The Tank Museum Archive has recently received a donation of a letter from one of the soldiers involved in the fighting that led to the capture of Tiger 131 in Tunisia in April 1943.
Although it doesn’t alter the capture story, it does add another perspective from one of the British tank crew fighting that day.
Trooper William Ratcliffe was a Churchill tank crewman in 48th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment during the North African campaign. After the German surrender in May 1943 he wrote a long letter to his sister, as “now this campaign is over and all the fighting has finished we are allowed to say the places where we have been and the battles we have been in.”
One of the battles William described was the fighting on the 24th April which led to the capture of Tiger 131. That day, William and his comrades in B Squadron 48th RTR were part of a larger tank force that was ordered to support British infantry as they attacked a position called Point 174.
The tanks were positioned on Point 151, about 500 yards away but with a good view of Point 174. The attack was successful, but soon afterwards the Germans launched a counterattack using infantry, artillery, and tanks.
William and his fellow crewmen fired at the Germans and helped the British infantry on Point 174 hold on. During the battle one British shot hit Tiger 131 under the gun barrel, disabling the turret and forcing the crew to abandon the tank. After the Germans were defeated and forced to retreat, Tiger 131 fell into British hands, almost undamaged.
The following paragraph is what William wrote about the fighting that day.
“We were ordered to move again up near Medjez el Bab but on our way up Jerry had made an advance and before we could go on he had to be pushed back so we were given the job and we went into action at 2:30pm it was a glorious afternoon the sun was shining and the birds were singing and all of a sudden the guns started shells started flying and machine guns started chattering and we gave Jerry all we had got it was a tough job and we were in for 7 hrs we lost a few tanks but they were made OK later though we had a few chaps killed and wounded but the job was done and Jerry was pushed back again.
The relief you feel when it’s all over and you know you are safe is terrific and you all of a sudden feel very tired and when you do at last get to bed you fall off straight away in a dead sleep.”
We will probably never know which Churchill crew fired the shot that disabled Tiger 131, but The Tank Museum is very pleased to be able to preserve and share this first-hand account of the battle from one of the men who was there. Find out more about the capture of Tiger 131 by watching Tiger 131: A Twist in the Tale.