The story of the world’s most famous tank has had a new chapter added following research revealing exactly how Tiger 131 was captured.
The new information includes an astonishing account from a previously unknown eye-witness.
He recalled the moment his anti-tank round bounced off the Tiger tank as the turret turned in his direction moments before it was disabled by a lucky hit.
It was the first example of the fearsome new German invention to be captured intact by the allies who seized it during fierce fighting in the Tunisian desert in 1943.
Such was the importance of the capture that, when visiting North Africa, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and King George VI went to be pictured with it.
A lucky shot had wedged itself in the turret mechanism so it couldn’t turn, and the crew had bailed out and run.
After the tank was taken to the UK, Lt Peter Gudgin was charged with writing a detailed report about it.
Gudgin had been fighting Tigers with 48 Royal Tank Regiment in Tunisia at a place called Djebel Djaffa, on April 21, and after being hit by one was invalided back home.
He mistakenly believed that the Tiger tank was the same one that had hit his Churchill tank and that his comrades had subsequently stopped it with the lucky shot. And that has always been the official story.
However, new research shows that Tiger 131 was actually hit 15 miles away from Djebel Djaffa at a place called Gueriat el Atach; known as Point 174.
Research carried out by Dale Oscroft, the son of one of the soldiers from the 2nd Battalion The Sherwood Foresters, has revealed the story.
The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset, is home to Tiger 131, which is the only working example in the world.
Currently it is part of a world-first exhibition, the Tiger Collection, which showcases the entire Tiger family side-by-side.
Dale’s father John, who died in 1982, had told him about his battalion’s first ‘set-piece’ attack in Tunisia when they took on the legendary tanks.
And when, in 2012, Dale visited The Tank Museum and saw how the official story of the Tiger tank and his father’s version were so similar, he began his research.
He said: “After ejecting the Germans, the Foresters – including my father – dug in and prepared for the counter attack which, when it materialised, comprised a number of Tiger tanks.
“Having the dubious honour of carrying a PIAT anti-tank weapon my father was ordered to creep forward and engage the nearest Tiger.
“After getting as close as he dared he took aim and fired, only to see the bomb strike a glancing blow on the turret and bounce off.
“At this point he saw the turret begin to traverse in his direction and decided to get his head down.
“Fortunately for him, at this juncture the tank was fired on by an old French ‘75’ which the Foresters had taken from the Germans, as well as by Churchill tanks which were some distance behind him.
“Much to his relief the tank crew bailed out and made off. An inspection showed the tiger to have sustained a lucky hit on the turret ring.
“My father speculated that the crew must have thought the Foresters had something more potent than they actually did.”
John, who was from Sutton-in-Ashfield , joined the Foresters at the outbreak of war from his job making hosiery.
He fought in North Africa, in the Italian landings and ended up serving in Palestine before being demobbed in 1946 and returning to the hosiery factory.
Dale carried out research using satellite images and wartime accounts which showed that Tiger 131 was indeed captured at Point 174 and not Djebel Djaffa, as had always been believed.
Later, Dale sought the assistance of David Byrden, a Tiger tank expert, to confirm his findings through the use of satellite imagery.
He added: “Dad said very little about the war, but he did tell me about the Tiger tank and how it came to be captured.
“After noticing the similarities between my father’s story and the official story I began to carry out research and have managed to prove that Tiger 131 was the one my father was fighting.”
The Tank Museum recently carried out putty tests on Tiger 131’s turret which showed that the shell which disabled it had been fired by a Churchill tank.
David Willey, Curator of The Tank Museum, said: “History is re-interpreted by each generation, keen to learn their own lessons, draw their own comparisons and find their own relevance to the stories of the past.
“In this age new tools have been given to the researcher; the internet, records online, e-mail, a mass audience willing to respond to questions and comment on theories – whether well informed or not.
“But there is also simply carrying out good research, looking at and questioning the facts, finding new evidence and following up on a hunch or a theory.
“Here we see a case of the evidence always being there – but until Dale came to question the accepted orthodoxy – no one had looked at this evidence in a new way.
“Backed by the magic of technology such as Google maps – a new story can now be written about the capture of Tiger 131.
“And of course the story doesn’t end here as more will undoubtedly come to light, more of the picture will be filled in and we can return again to this moment in history anew.”
Tiger 131 can be seen in action in during Tiger Day on 16 September at The Tank Museum – tankmuseum.org/whats-on/events/bovevt53768
- Read the full story of Tiger 131 capture at Tiger-tank.com
Pic caption: Tiger 131 being examined by curious British soldiers after its capture
For more information contact Ed Baker at Deep South Media on 01202 534487
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
ABOUT THE TANK MUSEUM
The Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset holds the national collection of tanks and brings the story of tanks and tank crews to life.
With over 300 tanks from 26 nations, The Tank Museum holds the finest and most historically significant collection of fighting armour in the world. These range from the world’s first ever tank, Little Willie, through to the British Army’s current Main Battle Tank, Challenger 2.
Eight powerful exhibitions tell the story of armoured warfare spanning over 100 years of history. As you explore the Museum’s seven large halls, you come face with face to face with tanks and hear incredible true stories from the last century.
The Tank Museum is an independent Museum and registered Charity.