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Movement of the Tiger Formations to Normandy

The first question that needs to be answered is how many formations participated in the fighting after the beginning of the Allied invasion of Normandy. It is also necessary to know how many Tigers were actually in those formations. It is perhaps surprising to discover that on the day of the invasion, there was not a single Tiger formation on the scene! Only one formation was on its approach march, and it was still far away, in fact, east of Paris. We are talking about schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101. Due to the extensive damage to the railway network northwest of Paris, the main body of the battalion was detrained as far away as Versailles and started on a difficult land march in the direction of the front. As a consequence of Allied air superiority, the battalion was forced to move in individual groups and not until after the onset of darkness.

Similar circumstances applied to the second Tiger formation, schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 102, which reached the greater area of Paris more than a week later. This battalion also had to engage in the painful odyssey of a land march to the northwest.

In addition to the constant threat from the air, which caused initial losses, there was a special problem. The tanks were put to an extreme test on their long marches; there were a number of tanks temporarily disabled by mechanical problems. In addition, there was the considerable fuel consumption of the tanks. Just for the tanks to get to their areas of operations required that they cover distances of up to 300 kilometers under their own power. In fact, all of the vehicles—in most cases, several times—suffered mechanical problems that required repair. The maintenance personnel were correspondingly stretched to the limit when they had distances of some 50 kilometers or even more between the sites of the disabled vehicles.

The same dynamic applied to the logistics personnel, who had to bring forward fuel and oil products as well as urgently needed repair parts, all the while exposed to the constant danger of low-level aerial attack. As a result, the battalions reached their areas of operation in dribs and drabs, and the personnel and the equipment were only conditionally operational.

Adding difficulty to the situation was the fact that both of these battalions had only recently been formed. In each case, the cadre was formed from remaining personnel from a single Tiger company, which had previously been in the respective divisions—SS-Panzer-Division “Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler” and SS-Panzer-Division “Das Reich.” As a result, no cohesiveness had been formed in many of the sub-units and the weapons system had not been sufficiently mastered by all crews. Only schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 had been able to conduct larger-scale formation-level training in Belgium in May.

At the start of Operation “Overlord,” a third formation was in the process of reconstitution within the borders of the Reich. This was schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503, the most senior Tiger battalion of them all. In contrast to the two Waffen-SS heavy tank battalions, this was a combat-experienced formation with great cohesion. It was not deployed until more than two weeks after 6 June 1944. It did not reach its area of operations east of Caen until 7 July 1944, after suffering problems similar to the ones experienced by the aforementioned battalions.

In the interest of completeness, a fourth element must be mentioned, whose formation took place under extremely poor conditions and, in the end, must be considered inadequate. This was a radio-controlled unit, that is, an element whose purpose was to steer radio-controlled demolitions carriers into valuable targets and then blow them up. The control vehicles for these were tanks or assault guns. This special-purpose unit was being considered for a time for deployment with Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Großdeutschland.” It was designated Panzer-Kompanie 316 (Fkl) and was issued five Tigers as part of its table of organization and equipment.1 These tanks were the very first Tiger II’s—later known unofficially as the Königstiger or King Tiger. Even upon their arrival, these vehicles were not mechanically operational. They were later “consumed” in the local defense of Chateaudun on 15 and 16 August 1944.

Date

503 316 SS-101 SS-102
Overlord

7 June 1944 Versailles
8 June 1944 Vimoutiers (1./SS-101); Argentan (2./SS-101); Paris (3./SS-101)
9 June 1944

Argentan (2./SS-101)
10 June 1944 Falaise (2./SS-101)
11 June 1944 Tilburg-Breda

Date 503 316 SS-101 SS-102

Perch
12 June 1944 Villers-Bocage (1. and 2./SS-101) Arras
13 June 1944

Villers-Bocage (1. and 2./SS-101) Lens
14 June 1944 Cahagnes (1./SS-101); Evrecy (3./SS-101)
15 June 1944

16 June 1944 Cahagnes Laon
17 June 1944
18 June 1944

Held in reserve in the vicinity of the Caen-Villers-Bocage road
19 June 1944 Reims
20 June 1944 Reims

21 June 1944 Versailles
22 June 1944
23 June 1944 Joue-du-Bois

Date 503 316 SS-101 SS-102

Epsom
24 June 1944
25 June 1944 Rambouillet
26 June 1944

Nancy Rauray Maintenon
27 June 1944 Corps rear area

Chateau neuf-en-Thymerais
28 June 1944 Melun Grainville / Verson Longny-aux-Perche

29 June 1944 Drieux Maltot / Hill 112
30 June 1944 Versailles

1 July 1944 Joue-du-Bois (2./SS-102)
2 July 1944 Hill 112 Segrie Fontaine

3 July 1944 1 Company to Paderborn Cauville
4 July 1944 Argentan

Cauville
5 July 1944 No operational tanks Cauville
6 July 1944

Mezidon Vacognes

The date markers on the map indicate how slow the daily progress of schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 was in its march from Paris to its initial area of operations in Normandy in the area to the southwest of Caen. Nearly a week was needed for the nearly 250 kilometers (Juni = June).

Although this action will also be covered, we will concentrate on the operations of the three Tiger battalions.

One other item should also be mentioned. At the time of the invasion, there was another Tiger battalion in France, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504. The battalion had completed its reconstitution efforts in the area around Poitiers and was in the process of being deployed to Italy, a rail movement that started on 3 June 1944. Even after the Allied landings became known, this movement was not stopped.

In conclusion, it can be said that at the time of the Allied landings, there were no Tiger formations that could have been committed to the fighting. It was only six days after the landings had started that the first two Tiger companies of schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 finally assembled east of Villers-Bocage.

On 6 June 1944, this battalion was due north of Beauvais, some 70 kilometers north of Paris. During the night of 6–7 June 1944, it started its road march towards the west. The tanks moved through Gournay-en-Bray initially and then the woods around Lyons and Morgny. There was an air attack on 7 June 1944, but there were no casualties.

Because the bridge at Les Andelys was badly damaged, the tanks had to move through Paris. In an effective bit of propaganda, the battalion marched along the Champs-Elysées. That night, there was a large-scale aerial attack in the woods around Versailles, causing losses among the 3rd Company and the battalion’s maintenance company.

The tanks continued their march to Falaise through Dreux, Verneuil and Argentan. The march was constantly disrupted by low-level attacks, resulting in personnel casualties. After passing through Epinay-sur-Odon, the 2nd Company reached the area around Villers-Bocage on 12 June 1944 and the 1st Company the area around Noyers. The battalion command post was established at Baron-sur-Odon.

Of its theoretical strength of fourteen tanks, the 1st Company ended its long march with eight tanks; its sister company, the 2nd Company, arrived in its area of operations with six. The rest of the battalion would dribble in over the course of the next few weeks. The same thing applied to the sister battalion, schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 102. At the outset, it was inconceivable to employ an entire battalion at once. Moreover, the situation that developed was so volatile that there could be no waiting for such a thing to happen. Consequently, the tanks were deployed split up into the smallest of sections. In the beginning, they were also unaware of the overall situation.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the first employment of Tigers in Normandy can be ascribed more to chance than design.

1. Fkl = Funklenk = Radio Control

A crew replaces worn drive sprockets on its tank.

Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 had been moved in the middle of January 1944 to Maisieres in Belgium (near Mons). The activation of the battalion was not completed until the end of March. At the beginning of April, the battalion was moved to the Gournay-en-Bray area. These photographs show the rail movement of the battalion.

In the middle of May, schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 conducted a battalion-level training exercise east of Amiens. During the course of the exercise a series of propaganda photographs was taken, which have been frequently published. In the lower photograph, SS-Sturmbannführer Westernhagen, the battalion commander, looks on as SS-Obersturmführer Raasch, the commander of the 3rd Company, issues his orders to his assembled tank commanders. This photograph as well as the next five are courtesy of the German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv = BA).

One day after the Allied landings, the battalion started its long road march to the Normandy region. In these images, the 2nd Company can be seen in the vicinity of Morgny. Commanding Tiger 205 is SS-Obersturmführer Wittmann; Tiger 221 is commanded by SS-Obersturmführer Hantusch, the 2nd Platoon Leader. These photographs are also courtesy of the BA.

On the road marches to the front, the threat from the air was ever present. During maintenance halts, the vehicles pulled off of the roads and into the nearby wooded areas. Thanks to that measure, the battalion did not suffer any losses during its movement. The distance covered was so great, however, that the tanks were subjected to a great deal of wear and tear, frequently breaking down and arriving at their staging area in poor mechanical condition. (BA)

The slow march through Morgny by the 1st Company can be seen in this and the next four images. On some vehicles, both the radio operator and the gunner sit on the front slopes of the vehicles to serve as air guards. (BA)

 

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