If you were to walk down the street and just ask random strangers if they could name one tank it would likely be the German Tiger. The Tiger tank received the rather mundane Ordnance inventory designation as Sonderkraftfahrzeug (Sd.Kfz.) 181 and was known as the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E. It achieved a level of recognition and status that many other more effective and revolutionary designs, should have earned. The reason is due to the impact the Tiger had by being the right machine at the right place at the right time. Now, your average person will know the basics about the “Tiger legend”. A more involved demographic would likely list the incident best known to western observers. The event in question is where Michael Wittmann and his Tiger decimated the British at Villers-Bocage in Normandy. Yet, there are several other examples which happened on the Eastern Front, some even reaching Hollywood levels of spectacle. So let’s explore more of the truth behind this story.
The Tiger tank began reaching combat zones in North Africa and the Eastern Front at the very end of 1942. Neither its crews nor the enemy could have expected how much the battlefield would change due to this design. As the Germans were retreating from Stalingrad, the new tank was destined to be part of the counter-offensives meant to stabilize the lines, and stop the Soviet advances before the spring thaw halted all operations. In mid-February 1943, at a small collective farm near Rostov-on-Don, Tiger No. 231 commanded by Lieutenant Zabel from the 503 Heavy Tank Battalion helped to jumpstart this legend. The area was heavily defended open terrain of the steppe. Most attacks in this situation would expect suffering significant casualties to reach the objective. Tiger 231 would do what nobody thought possible given the circumstances. As this new tank crossed the open field it became the center of attention for the Soviet defenders.
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