Michael Wittmann
Overview
 
Michael Wittmann was a German Waffen-SS
Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside...

 tank commander during the Second World War. Wittmann would rise to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer
Hauptsturmführer
Hauptsturmführer was a Nazi rank of the SS which was used between the years of 1934 and 1945. The rank of Hauptsturmführer was a mid-grade company level officer and was the equivalent of a Captain in the German Army and also the equivalent of captain in foreign armies...

 (captain) and was a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

 holder.

He was credited with the destruction of 138 tanks and 132 anti-tank guns, along with an unknown number of other armoured vehicles, making him one of Germany's top scoring panzer aces, together with Johannes Bölter
Johannes Bölter
Hauptmann Johannes Bölter was a German Heer tank commander during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

, Ernst Barkmann
Ernst Barkmann
Ernst Barkmann was a German Waffen-SS soldier and panzer ace. Barkmann fought and rose to fame during World War II for his actions in command of Panther tanks.-Early life:...

, Otto Carius
Otto Carius
Lieutenant Otto Carius was a German Heer tank commander during World War II and is credited with destroying more than 150 tanks. He is also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

 and Kurt Knispel
Kurt Knispel
Kurt Knispel was a Sudeten German Heer panzer loader, gunner and later commander, and was the highest scoring tank ace of World War II with a total of 168 confirmed tank kills; the actual number, although unconfirmed, may be as high as 195...

 who was the top scoring ace of the war with 168 tank kills.

Wittmann is most famous for his ambush of elements of the British 7th Armoured Division
British 7th Armoured Division
The 7th Armoured Division was a British armoured division which saw service during the Second World War where its exploits made it famous as the Desert Rats....

, during the Battle of Villers-Bocage
Battle of Villers-Bocage
The Battle of Villers-Bocage took place during the Second World War on 13 June 1944, one week after the Allies landed in Normandy to begin the liberation of German-occupied France. The battle was the result of a British attempt to improve their position by exploiting a temporary vulnerability in...

 on 13 June 1944.
Unanswered Questions
Discussions
Encyclopedia
Michael Wittmann was a German Waffen-SS
Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside...

 tank commander during the Second World War. Wittmann would rise to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer
Hauptsturmführer
Hauptsturmführer was a Nazi rank of the SS which was used between the years of 1934 and 1945. The rank of Hauptsturmführer was a mid-grade company level officer and was the equivalent of a Captain in the German Army and also the equivalent of captain in foreign armies...

 (captain) and was a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

 holder.

He was credited with the destruction of 138 tanks and 132 anti-tank guns, along with an unknown number of other armoured vehicles, making him one of Germany's top scoring panzer aces, together with Johannes Bölter
Johannes Bölter
Hauptmann Johannes Bölter was a German Heer tank commander during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

, Ernst Barkmann
Ernst Barkmann
Ernst Barkmann was a German Waffen-SS soldier and panzer ace. Barkmann fought and rose to fame during World War II for his actions in command of Panther tanks.-Early life:...

, Otto Carius
Otto Carius
Lieutenant Otto Carius was a German Heer tank commander during World War II and is credited with destroying more than 150 tanks. He is also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

 and Kurt Knispel
Kurt Knispel
Kurt Knispel was a Sudeten German Heer panzer loader, gunner and later commander, and was the highest scoring tank ace of World War II with a total of 168 confirmed tank kills; the actual number, although unconfirmed, may be as high as 195...

 who was the top scoring ace of the war with 168 tank kills.

Wittmann is most famous for his ambush of elements of the British 7th Armoured Division
British 7th Armoured Division
The 7th Armoured Division was a British armoured division which saw service during the Second World War where its exploits made it famous as the Desert Rats....

, during the Battle of Villers-Bocage
Battle of Villers-Bocage
The Battle of Villers-Bocage took place during the Second World War on 13 June 1944, one week after the Allies landed in Normandy to begin the liberation of German-occupied France. The battle was the result of a British attempt to improve their position by exploiting a temporary vulnerability in...

 on 13 June 1944. While in command of a single Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger
Tiger I
Tiger I is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of...

 he destroyed up to 14 tanks and 15 personnel carriers along with 2 anti-tank guns within the space of 15 minutes.

The circumstances behind Wittmann’s death have caused some debate and discussion over the years, but it had been historically accepted that Trooper Joe Ekins
Joe Ekins
Joe Ekins , is a retired World War II British Army veteran. He gained recognition for apparently killing the famous German tank commander, Michael Wittmann, the 4th top scoring tank ace in history, on August 8, 1944 near St. Aignan de Cramesnil, France...

, the gunner in a Sherman Firefly
Sherman Firefly
The Sherman Firefly was a World War II British variant of the American Sherman tank, fitted with the powerful British 17 pounder anti-tank gun as its main weapon...

, of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry
Northamptonshire Yeomanry
The Northamptonshire Yeomanry was a unit of the British Army formed in 1794 as volunteer cavalry, it later served in an armoured role before being reduced to squadron level in 1956...

 was his killer. However, in recent years, some commentators have suggested that members of the Canadian Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment
Les Fusiliers de Sherbrooke
Les Fusiliers de Sherbrooke is a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Forces. It is based in Sherbrooke, Quebec, with a sub-unit in Granby.-Armourial description:...

 may have been responsible instead.

Early life and career

Michael Wittmann was born on April 22, 1914 in the village of Vogelthal in the Oberpfalz region of Bavaria
Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

. He was the second son of local farmer Johann Wittmann and his wife Ursula. In February 1934, Michael joined the Volunteer Labour Service, the FAD (what later became the RAD
Reichsarbeitsdienst
The Reichsarbeitsdienst was an institution established by Nazi Germany as an agency to reduce unemployment, similar to the relief programs in other countries. During the Second World War it was an auxiliary formation which provided support for the Wehrmacht.The RAD was formed during July 1934 as...

) and on October 30, 1934 he joined the German Army
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

. He was assigned to the 19. Infantry Regiment based at Freising
Freising
Freising is a town in Bavaria, Germany, and capital of the district Freising. Total population 48,500.The city is located north of Munich at the Isar river, near the Munich International Airport...

 by Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

, eventually reaching the rank of Gefreiter
Gefreiter
Gefreiter is the German, Swiss and Austrian equivalent for the military rank Private . Gefreiter was the lowest rank to which an ordinary soldier could be promoted. As a military rank it has existed since at least the 16th century...

 (lance-corporal). In October 1936 the 22-year-old Wittmann joined the Allgemeine-SS. On April 5, 1937, he was assigned to the premier regiment
Regiment
A regiment is a major tactical military unit, composed of variable numbers of batteries, squadrons or battalions, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel...

, later division Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) and was given the rank SS-Mann
Mann (military rank)
Mann , was a paramilitary rank used by several Nazi Party paramilitary organizations between 1925 and 1945. The rank is most often associated with the SS, and also as a rank of the SA where Mann was the lowest enlisted rank and was the equivalent of a Private.In 1938, with the rise of the...

 (private). A year later, he participated in the occupation of Austria
Anschluss
The Anschluss , also known as the ', was the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938....

 and the Sudetenland
Sudetenland
Sudetenland is the German name used in English in the first half of the 20th century for the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia being within Czechoslovakia.The...

 with an armoured car platoon.

Early War

His first experience of action came in the Polish Campaign, followed by the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 as a commander of the new self-propelled assault guns, the Sturmgeschütz III Ausf. A
Sturmgeschütz III
The Sturmgeschütz III assault gun was Germany's most produced armoured fighting vehicle during World War II. It was built on the chassis of the proven Panzer III tank...

. The Greek campaign - Operation 'Marita'
Battle of Greece
The Battle of Greece is the common name for the invasion and conquest of Greece by Nazi Germany in April 1941. Greece was supported by British Commonwealth forces, while the Germans' Axis allies Italy and Bulgaria played secondary roles...

 - was launched on April 6, 1941. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) captured the Greek
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 capital and formed the spearhead, alongside the 9th Panzer
Panzer
A Panzer is a German language word that, when used as a noun, means "tank". When it is used as an adjective, it means either tank or "armoured" .- Etymology :...

 Division, which punched through the Greek countryside. After three weeks of campaigning, Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 had conquered Greece. Wittmann and his unit were sent to Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 for a refit.

Eastern Front

The rest would not last long, however, as Wittmann's unit was soon dispatched to the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

 to participate in the invasion of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. He initially served as a commander of a StuG III assault gun. He was assigned for both officer and tank training in the winter of 1942–43.

Returning to the Eastern Front as a newly commissioned officer, Wittmann was reassigned to the SS Panzer Regiment 1, a tank unit with the rank of SS-Untersturmführer
Untersturmführer
Untersturmführer was a paramilitary rank of the German Schutzstaffel first created in July 1934. The rank can trace its origins to the older SA rank of Sturmführer which had existed since the founding of the SA in 1921...

 (second lieutenant), where he commanded a Panzer III
Panzer III
Panzer III was the common name of a medium tank that was developed in the 1930s by Germany and was used extensively in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen III translating as "armoured battle vehicle". It was intended to fight other armoured fighting vehicles and...

 tank. By 1943, he commanded a Tiger, and by the Battle of Kursk
Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Kursk took place when German and Soviet forces confronted each other on the Eastern Front during World War II in the vicinity of the city of Kursk, in the Soviet Union in July and August 1943. It remains both the largest series of armored clashes, including the Battle of Prokhorovka,...

 (Operation Citadel), he was a platoon leader. In the Battle of Kursk, a Tiger I commanded by Michael Wittmann survived a collision with a T-34
T-34
The T-34 was a Soviet medium tank produced from 1940 to 1958. Although its armour and armament were surpassed by later tanks of the era, it has been often credited as the most effective, efficient and influential design of World War II...

. Wittmann's driver was able to back away from the T-34 which was destroyed when its ammunition exploded. On January 14, 1944, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

 and on January 30, the Oak Leaves for his continued excellence in the field. By this time, he had destroyed 88 enemy tanks and a significant number of other armoured vehicles.
In Agte's book on Wittmann (Michael Wittmann And The Tiger Commanders Of The Leibstandarte) it calculates his kills thusly:
In the 5 days of Zittadelle Wittmann destroyed 'at least' 30 tanks.(page 100)
'destroyed 13 T34's' on 21 November 1943 (page 130)
56 enemy tanks in the period July 1943-7/1/44 (page 158)
In summary:

56 kills on 7/1/44 (page 213)

66 kills on 9/1/44 (page 181)

88 kills on 13/1/44 (page 213)

114-117 kills on 29/1/44 (page 185)

It would seem over half his total were claimed in a three week period in January 1944.

Normandy

In April 1944, the LSSAH's Tiger Company was transferred to the SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 101. This battalion was assigned to the I SS Panzer Corps
I SS Panzer Corps
The I SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler or I SS Panzer Corps was a German Waffen-SS panzer corps which saw action on both the Western and Eastern Fronts during World War II.-Formation and training:...

 and was never permanently attached to any division or regiment within the corps. Wittmann commanded the 2nd Company of the battalion and held the rank of SS-Obersturmführer
Obersturmführer
Obersturmführer was a paramilitary rank of the Nazi party that was used by the SS and also as a rank of the SA. Translated as “Senior Assault Leader”, the rank of Obersturmführer was first created in 1932 as the result of an expansion of the Sturmabteilung and the need for an additional rank in...

 (first lieutenant). Following the Allied Invasion of Normandy, the battalion was ordered to move from Beauvais
Beauvais
Beauvais is a city approximately by highway north of central Paris, in the northern French region of Picardie. It currently has a population of over 60,000 inhabitants.- History :...

 to Normandy
Normandy
Normandy is a geographical region corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. It is in France.The continental territory covers 30,627 km² and forms the preponderant part of Normandy and roughly 5% of the territory of France. It is divided for administrative purposes into two régions:...

 on 7 June, a move that was completed on 12 June after a five day road march.

Due to the Anglo
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

-American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 advances from Gold
Gold Beach
Gold Beach was the code name of one of the D-Day landing beaches that Allied forces used to invade German-occupied France on 6 June 1944, during World War II....

 and Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach is the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, during World War II...

s, the German 352nd Infantry Division began to buckle; as it withdrew south, it opened up a 7.5 miles (12.1 km) wide gap in the German lines near Caumont-l'Éventé
Caumont-l'Éventé
Caumont-l'Éventé is a commune in the Calvados department in northwestern France.-Population:-Administration:Caumont-l'Éventé is the seat of the canton of Caumont-l'Éventé, which includes 14 communes with 6373 inhabitants .-References:*...

. Sepp Dietrich
Sepp Dietrich
Josef "Sepp" Dietrich was a German SS General. He was one of Nazi Germany's most decorated soldiers and commanded formations up to Army level during World War II. Prior to 1929 he was Adolf Hitler's chauffeur and bodyguard but received rapid promotion after his participation in the murder of...

 ordered his only reserve, the Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101, to position itself behind the Panzer-Lehr-Division and 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was a German Waffen SS armoured division during World War II. The Hitlerjugend was unique because the majority of its junior enlisted men were drawn from members of the Hitler Youth, while the senior NCOs and officers were generally veterans of the Eastern...

 to cover his open left flank. Anticipating the importance the British would assign to the high ground near Villers-Bocage
Villers-Bocage
Villers-Bocage may refer to the following communes in France:* Villers-Bocage, Calvados, in the Calvados département, and the site of the Battle of Villers-Bocage* Villers-Bocage, Somme, in the Somme département...

, Wittmann's company was positioned near the town.

The British 7th Armoured Division was ordered to exploit the gap in the German lines and capture Villers-Bocage and a nearby ridge, Point 213. The British occupied the town and ridge during the morning of 13 June. Wittmann's company consisted of five tanks, of which two were damaged. He was surprised to discover the British in the Villers-Bocage area much sooner than had been expected. He later stated:

I had no time to assemble my company; instead I had to act quickly, as I had to assume that the enemy had already spotted me and would destroy me where I stood. I set off with one tank and passed the order to the others not to retreat a single step but to hold their ground.


At approximately 09:00 Wittmann's Tiger emerged from cover onto Route Nationale 175 and engaged the rearmost British tanks on Point 213, destroying them. Wittmann then moved towards Villers-Bocage engaging several transport vehicles parked along the roadside, the carriers bursting into flames as their fuel tanks were ruptured by machine gun and high explosive fire. Moving into the eastern end of Villers-Bocage, Wittmann engaged a number of light tanks followed by several medium tanks. Alerted to Wittmann's actions, light tanks in the middle of the town quickly got off the road while medium tanks were brought forward. Wittmann, meanwhile, had accounted for a further British tank, two artillery observation post (OP) tanks followed by a scout car and a half-track. Accounts differ as to what happened next. Historians record that, following the destruction of the OP tanks, Wittmann briefly duelled without success against a Sherman Firefly before withdrawing. The Tiger is then reported to have continued eastwards to the outskirts of the town before being disabled by an anti-tank gun. Wittmann's own account, however, contradicts this; he states that his tank was disabled by an anti-tank gun in the town centre.

In less than 15 minutes, 13–14 tanks, two anti-tank guns and 13–15 transport vehicles had been destroyed by the Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101, the vast majority attributed to Wittmann. Wittmann would however play no further role in the Battle of Villers-Bocage
Battle of Villers-Bocage
The Battle of Villers-Bocage took place during the Second World War on 13 June 1944, one week after the Allies landed in Normandy to begin the liberation of German-occupied France. The battle was the result of a British attempt to improve their position by exploiting a temporary vulnerability in...

. For his actions during the battle, Wittmann was promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer
Hauptsturmführer
Hauptsturmführer was a Nazi rank of the SS which was used between the years of 1934 and 1945. The rank of Hauptsturmführer was a mid-grade company level officer and was the equivalent of a Captain in the German Army and also the equivalent of captain in foreign armies...

 (captain) and awarded Swords to his Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

Historian Wolfgang Schneider calls into question Wittmann's tactical ability, claiming "a competent tank company commander does not accumulate so many serious mistakes". Schneider also criticises Wittmann's disposition of his forces before the battle by having his Tigers position themselves in a sunken lane with a vehicle with engine trouble at the head of a stationary column thereby hampering mobility of his unit. It also risked blocking the entire company. However, Schneider saves his real opprobrium for Wittmann’s solitary advance into Villers-Bocage. Although he acknowledges Wittmann's courage, he points out that such an action "goes against all the rules". No intelligence was gathered beforehand, and there was no "centre of gravity" or "concentration of forces" in the attack. Schneider claims that because of Wittmann's actions, "the bulk of the 2nd Company and Mobius 1st Company came up against an enemy who had gone onto the defensive". He calls Wittman's "carefree" advance into British-occupied positions "pure folly", and states that "such over hastiness was uncalled for". Schneider goes on to surmise that if Wittmann had properly prepared an assault involving the rest of his company and the 1st Company, far greater results could have been achieved. He concludes with the belief that "thoughtlessness of this kind was to cost [Wittmann] his life on August 9, 1944, near Gaumesnil, during an attack casually launched in open country with an exposed flank."

Death

Wittmann was killed on 8 August 1944 while taking part in a counterattack ordered by Kurt Meyer
Kurt Meyer (Panzermeyer)
Kurt Meyer, nicknamed "Panzermeyer", served as an officer in the Waffen-SS during the Second World War. He saw action in many major battles, including the Invasion of France, Operation Barbarossa, and the Battle of Normandy.Meyer was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and...

, of the 12th SS Panzer Division to retake tactically important high ground near the town of Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil
Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil
Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-Population:-Personalities:...

. The town and surrounding high ground had been captured a few hours earlier by Anglo-Canadian forces during Operation Totalize. Wittmann had decided to participate in the attack as he believed the company commander who was supposed to lead the attack was too inexperienced.

A group of seven Tiger tanks from the Heavy SS-Panzer Battalion 101, supported by several other tanks, was ambushed by tanks from A Squadron, 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, A Squadron, the Sherbrooke Fuisilier Regiment, and B Squadron, the 144 Royal Armoured Corps
Royal Armoured Corps
The Royal Armoured Corps is currently a collection of ten regular regiments, mostly converted from old horse cavalry regiments, and four Yeomanry regiments of the Territorial Army...

.2

The killing shots have long been thought to have come from a Sherman Firefly of ‘3 Troop’, A Squadron, 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry (commander - Sergeant Gordon; gunner - Trooper Joe Ekins), which was positioned in a wood called Delle de la Roque on the advancing Tigers' right flank at approximately 12:47.

It appears the shells penetrated the upper hull of the tank and ignited the Tiger's own ammunition, causing a fire which engulfed the tank and then blew off the turret.

Discredited claims

For such a junior officer, there has been quite a lot of speculation surrounding how he died. At the time of his death, although the majority of Allied soldiers had never heard of him, Wittmann had become a household name within Germany.

In 1985, issue 48 of After the Battle Magazine was published, containing an article on the last battle of Michael Wittmann. In this issue, Les Taylor, another member of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry during the war, stated that Joe Ekins was the man who was responsible for the death of Wittmann.

The 1st Polish Armoured Division, the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, the 144 Regiment Royal Armoured Corps
Royal Armoured Corps
The Royal Armoured Corps is currently a collection of ten regular regiments, mostly converted from old horse cavalry regiments, and four Yeomanry regiments of the Territorial Army...

 and the RAF
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 Second Tactical Air Force
RAF Second Tactical Air Force
The former RAF Second Tactical Air Force was one of three tactical air forces within the Royal Air Force during and after the Second World War...

 have also been the subject of claims to have killed Wittmann. No Holding Back, a book by Brian Reid on Operation Totalize, contains an entire appendix devoted to the death of Michael Wittmann, in which these claims are completely discredited.

Examination of the armoured divisions' war diaries revealed that they were too far north of St. Aignan de Cramesnil to have taken any part in the defeat of the German armoured counterattack. Investigation also ruled out the 144 Royal Armoured Corps; although they did take part in defeating the counterattack, they were positioned around Cramesnil and therefore out of effective range of Wittmann’s tank. The regiment did originally claim that they destroyed two Tigers during this German counterattack. However, their commanding officer changed this claim to one Tiger and one Panzer IV destroyed, post-battle.

The main source of controversy surrounding Wittmann's demise comes from the claim that he was killed when an RP-3
RP-3
The RP-3 , was a British rocket used in the Second World War. Though primarily an air-to-ground weapon, it saw limited use in other roles. Its 60 lb warhead gave rise to the alternative name of the "60 lb rocket"; the 25 lb solid-shot armour piercing variant was referred to as the "25 lb rocket"...

 rocket from a Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 Hawker Typhoon
Hawker Typhoon
The Hawker Typhoon was a British single-seat fighter-bomber, produced by Hawker Aircraft. While the Typhoon was designed to be a medium-high altitude interceptor, and a direct replacement for the Hawker Hurricane, several design problems were encountered, and the Typhoon never completely satisfied...

 struck his tank.

This myth, originating in German propaganda, stated Wittmann had fallen in combat to the dreaded fighter-bomber
Fighter-bomber
A fighter-bomber is a fixed-wing aircraft with an intended primary role of light tactical bombing and also incorporating certain performance characteristics of a fighter aircraft. This term, although still used, has less significance since the introduction of rockets and guided missiles into aerial...

s
. This was further enhanced when a French civilian, Serge Varin, who took the only known photo of the destroyed Tiger, stated that in his opinion the tank had been destroyed by an air attack. He said he had found an unexploded rocket nearby and could not see any other penetration holes, other than the one on the upper hull. However, some accounts describe this as an exit hole and state the engine was intact and not damaged from any explosion.

Brian Reid has also discredited this explanation after examining the logs of the RAF Second Tactical Air Force. Reid notes that they made no claim of engaging or destroying any tanks in the area during the battle. He concludes:

"...no tanks were claimed destroyed or damaged in the forward areas by immediate support aircraft"


"...the only tanks claimed were by Typhoons on armed reconnaissance missions in areas away from the actual battle. Therefore Wittmann and his crew almost assuredly did not fall victim to an attack from the air."

Reid also notes that Kurt Meyer, the divisional commander of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was a German Waffen SS armoured division during World War II. The Hitlerjugend was unique because the majority of its junior enlisted men were drawn from members of the Hitler Youth, while the senior NCOs and officers were generally veterans of the Eastern...

 who had ordered the Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 to counterattack,

"…made a point of remarking on the Allies' failure to use their tactical fighters on the morning of August 8."


There is also no evidence to support any other aircraft outside of the Second Tactical Airforce attacked the tank.

The final piece of evidence, which rules out air attack upon the attacking German tanks, comes from eyewitness testimony. German tank crews and other members of the Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101, such as Alfred Bahlo, Hans Dollinger, Hans Höflinger and Doctor Rabe, along with Allied tankers such as Captain Boardman
Tom Boardman, Baron Boardman
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Gray Boardman, Baron Boardman MC, TD, DL, PC was an English Conservative politician and businessman....

, Trooper Ekins and Major Radley-Walters have all stated in interviews (as well as other media such as letters) that the Tiger tanks came under tank attack only and do not mention any air attacks.

The most recent claim

After discrediting the main claimants other than Joe Ekins, Brian Reid then discusses another possibility, as there was another armoured regiment much closer to Wittmann’s tank. A Squadron of The Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment
Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment
The Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment was a World War II Canadian armoured regiment created in 1940 with officers and men from two Militia regiments in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The name is a blend of Les Fusiliers de Sherbrooke, a francophone infantry unit, and the Sherbrooke Regiment, an English-speaking...

, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade
2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade
-History:Soon after 3rd Canadian Tank Brigade assumed the designation in summer 1943 of the original 2nd Canadian Tank Brigade, the new 2nd Tank was redesignated and reorganized as 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. Although reorganized as an armoured brigade, no motor battalion served under its command...

, commanded by Major Sydney Radley-Walters, was positioned in the chateau grounds at Gaumesnil. This area, south of Hill 112, is parallel with the Delle de la Roque woods and the location of Joe Ekin’s Firefly. The regiment at this time was made up of several Sherman III and 2 Sherman VC, whose tankers had created firing holes in the property's wall. From this position, based on verbal testimony of the Canadian tankers, they engaged several tanks (including Tigers) and self-propelled guns driving up the main road and across the open ground towards Hill 112.

Reid puts forth the opinion that, with the range Joe Ekins would have to fire over to hit Wittmann’s tank, the proximity of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment to the tank, no other evidence to suggest anything other than tank-to-tank combat, that the latter are most likely responsible for Wittmann's death. Because of changes in land use from orchards to ploughed fields since 1944, it is problematic to establish the exact location of Ekin's Firefly at the beginning of the engagement and even more difficult to know the position of the claimed kill shot as Ekins' tank moved during the engagement. At a minimum, the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry was positioned over 1000 metres (1,093.6 yd) away, possibly as much as 1200 metres (1,312.3 yd), while the Canadian tanks were only around 500 metres (546.8 yd) away. Recent field studies that located the exact position of the Sherbrooke tanks puts the range at less than 150 yards (137.2 m) and the firing angle from their position behind the Chateau's now removed east wall coincides exactly with the damage area to Wittman's Tiger in the left rear engine compartment. There are no official Canadian records to back up this position due to the Regimental Headquarters halftrack being destroyed by a stray USAAF bomb.

Ken Tout, who at the time of Operation Totalize, was a member of C Squadron of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, published a postwar account of the battle and of Wittmann’s demise. Tout credited Joe Ekins at that time. However, when researching his new book on the subject, he interviewed former members of A Squadron, Sherbrooke Fusiliers. In this book, for the first time, he does not claim Wittmann for the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and acknowledges that other regiments were in the area at the time and had engaged the attacking Tigers.

With the Tigers caught in a crossfire between the Northamptonshire Yeomanry and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment, it is understandable that both regiments claimed to have destroyed his tank. The significant hole in the belief that Ekins was Wittman's killer is that, if Wittman's Tiger was one of three Tigers engaged and destroyed by Ekins that afternoon - a truly remarkable feat of tank gunnery, who then is responsible for one of the three Tigers nearest to where Ekins fired from. He killed three Tigers and if one was Wittman's, someone else had to engage and kill one of these three destroyed Tigers within 800 yards (731.5 m) of Ekins position. There is no record or claim by any other Allied tank for any of these three Tigers.

In the appendix of “No Holding Back”, devoted to Wittmann’s demise, there is a topographical map of the engagement, diagrams of the tank and the location of the shell strike.

Burial

The German war graves commission, either with help of veterans from the s.SS-Pz Abt. 101
101st SS Heavy Panzer Detachment
SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 101 SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 101 SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 101 (in German Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101, commonly abbreviated as s.SS-Pz. Abt. 101 was one of Waffen-SS's elite armored units, acting as a fire brigade and a crack assault unit on all fronts...

 or from the author of Panzers in Normandy – Then and Now, located Wittmann and his crew's unmarked grave in 1983. They were then reinterred together at the German war cemetery of La Cambe in France.

Dates of rank

  • SS-Mann
    Mann (military rank)
    Mann , was a paramilitary rank used by several Nazi Party paramilitary organizations between 1925 and 1945. The rank is most often associated with the SS, and also as a rank of the SA where Mann was the lowest enlisted rank and was the equivalent of a Private.In 1938, with the rise of the...

    : April 1, 1937
  • SS-Sturmmann
    Sturmmann
    Sturmmann was a Nazi Party paramilitary rank that was first created in the year 1921. The rank of Sturmmann was used by the Sturmabteilung and the Schutzstaffel ....

    : November 11, 1937
  • SS-Unterscharführer
    Unterscharführer
    Unterscharführer was a paramilitary rank of the Nazi Party used by the Schutzstaffel between 1934 and 1945. The SS rank was created after the Night of the Long Knives...

    : April 20, 1939
  • SS-Oberscharführer
    Oberscharführer
    Oberscharführer was a Nazi Party paramilitary rank that existed between the years of 1932 and 1945. Translated as “Senior Squad Leader”, Oberscharführer was first used as a rank of the Sturmabteilung and was created due to an expansion of the enlisted positions required by growing SA membership...

    : November 9, 1941
  • SS-Untersturmführer
    Untersturmführer
    Untersturmführer was a paramilitary rank of the German Schutzstaffel first created in July 1934. The rank can trace its origins to the older SA rank of Sturmführer which had existed since the founding of the SA in 1921...

    : December 21, 1942
  • SS-Obersturmführer
    Obersturmführer
    Obersturmführer was a paramilitary rank of the Nazi party that was used by the SS and also as a rank of the SA. Translated as “Senior Assault Leader”, the rank of Obersturmführer was first created in 1932 as the result of an expansion of the Sturmabteilung and the need for an additional rank in...

    : January 30, 1944
  • SS-Hauptsturmführer
    Hauptsturmführer
    Hauptsturmführer was a Nazi rank of the SS which was used between the years of 1934 and 1945. The rank of Hauptsturmführer was a mid-grade company level officer and was the equivalent of a Captain in the German Army and also the equivalent of captain in foreign armies...

    : June 21, 1944

Notable decorations

  • Iron Cross
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

     (1939)
    • 2nd Class (12 July 1941)
    • 1st Class (8 September 1941)
  • SS-Honour Ring
  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
    Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
    The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

    • Knight's Cross on 14 January 1944 as SS-Untersturmführer
      Untersturmführer
      Untersturmführer was a paramilitary rank of the German Schutzstaffel first created in July 1934. The rank can trace its origins to the older SA rank of Sturmführer which had existed since the founding of the SA in 1921...

      and section leader in the 13.(schwere)/SS-Panzer-Regiment 1
    • 380th Oak Leaves on 30 January 1944 as SS-Untersturmführer and section leader in the 13.(schwere)/SS-Panzer-Regiment 1
    • 71st Swords on 22 June 1944 as SS-Obersturmführer
      Obersturmführer
      Obersturmführer was a paramilitary rank of the Nazi party that was used by the SS and also as a rank of the SA. Translated as “Senior Assault Leader”, the rank of Obersturmführer was first created in 1932 as the result of an expansion of the Sturmabteilung and the need for an additional rank in...

      and chief of the 2./schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101
  • Wound Badge
    Wound Badge
    Wound Badge was a German military award for wounded or frost-bitten soldiers of Imperial German Army in World War I, the Reichswehr between the wars, and the Wehrmacht, SS and the auxiliary service organizations during the Second World War. After March 1943, due to the increasing number of Allied...

     in Black (20 August 1941)
  • Panzer Badge
    Panzer Badge
    The Panzer Badge was a German medal awarded to armour troops during World War II. It was introduced during World War II in December 1939 .- History :The Tank Combat Badge, or Panzer Badge, first existed in the German Army during World War I, and was later...

     in Silver (21 November 1941)
  • Eastern Front Medal
    Eastern Front Medal
    The Eastern Front Medal, , more commonly known as the Ostmedaille was instituted on May 26, 1942 to mark service on the German Eastern Front during the period November 15, 1941 to April 15, 1942...

     (1942)
  • Sudetenland Medal
    Sudetenland Medal
    The The Sudetenland Commemorative Medal was a decoration of Nazi Germany awarded in the interwar period.-Description:...

     (1938)
  • Anschluss Medal
    Anschluss Medal
    The Anschluss Commemorative Medal was a decoration of Nazi Germany awarded in the interwar period.-Description:Instituted on May 1, 1938, the medal commemorated the return of Austria to the German Reich...

     (1938)
  • Soldier's Cross Of The Order Of Bravery 4th Class 2nd Grade (Tsardom Of Bulgaria) (1941)
  • Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht
    Wehrmachtbericht
    The Wehrmachtbericht was a daily radio report on the Großdeutscher Rundfunk of Nazi Germany, published by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht regarding the military situation on all fronts of World War II....

     on January 13, 1944
  • SS Long Service Award
    SS Long Service Award
    SS Long Service Awards were given in grades of four years, eight years, twelve years, twenty-five years, and forty years. On its reverse side, each award had emblazoned the inscription, in German: "Für treue Dienste in der SS"...


Reference in the Wehrmachtbericht

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
13 January 1944 SS-Untersturmführer Wittmann in einer SS-Panzerdivision schoß am 9. Januar an der Ostfront mit seinem "Tiger"-Panzer seinen 66. feindlichen Panzer ab. SS-Untersturmführer Wittmann in a SS-Panzerdivision on January 9 destroyed his 66th enemy tank with his "Tiger"-tank on the eastern front.

External links

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