Originally published June 2019.
Tiger 131 is the most famous tank in the world and the story isn’t over…
The research carried out by the author, Dale Oscroft, into the capture of Tiger 131 was published by the Tank Museum in September 2017. It proved that Tiger 131 had been abandoned on, and subsequently recovered from, Gueriat el Atach (generally referred to as Point 174) not Djebel Djaffa, some ten miles away, as had been believed previously. However, two issues were, at that time, still to be proved!
The first was whether the Tiger tank on the crest of Point 174, fired upon from Point 151 by the tanks of ‘B’ Squadron 48th Royal Tank Regiment under Major Joss, was actually Tiger 131. On the face of it, Joss’s report suggested this might be the case. However the sight line from Point 151 to the location of Tiger 131’s abandonment as understood at that time, 200 yards down the reverse slope of Point 174, did not support the idea.
The second issue still to be proved was that Tiger 131 was engaged on Point 174
by the 2nd Sherwood Foresters using a captured French 75 anti-tank gun. A press clipping dated 11th May 1943, clearly showing Tiger 131 abandoned on Point 174 and stating that the tank had been knocked out by a captured anti-tank gun, appeared to confirm the story but neither the Foresters nor the type of anti-tank gun were actually mentioned.
Further research by the author has now seen both of these questions answered. In addition, it has enabled a more complete narrative of the capture of Tiger 131 on Point 174 to be assembled.
Was the Tiger Hit and Abandoned on the Crest of Point 174, Tiger 131?
‘The Myth of Tiger 131’ cited an eye witness report by Major Joss that a Tiger was hit and abandoned on the crest of Point 174 by the tanks of ‘B’ Squadron 48 RTR firing from Point 151. The idea that this tank could be Tiger 131 was supported by film and photographs of Tiger 131 on the crest of Point 174 on 26 April 1943, two days after its capture. However, two other photographs then believed to show Tiger 131 at the site of its abandonment, made this unlikely. Their location was some 200 yards down the reverse slope of Point 174 out of sight of observers on Point 151.
Clearly, the dates of the two ‘abandonment’ photographs are key to resolving this issue. With the assistance of the Imperial war Museum, the author has discovered that both photographs were taken on 6 May 1943, the day before Tiger 131 was recovered from Point 174 by Major Lidderdale. As this post-dates the film and photographs of Tiger 131 on the crest of Point 174, it follows that the crest is the correct location of Tiger 131’s abandonment and that it was the Tiger engaged by Major Joss’s tanks.
It also follows that the vehicle was subsequently reversed 200 yards down the slope presumably to facilitate its recovery. However, confirmation that Tiger 131 was disabled on the crest of Point 174 brings us no closer to answering the tantalising question as to which unit was responsible for its demise. The tanks of both ‘B’ Squadron 48 RTR and 142 RAC were firing from Point 151 at the time.
Did the Foresters fire at Tiger 131 with a captured French 75 anti-tank gun?
The 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters captured Point 174 on 24 April 1943. ‘The Myth of Tiger 131’, mentions an account that the Foresters disabled a Tiger tank using a French 75 which they had captured from the Germans during the attack. The discovery of a press clipping from the Daily Sketch showing Tiger 131 on Point 174, with a caption to the effect that it had been disabled by a captured anti-tank gun, did appear to support the account. However, as the clipping mentioned neither a French 75 nor the Foresters, the connection could not be proved. Since then Dale Oscroft has discovered another press clipping.
Its date, 11 May 1943, is the same as the first clipping, and the photograph clearly shows a French 75 as modified for use in German service. Although this clipping too fails to mention the Foresters. Dale has found the original of the photograph in the Imperial War Museum archive. It is part five of a set of six which includes the photograph of Tiger 131 in the Daily Sketch press clipping. The entry for the set in the Museum’s caption book leaves no room for doubt that it is of the Sherwood Foresters’ captured gun.
It reads: “After a sharp engagement by the 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters in the advance towards Tunis, the Foresters gained an important ridge. After gaining this height our men held a strong counter-attack by the enemy, which was supported by tanks. Included in the attack was one of the German Tiger Mk.6 tanks which advanced to within five yards of our lines before being disabled, the crew surrendering to our troops. During the original attack on this position by our troops a German anti-tank gun was captured and it was with this gun that the Mk.6 was knocked out.”
As the photograph is dated 27 April 1943 it must have been taken on Point 174: the Foresters did not leave their positions there until 3 May 1943. Thus, it is now confirmed that the Foresters did engage Tiger 131 with a captured anti-tank gun and, at the time, were given the credit for disabling it.
The Events Leading to Tiger 131’s Abandonment
The further research by Dale Oscroft has enabled a more complete narrative of Tiger 131’s abandonment on Point 174 to be assembled: The crest of Point 174 was captured by the Foresters during the afternoon of 24 April 1943. Soon afterwards, Tiger 131 and several other Tigers emerged from Montarnaud, 2,000 yards down the reverse slope from Point 174. The Tigers took up hull-down positions some three hundred yards away from the Foresters and began harassing them with high explosive rounds and machine gun fire. During the afternoon, the Foresters beat off a number of fierce infantry counterattacks.
Perhaps frustrated by their failure, the commander of Tiger 131 decided to move his vehicle from its hull down position and advance up the slope. Seemingly powerless to stop Tiger 131 breaking into their positions, the Foresters sprayed the tank with small arms fire.
Meanwhile, the tanks of 48 RTR and 142 RAC on Point 151 had been watching the crest of Point 174 some 500 yards away and saw the turret of Tiger 131 gradually emerge into view. At the same time, a group of resourceful Foresters began turning a captured French 75 anti-tank gun around. As Tiger 131 continued forward, its hull finally became visible to the tanks on Point 151 which opened fire only to inadvertently hit one of the Foresters’ infantry carriers directly to its front. Alerted, Tiger 131 reversed out of sight but reappeared in a slightly different location a few moments later from where it fired at one of 142 RAC’s tanks which immediately burst into flames. At this point, a Forester fired at Tiger 131 with a PIAT. Although he hit the turret, it was a glancing blow and the bomb bounced off without detonating. 11 Seconds later, two things happened simultaneously. The tanks on Point 151 opened fire once more and the Foresters succeeded in firing their captured anti-tank gun. Tiger 131 was hit – its turret jammed. The crew shocked and possibly wounded, bailed out to be taken prisoner. Tiger 131’s advance had been brought to a halt only five yards from the Foresters’ positions.
Written by Dale Oscroft