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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tigers for Breakfast

The following article is put together from multiple sources, each one not quite tying up with the others. So some of the elements may later turn out to be out of sequence.

By January 1943 the war had turned against Germany. At this point the allies were pushing the Germans from two sides in North Africa, including in Tunisia. On the 31st two companies of infantry and two troops of six pounder guns were dug in covering the road leading to Robaa. They were on an area of rocky rough terrain on the side of the hill, with the German lines somewhere to their front. At about 0600, in the pitch darkness reports start to filter back from the infantry that they can hear tank movement to the front. Immediately the two troop commanders of the AT guns leapt out of the truck they'd been sleeping in and struggled up the hill. The Lieutenant for the 2nd Troop in his haste just threw on a greatcoat over his pyjamas before dashing to his troop. Lt Stanley Edwards of 1st Troop however had only to pull on his boots.

About an hour later just as the sun was peeking over the horizon, the huge bulk of a Tiger peeked over the crest of the hill. The Tiger was still new to Tunisia and the British had hardly fought them. The giant hulking monster clanked forwards, then suddenly halted. It had spotted a string of explosives the infantry had placed across the road. Lt Edwards had wanted to wait until the German tanks were much closer, so he ordered his guns to hold fire. The Tiger then began to open fire, shelling British positions, but still Lt Edwards didn't give the order to fire, hoping the Tiger would move closer. After about ten minutes he knew the Tiger wasn't going to oblige them, so he released his guns. At a range of 680 yards, Sergeant Marcus Bauer's 6 pounder was the first to fire. His round hit the side of the tank at such an extreme angle it ricocheted off. Along with the storm of 6 pounder shells the Tigers were hit with a hail of small arms, which forced the tanks to button up.
The Tiger then lurched forwards. The next four rounds did nothing more than gouge chunks out of the armour. However as the Tiger was moving the crew had much reduced visibility due to being buttoned up and they didn’t know where Sgt Bauer's gun was situated. So the tank had slowly been turning away from the gun. The next volley of rounds at a range of 650 yards all went through, and with three penetrating hits the tank lurched to a halt. Two other armoured vehicles accompanying the Tiger had been set on fire by the anti-tank ambush.

Now the Germans replied, another Tiger, and several other Panzers (Presumably Panzer III Ausf N) sat hull down on the ridge line and began to hammer the British positions. This storm of fire caused several casualties, not least of all Sgt Bauer's gun layer. Sgt Bauer immediately leapt into the layers seat, where he would remain fighting the gun for the rest of the day.
The Germans now made another attempt, a third Tiger and two Panzer III's roared over the ridge, and rushed towards the British line. Lt Edwards had ordered his guns to hold their fire again. This time the Germans played along and roared down the road, past the knocked out first Tiger, they punched through the infantry screen and headed towards the rear. Sgt Bauer's gun was almost overrun by this aggressive attack. However the 2nd troop of six pounders came into action, hammering the Tiger. Sgt Bauer also opened fire and between them quickly set the Panzer III's and the Tiger on fire. The Tiger brewed up on the first hit.

Now Lt Edwards ordered Sgt Bauer to try to set the first Tiger on fire. As he started attacking the first Tiger, the Tiger on the ridge line fired towards his position every time he fired. Every round Bauer fired had hit with no sign of starting a fire. With the return fire from the Tiger on the ridge getting closer it was decided to save the gun and cease trying to ignite the enemy tank.

During the rest of the day the Germans poured fire on the British positions including artillery and a very nasty air strike. That night the Germans launched a second attack, their dismounted infantry closed within range of the British line and began to lob grenades at the infantry. After a day of fighting the British were in no mood for a close action fight and with their morale gone they began to flee. This left the two troops of anti-tank guns as the only defenders holding the line. The Germans quickly recovered and towed the first knocked out Tiger away, then began to press forward.
Sgt Bauer stayed at his gun and fought with the rest of his platoon. At one point the Germans were a mere 15 yards away from the gun. At this point when all seemed lost reinforcements in the shape of fresh infantry arrived. With no hope to tow the burnt out Tiger away the Germans quickly set some large demolition charges and blew the Tiger to pieces before falling back.
This drawing was taken from a German assessment of the Tiger recovered from that battlefield. Black dots show penetrations.
This was the first time a Tiger had been knocked out by enemy action and destroyed. For their actions on that day Lt Edwards was awarded a Military Cross, and Sgt Bauer a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

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