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Came across this guy whilst house-hunting in Basse Normandie earlier this year. I cannot resist a walk round a Military graveyard and La Cambe German Cemetery was nearby, so on one rainy afternoon I paid a visit.

There was a guide talking to a group of people gathered around three crosses laying flat on the ground. I only caught the tale end of his story but what I heard was enthralling. So much so I decided to look up the subject of this mans oration when I got back to the UK....................

SS-Hauptsturmf?hrer Michael Wittman

Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords

Michael Wittman was born on April 22nd 1914, in Vogelthal near Oberpfalz, in the High Palatinate region. He was the only son of a local farmer - Johann Wittman. In February 1934, Wittman joined Reichsarbeitdienst - RAD (The German Labour Corps) and served for six months, until the July when he returned to his father?s farm.He continued to work there in between stretches of military service until the call of a full time military career became too strong.

On October 30th 1934, he enlisted Germany Army's 19th Infantry Regiment as a Private. Wittman left the service on September 30th of 1936, as a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer - Unteroffizier.

On April 5th 1937, Michael Wittman joined No.1 Sturm of 92nd Standarte of the elite Tank Division, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. In late 1937, he received driver training on Sd.Kfz.222 (a four-wheeled light armoured car) and then Sd.Kfz.232 (a six-wheeled heavy armoured car) and proved to be excellent driver.

Wittman, then joined the 17th Companie which was the Panzer Scout Companie of LSSAH. In the summer of 1938, it was reduced in status to a Panzer Scout Platoon. By September 1939, SS-Unterscharf?hrer Wittman commanding a Sd.Kfz.232 of the reconnaissance elements of LSSAH rolled across the Polish border at the start of the Polish Campaign.

October 1939 saw, Michael Wittman posted to the 5th Panzersp?hkompanie (the depot company of the Leibstandarte) based at Berlin (Lichterfelde), an assault gun "academy". In February of 1940, Wittmann was transferred to the newly formed SS-Sturm-Batterie (assault gun battery - Sturmartillerie) of LSSAH, equipped with Sturmgeschutz Ausf A. The reason for this transfer was that Wittman was fast becoming recognised as having great potential and was an "under-officer" with three years practical service experience on armoured vehicles.

Around that time, Wittman became friends with Hannes Philipsen, Helmut Wendorff, Alfred G?nther, and other members of that unit. In late 1940, Michael Wittman started his panzer combat career in the Balkans (Yugoslavia and Greece). While in Greece, Wittman was in command of the platoon of Sturmgeschutz III Ausf As (part of LSSAH SS-Sturm-Batterie) and fought there until mid 1941.

On June 11th 1941, Wittman along with LSSAH was transferred to the east, in preparations for the upcoming operation "Barbarossa", which started on June 22nd, LSSAH was order to advance into southern Russia. By July 12th Michael Wittman had received the first of his many decorations, an Iron Cross (Second Class). A short while later, Wittman was wounded, but remained with his unit and received the Wound Badge.

On September 8th 1941, he received Iron Cross (First Class), and, after fighting in the Rostov area, Wittman received the Panzer Assault Badge (for destroying six Soviet tanks in single engagement) along with promotion to the rank of SS-Oberscharf?hrer. Wittman fought with his unit in Russia throughout the hard Russian winter, then on June 5th, due to his outstanding service Wittman was finally accepted as a cadet for officer training in the SS Junkerschule in Bad T?lz (Bavaria).

On September 5th, he left Bad T?lz school as a Panzer instructor (SS-Panzerausbildungs und Ersatz-abteilung). On the December 21st 1942, Wittman was promoted to the rank of SS-Untersturmf?hrer and on December 24th, he joined the 13th Kompanie of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Wittman was put in the command of Panzer III Ausf L/M platoon of Tiger kompanie. The platoon was designated to protect the back line of the Tigers from enemy infantry and other obstacles.

In the early spring of 1943, Michael Wittman joined the Tiger kompanie, leaving his beloved Panzer III support section, and on July 5th 1943, he started his combat career on Tigers during the Operation Citadel (Zitadelle). LSSAH was located in the southern sector of the bulge. On the first day of action, Wittman destroyed two anti-tanks guns and thirteen T-34s, while at the same time saving Helmut Wendorff's platoon, which had run into trouble. On July 7th and 8th, Wittman destroyed two T-34s, two SU-122s and three T-60/70s. On July 12th, Wittman destroyed eight Soviet tanks, three anti-tank guns and one gun battery.

This operation finished on the 17th July 1943, and included the battle of Kharkov and Kursk along with other engagements. During that time Wittman's Tiger alone, destroyed 30 Soviet tanks along with 28 guns. On July 29th of 1943, 13 kompanie was used to form schwere SS Panzer Abteilungen 101 which was then attached to LSSAH.

In August of 1943, LSSAH was transferred to Italy, for refitting and occupational duties. In sSSPzAbt 101, Wittman (Tiger #1331) served with other Tiger Aces like: Franz Staudegger (Tiger #1325), Helmut Wendorff (Tiger #1321) and J?rgen Brandt (Tiger #1334). The command of this unit was given to SS-Haupsturmfuhrer Heinz Kling (Tiger #1301).

In October 1943, as a result of the Soviet Autumn Offensive, LSSAH was transferred back to the Eastern Front (Kiev area). Also in October, Wittman changed his Tiger #1331 for the Tiger #S21, and got under his command one J?rgen Brandt (Tiger #S24). On October 13th, Wittman's Tiger destroyed twenty T-34s along with twenty three infantry and anti-tank guns. By December 1943, Wittman had taken part in numerous engagements and destroyed a number of Soviet tanks and guns.

On January 13th of 1944, Michael Wittman received the Knight's Cross for his outstanding service to the Fatherland. On January 15th 1944 his good friend, SS-Rottenfuhrer Balthasar (Bobby) Woll received his Knight's Cross. Balthasar Woll was an excellent gunner, who was even able to fire accurately while on the move,

On January 20th, Wittman was promoted to the rank of SS-Obersturmfuhrer. Two weeks later, on January 30th 1944, Wittman received following telegram from Adolf Hitler himself: "In thankful appreciation of your heroic actions in the battle for the future of our people, I award you as the 380th soldier of the German Wehrmacht, the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Adolf Hitler.".

On February 2nd of 1944, Wittman received Oak Leafs to his Knights Cross from F?hrer's himself, in "F?hrerhauptquartier Wolfsschanze" (Wolfslair in Rastenburg, East Prussia). February 28th 1944 saw Wittman's unit which was under the command of SS-Hauptsturmf?hrer Heinz Kling, count five Iron Cross "Knights": SS-Untersturmf?hrer Staudegger, SS-Untersturmf?hrer Wendorf and SS-Hauptsturmf?hrer Kling. However, SS-Obersturmf?hrer Michael Wittman was the only one with Oak Leafs to his Knights Cross.

During the period from February 29th to March 2nd of 1944, the larger part of the companie was transferred to Mons in Belgium. At the time of the transfer, Wittmann received the command of 2nd Kompanie of sSSPzAbt 101 of LSSAH. After leaving Eastern Front, Michael Wittman had stated that Soviet anti-tank guns were harder and were more prized targets than tanks.

On March 1st 1944 Michael Wittman had married his childhood sweetheart Hildegard Burmester and his marriage witness was his gunner - Bobby Woll. At that time, Wittman became a national hero and was seen and feted everywhere. The propaganda made him into a hero of the entire German nation. In the April of 1944, Wittman visited the Henschel und Sohn factory at Kassel and spoke to the employees thanking them for their great job on producing Tiger I. During his visit he discovered the production line of Late Type Tiger I Ausf E.

In May of 1944, Wittman re-joined the sSSPzAbt 101 of the LSSAH which was stationed in the area of Lisieux in Normandy, France. LSSAH was a part of panzer reserve which included 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend" and the Panzer Lehr Division. At that time the command of sSSPzAbt 101 was given to Heinz von Westernhagen (Tiger #007).

On the June 6th of 1944 (D-Day), Wittmann got a new late production model Tiger I #205. From 6th to 12th June, sSSPzAbt 101 moved to the invasion front in Normandy. On their way, Wittman's 2nd Kompanie was reduced to six Tigers by Allied air attacks. Wittmann's company along with the Panzer Lehr Division and the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend" was part of Heeresgruppe under the direct command of Erwin Rommel.

On June 12, (D-Day+6) SS-Hauptsturmf?hrer Michael Wittman, found himself in Normandy leading a group of five Tiger tanks watching the famed 7th Armoured Division advance towards the strategic hill town of Villers-Bocage. Unknown to the British, two companies of the 1st SS Panzer Corps panzer reserve had arrived in the vicinity and were already in position.

That momentous day Michael Wittman would earn the praise of both friend and foe as the most acclaimed tank commander in history.

Wittman and his company of four other Tigers, and one Mark IV Special, had the same mission as the 22nd Armoured Brigade - to occupy the commanding terrain around Point 213. One of the most amazing engagements in the history of armoured warfare was about to take place.At around 9am the lead elements of the London Yeomanry reached Point 213, accompanied by an advance party of infantry from "A" Company, 1st Battalion The Rifle Brigade.

The combined tank/infantry column consisted of some 25 half-tracks and tanks that stopped behind a hedgerow lined section of road. As the infantry was called forward simultaneously two or three Tiger tanks were spotted moving parallel to the stopped column, screened by the hedge. As the Tigers swung around to face the column the dismounted British crews frantically scrambled back to their vehicles.

Wittman had watched the column from the wooded high ground several hundred meters north from the road. He had immediately seen the column's vulnerability and when it stopped he decided to attack at once without waiting for the other Tigers to assist.

Running to the left of, and parallel to, the road on which the British column lay there was a narrow cart track. Wittman decided to approach the column via this track and to destroy the personal carrier at the rear of the column, near the road and track junction at the rear of the column. The high velocity gun was laid, armed and fired The [british] half-track, swung across the road by the force of the impact, caught fire and began to pour out dense clouds of black smoke.

Then the heavy Tiger thundered towards the British, shuddering only slightly as the heavy gun fired shell after shell into the mass of machines, starting with the lead Tank which erupted into flames. Thus trapped the half-tracks, carriers and tanks alike were smashed by the 88 mm shells, and then with a final burst of speed the 55 ton steel monster, destroying in its rush a British tank which it met on the narrow path, crashed through the junction, was swung in a tight arc onto the roadway and began its descent upon the vehicles lined up outside the village and along the narrow high street.

Wittman's Tiger entered the main street and immediately ran into the RHQ tanks whose crews had also dismounted and were unable to react to the lone Tiger bearing down on them. Wittman knocked out three more British tanks and then withdrew into the woods southeast of Villers-Bocage.

After rearming and refuelling, Wittman returned with four other Tigers, the Mark IV Special, and three other tanks plus supporting Panzer Grenadiers.The German force attacked what was left of the British force. The British lost 20 Cromwell tanks, 4 Churchill Fireflys, 3 light tanks, 3 scout cars and a half track. Almost single-handedly, Wittman, this most courageous and brilliant German tank commander, had destroyed the British advance around Villers-Bocage and forced the 7th Armoured Division onto the defensive.

Thus on July 22nd, after his astounding success at Villers-Bocage, Michael Wittman received the Swords for his Knight Cross with Oak Leafs after being recommended personally by the LSSAH's commander, SS-Obergruppenfuhrer und Panzergeneral der Waffen SS Josef "Sepp" Dietrich. The ceremony was on July 25th 1944 and Adolf Hitler in person decorated Wittman who then became the most decorated tank ace of World War II. At the same time he also received the rank of SS-Haupsturmfuhrer.

Wittman was offered a position of an instructor at a training school but he refused and returned to Normandy.Michael Wittman fought on until August. During this time Wittman recieved a replacement Tiger ? number 007.

At the beginning of August, Wittman along with sSSPzAbt 101 was transferred to Cintheaux area. At that time Germans tried to recapture Caen which was completly destroyed by ongoing fighting. On August 8th of 1944, a new battle began near Cintheaux time and luck was running out for Michael Wittman.

By this time Wittman had destroyed nearly 140 tanks and almost as many anti-tank pieces. He was promoted to captain and with it command of sSSPzAbt 101. He was again offered a position at a tank school, but preferred to stay with his unit. So far-reaching was his fame that even battle hardened Allied soldiers were frightened at the thought of going up against any Panzer, let alone one under the command of the fabled German farmer.

But by August 8th, the situation in France had turned desperate for the Germans in Normandy.The 101st now regrouped with the impressive 12th SS Division, clashed with Canadian armour at Cintheaux. Though the town itself was recaptured and the Canadians, (unsurprisingly) sustained heavy casualties, the German high command considered the battle a tremendous blow, for tragic news was filtering through. Michael Wittman had been killed in Action.

Like a knight making his last stand, Wittman perished in a one sided combat engagement with a detachment of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division against overwhelming odds. Five tanks caught the ace?s Tiger in the open on August 8th, 1944 in the French countryside, and in the ensuing fight that followed, Wittman?s Tiger blew up and his entire crew were killed. Or so the story goes.

Wittman was originally reported missing but the following day was confirmed KIA, a demoralizing defeat for his division and the entire German army. The action was witnessed by SS-Hauptscharf?hrer H?flinger - Tiger #213 which was positioned in the same field at the rear, right of Wittman's Tiger.

He reported that the action occurred in a field near the road to Caen-Cintheaux, at Gaumesnil, at 1255pm on 8th August 1944. He reported too that Wittman's Tiger was certainly destroyed and its entire crew killed but they could not understand how. The destruction of Wittman's Tiger was an mystery even for crews of sSSPzAbt 101.

Many sources say that it was destroyed by the "Firefly Ambush", but different units laid claim to the famous ambush and destruction of Wittman's Tiger, including those of the either 1st Polish Armoured Division, 4th Canadian Armoured Division (it was Canadian Shermans that supposedly surrounded and shot Wittman's Tiger to pieces) or 33rd British Independent Armoured Brigade.

A famous picture exists purporting to be of Wittman's Tiger without its turret and with the gun barrel placed on the hull, is in fact is the picture of SS-Untersturmf?hrer Alfred G?nther's Tiger destroyed by an airplane bomb at Evrecy.

Along with those three versions, some claims were made that units which were not even present in the area at the time, were responsible for destroying Wittman's Tiger, such was the feeling of relief amongst the allied Tank crews.

But another version was offered in 1945, by a local farmer Mr.Serge Varin who found Tiger #007. Mr.Varin was interested in this tank because its turret was literally ripped away from the hull. Mr.Varin examined Wittman's Tiger and noticed that it was not penetrated by any shells fired at it during the fighting.

The only damage to the hull was a big hole in the rear, near the engine deck. Further examination Mr.Varin concluded that the impact came from the air. The rocket that hit the Tiger's rear deck (made of 25mm thick armor), had penetrated the air intakes and exploded causing the explosion in the engine compartment which in turn ignited the stored ammunition in the fighting compartment.The second explosion instantly killed the entire crew and blew the turret into the air.

It would seem that Wittman's Tiger had been destroyed by a rocket fired from a Royal Air Force Hawker "Typhoon" MkIB - attack aircraft several of which had been engaging German armour at that time.

Typhoons were armed with HE (High-explosive) rockets and took heavy tow of German tanks during the Normandy battles.Typhoons were credited with destroying 135 German tanks. Among those was Tiger 007.

Michael Wittman and his brave crew were killed in action on August 8th of 1944, and given a Battlefield burial in unmarked graves near Gaumesnil near Cintheaux, and in the manner of many battlefield burials the graves were lost for nearly forty years.

That is until March of 1983, an unmarked field grave of four German Tank soldiers were discovered by French workmen engaged in road widening. Tiger 007's crew was discovered at long last. After examination it was possible to identify the remains of Michael Wittman by dental records and the serial number of his pistol, still in its holster. The remains of 007?s driver, Heinrich Reimers were identified by his SS identification tag.

Michael Wittman and his crew were subsequently ?officially? laid to rest in the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of the German Military Cemetery of "De La Cambe" in Normandy, France.

Amongst those attending the Ceremony was Bobby Woll, his former gunner, friend and another Knights Cross recipient, who had lived long enough to see the body of his friend discovered and given a proper burial.

Unlike many German tank men, whose reputation was that of arrogance and overconfidence, Wittman was known for his quiet, mild-mannered behaviour, even under fire. It is true that Michael Wittman?s overwhelming success during the tooth-and-nail fighting in Normandy partially came from the gross imbalance of tank quality.

The Tiger tank, while a mediocre offensive weapon, proved to be excellent for the defensive strategy of the German army, with its powerful cannon and heavy armour.

The American Sherman and the British Cromwell proved to be no match for the superb German Armour being too lightly armoured for such heavy close-range fighting, and their firepower was also no match against German guns. The lightness and speed that had given these two machines a distinct advantage in North Africa became a crux in Western Europe.

It should also be remembered that the German tank crews, particularly the SS Divisions, were seasoned veterans almost to a man. Some of the British and Canadians had seen action in the desert or in Italy but most of the American crews had never been in combat before. These advantages would be helpful in the hands of most tank commanders.

In the hands of those such as Michael Wittman, they were for so long, practically invincible.

Barney

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I look forward to Foo Fighters input. I appreciate people may not be particularly ambivalent towards the SS in theory and I am no expert but one cannot but be impressed with Michael Wittman and his achievements. That from someone who had never heard of him until that day in France.

By the way does anyone know of a WW1 tank ace?

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I believe that Wittmann actually lost his tank upon his return into Villers-Bocage, being hit by a 6-pdr anti-tank gun (the crew all escaped). It says a lot for the Tiger I that it was actually hit several times in the first engagement, including one from a Sherman Firefly with it's 17-pdr gun, yet remained undamaged.

Very interested by the 'Typhoon theory' in Wittmann's demise, i had never heard of this till now. I actually read an account by the man who claimed to have killed Wittmann, the gunner in a Firefly. He said he never fired another shot after that day because they made him a radio-operator!

I'm sure Foo will enlighten us with more Wittmann facts at some point.......

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Hi all,
I must admit that I've never heard of the Typhoon theory, but that's no reason to discount it, though I've yet to hear the official German version.
I have also read the firefly gunner's account, and I believe he was one of the Yeomanry units.
It reminds me of the Red Baron's demise. Everyone claimed that one as well.

I do hope the Foofighter gets on . He's very knowledgeable on this subject.

Cracking post Barney. wub.gif

BB

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Hello everyone I have been captured by Firefly and the Vice Chairman whilst drinking heavily telling me about the Wittmann post by Barney. Excellent post by the way. I have a recent French book mainly about Villers Bocage that puts forward the Typhoon theory! There were Typhoons in the area that day but no Squardrons mention hitting any armour that day. Its hard to say but maybe even the Greats have a bad ( Fatal ) day.
concerning WW1 tank Aces I don't know abot Aces but a certain gentleman mentioned in previous posts Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich wore a WW1 tank engagement badge. Maybe The Chairmancan gives us some details on this badge. Please keep up the mail on Wittmann. Foo biggrin.gif

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Guest John Sukey

It really did'nt hurt Wittman that his tank was superior to any other tank in the war. One wonders how he would have done against the tank we finaly got over there too late to get in much action. Our 90mm against his 88.

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  • 1 year later...

I believe that Wittmann actually lost his tank upon his return into Villers-Bocage, being hit by a 6-pdr anti-tank gun (the crew all escaped). It says a lot for the Tiger I that it was actually hit several times in the first engagement, including one from a Sherman Firefly with it's 17-pdr gun, yet remained undamaged.

V

Thanks Barney for that wonderful dissertation on Wittmann :cheers:

@ Firefly

Is there any subsantiation on a 57mm(6lbr) taking out a tiger?

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hi everyone. where did you get that writing on Wittmann. or did you write it? And Ingosc, thanks for that pic, it is in a cool large format, even though I saw it before. Here is more detailed information on Wittmann, his reccomendation by Sepp Dietrich. source : Armour battles of the Waffen SS, by Wili Fry.

SUBMISSION FOR THE AWARDING OF THE OAK LEAVES WITH SWORDS TO THE KNIGHT'S CROSS.

(Awarded on June 22nd, 1944, as the 71st soldier)

Generalkommando I. SS Panzerkorps Battle command post,

June 13, 1944

Leibstandarte

SS Obersturmfuhrer Wittmann received orders on June 13 to secure the left flank of the Korps near Villers Bocage. It was to be expected that English tank forces that had broken through would advance to the south and southeast.

Wittmann arrived at the exact time as ordered with six Panzer VIs.

During the night of June 12 to 13, 1944, extremly heavy artillery fire forced Wittmann's company to change positions three times. In the early morning hours the company stood at Point 213 north of Villers Bocage with five Panzer VIs ready for action.

At 8. AM a sentry reported to SS Obersturmfuhrer Wittmann that a strong column of enemy tanks was marching on the road Caen Villers Bocage.

Wittmann, sitting in cover 200 metres south of the road with his Tiger, recognized an English tank unit followed by an English armoured carrier battalion.

The situation required the fastest possible action. Wittmann did not have time to issue orders to his men in the distant positions. Instead, he pushed immediately, firing on the move, with his Panzer into the English column. This quick action initiall broke up the enemy column. Wittmann destroyed four Sherman tanks from eighty metres, then moved his Tiger into and parallel to the column at ten to thirty meters, firing in the direction of the march. He was able, in a very short time period, to knock out fifteen heavy enemy tanks. Another six tanks were hit, and their crews forced to bail out. The accompanying battalion in armoued cars was almost completely destroyed.

The other four Panzers of the Wittmann company, following behind, took some 230 prisoners. Wittmann pushed ahead, while well in front of his company, into the town of Villers Bocage. In the center of town his Panzer he was immobilised by heavy enemy Pak. Despite this, he destroyed all vehicles within reach and routed the enemy unit. Thereafter, Wittmann and his crew bailed out and made their way on foot some fifteen kilometeres to the north to the Panzer - Lehr Division. There he reported to the Ia, turned around with fiftenn Panzer IVs of the Panzer - Lehr Division, and pushed again towards Villers Bocage. He was able to reach the 1. Company, deployed along the main road to Villers Bocage, in his Schwimmwagen, which had since been brought forward again. Based on his knowledge of the battle and the situation, he used the company to attack the nemy who was still in the town with tanks and Paks.

By his determined actions with his Panzer, Wittmann single handedly destroyed th enemy, the English 22nd Armoured Brigade, which was already well to the rear of our own front. His immediate decision, carried out with greatest personal valor, averted a critical danger to the whole of the front of the I. SS Panzerkorps. At that time, the Korps did not have any other reserves available.

With the count of today, Wittmann has achieved a total number of victories over 138 enemy tanks and 132 enemy Paks with his Panzer.

Signed: Dietrich

SS Obergruppenfuhrer and Panzer general of the Waffen SS

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