How 48 Royal Tank Regiment Captured Tiger 131

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXP0QhbBDC8  Tiger 131 today

It was 21 April 1943 when 48th Royal Tank Regiment newly arrived in Tunisia from Britain went into action against the Germans for the first time. Alongside an infantry battalion, they attacked German positions in the hills at Medjez-al-Bab.  Lt. Peter Gudgin, who commanded one of two troops of Churchill tanks leading the attack, was among them. He was soon to experience the destructive force of the Tiger.

"As we advanced towards our objectives we could see no sign of the enemy," Peter told The Tank Museum. "But suddenly my fellow troop leader's tank erupted in an enormous explosion. Before  l had chance to locate the source of this shot, my tank was hit by a shot which passed through  the from plate, through the fighting Compartment and into the engine, setting it ablaze."


Churchill

Lt. Gudgin and his crew bailed out under heavy machine gun fire and were fortunate to escape with  minor injuries; the crew of the other tank were all killed. "The next day We took the opportunity to examine our burnt out tank. It had been cleanly penetrated by an 88mm shell which had been fired by a Tiger tank that had been found abandoned on our objective." The abandoned tank was Tiger 131.

British tank crews first encountered Tigers in January 1943. German crews had been thorough in carrying out their orders to completely destroy abandoned Tigers in order to prevent them falling into enemy hands. As a result little was known about this formidable new opponent, so the capture of a complete Tiger was a prize of enormous importance which would yield valuable information.

This makes the capture of Tiger 131 as significant as it was enigmatic. The fate of the crew remains a mystery but the fact that the tank was abandoned seems to have been considered dishonourable. The unit's war diary simply states; "Crew members of Tiger 131 panic and abandon the tank after two harmless hits from a Churchill." The evidence shows that the tank was subject to several direct hits which were far from harmless.

The most important strike, which is clearly visible today, saw a 6-pounder round scrape the underside of the Tiger's 88mm gun, before hitting the gun mantlet and lodging itself in the turret ring. This jammed the turret and effectively prevented the Tiger from fighting. It also split the weld on the top plate and, according to a contemporary report, shattered the radio. It was surmised that this shot could have "incapacitated the driver and front gunner'


The Crew of Tiger 131

Evidence of a second 8pdr strike can also be seen on the right hand turret lifting stud, but a third 6 pdr hit the open loader's hatch, smashing it and deflecting the round to hit the hatch rim, again potentially injuring crew members inside. Whatever happened, the evidence shows that Tiger 131 was literally fought to a standstill by 48 RTRís Churchill tanks.

The damage caused by their 8pdrís indicates an incredibly high standard of gunnery as they were almost certainly firing on the move. The fact the tank was captured at all proves that, despite its clear but often overstated strengths, the Tiger was not invincible.

Behind the myth and hyperbole with which it is often associated, Tiger 131 tells an important story about the human element in tank warfare; the role of the crew. We may speculate that the inexperience or poor morale of its crew led to the surrender of a tank famed for its strength; but what of the men who had to face the fearsome Tiger in machines they considered inferior?

When Lt. Gudgin and his men arrived in Tunisia, they were confronted by the spectacle of stacked Churchill tank hulks. Large holes had been punched through even their thickest armour. It must have been a most discouraging sight. They knew that their comparatively underógunned Churchills would be no match for the Tigers when they eventually met. But this did not deter them from conducting their duty with almost casual, daily acts of considerable personal courage.

As published in the Tank Times Feb 2012 by Tank Museum Bovington Dorset. Tiger 131 has been fully restored and is currently on display and being driven in displays at the Tank Museum Bovington Camp Wareham Dorset.

Medjez-al-bab: Historical Information.  Mejez-al-bab is SW of Tunis, on route P5.

In May 1943, the war in North Africa came to an end in Tunisia with the defeat of the Axis powers by a combined Allied force.

The campaign began on 8 November 1942, when Commonwealth and American troops made a series of landings in Algeria and Morocco. The Germans responded immediately by sending a force from Sicily to northern Tunisia, which checked the Allied advance east in early December. In the south, the Axis forces defeated at El Alamein withdrew into Tunisia along the coast through Libya, pursued by the Allied Eighth Army. By mid April 1943, the combined Axis force was hemmed into a small corner of north-eastern Tunisia and the Allies were grouped for their final offensive.

Medjez-el-Bab was at the limit of the Allied advance in December 1942 and remained on the front line until the decisive Allied advances of April and May 1943.

There are 2,903 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated in MEDJEZ-EL-BAB WAR CEMETERY. 385 of the burials are unidentified. Special memorials commemorate three soldiers buried in Tunis (Borgel) Cemetery and one in Youks-les-Bains Cemetery, whose graves are now lost.

Within the cemetery stands the MEDJEZ-EL-BAB MEMORIAL, bearing the names of almost 2,000 men of the First Army who died during the operations in Algeria and Tunisia between 8 November 1942 and 19 February 1943, and those of the First and Eighth Armies who died in operations in the same areas between 20 February 1943 and 13 May 1943, and who have no known graves.

The five First World War burials in Medjez-el-Bab War Cemetery were brought in from Tunis (Belvedere) Cemetery or in Carthage (Basilica Karita) Cemetery in 1950.

Medjez-al-bab is beautifully tended: http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/47314/MEDJEZ-EL-BAB%20WAR%20CEMETERY 
and here: http://www.ww2guards.com/ww2guards/Cemeteries_L_-_M/Pages/MEDJEZ-EL-BAB_MEMORIAL,_TUNISIA.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Sfvkcr_5jk - photos from 1900 - 1950

A book, Churchill Infantry Tank 1941-1951 records this incident but fails to mention the capture at all, instead glossing over the battle in a short paragraph.