Overlord'S Blog: Luck of the Irish
Note: Apologies for the early article. Its just I am busy tomorrow, so will not be able to post at the usual time. Normal service will be resumed next week. Now on with the tales of daring do. This week featuring a King Tiger.
In July 1944 the Germans had amassed a large armoured force in Normandy to face the Allied landings. As well as the battered 21st Panzer Division, the unlucky 503rd Heavy Panzer was also in place. As well as its company of the brand new Porsche King Tigers the 503rd also had two companies of regular Tiger's. The Germans were dug in defensive positions waiting for the impending British attack. Ready to give the British a surprise of their new secret wonder weapon.
However British intelligence did know of the King Tiger, and warnings had been issued to front line units. Lance Corporal Baron, a tank driver in the 2nd Irish Guards, asked Lieutenant Gorman, his tank commander, what they would do if they met such a beast. After considering his reply Lt Gorman said "I guess we shall have to use naval tactics."
The assault the Germans were expecting became called Operation Goodwood, and the Germans might not have felt so secure if they had known of the preparations being made. To move the mass of British armour to the front 4 new bridges were being built, along with 6 new roads.
Equally 760 artillery pieces were emplaced in preparation. This array of guns was supported by the Royal Navy. On the 18th of July at 0545 the storm broke. Over 2000 Bombers supported the attack along with the guns. For over two hours these assets pounded the German lines. Of all the armour available to the Germans, 48% was destroyed. Tiger tanks were flipped upside down. Panzer IV's were reported to have been bounced around or buried up to the turrets in loose soil and had to be dug out by crews scraping the dirt off with their bare hands.
Three British armoured Divisions were then hurled against the reeling Germans. The Germans scraped together whatever they could find locally and fought on. The bitter resistance caused heavy casualties among the Sherman's of the British attack. As was often the case when the Germans lost a position they would mount a local counter attack to try and re-capture the position. One such fight happened near the village of Cagny, on the eastern flank of the attack.
Lt Gorman was in command of the 4th troop, 2 Squadron of the 2nd Irish Guards. His troop were probing towards the Germans. Things stared going wrong straight away, his tank became bogged in a marshy area. Luckily with his troop Sargent's tank near by he was able to free it. Lt Gorman had ordered the rest of his troop to carry on advancing, while he was delayed. After freeing himself Lt Gorman set about finding the other pair of tanks. Hearing the sounds of gunfire and tanks Lt Gorman drove round a corner, only to find himself staring at a King Tiger. As well as a selection of other German armour. They were engaging his two tanks who were located on a small rise. Lt Gorman had by chance come up behind and off to one flank of the Germans.
His tanks on the rise were in trouble. One of them was the troop's Firefly. One of the high velocity German shells had decapitated the Commander of the tank. So the Firefly was out of action for the time being. Lt Gorman had obviously remembered his earlier conversation, and ordered the tank forward at full speed. L/Cpl Baron obeyed immediately and smashed his Sherman through a hedge and made a beeline for the King Tiger.
With horror Lt Gorman could see the barrel of the long 88mm gun slowly swing towards him, hoping to put the crew off he fired a HE shell at the tank to absolutely no effect, the gun was reloaded, but jammed! Then with a rending crash of metal The Sherman stuck the King Tiger in the side. The next thing Lt Gorman remembered was the clang of the 88mm barrel striking the side of the turret.
Knowing his tank was disabled he Ordered his crew to abandon the tank. As he bailed out the Germans opened fire knocking out another of his tanks (I presume it was his troop Sargent's tank, but the account doesn't say). The German Tiger crew were heartbeats behind in bailing out. However the hull gunner in Lt Gorman's tank had his escape blocked. So he had to scramble out through the turret. As Guardsman Agnew dropped to the ground he saw his comrades diving into a ditch and ran over to them. When he came to rest in the ditch he looked up to see the startled faces of the King Tiger crew. Thinking fast he threw a perfect salute and ran, quickly linking up with his colleagues a short distance away.
Lt Gorman's crew continued to fall back towards friendly lines, when they were caught in an artillery barrage. Two of the crew were wounded. After getting all of them to safety Lt Gorman saw a tank a short distance away. Leaving L/cpl Baron in charge Lt Gorman sprinted through an orchard to the tank. It was his Firefly. With the help of L/cpl Baron he got the tank back into fighting condition, then leaving L/Cpl Baron in charge of the survivors (who were later evacuated on another tank) returned to the field of battle. Lt Gorman's first action was to use the Gun on the Firefly to seal the fate of the King Tiger. After a couple of rounds the Tank began to burn. And so ended one of, if not the first British encounter with a King Tiger.
Earlier I said that the 50rd was unlucky. After losing most of its King Tigers to the Bombers in the opening bombardment. Then having one of the few survivors rammed by a Sherman. The 503rd lost another King tiger in a uniquely unlucky way. In August a British platoon approached the village of Le Plessis-Grimoult. They saw one of the 503rd's King Tigers parked there, but didn't have a PIAT with them. Knowing the crew were out of the tank they engaged the tank. The Platoon's 2" mortar fired a round, and hit the ammunition truck parked next to the tank!