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

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Lucky Panzer Commander

Hermann Bix was born on the 10th of October 1914. He would become one of the better tank commanders in the Second World War. Commanding a variety of vehicles, from Panzer III's, through Panzer IV's and finally ending up in Panthers. For the majority of the war Bix was in the 35 Panzer Regiment, starting as an enlisted soldier. He begun to rise through the ranks making Feldwebel in 1941. 
During Operation Barbarossa, Blix fund himself in the village of Oslavaya in his Panzer III, when a colossal KV-1 appeared, just 30m to his front. It was side on, and Blix ordered his crew to open fire. Several rounds had no effect on the Soviet tank. Blix called for support from Pioneers to blow the tank, and he was told they were on their way. His commander said if nothing else, try to damage the cannon on the KV. By now Blix had worked to around 20m, and opened fire again, this time his gunner was aiming for the gun. After several more rounds the KV began to turn its turret towards the annoying little Panzer. The Russians however got confused and lined up on a second Panzer III that had just entered the area and fired. The gun burst causing the KV-1 crew to bail.

The KV-1 knocked out by Bix and his crew.
He stayed on the Eastern front until August 1942, were at Voronezh he was wounded. However, this wound only put him out of action for a few days. In October a large calibre shell (reportedly from a SU-152) hit his tank's gun barrel. This caused severe injuries that forced Blix to be evacuated back to Germany. From there he helped train the next generation of soldiers for a period, then was dispatched to France to train up on the Panther. He then returned to the Eastern front. There he fought in several battles until November 1944 when he was injured for a third and final time by a rocket salvo. Upon recovering the 35th Panzer Regiment's doctor recommended that he retire to Germany. Blix refused, although he may not have had a combat role.

As the situation on the Eastern front deteriorated Blix, as a veteran tank commander and NCO soon found himself back in an armoured vehicle, a Jagdpanther, with a platoon to command. This was around the end of January. He was lucky, 35th Panzer was moved from Kurland to Gdansk around the same time as Blix was given his Jagdpanther.
 At the end of February, Blix and his platoon were involved in bitter fighting around Preu├čisch-Stargard, after which the Soviet advance was halted. Despite this the Germans were withdrawing again, their infantry was retreating, leaving Blix and his platoon in place as a screen at a village. They also had a few tank crews who had lost their tanks for one reason or another in the village to help.
Blix ordered his other two Jagdpanthers to fall back as both had expended their ammunition.

Blix sited his gun hull down behind the settlement's dung heap and waited. Soon through the lifting fog a pair of Soviet crewed Sherman's were seen probing forwards. Blix's Jagdpanther quickly destroyed both vehicles. About thirty minutes later, Blix spotted another pair of Sherman's trying to pass by the village and knocked them out as well. At this point his gunner reported they had just twenty rounds of AP and five HE left. Equally, about this time the supporting tank crews had to depart, or risk getting left behind. This meant Blix was screening the entire sector with a single Jagdpanther which was desperately low on ammunition.
 Then Blix spotted two anti-tank guns being moved into position, quite openly. He loaded HE and engaged them, only to see lumps of wood and sheets of canvas being blown into the air from the dummy guns designed, one would guess, to see if his position was still occupied. At this point fearful of a response Blix moved his Jagdpanther to a turret down position.
Then a large force of Soviet vehicles, a mix of trucks and tanks, surged down the roadway towards him. Blix waited until they were within 800m before giving the order to fire. The first round hit a tree next to the leading Sherman. The tree fell over entangling the turret of the tank, causing it to swerve off the road and become immobilised in a ditch.

The Soviet attack halted as all the gunners tried to find where the fire was coming from. One after another they spotted the earthworks that had been deserted earlier by the infantry. They all turned their turrets to fire on those positions. This meant they were exposing the sides of their turrets to Blix. Over the next ten minutes or so Blix fired rapidly, until only two rounds of AP were left, he fired his last rounds of HE at the trucks and decided he had pushed his luck as far as he could, and proceeded to try and disengage.
 It was early spring, and the ground was very very boggy. Any attempt to turn would have caused his Jagdpanther to become stuck in the deep mud. Blix's only way out was to reverse very slowly and carefully backwards to solid ground, then turn and drive off. Inching backwards out of cover Blix was horrified to see a Sherman that had sneaked through the village on his right and was now just 300m away. The Sherman halted and begun to lay its turret on the side of Blix's Jagdpanther. Knowing he had no choice but to risk bogging down, Blix ordered his driver to turn, so his gunner could lay onto the Sherman. Blix could clearly see that he was not going to make it in time.

The Sherman didn't fire, its gun could not depress enough to hit the Jagdpanther. The Sherman revved its engine to advance a short distance and bring its gun onto target. However, mud began to be thrown from the rear tracks which were spinning freely. The Sherman had bogged down and the driver’s frantic efforts only made matters worse as the rear of the tank begun to sink. Blix's first hasty shot hit the transmission in the front of the Sherman.  The Soviet crew immediately began to bail out, just in time as the second shot set the tank on fire. 

From there, Blix was able to re-join the retreat, fighting all the way back to Hela. On May the 4th Blix managed to get on an evacuation ship, a minesweeper from the port. En route to Germany, Germany surrendered. The minesweeper docked at Kiel, and Blix was taken prisoner by the British. Blix joined the Bundeswehr in 1956 as an instructor in the tank force. He retired in 1970 and died in 1986.

I'm always cautious of dealing with German Panzer commanders due to the element of fanboyism that surrounds them on the internet. However, Blix gave a full account of his war time experiences, which are dotted about the internet. Much of the above article is drawn from those. But consider how reliable first-hand accounts can be especially when taken in isolation. 

Image credits:
 www.theshermantank.com, www.muharebetarihi.com and alchetron.com