Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pz.Kpfw.VI Tiger I Hybrid



During the last years of the war, the Germans, to make up for their scarce production output, reconditioned vehicles that were worn-out by the war use. Period photos show that at the moment of Germany's defeat, many vehicles had been collected in factories, and were ready to be put back in operation by replacing worn-out or combat-damaged parts. Reliable sources confirm that the last Tigers to come out of assembly lines were reconstructed with salvaged materials: 54 hulls and 32 turrets of the first series, possibly from tanks used in training units. Their wheels were replaced by the latest, full-metal ones, and on some tanks the anti-magnetic “Zimmerit” paste was applied directly in the factory. These tanks were assigned to training schools to form new crews. In the last weeks of war, they took part in the last engagements of the various Kampfgruppe (combat groups formed with units coming from different detachments) that were trying to stop the Allied units swarming over Germany from East and West.


Hybrid Kampfgruppe
It was a mixed unit made up of 5 Panthers of Kampfgruppe Schulze/Aufstellungstab Lehrtruppe operating with the Tigergruppe of Lt. Fehrmann's 6 'hybrid' (early/late) Tiger Is (their callsigns prefixed with "F" for Fehrmann).

The first Tiger was lost on April 5, 1945 with gearbox problems near Rethem. The Panthers were commanded by Major Paul Schulze and basically lost in a daylight attack around the eastern outskirts of the town of B├╝ckeburg, near Bad Eilsen - about 65km northeast of Paderborn training grounds.

The group had moved to woods near Wiedensahl on the 8th and launched an attack against the British bridgehead on the Weser near Wietersheim but lost 4 of the 5 Panthers in the process with only Schulze's own vehicle an Ausf. G remaining by noon (callsign red "S" on the glacis and possibly on the turret sides). They were also supposedly IR-equipped but no known pics show it fitted to be certain. They were zapped between the 8th and 11th of April 1945 by lead elements of the 5th Armored Division, US 8th Corps of the Ninth Army.

Along with Fehrmann's 5 remaining Tigers, Schulz in his last Panther repeated the attack but they were met by elements of the British 6th Airborne Division now dug into roadside trenches. A PIAT shell hit the turret of Fehrmann's "F01" and damaged the traversing gear and while 2 other Tigers moved up to flank it, it retreated to a nearby hill. The 5 Tigers then returned to Frille with around 30 POWs.

Tiger "F01" returned to Fallingbostel for repairs, while the remaining 4 Tigers and Schulze's Panther again clashed with lead elements of US 5.Arm.Div. near B├╝ckeburg on the 11th losing 2 Tigers, Schulze's Panther G (Red "S") and 2 halftracks in the process. Schulze escaped and jumped into one of the 2 surviving Tigers but Fehrmann was captured. Soon after, another Tiger (Fwb. Bellof's) was knocked out too.

"Schulze's Tiger" - now the last remaining (apart from "F01" back at Fallingbostel), was still behind US lines now retreated to Achum and became engaged in another firefight with more US 5.Arm. Div. armour, knocking out 3 tanks and an armoured car, though sustaining numerous hits in the process with the gunner slightly wounded too. Finding a map in a US tanker truck he set out for German lines breaking a US roadblock and KOing more US armour while releasing 200 German POWs, some of whom joined him in US trucks in an effort to get back. But he ran out of fuel near Bad-Nennoff and set a charge and destroyed the Tiger.

Franzen's "F01" which had earlier returned to Fallingbostel with the damaged turret gear was ready to go again on April 12 and cobbled into the hastily formed "Kampfgruppe Grossan" along with a couple of other Tigers. It advanced toward the British near the Essel Forest after crossing the Drebber stream, encountering 3 Comets of 1.Troop, A Sqn, 3.Bttn.,3.RTR/11.Arm.Div. in a firefight destroying 1 of them and an armoured car. Both sides withdrew for the night but the next morning the Tiger took out an APC and had an arty barrage called in on it, so it snuck into the woods. Creeping back on to the road again to feel out the British tanks, "F01" was hit in the left rear side from about 100 yards by the Comet of Sgt. Harding of C Sqn. who had moved into a flanking position in the trees and was later to receive the Military Medal for this action. As the Tiger began to cook off, the crew all managed to bail out safely, though each with minor burns, and made their way back to Fallingbostel.

While I'm at it, a bit more re the Tigers to complete the picture:

All up there were 6 Tiger Is in "TG Fehrmann", basically rebuilt Zimmeritted Earlies with steel wheels ("TIC 2" p.404 and "GP"25 p.120), and 5 Panthers equipped with IR in KG Schulze (GP/AFVN).

The numbers of the Tigers were:

F01, F02*, F03, F04, F05, F13 (according to "TIC 2"), or...

F01, F11, F12, F13, F14, F15 (according to "GP"25 and "AFV News 26/1")

So far only shots of "F01", "F13" and an un-ID'd one have be found as far as I know.

"F01" has Zimmerit on its turret only ("TIC 2" p.406). Apart from this and the road wheels being replaced with steels and the idlers replaced with the later smaller type, its for all intents and purposes an Early ("GP" 025 p.122).

"F13" has fine Zimmerit on the turret and a heavier style on the hull for a change.

*Re "F02" - Be very careful!!
In "Tigers in Combat 2" the Fehrmann section goes on about Tiger "F02" and even provides a picture on page 406, where he calls out the bottom shot as "F02"...but, look closely - I think Schneider's got it wrong here...This tank is in fact "F01"! Look at the top photo on 407 which is obviously the same vehicle and its clearly got "F01" on the turret! Also go to p.52 of Green's book for a side view - check the picture of "F01" in the bottom corner and compare details you will see that "F01" is actually the same tank in "TIC2" on p.406 wrongly labelled as "F02" ...So sadly really not 100% sure of "F02" even existing at all if this is the only proof...My money is therefore on the second list of numbers for their Tigers not "TIC2"s...

Sadly the call-sign system used on the Panthers is unknown as only "Red S" has been photographed.

As for paint schemes, it is hard to tell from the b&w pics but Schulze's Panther G appears to be in heavy 3 colour or possibly ambush, while shots of "F01" and "F13" are probably Pz. Grey (or maybe even Olive Green, but tough to tell especially as it’s so dusty).

There was a letter to the editor was in the April 1986 issue of Military Modeling from David E. Brown (now of Experten Decal fame), re two shots from his collection that were taken of "F13" (and Panther G "8"/"8R" now known to be "S"), by a RAF veteran Mr. Fred Hawkins in July 1946. In it, Fred's clear recollection is that the vehicle's most striking feature was its colour - "overall dark panzer grey" with a handpainted red and white outline callsign.

The 3 best references are:

"Tigers in Combat 2" has a section at the back on pp. 404-408.

"Tiger Tanks" by Michael Green does also on pp.50-52 ("F01" is also seen on pp.21, 24 as well as 52!). Note it is the same text taken from the issue of AFV News below.

Plus an old AFV News issue Jan-April 1991 (Vol.26/1) by Giuseppe Finizio pp.2-5 (Though this account is the best to date, it is sadly based on info, photos and research that he received from David Brown to whom he sadly gives no credit)

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