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|Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann||
|"At half-past five the next morning the advance continued through
Briquessard and Amaye-sur-Seulles. Villers Bocage was entered without incident,
although the 11th Hussars and 8th Hussars had both contacted the enemy
on either side of the centre-line. 'A' squadron of the 4th County of London
Yeomanry and 'A' Coy. of the 1st Rifle Brigade then pushed on according
to plan towards the high ground to the north-east of the town. In order
to clear the traffic on the roads behind, the column had to move out comparatively
closed up, and it was this that gave a Mk. VI (Tiger) tank, which suddenly
appeared from a side road, its opportunity. It's first shot destroyed one
of the Rifle brigade half-tracks, thus blocking the road; and then at its
own convenience it destroyed the remainder of the half-tracks, some Honey
tanks of the Recce group, four tanks of the Regimental Headquarters troop
and the two OP tanks accompanying the squadron. Escape for the tanks, carriers
and half-tracks was impossible; the road was embanked, obscured by flames
and smoke from the burning vehicles whose crew could only seek what shelter
they could from the machine-gun fire, and our own tanks were powerless
against the armour of the Tiger, with limitless cover at its disposal.
Meanwhile 'A' Squadron, in the lead with the Commanding Oficer, were cut
off. Their last radio message, received at half-past ten, reported that
they were completely surrounded by tanks and infantry, that the position
was untenable and withdrawal impossible. Relief was equally impossible
as, in addition to the burning tanks and vehicles, the road was blocked
by the same Tiger which commanded all approaches."
(A short history of 7th Armoured Division)
With 138 destroyed enemy tanks and 132 anti-tank guns and field artillery pieces Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann was by far the most successful tank commander of the Second World War. He had a combination of acute observation with strategic and tactic intuition, and was able to create surprise assaults and cause havoc which threw his enemy totally off balance. He regarded his crew members as individuals of an elite combat team, not as parts of his vehicle, and enabled his gunner to exploit a tactical situation in the event Wittmann was involved with other tasks as vehicle commander. Especially his first (and famous) Tiger gunner Balthasar "Bobby" Woll could interpret his commander's desires resulting in a highly coordinated and extremely efficient fighting team.
with Hildegard Burmester
|Born on April 22, 1914, Wittmann was raised on a farm near Vogetal,
Oberpfalz, where he hunted on his father's farm land and became exposed
to farming machinery during his childhood. Wittmann joined the German Voluntary
Labor Service on February 1943, who's purpose was to rebuild Germany. As
with many other youths of his time, he joined the rapidly expanding German
Wehrmacht on October 1934 as a private, and joined in 1937 the elite "Leibstandarte
SS Adolf Hitler" (LSSAH). He served in a reconnaissance unit as driver
and later as commander of a Sd.Kfz.
222 armored car during the Polish and French campaign.
After the French campaign in 1940, the LSSAH became re-equipped with six of the new Sturmgeschütz StuG III Ausf.A. Wittmann was given command of one of these StuG IIIs armed with a 75mm short-barreled gun, and fought during the Balkan campaign in Greece. At the beginning of operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, SS-Unterscharführer (Sgt) Wittmann operated in South Russia, and showed to be an individualist who often operated separated. On his first day in Russia, he destroyed 6 T34/76 Russian tanks of a reconnaissance company during a Russian counter-attack, and received the Iron Cross Second Class. Further actions in Russia awarded him the Iron Cross First Class and a place at the officer training Junkerschule in Bad Tolz, where he entered on June 4, 1942.
Those kills earned him and gunner Bobby Woll the Knight's Cross
|After graduating from officer cadet school, Wittmann entered the panzer
training grounds at Ploermel, where he saw for the first time the new Tiger
tank. After completing his training with the revolutionary tank he met
his new crew, including his Tiger gunner Balthasar "Bobby" Woll, loader,
driver and radio operator. The Tiger's slow rate of turret traverse was
compensated with Wittmann's experience with the turretless StuG, swinging
the complete tank into the direction of the enemy, saving time and placing
the heavy armored front towards the enemy.
Wittmann returned to Russia in January 1943, fighting in the Kharkov area during the winter of 1942-43, and during operation "Zitadelle" (Kursk) he destroyed 30 tanks, mainly T-34/76s and KV Is, and 28 anti-tank guns and two batteries of artillery. He especially hated anti-tank guns, which were often camouflaged and difficult to spot. During the period of January 13-14th, Wittmann reported that they had destroyed their 88th enemy tank, and both he and Bobby Woll received the Knight's Cross for their brave and outstanding tactics and gunnery. On January 16th, a large group of Russian tanks, including T34/85s and KV Is, attacked the Leibstandarte positions, and Wittmann and his crew had destroyed some sixteen additional T34/85s by the end of the day. He left the East Front with 119 destroyed enemy tanks on his name. He received the Ritterkreuz on 14 January 1944, the Oakleaf (Eichenlaub) to his Knight's Cross on 30 January 1944, and was promoted to the rank of SS-Obersturmführer (1st lieutenant).
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