Overlord'S Blog: Witnessing the Ferdinand
Here’s another of the Competition articles. This was originally written by haeschn from the EU server. With his permission I’ve gone through and tweaked some of the English for a better flow, and added some bits I found on the subject.
In November 1943, the 20 year old German common soldier and so-called “Landser” Günter K. Koschorrek was part of the 24. Panzerdivision at the eastern front. He operated a machine gun on a sustained fire mount. This account is from when he was stationed to the south of the city of Dnjeprowka in the today’s Ukraine.
The front line was only a few kilometers away and Koschorrek spent days of waiting, always in expectation of being thrown into a counterattack against a Soviet penetration of the German lines. The Soviet troops on the other side were well armed and had slowly decimated the German troops on the flanks over the last few months. An attack was only a question of time and Koschorrek’s unit was held in reserve to face the threat as soon as news of the breakthrough was reported. Throughout the days and even in the night he could hear the thunder of bombs and artillery shells rumbling across the front.
Then on the 22nd of November the order for a counterattack was given. Koschorrek joined his troops as well as some lighter tanks and artillery. But soon after the attack they were told to return to their positions they had just left. As a common soldier in the trenches of the war, nobody tells you what is going on and so he continued waiting for new orders until the next day.
In the early morning a huge barrage started pouring down on the right flank at the tired troops of the 258. Infanteriedivision. Koschorrek was wondering, what was going on and if they could hold the line as suddenly a huge rumbling sound rose from behind him. He states that he had never heard such a loud humming noise before which made the walls of his earth hole tremble and shake like in an earthquake. He looked out of his hole and saw five huge monsters rolling towards him. The other Landsers around him stood up and stared at these tanks in astonishment. Some of the more experienced soldiers and officers shared their knowledge: these beasts were the Ferdinand, a heavy tank destroyer with the infamous 8,8cm Panzerjagdkanone L/71 mounted in a heavily armoured casemate. The incredible power enabled it to fight tanks at longer distances than usual, later in the war one Ferdinand scored a hit on a T-34 at a range of 4500m. The following engagement of the Ferdinands and some T-34s in the next days gave an indication of the power and range of the gun.
Four Ferdinands and four assault guns covered an attack of the infantry which Koschorrek was part of. After taking positions, the Soviets launched a counterattack with twenty two T-34s. The tank destroyers stayed in cover behind a small ridge and waited for the tanks to close the distance just a bit more. Then they showed their true colors and opened fire at the surprised tanks. After the first smoke slowly disappeared, six T-34s were already burning. The Soviets fired back at the Ferdinands, but hull down on a ridge line they were only exposing their thick armoured casemate.
Koschorrek couldn’t see any damage on the Ferdinands or the assault guns. The Ferdinands roared again, flinging a second salvo at the Soviet tanks. Immediately three turrets were flung into the air, after the ammo stored in the tanks got hit and exploded in a huge fireball. Two more tanks were also smoking and rendered useless for the rest of the battle.
The remaining eleven T-34s turned around and retreated back to their lines at full speed. At a safe distance they stopped, forming a wide line facing the Germans and observed the situation. Koschorrek could only clearly see the T-34s through the optics of his machine gun, even as he looked the four Ferdinands fired nearly at the same time. Some of the red-hot shells slammed into the tanks, others kicked up dirt where they hit the ground. Unbelievably, despite the long range, the Ferdinands managed to hit two tanks which were standing still, almost in a parade formation. After learning their lessons, the Soviet tankers retreated behind a hill as fast as they could and the engagement was obviously counted as a success for these big tank destroyers.
In the following days, the Ferdinands were part of many more operations in the nearby area and were able to destroy about forty tanks and fifteen guns. But despite its formidable gun, optics and armour, it soon turned out that it was indeed good at fighting tanks in a static warfare but not in a dynamic operation because of its poor manoeuvrability and heavy weight in the muddy ground. This is why these fortresses were blown up by German engineers after abandoning the bridgeheads and retreating from the overwhelming Soviet forces.
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