Revealed: The hero who wiped out Hitlers notorious tank ace

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
#1
From Daily Mail, 26 June 2006:

As a German war hero, he was in a deadly class of his own - having destroyed nearly 300 enemy tanks and guns.

So astonishing were Michael Wittman's exploits that Hitler went to his wedding and he was feted throughout the Third Reich by the Nazi propaganda machine.

So when the highly-decorated Waffen-SS tank ace met with his death in the Normandy countryside in August 1944, several Allied units claimed the distnction of having killed him.

But now, 62 years on, the man who really killed off the most successful tank commander of the Second World War has finally been revealed - Joe Ekins, a modest, retired shoe factory worker, now aged 82.

Astonishingly, as a 21-year-ols tank gunner, he had only ever fired five practice rounds before the encounter near St Aignan de Cramesnil on August 8, 1944.

But in 12 minutes of superb shooting, the young trooper knocked out three heavily-armoured German Tiger tanks - including one containing the 30-year-old Nazi - with shells from his Sherman Firefly.

Later that morning, he destroyed another German tank before his Firefly was hit and he and his crew had to run for safety.

After it was revealed that Wittman - who had destroyed 138 tanks, 132 anti-tank guns and other artillery pieces as well as hundreds of light vehicles - was dead, the kill was claimed by a number of Allied units, including Canadians, Poles and various airborne forces. But evidence now shows it was Mr Ekins' Firefly of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry that fired the fatal shot.

And tomorrow he will relive that brief but highly significant battle when he is shown the world's only remaining working Tiger at the Bovington Tank Museum, near Bournemouth.

Following the D-Day landings in Normandy in June1944, Joe Ekins and his comrades had been stuck in the bridgehead for six weeks as the British tried to batter their way through the German defensive lines.

'Eventually we went out on a night march in a column - about four miles into German territory,' he recalled. 'We settled in an orchard near St Aignan de Cramesnil and in the morning the Germans counter-attacked.

'I could see at least three Tigers coming and we had three Shermans and one Firefly.'

The Firefly was an upgraded version of the normal Sherman fitted with a powerful 76mm gun - the only one that could penetrate the thick armour of a Tiger.

'The squadron had two other Fireflies and I expected them to send one to help, but they decided not to and left me alone.

'We pulled out of the orchard and I fired twice at the third tank at the rear and it blew up. We reversed into the orchard so we could come out in a different place. But the second Tiger fired two or three rounds and hit our turret lid.

'The lid must have hit the commander's head and he jumped out, so our troop officer took over.

'We pulled out again and fired at the second Tiger and it exploded. We pulled back again and by this time, the third Tiger knew it had lost its two mates.

I finished it off with two shells and had taken out all three in 12 minutes. We later hit one more tank and then we were knocked out. There was a loud bang and sparks flew and we got out and ran like hell - the officer was hit by shrapnel. When we got back, we were made into new tank crews and I was made wireless operator. It seemed a bit odd making your best gunner a wireless-operator.

'But it proved lucky, because over the next eight months we were one of the few crews who got through the lot. I only found out eight years after the war that one of the people in the tank we hit was Wittman, but I'd never heard of him.

'He was very well known in Germany and there were lots of claims about who killed him, but it is well accepted now that we got him. He was an ace, but he wasn't too clever that morning.

'Usually it took five Shermans to beat one Tiger, but the Fireflies were better. When I heard about the concentration camps, I knew it was all worth it. I'm quite proud. Wittmann was a Nazi from the start - he must have known about the camps. It didn't matter who killed him, just that he was killed.'

After the war, Mr Ekins married his sweetheart Gwen and had two children. They now also have two grandcildren.

He went back to work in the shoe factories near his home in Rushden, Northamptonshire, and retired 34 years later after becoming a factory manager.

Tank museum curator David Willey said: 'A lot of myths built up after the war. Some started to believe that Tiger tanks were so powerful that our tanks could never have destroyed them.

'And so the destruction of the Tigers was attributed to the air force, naval bombardment - anything but our tanks.

'But it is pretty much accepted now that Joe Ekins was the man who knocked out three Tiger tanks in one morning, including that of Michael Wittmann.

'We want to restore the balance between all that is written about Wittmann and his heroics and that which is written about Joe, a humble cobbler.'
 
#2
You just can't respect these guys enough can you.

No immodesty there, it was just a job to be done and done well. At the end of the war, back to day job.

Like I say, just can't give enough respect, and in some ways awe.
 
#3
Good post.

There is an interview with one of the tank commanders in one of the cpommeorative"v D Day books. Its ion a CD.

You can read more about the unit in Ken Tout's bookm "Tank"
 
#4
'The squadron had two other Fireflies and I expected them to send one to help, but they decided not to and left me alone
He seems to have taken that remarkably calmly.. 8O
 
#5
I was down at Bovvy tank muesum just before christmas 2003 and the bloke as there some one spotted who he was and was talking away to him seemed very polite and willing to chat away about the subject and have his picture taken respect were it's due
 
#8
Finally revealed? It's been known for over a decade.


Couple of other things. AFAIK Wittmann was not a party member though he did join the SS in '36. From what i've read Adolph didn't attend his marriage either, he did meet him though in June '44 when he received his swords to his knight's cross.
 

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
#9
cdo_gunner said:
Finally revealed? It's been known for over a decade.


Couple of other things. AFAIK Wittmann was not a party member though he did join the SS in '36. From what i've read Adolph didn't attend his marriage either, he did meet him though in June '44 when he received his swords to his knight's cross.
Quite. It made a good story for Tankfest weekend. I had a few points but decided to quote the article verbatim for the benefit of the forum.
 
#10
cdo_gunner said:
Couple of other things. AFAIK Wittmann was not a party member though he did join the SS in '36. From what i've read Adolph didn't attend his marriage either, he did meet him though in June '44 when he received his swords to his knight's cross.
Hmm so what if it can't be proved he was aparty member, pre war SS membership says enough ;)

Wittman is the best known of the German Tank aces, because of Villers Bocage, but he isn't the only one. Here is a fan site. The tone is nauseously fawning, but it does provide some information - http://www.angelfire.com/goth/bobtank/panzer_ace.html
 
#11
Not really, many went for the swanky uniforms, promise of quick advancement, better opportunities all that type of crap. The Heer was still, even to the end of the war very prussian in it's traditions, customs and outlook. You know how we've had that same kind of thing in the British army where you simply didn't get in to certain regiments if you didn't have the right name or connections. Same thing for the Germans and a great many saw the SS (we're talking the SS-VT, later known as the Waffen-SS) as an alternative.


FWIW i find the waffen-ss to be generally over rated not to mention blown out of all proportions. Look at how many English language books are written about them compared to Heer units. The best Heer divisions were in every way the equal if not better than the best SS units, in fact some of the SS divisions were mediocre at best and others quite appalling.
 
#12
I was convinced until recently that 'Firefly Joe' Ekins did for Wittmann until I read a new Canadian book on the Normandy campaign. Can't find it at the mo, nor can I remember the title, but will post details as soon as. BTW, the Canadian historian Terry Copp says that Ekins' regt, the Northants Yeo, knocked out Wittmann ('Fields of Fire: The Canadians in Normandy')
 
#13
I was convinced until recently that 'Firefly Joe' Ekins did for Wittmann until I read a new Canadian book on the Normandy campaign. Can't find it at the mo, nor can I remember the title, but will post details as soon as. BTW, the Canadian historian Terry Copp says that Ekins' regt, the Northants Yeo, knocked out Wittmann ('Fields of Fire: The Canadians in Normandy')
 
#14
Pteranadon said:
Good post.

There is an interview with one of the tank commanders in one of the cpommeorative"v D Day books. Its ion a CD.

You can read more about the unit in Ken Tout's bookm "Tank"
I think you mean ' A Fine Night for Tanks' by that author, detailing Op TOTALIZE 1 - an op including possibly the first known use of armoured personnel carriers by Gen Crerrar to break the defensive line on the Bourgebus ridge that had done for GOODWOOD. A good read, and a good spot to visit - you can match history to ground fairly well - including the relative spots of the Firefly & Wittman.
 
#15
No, I've read 'A Fine Night for Tanks' by Ken Tout which included the story of Joe Ekins knocking out Wittmann. I'm still searching for the Canadian book. All that I can remember is that it's published by a company called Robin Brass Studio. Can anyone else help?
 
#16
No, I've read 'A Fine Night for Tanks' by Ken Tout which included the story of Joe Ekins knocking out Wittmann. I'm still searching for the Canadian book. All that I can remember is that it's published by a company called Robin Brass Studio. Can anyone else help?
 
#17
I've now found the title of the Canadian book but can't find my copy. It's 'No Holding Back: Operation Totalize, Normandy, August 1944' by Brian A Reid and it is published as I thought by the Robin Brass Studio. Reid argues very convincingly that Wittmann was killed by tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers rather than those of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry. If I can find my copy (hope I haven't lend it to anyone!!) I'll post some more details of Reid's argument.
 
#18
Have now found my misfiled copy. The author devotes several pages to Wittmann's demise and he uses both Canadian and British sources although he refers to Tpr Elkins rather than Ekins. He doesn't dispute that Ekins brewed two Tigers within five minutes and destroyed three in total but puts forward a well-argued case for Wittmann meeting his end at the hands of Maj Radley-Walters' A Sqn of Sherbrooke Fusiliers. In a fifteen-minute action against five Tigers, several MkIVs, some half-tracks and Jagdpanzers, the Sherbrookes accounted for two Tigers, two MkIVs and two SPs. B Sqn of the Sherbrookes had also got involved as had B Sqn 144 RAC (8th E Lancs)which claimed a Tiger and a MkIV. You'll notice that the claims exceed the number of Tigers involved which Reid acknowledges; this may have been due to several tanks engaging the same target both before and after it brewed up.
Reid includes a 20-page appendix entitled 'Who killed Michael Wittmann?' which is forensic in its nature. Earlier he made the point that what really mattered was that a dangerous German counter-attack had been beaten off.
I had to order the book from Canada and it was quite expensive but you might be able to borrow one from a local library. Better still, if you're still in then you should be able to ask for a copy through the military system.
 
#19
Have now found my misfiled copy. The author devotes several pages to Wittmann's demise and he uses both Canadian and British sources although he refers to Tpr Elkins rather than Ekins. He doesn't dispute that Ekins brewed two Tigers within five minutes and destroyed three in total but puts forward a well-argued case for Wittmann meeting his end at the hands of Maj Radley-Walters' A Sqn of Sherbrooke Fusiliers. In a fifteen-minute action against five Tigers, several MkIVs, some half-tracks and Jagdpanzers, the Sherbrookes accounted for two Tigers, two MkIVs and two SPs. B Sqn of the Sherbrookes had also got involved as had B Sqn 144 RAC (8th E Lancs)which claimed a Tiger and a MkIV. You'll notice that the claims exceed the number of Tigers involved which Reid acknowledges; this may have been due to several tanks engaging the same target both before and after it brewed up.
Reid includes a 20-page appendix entitled 'Who killed Michael Wittmann?' which is forensic in its nature. Earlier he made the point that what really mattered was that a dangerous German counter-attack had been beaten off.
I had to order the book from Canada and it was quite expensive but you might be able to borrow one from a local library. Better still, if you're still in then you should be able to ask for a copy through the military system.
 
#20
The Abington Park Museum in Northampton houses the Northamptonshire Yeomanry museum collection, but sadly there’s no mention of the destruction of Wittman’s Tiger.

Nobody I spoke to when I visited there had ever heard of the event.
 

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