Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The 8th of July, 1944 - D + 32, Outside Caen

Tiger of sPzAbt¹ 503
(Source)

Stabsfeldwebel Gerhard Lindner and his crew had watched as Caen died. The English bombers had come over in a steady stream for over an hour, dropping bombs mostly on the city itself, and missing the German positions in front of the doomed city.

"It's almost like they don't know where our positions are!" Feldwebel Willi Hoffmeister had exclaimed.

While the other three members of their Tiger's crew had slept (Krebs, Hansel, and Weber) Lindner and Hoffmeister had sat atop 224's big turret and watched the distant fireworks. After the big bombers had passed, twin engined aircraft had attacked the city. Caen was burning.

After the last of the bombers had departed the English artillery had opened up to bounce the rubble within the blasted city. From the size and loudness of some of the explosions, both men guessed that the Royal Navy was getting its licks in as well.

Situation Midnight 07 July 44
(Source)

South of Carpiquet looking towards the German lines
(South)

Lindner had received his orders late that morning, the 12th SS were going to fall back, his understrength platoon of four Tiger I tanks was to fight a delaying action. Major Fromme, Lindner's battalion commander had apologized for leaving them in the lurch. But the Tigers weren't the most mobile of vehicles and the rest of the battalion was moving northeast to assist in the defense of Caen.

"Kill as many of the English tanks as you can and delay them for as long as you can. Without the road network in Caen we're all f**cked. Hold for as long as you can, then move back. The Tommies have to come across that wide field and may think they can run wild after being bottled up for so many weeks." Fromme slashed the air with his right hand for emphasis, both men knew their efforts were futile, but orders were orders.

Lindner nodded as his commander headed to his Kübelwagen, then the major turned and yelled back at Lindner, "Hals-und Beinbruch² you old pirate!"

Lindner laughed and yelled back, "Get out of here Rolf before I forget you're an officer!"

Lindner wished that their lieutenant, Altendorf, was still around. He had been a good platoon leader. Then a Tommy Sherman, one of the big-gunned ones, had blew up the lieutenant's Tiger. He, and his crew, had burned to death as Lindner's vehicle had maneuvered to get a shot off at the Englishmen. (They had actually been Irish but to the Germans they were all "English.")

The big Tommy Sherman had blown up, turret flipping end over end, when Lindner's gunner, and best friend, Fritz Weber had punched a round into the Tommy's turret ring. A lucky shot perhaps, but it had saved the rest of the platoon.

The 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division advances with tank support
(Source)

The Welshmen advanced into the long stretch of fields before them. Though they tried to stay spread out, there was a natural tendency for the men to cluster near the Shermans. The last rounds of their supporting artillery moaned overhead as they advanced. Smoke shells began to blossom, mixed in with the high explosive, along the far tree line.

They expected to hear the rattle of German machine gun fire, they had gained a healthy respect for the German Mg 42s and MG 34s. High rates of fire and well manned. But there was silence, other than the last few rounds of artillery detonating across the fields. The infantry started to crouch, moving forward in an awkward, bent over shuffle, as they expected to be lashed with machine gun fire at any minute.

But nothing.

One Welsh captain, commander of a platoon in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, began to walk over to the Sherman troop leader supporting his men. The leftenant from the 9th Royal Tanks was leaning out of his turret, cupping his ear to hear the infantry captain better, when a tank round impacted the front of his tank.

The round had deflected off the gun breech and into the engine compartment, bringing the Sherman to an abrupt halt. The dead leftenant had been unceremoniously dumped from his hatch as the gunner escaped the tank, which was smoldering. Only sheer adrenaline had propelled the gunner from the turret, he was badly wounded, nearly eviscerated by debris from his ruined gun breech.

The driver and bow gunner piled out of their hatches in a hurry. Both were concussed but alive. The two man ran from their tank, expecting it to go at any moment. Flames were already licking up from the engine grates. The loader was nowhere to be seen, he was still in his position, dead from a fragment of the tank shell which had killed his tank.

Bundesarchiv

"Damn it!" Oberpanzerschütze Horst Krebs screamed and clapped his hands to his head. An enemy tank round had hit the frontal armor right in front of him. The noise was deafening. It barely dented the armor, but the noise it made had made Krebs ears ring.

"Target, enemy tank, 10 degrees left, engage!"

Hoffmeister had the gun on target in an instant, "Firing!"

"Load HE, let's thin that infantry some!"

Fritz Weber loaded a high explosive round into the gun, then yelled, "Sprenggranate geladen!"³

The gun barked and sent the 8.8 cm high explosive shell into a cluster of Tommies trying to take cover next to a Sherman which had been knocked out by another Tiger. The explosion was devastating, killing or wounded at least a dozen infantrymen. The rest of the infantry went to ground.

The Tommy attack was at a complete standstill.


"Men, let's get the Hell out of here. I'm sure the Tommies are dialing up air or artillery. Either way, if we haven't moved in the next few minutes, we'll be as dead as those Tommy tanks!"

With that, Lindner's platoon slowly backed down the slope and got on the forest track which they had used to get into position the night before. With good overhead cover, they had a chance of remaining hidden from the Jabos. But there was no hiding from artillery, so off they went, surviving to fight another day.

In the distance, Caen still burned.

Caen in ruins, July 1944




¹ sPzAbt = schwerer Panzer Abteilung, heavy tank battalion/detachment. All Tiger tanks were assigned to these type battalions.
² Hals-und Beinbruch, "break a leg!" (literally, break your neck and legs)
³ High explosive loaded!

14 comments:

  1. notice -on the map- the 9th and 10th ss panzer divs?
    they will be sent later to R&R at quiet dutch town
    called Arnhem...

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  2. I do believe that the photo is incorrectly cite. Went to the source and, yeah, sure, that's what they say the photo is, but...

    The troops are definitely Commonwealth troops, from the helm and gear. But I dinna remember any British tank sporting an ami-star on it's butt. Probably one of the moments where American tanks supported Commonwealth troops.

    I know, picky-picky, but correct identification matters (really, truly, just look up people talking about the 'CHOP' or 'CHAZ' medic because it's some dude in an English suit of armor approximately Agincourt time period. 'Medic' because he has the Cross of St. George sewn onto his brigandine jack. People are stupid.)


    As to the story, well, mobile pillbox is what the Tiger 1 did best. Especially from prepared positions or from pre-scouted positions. And it's very typical of RAF tactics to flatten towns and miss the actual troops set up around the towns. Something that the conquered people kind of didn't appreciate much.

    But there's only so much 4 tanks can do when the weather conditions are good for planes. Brit artillery was okay, not up to the same volume of US artillery, but their fighter-bombers, or US fighter-bombers, were very eager to get some.

    Good story as usual.

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    1. All Allied vehicles were marked with white stars. Though it was rare for Commonwealth tanks to have them on the sides of the vehicle (usually just back of the turret) it wasn't unheard of. Correct identification is important, that's why beginning in 1944 Allied vehicles were marked with the white star.

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    2. Same thought on seeing the photo, and while I know you do good research, I checked (trust but verify, as RR said.) SUre enough, you are right. Thanks for the lesson.
      John Blackshoe
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_military_vehicle_markings_of_World_War_II

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    3. JB - Trust, but verify. 😉

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    4. Beans - Sometimes history will surprise you.

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    5. Trust but verify indeed. Now that it's incredibly easy to verify things, if one is willing to apply effort and thought, it's just no longer cricket, dontcha know. I'm still more than a bit cranky at having been hung out into mortal peril in the guns for hostages scheme so while I applaud RR's expressed common sense I'm not a complete fan of his administrations execution of the concept. Of course we're all just human, and I do believe he and most of his team tried their best to do best things for best reasons. And I wasn't exactly highly principled 24/7 myself!

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    6. I'm with you on the "not a fan" of the whole "guns for hostages" thing. Poorly conceived, poorly executed.

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  3. I do love all these pictures of tanks.

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  4. With a few moments to catch my breath I'm just getting back to The Chant after 10 days of, er, busy. Nice reading for decompression. Thanks Sarge!

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    Replies
    1. Your comments were in moderation, in case you were wondering "Dude, where's my comment?" Any post over seven days old has moderation turned on. It was getting to be a pain deleting spam comments on posts from five years ago. No, really, it was that bad.

      Anyhoo, I'm sure you've been busy, you've got a lot going on these days, hope you are well!

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