Saturday, 25 October 2014
Heavy Tanks in Combat
On April 16th, 1944, heavy fighting raged on around Ternopol. Soviet forces encircled the city, and the Germans trapped in their fortress no longer wished to remain there. Here is a rare case where both sides committed their biggest tanks to the fighting.
The 53rd Guards Tank Brigade received the 11th Guards Heavy Tank Breakthrough Regiment, three companies of new IS-2 tanks, on the night of April 16th. That morning, a company was readied to defend the small town of Pochapintse.
The Germans committed their Tigers from s.Pz.Abt 507. These Tigers, as well as 9th SS "Hohenstaufen" and elements of SS Division Galizien (which appeared to have spent the previous day torching the village, according to Nieukarane zbrodnie SS-Galizien z lat 1943—1945).
With the two forces less than seven kilometers apart (and a seven minutes' drive, according to Google, although neither the Tigers nor ISes would have managed it that fast), a confrontation is inevitable. Schneider says:
"16 April 1944: Relief attack continued with 12 operational Tigers in support. Several antitank positions were wiped out and Hill 363 was captured. Initial contact with the defenders of Tarnopol was established."
Hm, rather laconic. The Soviet record of the battle is much more in depth.
"At 10:30 on April 16t, 1944, the enemy attacks with a force of up to 25 tanks and two battalions of infantry, and at 16:00 with 40 tanks. At a high cost, the enemy managed to displace elements of the 53rd GTBr.
Heavy tanks (one company), placed behind the medium tanks, opened intense fire at a range of 1500-2000 meters. As a result, 13 enemy tanks were destroyed, (3 Tigers and 10 Panthers). The crew of Guards Lieutenant comrade Vovk showed themselves well, knocking out four enemy tanks (one Tiger), as well as Guards Lieutenant Timokhin, knocking out three enemy tanks (one Tiger).
The enemy attack was repelled, and its tanks returned to initial positions."
It's interesting to note that despite the Panther's thicker armour, it is the Tigers that are considered a more prestigious prize. Now, how closely does the Soviet description matches the Germans' records. I cannot say for sure how many Panthers the Germans lost, but Wielhelm Tieke writes that 9th SS came in with 24 Panthers, which makes the claim of knocking out ten of them feasible. Counting knocked out Tigers, however, is a much easier feat.
"17 April 1944: The 2./schwere Panzer-Abteilung 507 attacked north of Seredynki; it had eight operational tanks."
12 - 8 = 4, so that means the Soviet count was correct. Not only that, but the Germans managed to lose another Tiger elsewhere, or someone confused a Tiger for a Panther. The Soviet record that the Germans failed to displace them is also confirmed (despite some casual Googling turning up opinions that 9th SS somehow won the engagement), as they are attacking the same target from a different location the next day. It appears that this Hill 363 was of no help to them.
Again, the Germans had no luck at all.
"18 April 1944: The relief attack bogged down and a withdrawal was executed during the night. One company remained in support of the XXXXVIII. Panzer-Korps. Eight tanks reported operational; seven of them with the 1./schwere Panzer-Abteilung 507."
Eight tanks remain in the German battalion. You may have noticed that I have omitted mention of the 1st company until now. The thing is, Brody is quite a ways away from where the fighting was taking place, so it would have had no effect on this engagement.
The Germans attacking Pochapintse have failed, losing 11 Tigers and at least 10 Panthers against the defending IS-2 company.