TIGER-TAMERS – Battle for Sandomierz Bulge – August of 1944
Battle for Sandomierz Bulge – August of 1944
by Dmitry Pyatakhin and George Parada
Comrades, We have a perfect weapon, it will not be an attack, it will be the hunt for Ivans
- Major Von Legat, commander of Schwere Panzer Abteilung 501.
Gunner: They look like Tigers, but they are not. Maybe Panthers ?,
Commander: Fire! And do not ask them about their family name.
- Intercom communication in T-34-85.
On August 10th of 1944, the troops of the 1st Ukranian Front penetrated the defenseline of the 4th German Panzer Army near the Polish city of Sandomierz, creating a bulge on the right bank of theriver Vistula. Germans, in order to eliminate the dangerous bulge moved into the area 5 divisions, including onepanzer division from the Army Group Southern Ukraine, five divisions from Germany and 6 Sturmgeschutz brigades.
Since August 11th, Soviet troops from the 6th Guard Tank Corps, 3rd Guard Tank Army left the villages of Szydlowand Ogledow and created a strong defense line. The sandy ground in the area was difficult to dig trenches for tanksas well as to operate tanks. Soviet Commanders assumed that Germans will not approach and attack frontally butwill strike on the flank.
On the road to Ogledow, two T-34-85 under command of Capt. P. Ivushkin were well camouflaged in a stacks and ready to ambushthe enemy.
Soviet ISU-122 assault gun armed with 122mm gun.
Soviet units were51st, 52nd and 53rd Armor Guards Brigades along with 71st Independent Heavy Tank Guards Regiment. In total, Soviets had 29 T-34-76, 14 T-34-85, 11 IS-2 and several ISU-122 assault guns. The main part of the German strike force was Schwere Panzer Abteilung 501, (which arrived in Kielce on August 9th),as a part of the 16th Panzer Division with 20 PzKpfwVI Ausf B Tiger II (Kingtigers), 20 PzKpfw IV and 4 battalions of mechanized infantry.The rest of sPzAbt 501 was still in Ohrdruf (Germany) due to the technical problems with their tanks. Kingtigers were ordered tomove from Kielce to the Sandomierz bulge but during the trip most of the tanks brokedown. Tanks were repairedduring the night but on August 11th, entire unit had only 11 fully operational Kingtigers.
On the night of August 12th, Capt. Ivushkin and crews of two tanks heard a sound of engines. In the morning ofAugust 13th, Germans performed an artillery and air bombardment but without any success due to the good camouflageof the Soviet troops and tanks and overall lack of inteligence on Soviet positions. At 7:00, 11 Kingtigers moved straight into the Soviet ambush. German tanks had problems to move in the sandy ground and advanced slowly. Three Kingtigers passed the camouflaged T-34-85 andafterwards two tanks of Capt. Ivushkin opened fire and destroyed 3 Kingtigers by direct hits to their side armor.The road was blocked and other Kingtigers were forced to retreat.
On the northern flank of the bulge, the attack started at 9:00 as four Kingtigers went into the counterattack against the Soviet Infantry, supported by the assault guns.Germans lost one Kingtiger to the fire of ISU-122 of Lt. Klimenkov. The other three tanks were forced to retreat,because the sandy ground limited their maneuverability.
Soviet T-34/85 medium tank armed with 85mm gun.
After that, Soviet infantry entered the village of Ogledow withoutstrong resistance from Germans but was suddenly attacked by 7 Kingtigers from the flank. ISU-122 (No.98) commanded by Lt. Udalov, which covered the flank openedfire from the distance of 700 meters, destroying one and damaging another Kingtiger. German tanks returned but due to thelow speed they could not retreat once in danger. Lt. Udalov crossed the forest, came into a flank of this group,opened fire and hit another one. In two hours, Germans attacked again, but well camouflaged ISU-122 commanded byLt. Beliakov opened the fire from the distance of 1000 meters hiting another Kingtiger. During their attack on Szydlow, Germans lost 4 Kingtigersto fire of Soviet IS-2 tanks, which opened fire at ranges from 700 to 1000 meters.
Kingtiger No.234 at Ogledow
Soviet troops rushed into the village of Ogledow and Staszow, where they captured 3 Kingtigers(No.102, Command Tank No.502 , No.234), which were left behind by German crews. No.102 and No.234 were brokendown but repairable,while Command Tank No.502 was fully operational. No.502 was originally No.002 and belonged to the junior commanderof Schwere Panzer Abteilung 501. The number was changed by the Soviets after capture due to unknown reasons. All three tanks were captured by tankers from Major Korobow’s 53rd Guards Tank Brigade.
Kingtiger at Ogledow. Visible are marks left by 85mm rounds on the front plate.
Later on, captured tanks were shown to the commander of the 3rdTank Army Gen. Col. P. Rybalko, who was impressed by their weight and dimensions. In a month, one of them was ondisplay of captured German AFVs. It was ordered that all three tanks were to be transported to Kubinka but only No.102 and No.502 reachedtheir destination as No.234 was used for parts to keep other two tanks in running condition.
The Kingtiger No.102 was tested at Kubinka proving grounds. The resultsof tests made in 1944 were as follows:
1. Unsatisfactory reliability of the engine and transmission;
2. Complicated mechanical components; low range and average speed of 20 km/h;
3. Armor quality was lower than on Tiger I and Panther, after 3-4 direct hits there was significant damage and fragmentation but no penetration; welding was of poor quality;
4. The front armor plate cannot be penetrated, but heavily damaged by 152mm and 122mm armor piercing / high explosive shells fired by artillery pieces. The result is the damage of the tanks mechanical components;
5. The armor-piercing shells of anti-tank guns BS-3 (100mm) and A-19 (122mm) can penetrate the front armor plate of the turret from 1000 to 1500m;
6. The sides armor plates can be penetrated by Soviet 85mm and American 76mm anti-tank guns from 800 to 2000m; it was reported that American ammunition was more effective;
7. Soviet 76mm Zis-3 and F-34 guns were unable to penetrate any of King Tiger’s armor;
8. The Kingtigers KwK 43 gun performed very well and can be compare to Soviet 122mm gun of the IS-2 tank.
Kingtiger No.102 after tests at Kubinka
One of the captured Kingtigers (No.502) is today on display at theAFV Museum in Kubinka.
During the three days long battle (August 11th to 13th), in the region of villages Stachow and Szyldow, 14 Kingtigerswere destroyed by tanks and asssault guns of the 6th Guard Tank Corps.
The result of the first appearance of Kingtigers on the Eastern front was unsuccessful. Kingtigers were actually perfect tanks for defensebut during offensive they suffered high losses, what is proven by events on the Eastern and Western fronts.
Kingtiger No.502 (No.002) at Ogledow
Credits / Sources:
Tankomaster magazine # 6, 1999;
Voennye Znaniya magazine #6, 1998;
501 Battalion of Heavy tanks, Artefact 1998;
Nowa Technika Wojskowa #12, 2000.