A German tank-ace

Untersturmführer Michael Wittmann

Michael Wittmann is born on 22 April, 1914 in Vogelthal, Oberplatz. On 1 February, 1934, Wittmann steps into the Reichsarbeitdienst where he works for six months. On 30 October of the same year he volunteers for the German army, at 10. Kompanie, 19. Infanterie-Regiment. On 30 September 1936 he leaves the service as Unteroffizier. On 5 April, 1937 Wittmann assigns to the 1. Sturm, 92. Standarte, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). Later in the year he starts training on a light four wheel armoured car, the Sd.Kfz.222, before he goes for the six wheeled Sd.Kfz.232. Wittmann gets an assignment with the Panzer reconnaissance unit in the LSSAH. In September 1939 war starts for SS-Unterscharführer Wittmann when he is commander of the reconnaissance unit that is invading Poland. It is for a short while, however, because in October Wittmann starts training at the SS-Sturm-Batterie of the LSSAH with the Sturmgeschutz Ausf A. In the fall of 1940 the Panzer career of Wittmann starts in Yugoslavia and Greece. Here he gets his own command over a platoon of Sturmgeschutz III Ausf A.

A kit from Dragon with the Sturmgeschutz III Ausf A

On 11 June, 1941 the LSSAH and Wittmann leaves for the east, to prepare for Operation Barbarossa, which will start on 22 June. In July Wittmann receives the Iron Cross (2nd Class) when he has destroyed six Russian tanks. When he is wounded he refuses to leave his unit. On 8 September of the same year he receives the Iron Cross (1st Class) when he has destroyed six Russian tanks during one fight near Rostov. He is promoted to SS-Oberscharführer. Because of his great achievements, Wittmann is granted a officers education in June 1942. On 5 September of the same year he leaves the school as a Panzer instructor (SS-Panzerausbildungs und Ersatz-Abteilung). In the fall of 1942, the status of LSSAH is graded up to a Panzer-Grenadier Division. With the addition of 13. Kompanie, which is equipped with the PzKpfw VI Tiger. On 21 December Wittmann is promoted to SS-Untersturmführer and becomes a platoon commander with 13. Kompanie where he gets a platoon Panzer III Ausf L/M which operates beside the Tiger company. After training, the LSSAH leaves in January, 1943 for the East front. In the spring Wttmann finally gets his own Tiger I in 13. Kompanie.

A German soldier inspects a knocked out T-34 during Operation Zitadelle

On 5 July, 1943 Wittmann destroyed during Operation Zitadelle 13 T-34 tanks and 2 anti-tank guns. A couple of days later, on 7 and 8 July, he destroyed another 7 Russian tanks (2 T-34, 2 SU-122 and 3 T-60/70 tanks). On 12 July he destroys 8 Russian tanks plus 3 anti-tank guns and a fieldbattery. When the operation comes to a closure on 17 July, Wittmann his score is 30 Russian tanks and 28 guns. On 29 July, 1943 the 13 Kompanie is reformed to become the Schwere SS Panzer Abteilungen 101 which is connected to the LSSAH. In August the LSSAH is deployed to Italy. In October the 1. SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division 'Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler' becomes the 1. SS Panzer Division LSSAH. In the same month, the division leaves again for Russia. On 13 October, Wittmann scores 20 T-34 tanks and 23 other cannons.

Michael Wittmann with the 'Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub'

On 13 January, 1944 Michael Wittmann receives the Ritterkreuz (Knights Cross) for his devotion. According to the propaganda machine, that announces it over the radio, Wittmann his score is then; 88 tanks and selfpropelled guns destroyed. A couple of days later, his gunner, SS-Rottenfuhrer Balthasar (Bobby) Woll, receives the Iran Cross for his great marksmanship, even when the tanks is in motion. On 20 January, 1944, Wittmann is promoted to SS-Obersturmfuhrer. Two weeks later, on 30 January, Wittmann receives a telegram from Hitler with the announcement, that Wittmann had become the 380th German soldier, who gets the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. On 20 February he receives the additions, in the Wolfsschanze, from Hitler himself.

Wittmann and his crew is congratulated
(notice the 88 stripes on the barrel of the 8,8cm gun of Tiger S04)

From 29 February till 2 March 1944, the largest portion of the company is moved to Mons, Belgium. Around this period, Wittmann gets the command over 2. Kompanie, sSSPzAbt 101, LSSAH. On 2 March Michael Wittmann marries Hildegard Burmester, witness is Bobby Woll. Meanwhile Wittmann becomes a hero to the people. In April he visits the Henschel und Sohn factory in Kassel where the Tiger I is produced. Here he is shown the latest version of it, the Ausf. E. In May, Wittmann returns with to his sSSPzAbt 101, LSSAH. These are then stationed near Lisieux in Normandy. Around this time, Bobby Woll, his faithful gunner, is given his own command over a Tiger I (de ‘335’). He would fight in Normandy and get wounded near Bayeux after an attack of fighterbombers. Woll would see action again during the Battle of the Bulge, end of 1944, in a Tiger II. Woll passed away in 1996.

Tiger '331' of the 3. Kompanie, sSSPzAbt 101 in Normandy

During the invasion on 6 June 1944, the Schwere SS Panzer Abteilungen 101, 1st SS Panzer Division, ‘Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler’ was a reserve unit connected to the Panzer Lehr Division (which had also the command over the 12. SS Panzer Division ‘Hitler Jugend’). sSSPzAbt 101 was at that moment under command of Heinz von Westernhagen (Tiger ‘007’). Commander of 1. Kompanie was SS-Haubtsturmführer Rolf Möbius, of 2. Kompanie SS-Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann and of 3. Kompanie, SS-Obersturmführer Hanno Raasch was the commander. On 6 June (D-Day) Wittmann received a new Tiger, the ‘205’ in which he moved of towards the front. During the deployment he lost six of his original twelve Tiger tanks that were under his command in 2. Kompanie. This was due to Allied fighterbombers and technical failure of the tanks. On 12 June, they went into a bivouac for the night, north-east of Villers-Bocage. The next day, Wittmann went definitely into the history books.

For the whole story of Wittmann in Villers-Bocage

Michael Wittmann still 'loaded'
after his successful action in Villers-Bocage

On 22 June, 1944, after the success in Villers-Bocage, Wittmann received the Swords to his Knights Cross with Oakleaves (after recommendation of the commander of Panzer Lehr, Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein), from the hands of SS-Obergruppenfuhrer und Panzergeneral der Waffen SS Josef ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, commander of the LSSAH. On 25 June the ceremony was repeated, when Wittmann received the same Swords from Hitler. With these, Wittmann became the most decorated tanker of the Second World War. He also was promoted to SS-Haupsturmfuhrer.

Michael Wittmann with Adolf Hitler on 25 June, 1944

Wittmann was given the post of instructor, but he choose the front instead of a school, and went back to Normandy. During the month of July, 1944 he fought in the Battle for Caen. Early August, Wittmann received as Abteilungskommandant, again a new Tiger I, the ‘007’ in which he operates on 8 August in the area of Cintheaux. At 12.55 hours, the Tiger from Wittmann is hit in a field next to the road of Caen- Cintheaux, near Gaumesnil. The explosion blows the turret clean of the hull and all of the crew is killed. After the fighting, the bodies are buried in a pit next to the remnants of Tiger ‘007’. In March 1983, while working on the new N 158, human remains are found. After research it is concluded that these belonged to Wittmann and his crew.

Tiger '007' with on the right the turret (upside down) which was blown from the hull

For years it was uncertain where the body of Wittmann was buried. Also was unclear what the cause for the destruction was of ‘007’. One of the options was that the Tiger was destroyed by a rocket from a fighterbomber. After investigation by Serge Varin, who had found ‘007’, he concluded that it was struck by a HE rocket from a RAF Typhoon. He did not find penetration holes of grenades, but there was just one big hole in the thin (25mm) engine top cover. On 8 August Typhoons where responsible for the destruction of 135 German tanks. But there were also different tank units which claimed the destruction of ‘007’, such as the 1st Polish Armoured Division and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division.

Sherman Vc Firefly, 3 Troop, A Squadron, Northamptonshire Yeomanry

Today, most accepted opinion is that Wittmann and his crew were killed from a shot of a Sherman Vc Firefly, from 3 Troop, A Squadron, Northamptonshire Yeomanry. This Firefly, the ‘Velikye Luki’, under command of Sergeant Gordon was operating with other Fireflies when they encountered three Tigers. They fired on these Tigers which were all three destroyed in a couple of minutes. The first Tiger was destroyed at 12.40 hours and the second, which returned fire, exploded at 12.47 hours. The third Tiger, probably the ‘007’, was put out of action with two shells, fired by gunner Trooper Joe Ekins from the Firefly of Sergeant Gordon. This was written down in the official daily journal of A Squadron.

The grave of Wittmann and his crew in the cemetery of La Cambe

After the remains were found of Wittmann and his crew, they were reburied at the German war cemetery at La Cambe, where it is attracting many visitors. Unfortunately there are people who think it is necessary to bring extreme rightwing and fascistic items to their grave. Wittmann was an SSer (he was known as a fanatic ‘heel clicker’) and fought for a rotten regime. But his heroism may in that context not be forgotten. He was very popular among his comrades and showed sometimes, during the dirty fighting at the East front, his human side. One day, crewmembers who jumped burning from their destroyed T-34 had their flames put out by blankets from Wittmann and his crew and were handed over to the medical service. But Wittmann was a cold blooded tanker who seemed unstoppable and which was ultimate leading to his death. The German cemetery at La Cambe can be found on the N 13 (global central between Bayeux and Carentan). Wittmann and his crew are buried in lot 47, row 3 and grave 120.

The total score of victories for Wittmann till 8 August, 1944 was 141 tanks and 132 anti-tank guns. Most of these victories were made on the East front.