The Mysterious American Tiger

The US Army’s Armor School at Fort Benning holds a Tiger tank captured in Tunisia, with a contested heritage, but likely a longer service than Tiger 131.

Photographic evidence

Photos taken of the American Tiger before it left Tunisia show numbers “2” and “8” underneath the overpainted “7” in the tactical number “712”. These numbers suggest that the tank was from 2nd Company of 501st Schwere Panzer Abteilung, which transferred to Tunisia from France in December 1942. In February 1943, the 501st was integrated into the 7th Panzer Regiment of the 10th Panzer Division; the 1st Company tanks were renumbered to begin with the number “7”, the 2nd Company with the number “8”. When the 504th arrived (including Tiger 131), it took over the remaining Tigers of the 501st in a new company with tactical numbers beginning with the number “7”.

Tiger 712 after its capture in Tunisia
Tiger 712 after its capture in Tunisia

US Army photographs show Tiger 712 alongside an unidentified Tiger in an olive grove, without any record of location, although dated June 1943. Other images show that this grove contained at least two other Tiger tanks and a Panzer III tank (a type used by Tiger units), amongst other German vehicles. Probably the grove was the site for a workshop: Tiger 712’s engine cover is shown removed, but undamaged, while its neighbour was demolished, consistent with other German demolitions in Tunisia. Probably the Germans departed without verifying all demolitions, then the vehicles languished undiscovered until the time of the photographs. The photographs suggest no intelligence exploitation. The photographer and accompanying troops were most focused on the demolished Tiger, given the spectacular destruction and the potential to claim Allied action.

Later photos show US troops driving the fully functional Tiger 712 towards Tunis, where the tank was partially disassembled for shipment to Aberdeen Proving Ground, where it was reassembled for training and propaganda films, then disassembled for inspection, before reassembly for mobility trials. At some point, Tiger 712 was archived as a museum piece, stored in the open, then cut open for instructional purposes, leaving Tiger 131 as the only complete Tiger in the world.

Repainted as 112

Tiger 712 was lent to a German museum, which, in 1989, painted the tactical number 112. This is mistaken, in our judgment. The first Allied written record of Tiger 712 was a British one – by the same person who handled Tiger 131: Lieutenant Sewell of the 104th Tank workshop REME. Sewell was attempting to record all Tigers in Tunisia, including in the American area. He recorded Tiger 712 on 9 June 1943, with a chassis number of 250012, but the actual vehicle shows a number of 250031. German records associate 250012 with a tank originally numbered 112, in the 501st, which Sewell recorded as destroyed at Hunt’s Gap in late February. The likeliest explanation is that somebody mixed up Tiger 712 and Tiger 112 when writing up the report.

Our evidence suggests that Tiger 712 had a longer German service than Tiger 131, which did not arrive until February and was captured on 21st April. Tiger 712 was in German service in Tunisia from December 1942 likely to the end of April 1943, when still functional but intended for demolition – which, fortunately for history, failed.

Learn about the capture of Tiger 131 here.

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