[Lone Sentry: German Tiger Tanks in the Battle for Florence]
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"Notes on Tiger Tanks in the Battle for Florence" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover: Notes on Tiger Tanks in the Battle for Florence]   The January 1945 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin contained a five page report on the German Tiger tanks encountered by New Zealand troops in the fighting around Florence, Italy. Printed by the Military Intelligence Service during WWII, the Intelligence Bulletin was designed to inform junior officers and enlisted men of the latest enemy tactics and weapons.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



In the battle for Florence, a New Zealand division had its first experience with standard Tiger tanks on a fairly large scale, and noted several useful points about the ways in which the Germans employed these vehicles.

As a rule, the Tigers were well sited and well camouflaged with natural foliage. To delay the New Zealand infantry and to pick off tanks, the Tigers were used in hull-down positions. Another enemy method was to send Tigers by covered routes to previously selected positions. From these positions the Germans would fire a few harassing rounds, withdraw, and move to alternate positions. Tigers also were used to provide close support for German infantry, to lend additional fire power to artillery concentrations, and to engage buildings occupied by the New Zealanders. These troops noted that almost invariably a Tiger would be sited with at least one other tank or a self-propelled gun in support. The supporting tank or gun would remain silent unless its fire was absolutely needed. Sometimes a Tiger would be accompanied by infantrymen — often only 6 to 12 of them — deployed on the flanks as far as 50 yards away from the tank.

The New Zealanders were of the opinion that the Tiger's heavy front and rear armor made it unlikely that the tank would be knocked out by hits on these parts. Simultaneous frontal and flank attacks were considered desirable. The New Zealanders found the Tigers' side armor definitely vulnerable to fire from 17-pounders. Other weak spots, it was reported, were the rear of the tank, just over the engines, and the large exhaust hole, also in the rear and just over the left of center. Some commanders found high explosives the most effective ammunition against these rear parts.

[German Tiger Tank, Tiger I Ausf E]
This is a standard Tiger tank — or, as the Germans designate it,
Pz. Kpfw. Tiger. (The Roman numeral "VI" has been dropped.)

As a rule, the Tigers were placed in position so skillfully that the New Zealanders found it difficult to employ a sniping anti-tank gun or a towed gun for stalking purposes. Unless very careful reconnaissance was carried out to site the gun to the best advantage, and so as to detect German supporting tanks or self-propelled guns, the effort was likely to be fruitless. For this reason, the New Zealanders concluded that maximum time for reconnaissance, and the maximum amount of information, were essential for a battery commander who was called upon to engage a Tiger. The German tank-and-gun combination seemed to be slow at maneuvering and firing, and also very susceptible to blinding by U.S. 75-mm smoke ammunition. On one occasion, two smoke rounds, followed by armor-piercing projectiles, were enough to force a Tiger to withdraw.

Sometimes the Germans used their Tigers with marked recklessness, the crews taking risks to an extent which indicated their extreme confidence in their vehicles. This rendered the latter vulnerable to New Zealand tank-hunting squads armed with close-range antitank weapons. When Tigers were closed down, and were attacking on their own at some distance from their supporting guns, the tanks' vulnerability to those close-range weapons was increased correspondingly.

Tigers were effectively knocked out, or were forced to withdraw, by concentrations of field artillery. It was clear that German tank crews feared the damaging effect of shell fire against such vital parts as tracks, suspension, bogie wheels, radio aerials, electrical equipment, and so on. The New Zealanders incorporated medium artillery in several of their artillery concentrations, and decided that medium pieces were suitable when a sufficiently large concentration could be brought to bear. However, owing to a dispersion of rounds, it was considered preferable to include a good concentration of field guns, to "thicken up" the fire. The division in question had no experience in using heavy artillery against Tigers.

It was admittedly difficult to locate stationary, well camouflaged Tigers which had been sited for defensive firing. Worth mentioning, however, is the performance of an artillery observation post, which was notified by Allied tanks that a Tiger was believed to be in a certain area. The observation post began to range. A round falling in the vicinity of the suspected tank blasted away the vehicle's camouflage, and the Tiger promptly retreated.

Several of the New Zealand antitank gunners' experiences in combating Tigers will be of special interest:

1.  A Tiger was observed about 3,000 yards away, engaging three Shermans. When it set one of the Shermans afire, the other two withdrew over a crest. A 17-pounder was brought up to within 2,400 yards of the Tiger, and engaged it from a flank. When the Tiger realized that it was being engaged by a high-velocity gun, it swung around 90 degrees so that its heavy frontal armor was toward the gun. In the ensuing duel, one round hit the turret, another round hit the suspension, and two near-short rounds probably ricocheted into the tank. The tank was not put out of action. The range was too great to expect a kill; hence the New Zealanders' tactics were to make the Tiger expose its flank to the Shermans at a range of almost 500 yards, by swinging around onto the antitank gun. The Tiger did just this, and, when it was engaged by the Shermans, it withdrew. The enemy infantry protection of half a dozen to a dozen men was engaged by machine guns.

2.  At the junction of a main road and a side road, a Tiger was just off the road, engaging forward troops in buildings. Another Tiger, about 50 yards up the side road, was supporting the first. A field-artillery concentration was called for. It appeared to come from one battery only. Although no hits were observed, both Tigers withdrew.

3.  A Tiger on a ridge was engaged by what appeared to be a battery of mediums. After the first few rounds had fallen, the crew bailed out. (It is not known why.) Shortly afterward, while the tank still was being shelled, a German soldier returned to the tank and drove it off. About 10 minutes later, the remainder of the crew made a dash along the same route their tank had taken.

4.  A tank hidden in the garage of a two-story house ventured out for about 20 yards, fired a few harassing rounds, and returned to its shelter. Many hits on the building were scored by 4.2-inch mortars firing cap-on, but little damage was visible. Each night the tank was withdrawn from the area, even though it was in an excellent concealed position and was protected by infantry. Later the house was examined. Although it had suffered appreciable damage — and there were several dead Germans about there was no evidence that damage had been done to the tank itself.

The events described are from the fighting by the 2nd New Zealand Division to capture the Paula Line which was defended in part by the s.Pz.Abt. 508 equipped with the Tiger I. Florence was finally captured by the British XIII Corps on August 4, 1944. For more information on s.Pz.Abt. 508 and Tiger tank losses to artillery, see the unit history, Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508, Kurt Hirlinger, editor, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, 2001. The Tiger tank illustrated is actually from 2.Ko. of s.Pz.Abt. 504 and was destroyed in Sicily in July 1943. Additional images of Tiger tanks destroyed or captured by New Zealand troops in Italy are online at National Library of New Zealand Timeframes. See Also: German Tiger Tank in Allied Intelligence, German Heavy Tank — PzKw 6, New German Heavy Tank, Vulnerability of Tiger Tanks

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