetery at Noyer-Pont-Maugis in Block 3 Row 35 Grave 2319.

Another victim died a day later, Oberfeldwebel Ernst Friedrich Heinrich Bormann was born on May 28, 1914 in Sarstedt, was wounded on the 12th during the attack and died in Paris on August 13, 1944. He is buried in the Champigny Saint André military cemetery, Block 7, Row 1, Tomb 30.

On August 23, 1./schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 was sent to support Luftwaffen-Feld-Regiment 33 and Luftwaffen-Feld-Regiment 36, with the aim of reducing an American bridgehead at Mantes-sur-Seine.

Hauptmann Walter Scherf

On August 25, two more Tiger IIs from schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 arrive as reinforcements. These were "Porsche" models, which necessarily excluded the Saumur Tiger.

On August 26, at Sailly in the Yvelines, orders were given to reduce a bridgehead of the American 79 th Infantery Division on the Limay side, with the 1./schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 supporting the 18.Luftwaffen-Feld-Division, but the attack was suspended due to strong resistance on the ground and from Allied aircraft.

On August 27, the Tiger aircraft were at rest, undergoing a mechanical overhaul.

On August 28, a counter-attack was planned towards Montgison. The 1./schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 and the 3./schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 took part, and it was here that things became more complicated, as both heavy tank companies were equipped with Tiger IIs.

According to Bruno Renoult, an inhabitant of the Vexin region, a Tiger was surrounded in a village. The behemoth managed to escape to the north, but was spotted by the Americans, who pounded it with artillery. Nevertheless, it managed to find temporary shelter in a wood, which it crossed with all its might. When it reached the end, its overheated engine broke, and the tank was abandoned by the crew, who had no time to scuttle it.

Another story, by a different author, is very similar and provides some interesting details :

"On August 28, 1944, Nr 300 (Tiger of Hauptmann Scherf of 3./schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503) and three other Tigers were in position between Fontenay and Sailly. Under enemy pressure, the Tigers crossed a forest when they reached a road. At this point, the Tiger 300 suffered a gearbox failure near Oinville, probably due to repeated impacts with the trees, which damaged the track and transmission. The tank was finally abandoned and destroyed during the enemy advance."

The subsequent photo shows that the Tiger, although damaged, was not totally destroyed.

The Tiger 300 abandoned on the side of the road. We recognize the camouflage we saw in the previous photo. The field is now the "place du Vexin", where you can find houses and shops.

The Tiger stopped at 75 route du vexin just outside the village of Oinville sur Montcient. The tiger is aligned along what is now the Place du Vexin.

In a text written in English, an author reveals that the Tiger is the one on display at Saumur. A detail that went unnoticed in France, but not unimportant, as we shall see later.

1./schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 ?

Wolfgang Schneider, author of "Tigers in Normandy II", describes the fighting of the 1./schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 on August 28, 1944.

Several Tigers attacked from Sailly towards Montgison, and 2 Tiger Ausf B of the 1./schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 were put out of action. The Kompaniechef's Tiger received several hits on target, while SS-Hauptscharführer Fritz Hibbeler's Tiger Nr 123 was cut off from his company, joining Tiger units of 3./schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 and continuing the fight. After two hits at Sailly, he was finally abandoned by his crew at Magny-en-Vexin.

Tiger 123 of 1./s.Ss-Pz.Abt 101

Detail of the turret of the Tiger 123 of the 1. kompanie 2.zug of the s.Ss-Pz.Abt 101

More dramatically, SS-Hauptscharführer Fritz Hibbeler, born April 15, 1912 in Sanderbusch, lost his life that day. Was he killed in the Tiger or afterwards?

In any case, his remains were not found until many years after the war. On exhumation, the skull was missing, as Hibbeler's head had apparently been torn off when he died. He is now buried in the Champigny-Saint André German military cemetery, block 10, row 9, grave 637.

Hibbeler joined the SS as early as 1933, and in 1934 was assigned to the SS-Führer-Begleitkommando as SS-Sturmmann. In later years, he was SS-Oberscharführer in the 13.Kompanie/ SS-Panzer.Regiment 1 of the 1.SS-Panzer-Division "LSSAH", before joining the s.SS-Pz.Abt 101.

According to Schneider and Renoult, Nr 123 (SS-Hauptscharführer Hibbeler) is the Tiger on display in the museum.  

After the fighting, the Vexin Tiger was taken over by Free French troops. The Saumur Tiger was reconditioned and integrated into a tank squadron.

The Tigers in France after the war

In 1946, France received authorization from Washington to sell Panther and Tiger tanks to other countries. There are still a few wrecks in Normandy, including Tiger IIs. We know, for example, that a Tiger II with pre-production turret recovered by France and stored at Gien was sold to Sweden.

Our Tiger Ausf B used by the French army after the war. This angle shows the length of the gun.

Our Tiger was stored at Satory, then donated to the Musée des blindés de Saumur in 1975. Its chassis number is 280 112. It has since been numbered 223.

In the absence of official documents, available at the Musée des blindés de Saumur, it was not clear what the true history of the Tiger II Nr 223 in the museum was.

Was it the Nr 300 of Hauptmann Scherf of 3./schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 ?

Was it Nr 123 of SS-Hauptscharführer Hibbeler of 1./schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 ?

Since November 2020, we've had the answer. According to the magazine "Bataille de Normandie 1944 n°2, Le koenigstiger 233 de Saumur identifié" the Tiger Ausf B is a mix of the 123 and the 300. Indeed, the French seem to have assembled the body of the 123 with the turret of the 300. Thanks to Max Stein, author of "Schwere-Panzer-Abteilung 503" Maranes Editions.

After all, the most important thing is to know that a Tiger Ausf B can be seen at the Musée des blindés in Saumur.

Tiger II Ausf B musée des blindés de saumur
The Tiger Ausf B at the Musée des blindés in Saumur


See also


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