Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Tank

Going up the Rue de l'église in La Gleize, Belgium
A long time ago, I forget exactly when, I was reading a book about the Battle of the Bulge. In that book was a picture of a Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausführung B (Armored Fighting Vehicle Tiger Model B), what we in the English speaking world would call a King Tiger, what was known in German as a Königstiger.

Many years later, as a member of the United States Air Force, I was attending a dinner in the lovely town of La Roche-en-Ardenne, in Belgium. I was chatting with another airman and happened to mention this picture I had seen of a Tiger tank left over from the war. As I started to say that I could not remember the name of the town, a voice said,

"La Gleize, the tank you seek is in La Gleize."

At that point I remembered, that indeed was the name of the town. I thanked the gentleman, the evening went on, time went by.


One Friday I asked The Missus Herself and the progeny if they'd like to go see a Tiger tank over the weekend. While the kids were all for it The Missus Herself, while less than enthusiastic, did consent to spend a big chunk of her Saturday wandering the Belgian countryside in search of a German tank from WWII.

She has ever been tolerant and understanding of my peccadilloes.


Now the Belgian chap I had spoken with had told me that the tank was easy to find. If I could find La Gleize, there would be signs which would guide me to the tank.

Bear in mind, this was in the pre-Garmin days. Back when you needed a map, printed on actual paper, which one must necessarily know how to read. Fortunately, that is a skill I had mastered as a Boy Scout. (Notwithstanding an incident in Oklahoma where 
The Missus Herself insisted we were lost. Nonsense, I said, we are in Oklahoma, we are not lost. We are merely unsure of our exact location. As we were heading to Mississippi at the time, I pointed out that all we had to do was keep heading south. Eventually we would hit the Gulf of Mexico, or the country of Mexico. Then we would head east until we got to Mississippi. Lost, indeed. Harumph!)

We managed to find La Gleize with no trouble at all. And lo and behold, there were signs directing us to the "December 44 Museum." Naturally I assumed that where there was a museum dedicated to the events of December 1944 in this area, we should no doubt find the tank we were seeking.

Now in that photo above is the street leading to the "December 44 Museum". If you look closely to your left, you will see nestled back in the foliage the tank which is the subject of this post. Well, I guess "nestled" isn't quite the proper term. Tracked vehicles of 70 tons do not nestle. Perhaps I should say "lurking back there in the foliage."


The King Tiger, not lurking

It is an impressive vehicle. Here are some facts about this beast (Wikipedia)-

Weight 68.7 long tons; 76.9 short tons)
Length 24 ft 3 in (just the hull) - 33 ft 9 in with gun forward
Width 12 ft 4 in
Height 10 ft 2 in
Crew Five (commander, gunner, loader, radio operator, driver)
Armor 25–185 mm (1–7 in)
Main armament 1× 8.8 cm KwK 43 L/71
Secondary armament 2× 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34
Engine V-12 Maybach HL 230 P30 gasoline 690 hp, 515 kW
Power/weight 8.97 hp/ton
Transmission Maybach OLVAR EG 40 12 16 B (8 forward and 4 reverse)
Suspension torsion-bar
Ground clearance 1 ft 7.5 in to 1 ft 8.1 in
Fuel capacity 190 imp gal
Operational range Road: 110 mi
Cross country: 75 mi
Speed:
 - Maximum, road: 25.8 mph
 - Sustained, road: 24 mph
 - Cross country: 9.3 to 12.4 mph

The King Tiger was a nasty opponent. Most Allied tanks could not knock out a King Tiger from the front unless they were very close. Most Allied tankers would try to get around to the flanks or the rear of a King Tiger where the armor was thinner.

And of course, if you were in front of the King Tiger, odds are that that big 88 mm gun had already knocked out the tank you were riding in!

Damage to the frontal armor

That damage you see in the photo above was mostly likely inflicted during the war but not during the battle, this was probably done by American tankers using this abandoned vehicle for target practice. This tank was one of a number of vehicles abandoned by Kampfgruppe Peiper as they ran low on supplies of nearly every kind in and around La Gleize. Gasoline was one commodity that they were nearly completely out of. So while the Germans drove into La Gleize from the east, those who survived headed back to the east on foot.

This particular tank was "knocked out" during the battle when the front of the cannon was blown off by American tank fire. While not destroyed, it was rendered incapable of shooting. Not something you want in a tank. The link to the "December 44 Museum" has a great writeup on this tank (look for the "Tiger 213" link at the bottom of the page). Some really good photos as well.

There are gouges on the side of the turret (which I could not find a picture of) which appear to have been inflicted by a either a .30 or .50 caliber machine gun. You can see some of these below on the gun mantlet. Another common practice I should mention is the "just to be sure" method of armored combat. If you see a bad guy tank sitting there (and it's not obviously knocked out) you put a round or two into him, just to be sure.

Close up of a 75 mm (estimated) anti-tank round embedded in the frontal armor

So yes, the King Tiger was one tough bastard. And I got to see one, up close and personal.

That "December 44 Museum" (right behind the tank) was pretty cool too. Here's their website, which has a nice writeup of the battle in and around La Gleize. (Again, lots of good pictures too!)

So that's what I did one Saturday in summer in the early '90s. The kids thought it was cool, even The Missus Herself had to admit it wasn't a bad way to spend a Saturday.

Though she declined to make the trip the next three times I went there.

Go figure!

Yeah, that's gonna leave a mark!

16 comments:

  1. Women can be funny like that, but kudos for yours, being a good sport the first time. And A+! on the tank pics and story.

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  2. I would imagine there are a number of old geezers that STILL have nightmares about that beast. (<=== the Tiger, just to be clear)

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    1. I've talked to some WWII vets back in the day. Yes, they still had nightmares about that tank.

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  3. Woulda looked cooler with the turret blowed off! Just sayin'

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    1. When I was writing this post, I was thinking about how much you'd like to see the turret off.

      I get that...

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  4. I have not seen a King Tiger, but I have seen a Tiger I in a re-enactment here in Illinois. It came out of the woods, fired off some blanks, and then retreated back into the woods. The pair of Stuarts "attacking" it were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, for what good that would have done in reality.

    Hearing that thing accelerate gave me a bit of a woody.

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    1. BEHOLD! King Tiger #233. The only one to my knowledge that still runs. Note, it is driven forward and backward without much turning. I'm sure this is to conserve the drive train.

      ...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5p3KCli6YM...

      I believe the Tiger I seen in Illinois is a repro based on a T-55. Belongs to the 9th SS reenacting group, if I'm not wrong and was used in "Saving Private Ryan."

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    2. Chris - the Tiger you saw in Illinois does belongs to the 9th Reenactment Society in Illinois (like Bayouwulf said) and is the same vehicle as seen in Saving Private Ryan which had the sticky bomb affixed to it. This is actually built on a Russian T-34/85 chassis. The Bovington Tank Museum in the UK has a real Tiger I, in running condition. Look for them on YouTube.

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    3. Bayouwulf - good call on the Tiger! The movie Kelly's Heroes also had T-34s modified to look like Tigers. That original mod was done by some Yugoslavians for a movie they made, I think in 1969. Can't be sure. But at a glance they look like the real deal. First time I saw Kelly's Heroes the hair stood up on the back of my neck, I could have sworn they were the real deal.

      And that is one sweet video. That engine rumbles nicely but the tracks and road wheels look a little the worse for wear. (Lot of squeaking going on too!)

      Of course, the beast is 70 years old!

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    4. Thanks for the info. Kind of deflating that it wasn't a real Tiger, but still.........seeing a movie star in Arcola is pretty cool.

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    5. Roger that Chris. It's still an awesome vehicle, and yeah, there is the movie star aspect.

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  5. Come to think of it, you're right about the T-34/85 mod. My brain doesn't process as it once did.

    I think the Panzers squeaked because we were always bombing a bearing factory, somewhere. At leat that was what they said at the briefings on "12 Oclock High."

    And "Kelly's Heros"...... one of my favorite movies. Lotsa good talent on the roster.

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    1. Well, to be fair, I had to look it up.

      The bearings, of course your tracks are going to squeal with crappy bearings. Because the Americans are always bombing your bearing factories!

      Kelly's Heroes is a great movie with a great cast. One of my favorites as well!

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  6. Very cool. I was just thinking about tanks after watching a rerun of Adam-12. Malloy and Reed pulled over a guy who was driving one down the street. Then my strange mind started wandering and made me think about a song called "If I Had A Bulldozer".
    If I had a diesel rig,
    With a big old blade,
    Treads just like a tank,
    I would have it made
    Courtesy would reign,
    Arguments would cease,
    'Cause everyone would know
    I'd squash them like a cheeeeeeeese!!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKjr3rdqrc4

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    1. I had never heard that before. Good stuff.

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