Michael Wittmann - Ace or Arrse???

#81
I look forward to the other parts. I hope that @DPM_Sheep has time to post them.
I am very impressed by the conduct of our troops at VB, and saddened by the losses incurred, particularly when knowingly facing the enemy in inferior AFV.
Agreed. These were "real" Tigers as opposed to Mk IVs which were often confused with Tigers. Green troops trying to get to grips with summat that's got better gun, better armour and which is commanded by a bloke who knows what he's doing is not a sure fire recipe for success. If I'm correct, the Germans also would have been far more familiar with the ground having got there first and having been in situ longer. In effect, they held most of, if not all, the cards.
 
#82
It’s impossible to say with complete certainty who killed Wittmann (and it doesn’t terribly matter beyond the fact that he was killed and that the German counter-attack was successfully halted). There are, however, a number of known facts that make it possible to narrow down the candidates.

Here are the salient points as I see them:
• Seven Tigers of Schwere SS Pz.Abt. 101 advanced north from Cintheaux in either staggered column or echelon right using Route Nationale 158 as their central axis.
• Of the seven Tigers of Schwere SS Pz.Abt. 101 (three from Bn HQ, four from 3.Kp.) which attacked northwards from Cintheaux five were destroyed between 1230 and 1330hrs, 8th August 1944
• A Sqn, 1NY were positioned in orchards to the immediate south of St Aignan de Crasmesnil about 1,200 metres to the east of Route Nationale 158 (Caen to Falaise), which runs north, north east through the battlefield.
• A Sqn, 1NY reported destroying three Tigers to the east of Route Nationale 158 at 1240, 1247 and 1252hrs – all three destroyed by the Firefly of Sergeant Gordon/Lieutenant James, gunner Trooper Joe Ekins. Any fire from A Sqn, 1NY would have hit them either on the front or right flank, which is exactly where Dollinger, the surviving commander of the lead Tiger destroyed, reported that his tank was hit – on the right-hand side of the turret. Both contemporary German and British sources state that the Tigers’ turrets were facing north east (to their left), presumably from where they expected the main threat to come.
• A Sqn, 27SFR, commanded by Major Sydney Radley-Walters, in position around Gaumesnil to the immediate west of Route Nationale 158, reported engaging German armour shortly after 1230hrs claiming one Tiger destroyed on Route Nationale 158 and one destroyed just to the east of the road along with some self-propelled guns. Two Fireflies of B Sqn, 27SFR in La Jalousie (about 1,000 metres to the north, north east of Gaumesnil) also took part in the engagement. The two Fireflies from B Sqn were credited with killing the two Tigers.
• B Sqn, 144RAC located in defensive positions in Cramesnil (about 1,500 metres north of Gaumesnil) claimed a Tiger and a Panzer IV destroyed at around the same time
• No Typhoons of either 83 or 84 Group were operating in the area at the time (most were supporting the Americans around Mortain)

From this it is possible to state with some confidence that neither Wittmann nor the other Tigers were destroyed by Allied aircraft as per apologist post-war German accounts (the obvious inference being that Wittmann was too good to have been killed by an Allied tanker and could only have been killed by the Allied aircraft, perceived to be an unfair advantage). The number of Tigers destroyed closely matches the numbers claimed by the British and Canadian units in the area. The least likely claim is that of 144RAC simply by virtue of not having a precise time and being at the longest range. It’s quite possible they legitimately hit a Tiger, which had already been knocked out by either 27SFR or 1NY. Between 27SFR and 1NY it is almost impossible to know who killed Wittmann, except to state that it is more likely the former as they mention knocking out a Tiger immediately to the east of Route Nationale 158 behind the leading tanks, whereas the British appear to have knocked out the three leading Tigers, which were echeloned further east of the highway. German accounts of the engagements by surviving members of Schwere SS Pz.ABt.101, notably a sketch by von Westerhagen, place Wittmann’s Tiger 007 immediately to the east of the road. The only problem with the Canadian accounts is that they were not contemporary (there is no war diary for that day due to 27SFR’s regimental command half-track, with all the radio logs, being destroyed later in the day by an American bomb) but are drawn from Radley-Walter’s post-war recollections. I also wonder whether they could actually have seen any Tigers to the east of Route Nationale 158 as the road is on a raised causeway which might have created dead ground to the east, where the ground gently slopes downhill, relative to their position to the west of the highway in Gaumesnil.

As I said before who killed Wittmann doesn’t matter beyond the fact that he was killed in a tank engagement by Allied tankers, either Canadian or British which is where my sympathies and interests lie rather than with a Nazi. What to my mind is more interesting is that the engagement goes some way towards shattering the tedious myth of German armoured tactical superiority under all circumstances and that German tankers were much more proficient than their Allied counterparts. In this engagement the Germans were at best tactically naïve and at worse reckless. They made no reconnaissance nor did they move in a tactically sensible manner using any kind of bounding overwatch. Instead all seven Tigers drove north into an impromptu ambush, which they both failed to detect or subsequently suppress. Furthermore the Allies and A Sqn, 1NY in particular demonstrated both good fire discipline (not revealing their presence until the German tanks were in their kill zone) and excellent gunnery skills – Ekins hit and destroyed three Tigers with four shots at 800 – 1,000 metres with his 17pdr, with all four shots hitting, three of which were against moving targets. To my mind what is significant about this engagement is that it significantly undermines the myth of Wittmann as an uber-tanker (a consequence of the naïve and misguided romanticising and mythologizing of the Waffen SS by some western writers in the last thirty years) and demonstrates his fallibility and tactical shortcomings – something which Wolfgang Schneider draws attention to in a very thorough critique of his actions at Villers-Bocage.
Spot on four tanks over open ground with exposed flanks on both sides .I seem to remember earlier in the Normandy campaign the 12 ss launched a similar attack with Panthers unsupported by infantry on The Regina Rifles of Canada with an anti-tank screen of British and Canadian 17-pounders and lost something like 8 Panthers.When the Germans did attack prepared Allied positions they had just as much trouble penetrating our anti-tank screens as vice-versa.
 

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