Surviving Germans who fought in legendary Tiger Tanks have spoken ahead of an exhibition that, for the first time in history, brings all members of the Tiger family together.
The Tank Museum, Dorset, have spoken to a number of veteran German tankers whose vehicles inspired fear in British soldiers during the Second World War.
The tankers revealed how they felt superior to other soldiers, received special packages from Hitler and sang songs about how they would fight to victory or die. However, they also described the horrific realities of tank warfare, of witnessing concentration camp victims and of the nightmares they still suffer from.
The museum has been collecting and revealing the stories of those who fought in British tanks since their introduction more than a century ago, but have now turned to the stories of enemy crews, giving an insight into their experiences.
This work is in conjunction with The Tank Museum’s new exhibition, The Tiger Tank Collection, which includes the Museum’s own Tiger I – the legendary Tiger 131 – and is supported by its two King Tigers, its Jagdtiger. Joining the assembly, on loan, is a rare example of the Elefant tank destroyer, which is back in Europe for the first time since the end of the war.
The exhibition is supported by the popular video game ‘World of Tanks’, and their software developer Wargaming. The firm will use their ground-breaking virtual technology to represent the one member of the Tiger family which was unable to be present, the Sturmtiger.
The stories of the Tiger crews are as powerful as their tanks.
One veteran, Wilhelm Fischer, said: “Every month I got four packages from Adolf Hitler; they had chocolate in, cigarettes, sausage, we even got cured sausage every now and then… It was only the tanks. The infantry didn’t get anything, they just lay in the mud.”
He described firing a Tiger tank gun and said: “You had to keep your mouth open so you didn’t burst your eardrums.” However, despite the formidable main armament and excellent protection offered by the Tiger, the tank had several limitations. Fischer recalled the Tiger’s unreliability and blamed sabotage. He said: “There were lots of foreign workers in the armaments industry and they also built the engines. That got them into a right mess and they couldn’t run.”
Fischer also commented on the conditions he experienced while living and serving in his tank, which were terrible: “To sleep in the tank you stayed sitting, hunkered down in our seats. You couldn’t lie down, there was no room … Hygiene? Pfft, it’s the last thing you think about. You were happy enough just having enough to drink.”
He also said he had long suffered from nightmares: “When I was younger, lying in bed, I would wake up in the morning soaking in sweat because I thought the Russians were coming.”
Another Tiger veteran, Waldemar Pliska, served on the eastern front.
He recalled one particularly horrific memory: “We saw 100 refugees that had been freed from a concentration camp… I asked everyone, who are those people? But they said to me keep my mouth shut as they were from a concentration camp and we were forbidden to speak about it… This I will say to you; terrible experiences, and I often dream of them still. I wake up drenched in sweat because I can’t forget.”
On the Tiger tank and the sense of awe which surrounds it, Waldemar Pliska concluded: “This Tiger is a weapon of war and it promotes it. Very much a killing machine… I cannot endorse it. Simple as that.”
David Willey, Curator of The Tank Museum at Bovington, said: “Tigers are large and impressive by contemporary standards – but there is a moral responsibility to remember what they were used for and the regime who created them.”
However, David Willey also called for a more balanced view of the mighty Tiger, stating: “Representing less than seven per cent of their [German] wartime tank production, Tiger tanks failed to have a real impact and our exhibition will be presenting a more balanced account of these vehicles… Importantly it will also be presenting the views of the veterans who fought in them; bringing the human stories of the German tank crews here for the first time. Hearing the voices of these veterans who are still with us today really helps us understand the war from both sides.”
The Tiger Tank Collection opens at The Tank Museum on 6 April.