Monday 28 October 2019

Never Penetrated in Combat

Fans of German armoured vehicles often claim that the Tiger II was the ultimate in armoured vehicles of WWII. Particularly, one claim is often made: its upper front plate was never penetrated in combat (even though it was penetrated in testing by several types of guns). Indeed, as this vehicle is rather rare, few photos of them with battle damage exist at all, let alone ones with a visible hole in the UFP. There is one, however.

A typical set of Soviet trophy team markings adorn the tank. A sequential number (196) and circles around hits. One of them, the one marked with an arrow, is a penetration.

This particular tank was photographed in Polgárdi. Let's drill down and see who could have made this shot. The town was subject to heavy street fighting on December 8th, 1944, when the 3rd Ukrainian Front clashed with German forces in Hungary. The Front's documents reflect as much.

"4th Guards Army

The enemy, thrown back by powerful strikes by the Army to a previously prepared defensive line, renewed its resistance and counterattacks in the regions of Polgard, Balaton, and Fekayar. Here the enemy conducted 7 counterattacks today with up to 5 battalions of infantry, 110 tanks and SPGs, 18 APCs, and support from aircraft and artillery."

Looks like this could be our battle. 128 AFVs definitely goes a long way to make reach the 196 vehicles inspected in the vicinity."

Specifically, the 62nd Guards Rifle Division is stated to be fighting in Polgardi. The purple line indicates the position as of December 7th, yellow on December 8th, pink on December 9th, so the area changed hands quite often.

Here is what the division's diary shows. The fighting here is heated enough to take up most of the entry for that day.

"December 8th, 1944

The division, with the forces of the 182nd Guards Rifle Regiment with one battalion of the 131st Artillery Regiment, a battalion of SU-76 and the 186th Guards Rifle Regiment with a battalion from the 131st Artillery Regiment attacked in the thick mist as cover: the first towards the southwestern outskirts of Polgard, the second towards Polgard. Their actions were swift and sudden, and by the end of the day on December 7th they reached:
  • 182nd Guards Rifle Regiment straddling the Polgard-Székesfehérvár highway on the northern outskirts.
  • 186th Guards Rifle Regiment straddling the Fule-Polgard and Lepshen-Polgard, which is to the south-west of Poldard.
During the night of the 7th to the 8th the units fought against enemy counterattacks counting 40 tanks, 12-20 APCs, 15 SPGs, and support from massed fire and aircraft. Polgard burned.
The 182nd Guards Rifle Regiment fought fiercely day and night defending against counterattacks. The first came at 7:00-10:00 from the Polgard station in the strength of 4-6 tanks, 6-9 APCs, 4-6 SPGs, and up to battalion of infantry under cover from a battery of 105 mm guns, 2-3 batteries of 82 mm mortars. The attack failed, 30 prisoners were captured.
A second attack followed at 12:00 with 10-15 tanks, 8-12 APCs, 8-12 SPGs, up to a battalion of 105 mm guns, 3-5 batteries of 81 mm mortars, and up to 1.5 battalions of infantry followed. By 16:00 the line was forced back 400-500 meters north-west of the railroad to the south-east of Polgard. 2 tanks, 2 SPGs, and up to 200 enemy soldiers were destroyed.
At 7:00 the 186th Guards Rifle Regiment was attacked from height 232 at Fule by 5-6 tanks supported by 10 SPGs, 4 APCs, and up to a battalion of infantry with support from a battalion of 105 mm guns, 2 batteries of 81 mm mortars. The attack was repelled, 2 enemy tanks were knocked out.
At 12:00 a second attack followed by 40 tanks, 12-15 SPGs, 15-18 APCs, supported by 2 battalions of 105 mm guns, 3-4 batteries of 81 mm mortars, and at least 30 aircraft. The regiment was forced to retreat at 16:00 and take positions at the railroad 1 km north of Kishcheri, having destroyed 6 enemy tanks, 5 APCs, and over 200 soldiers and officers."

Not really helpful, since both claim tanks knocked out. The records of the regiments provide the details we need: the 186th claims two Tigers.

"At 7:00 on December 8th, 1944, the enemy began an attack with support from 3 Tiger tanks, 7 medium tanks, 10 SPGs, and 8 APCs from the north-west and south-west directions. Reports from a captured Hungarian officer showed that this was the 2nd Hungarian Infantry Division supported by the 23rd Tank Division, tasked with attacking in the Polgard sector.
From 9:00 to 18:00 20 Me-109 and 36 Ju-87 aircraft attacked.
The regiment numbering the 2nd and 3rd infantry battalions captured the south-west outskirts of Polgard (2nd battalion) and north-western outskirts (3rd battalion) by 17:00 on December 7th. From 7:00 to 13:00 the regiment deflected enemy attacks. 2 Tigers and 2 medium tanks were knocked out, in addition to 5 APCs, 2 SPGs, a 75 mm infantry gun, and 20 prisoners were captured."

Neither regiment boasts anything bigger than a 76 mm gun or a 120 mm mortar. All of the heavy firepower comes from the 131st Guards Artillery Regiment that was assigned to the unit, and they seem to have had a fierce fight in Polgardi as well.

"December 8th, 1944. At 11:00 the enemy, supported by 3 artillery batteries, 10 Tiger tanks, 17 SPGs and APCs, and 40 aircraft attacked from the flanks towards our units defending north of Polgard. As a result of the attack, our infantry retreated. Artillery of our regiment had to engage the enemy tanks and infantry on its own in the city streets. Despite the enemy's superiority in tanks and infantry, tearing fiercely at our ranks with the aim to defeat and suppress the artillery and infantry, the personnel of the regiment showed mass heroism, courage, and bravery, showing high morale. Despite the enemy's strong tanks and SPGs, they could not pass anywhere our guns stood. Thanks to the high moral of our soldiers and commanders, the position in Polgard was saved and the infantry could fortify 2 km south of Polgard.

The crew of Sgt. Turygin's gun was disabled. His gun was placed at the crossroads of two major streets. Breaking through the corner of a building, a Tiger tank drove into the street. It started to turn its gun towards Turygin's gun. A direct shot with a subcaliber round from 30 meters punched through the tank. Not losing a second, Turygin loaded another round and fired at a second Tiger. A third Tiger, carefully driving around the disabled vehicles, was not only knocked out but caught fire. The battlefield with three Tigers by Guardsman and Communist Turygin was lit with flames. Disabled tanks crowded the street and prevented other tanks from coming trough. They had to retreat and pass through a neighbouring street, where they were met with fire of the 8th battery.

German Tigers suddenly appeared and smashed two guns with their fire. A direct hit destroyed a limber. Left alone at his gun, Sgt. Yakunin blew off a Tiger's barrel with one shot and disabled it."

Other photos from the battlefield do show a crowding of knocked out Tiger IIs, so this slaughter of tanks by artillery seems very plausible. A very impressive showing, considering that the 131st Guards Artillery Regiment was only equipped with standard divisional artillery: 76 mm ZIS-3 guns and 122 mm M-30 howitzers.

According to Schneider, the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion fighting in this region went from 39 to 28 Tigers from December 6th to 8th and all the way down to 17 by the 15th. The details are sparse, but it's quite plausible for many Tigers to have met their end in Polgardi.

Photos via Yuri Pasholok.


  1. Interesting, and surprising.

    The KT in the photo looks like a crew of inspectors/salvage personnel have stripped it (no gun, tracks, wheels) and marked the penetrations. Was this the common practice? If so, it bolsters the credibility of Russian claims of Tiger (and Panther) kills, which some (ahem) have put down to just cases of mistaken identification.

    1. Yup, you can see a large list of similar photographs here with penetrations circled and a reference number given to the vehicles:

      The first 5 links in the post lead to similar posts.

      That isn't to say that misidentification did not occur, I've seen Tigers labelled as PzIVs, PzIVs labelled as Tigers, Panthers labelled as Tigers, the classic example where Oskin reported the King Tiger he knocked out as a Panther, etc. Identification in the heat of battle is pretty hard, but these after action photos are usually pretty good.

  2. If there was a penetration it was made by it's own 88mm KwK firing APCR because even pzgr. 39 could not penetrate.
    Possibly a panzerfaust could do it.

    1. That is definitely not an APCR hole. Penetrations by APCR are characterized by a big shallow dent and a small hole in the center of it from the tungsten penetrator. This is all one large hole.

  3. The indentation seems a little bit smaller than the towing eyelet. Which seemed to measure about 100-115mm.

  4. The picture quality is poor but it does appear to be a Pen on the Tiger 2 UFP. However, there are countless examples of captured Tigers being fired at, at point blank range in order to get a Pen on the vehicle armour. Russian tests proved their best gun, 122mm firing their best AP round could only Pen a Tiger UFP below 600 Meters, if it hit!. Note in return the Tigers 88mm L71 could kill anything from around 1500-2000 meters with a 86% change of a first round hit at those ranges.

    1. >if it hit

      The IS-2's gun was more precise than the Tiger's gun. It had no problems hitting. Also don't forget that catastrophic spalling occurred in the Tiger II under test even if the gun didn't penetrate.

      > Tigers 88mm L71 could kill anything from around 1500-2000 meters

      The upper front armour of an IS-2 tank could be penetrated from only 600 meters:

  5. The 1st photo of the dismembered Tiger2 shows the houses. 4 houses back is a distinctive white painted house, with a just visible skinny tree in front, in the road. Tree is as high as house.
    The photos from sPz503 showing the tigers attacking along the street, show similar houses. On the left, we can see a white painted house with skinny trees as high as the house, that is not as far forward as the burning Tiger.
    I feel confident in saying the 2 photos show the same scene, as Peter thinks.
    The 503 photos come from Tigers in Combat vol.1, and the text says they show an attack on Polgardi. "Leading tank #133 is hit by a hidden AT gun on the left flank, killing the driver and radio man."
    So they think it was a flank shot, not frontal.
    The photos also clearly show the Tiger was facing straight up the street when hit, and still had it's barrel. The Tiger has been moved into it's skewed position in the first photo, #196. Why? It obstructs the street more.
    It could well indicate the Tiger was moved to be shot at in tests, after the battle. The frontal penetration is not the 76mm AT shot that destroyed it in battle.