SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Michael Wittmann was the most successful and famous tank commander of World War II. He was credited with the destruction of 141 Allied tanks and 132 anti-tank guns in less than two years.
Wittmann was born on April 22nd of 1914, in Vogelthal near Oberpfalz, in the Hight Palatinat. He was a son of a local farmer - Johann Wittmann. On February 1st of 1934, Wittmann joined Reichsarbeitdienst - RAD (The German Labour Corps) and served for six months, until July.
On October 30th of 1934, he enlisted Germany Army's 19th Infantry Regiment as a Private. Wittmann left the service on September 30th of 1936, as a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer - Unteroffizier. Shortly after, on April 5th of 1937, Michael Wittmann joined No.1 Sturm of 92nd Standarte of the elite Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. In late 1937, he received driver training on Sd.Kfz.222 (a four-wheeled light armored car) and then Sd.Kfz.232 (a six-wheeled heavy armored car) and proved to be excellent driver.
Wittmann, then joined the 17th Companie which was the Panzer Scout Companie of LSSAH. In the summer of 1938, it was reduced in status to a Panzer Scout Platoon. In September of 1939, SS-Unterscharführer Michael Wittmann commanded Sd.Kfz.232 of the reconnaissance elements of LSSAH and took part in the Polish Campaign. In October of 1939, Michael Wittmann joined the 5th Panzerspähkompanie (the depot company of the Leibstandarte) based at Berlin (Lichterfelde) which was an assault gun "academy". In February of 1940, Wittmann was transfered to the newly formed SS-Sturm-Batterie (assault gun battery - Sturmartillerie) of LSSAH, equipped with Sturmgeschutz Ausf A. The reason of his transfer was that Wittmann was an "under-officer" with three years service experience on an armored vehicle.
At the same time, Wittmann became friends with Hannes Philipsen, Helmut Wendorff, Alfred Günther, and other members of that unit. In late 1940, Michael Wittmann started his panzer combat career in the Balkans (Yugoslavia and Greece). While in Greece, Wittmann was in command of the platoon of Sturmgeschutz III Ausf As (part of LSSAH SS-Sturm-Batterie) and fought there until mid 1941. In June 11th of 1941, Wittmann along with LSSAH was transferred to the east, in preparations for the upcoming operation "Barbarossa", which started on June 22nd. LSSAH was order to advance into southern Russia.
On July 12th of 1941, Michael Wittmann received an Iron Cross (Second Class). Some time later, Wittmann was wounded in combat, but remained with his unit and received the Wound Badge. On September 8th of 1941, he received Iron Cross (First Class), and after fighting in the Rostov area, Wittmann received the Panzer Assault Badge (for destroying six Soviet tanks in single engagement) along with the rank of SS-Oberscharführer.
Until June of 1942, Wittmann fought with his unit in Russia. On June 5th of 1942, because of his outstanding service Wittman accepted as a cadet for the officer training in the SS Junkerschule in Bad Tölz (Bavaria). On September 5th of 1942, Wittmann left Bad Tölz school as a Panzer instructor (SS-Panzerausbildungs und Ersatz-abteilung). On the December 21st of 1942, Wittmann was promoted to the rank of SS-Untersturmführer and on December 24th, he joined the 13th Kompanie of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Michael Wittmann was put in the command of Panzer III Ausf L/M platoon of Tiger kompanie. The platoon was designated to protect the back line of the Tigers from enemy infantry and other obstacles.
In the early spring of 1943, Michael Wittman joined the Tiger kompanie, and left his Panzer III support section. On July 5th of 1943, Wittmann started his combat career on Tiger during the Operation Citadel (Zitadelle). LSSAH was located in the southern sector of the bulge. On the first day of action, Wittmann destroyed two anti-tanks guns and thirteen T-34s, while saving Helmut Wendorff's platoon, which run into trouble. On July 7th and 8th, Wittmann destroyed two T-34s, two SU-122s and three T-60/70s. On July 12th, Wittmann destroyed eight Soviet tanks, three anti-tank guns and one gun battery. This operation finished on the 17th of July 1943, and included the battle of Kharkov and Kursk along with other engagements.
During that time Wittmann's Tiger destroyed 30 Soviet tanks along with 28 guns. On July 29th of 1943, 13 kompanie was used to form schwere SS Panzer Abteilungen 101 which was then attached to LSSAH. In August of 1943, LSSAH was transferred to Italy, for refiting and occupational duties. In sSSPzAbt 101, Wittmann (Tiger #1331) served with other Tiger Aces like: Franz Staudegger (Tiger #1325), Helmut Wendorff (Tiger #1321) and Jürgen Brandt (Tiger #1334). The command of this unit was given to SS-Haupsturmfuhrer Heinz Kling (Tiger #1301). In October of 1943, after the start of Soviet Autumn Offensive, LSSAH was transferred back to the Eastern Front (Kiev area). Also in October, Wittman changed his Tiger #1331 for the Tiger #S21, and got under his command Jürgen Brandt (Tiger #S24).
On October 13th, Wittmann's Tiger destroyed twenty T-34s along with twenty three infantry and anti-tank guns. In December, Wittmann took part in numerous engagements and destroyed a number of Soviet tanks and guns. On January 13th of 1944, Michael Wittmann received the Knight's Cross for his outstanding service to the Fatherland. On January 15/16th of 1944, SS-Rottenfuhrer Balthasar (Bobby) Woll received his Knight's Cross. Balthasar Woll was an excellent gunner, who was even able to fire accurately while on the move.
On January 20th, Wittmann was promoted to the rank of SS-Obersturmfuhrer. Two weeks later, on January 30th 1944, Wittmann received following telegram from Adolf Hitler himself: "In thankful appreciation of your heroic actions in the battle for the future of our people, I award you as the 380th soldier of the German Wehrmacht, the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Adolf Hitler.".
On February 2nd of 1944, Wittmann received Oak Leafs to his Knights Cross from Führer's hands, in "Führerhauptquartier Wolfsschanze" (Wolfslair - Rastenburg in East Prussia). On the February 28th of 1944, Wittmann's unit which was under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinz Kling, counted five Iron Cross "Knights": SS-Untersturmführer Staudegger, SS-Untersturmführer Wendorf and SS-Hauptsturmführer Kling. SS-Obersturmführer Wittman was the only one with Oak Leafs to his Knights Cross. During the period from February 29th to March 2th of 1944, the larger part of the companie was transferred to Mons in Belgium. At the time of the transfer, Wittmann received the command of 2nd Kompanie of sSSPzAbt 101 of LSSAH.
After leaving Eastern Front, Michael Wittmann stated that Soviet anti-tank guns were harder and were more prized targets than tanks. On March 1st, Michael Wittman married Hildegard Burmester and his mariage wittness was his gunner - Bobby Woll. At that time, Wittmann became a national hero and was seen everywhere. The propaganda made him into a hero of the entire German nation. In the April of 1944, Wittmann visited the Henschel und Sohn factory at Kassel and spoke to the employees thanking them for their great job on producing Tiger I. During his visit he discovered the production line of Late Type Tiger I Ausf E.
In May of 1944, Wittmann re-joined the sSSPzAbt 101 of the LSSAH which was stationed in the area of Lisieux in Normandy, France. LSSAH was a part of panzer reserve which included 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend" and the Panzer Lehr Division. At that time the command of sSSPzAbt 101 was given to Heinz von Westernhagen (Tiger #007). On the June 6th of 1944 (D-Day), Wittmann got a new late production model Tiger I #205.
From 6th to 12th June, sSSPzAbt 101 moved to the invasion front in Normandy. On their way, Wittmann's 2nd Kompanie was reduced to six Tiger by Allied air attacks. Wittmann's company along with the Panzer Lehr Division and the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend" was part of Heeresgruppe under the command of Erwin Rommel. On June 13th, the battle began near Bayeux area. At the time Wittmann's company was near Villiers-Bocage, at the south of Tilly-sur-Seulles (Caen area). On June 13th of 1944, Wittmann's company destroyed entire 4th County of London Yeomanry Regiment travelling on the road No.175 to Villers-Bocage, at the Hill No.213.
Fighting did not finish on the road No.175, it was continued in the village of Villers-Bocage where both Germans and British lost some tanks. On July 22nd, after his success at Villers-Bocage, Wittmann received the Swords for his Knight Cross with Oak Leafs after being recommended personally by the LSSAH's commander, SS-Obergruppenfuhrer und Panzergeneral der Waffen SS Josef "Sepp" Dietrich. The ceremony was on June 25th of 1944 and Adolf Hitler in person decorated Wittmann who then became the most decorated tanker ace of World War II. At the same time he also received the rank of SS-Haupsturmfuhrer.
Wittmann was offered a position of an instructor at a training school but he refused and returned to Normandy on July 6th and participated in the Battle of Caen (3rd to 10th of July). During July of 1944, Wittmann fought near Caen area until August. At the time Wittmann got a new Tiger #007.
On June 12, (D-Day +6) SS-Hauptsturmfr (captain) Michael Wittman, leader of a group of five Tiger tanks, watched the famed 7th Armoured Division division advance towards the strategic hill town of Villers-Bocage. Unknown to the British, two companies of the 1st SS Panzer Corps panzer reserve had arrived there and were already in position.
That day Michael Wittman would earn the praise of both friend and foe as the most acclaimed tank commander in history. Wittman and his company of four other Tigers and a Mark IV Special had the same mission as the 22nd Armoured Brigade, to occupy the commanding terrain around Point 213. One of the most amazing engagements in armoured history was to take place at Point 213.
At around 9 AM the lead elements of the London Yeomanry reached Point 213 accompanied by an advance party of infantry from "A" Company, 1st Battalion The Rifle Brigade. The tank-infantry column consisted of some 25 half-tracks and tanks stopped a few hundred yards behind a hedgerow lined section of highway. The infantry was called forward simultaneously as two or three Tiger tanks were spotted moving parallel to the stopped column, screened by the hedge.The Tigers swung around to face the column whose crews had just dismounted. Wittman had watched the column stop from the wooded high ground several hundred meters north from the road. He immediately saw the column's vulnerability and decided to attack at once without waiting for the other Tigers to assist. "Running to the left of, and parallel to, the road on which the British column lay there was a narrow cart track. Wittman decided to approach the column via this track and to destroy....the personal carrier near the road and track junction. The high velocity gun was laid, armed and fired The [British] half-track, swung across the road by the force of the impact, caught fire and began to pour out dense clouds of black smoke....the heavy Tiger thundered towards the British, shuddering only slightly as the heavy gun fired shell after shell into the mass of machines. Half-tracks, carriers and tanks were smashed by 88 mm shells, and then with a final burst of speed the 55 ton steel monster, destroying in its rush a British tank which it met on the narrow path, crashed through the junction, was swung in a tight arc onto the roadway and began its descent upon the vehicles lined up outside the village and along the narrow high street." Panzer, London, 1976
Wittman's Tiger entering the main street immediately ran into the RHQ tanks whose crews had dismounted and were unable to react to the lone Tiger bearing down on them. Wittman's Tiger knocked out three more British tanks and then withdrew into the woods southeast of Villers-Bocage. This was only the beginning. That afternoon after rearming and refueling Wittman returned with four other Tigers, the Mark IV Special, and three other tanks plus infantry. The German force attacked what was left of the British tank infantry force. The British lost 20 Cromwell tanks, 4 Fireflys, 3 light tanks, 3 scout cars and a half track. Almost single-handedly, Wittman, this most courageous and brilliant German tank commander, had destroyed the British advance around Villers-Bocage and forced the 7th Armoured Division onto the defensive.
In the beginning of August, Wittmann along with sSSPzAbt 101 was transferred to Cintheaux area. At the time Germans tried to recapture Caen which was completly destroyed by ongoing fighting. On August 8th of 1944, a new battle began near Cintheaux. It was Wittmann's final battle.
At 12:55am (as reported by SS-Hauptscharführer Höflinger - Tiger #213 which was positioned in the same field at the rear, right of Wittmann's Tiger.) in a field near the road to Caen-Cintheaux, at Gaumesnil, Wittmann's Tiger was destroyed and its entire crew killed. After fighting the remains of Wittmann and his crew were buried beside what was left of their Tiger, without any markings. Until 1983, the destruction of Wittman's Tiger was an mystery even for crews of sSSPzAbt 101. Many sources say that it was destroyed by the "Firefly Ambush", but different units claimed to ambush and destroy Wittmann's Tiger, including those of the either 1st Polish Armoured Division, 4th Canadian Armoured Division (Canadian Shermans supposedly surrounded and shot Wittmann's Tiger to pieces) or 33rd British Independent Armored Brigade.
In the memoirs of a former member Mr.F.R of sSSPzAbt 101, official version at the time stated that Wittmann's Tiger was destroyed by an airplane bomb. Both presented a picture of Wittmann's Tiger without its turret with the gun barrel placed on the hull which in fact is the picture of SS-Untersturmführer Alfred Günther's Tiger destroyed by an airplane bomb at Evrecy. Along with those two versions, some claims were made that units which were not even present in the area at the time, were responsible for destroying Wittmann's Tiger.
Both versions were proven wrong in 1945, by Mr.Serge Varin who found Tiger #007. Mr.Varin was interested in this tank because its turret was teared away from the hull. Mr.Varin examined Wittmann's Tiger and noticed that it was not penetrated by any shells fired at it during the fighting. The only damage to the hull was a big hole in the rear, near the engine deck. further examination Mr.Varin concluded that the impact came from the air. The rocket hit Tiger's rear deck (made of 25mm thick armor), penetrated the air intakes and exploded causing the explosion in the engine compartment and fighting compartment which ignited the stored ammunition. The second explosion instantly killed the entire crew and blew off the turret into the air. Wittmann's Tiger was destroyed by a rocket fired from a Royal Air Force Hawker "Typhoon" MkIB - attack aircraft. Typhoons were armed with HE (High-explosive) rockets and took heavy tow of German tanks during the Normandy battles (for example on August 8th of 1944, Typhoons destroyed 135 German tanks and among those Tiger #007).
Michael Wittmann and his crew was killed in action on August 8th of 1944, at Gaumesnil near Cintheaux. In March of 1983, the unmarked field grave of Tiger #007's crew was discovered during the construction of the road and was excavated. It was possible to identify the remains by Wittmann's dental records and Heinrich Reimers's (driver) identification tag. Wittmann and his crew was then officially buried in the German Military Cemetery of "De La Cambe" in Normandy, France. That event had fully proven the exact location of Wittmann's Tiger and its fate as previosly suggested by Mr.Varin.
On August 8th of 1944, crew of Tiger #007 from 2nd Kompanie of schwere SS-Panzer Abteilungen 101 of LSSAH was as follows:
SS-Sturmmann Rudolf "Rudi" Hirschel (radioman) 24/1/3 - 44/8/8 (20 years old)
SS-Unterscharführer Henrich Reimers (driver) 24/5/11 - 44/8/8 (20 years old)
SS-Unterscharführer Karl Wagner (observer) 20/5/31 - 44/8/8 (24 years old)
SS-Sturmmann Günther Weber (loader) 24/12/21 - 44/8/8 (20 years old)
SS-Haupsturmfuhrer Michael Wittmann (commander) 14/4/22 - 44/8/8 (30 years old)
He ended up his career as a Commander of 2.Kompanie schwere SS-Panzer Abteilung 101 (part of 1st SS Panzer Division "LSSAH"). SS-Haupsturmfuhrer Michael Wittman was the most successful tanker ace of World War II. His friends said that Michael Wittmann was a quiet man even during combat and that he had 6th sense, to know where and how to engage the enemy. Wittmann commanded excellent crews, who were able to fully cooperate with him and anticipated his orders. Wittmann was highly admired by his comrades and very highly thought of by his superiors. Michael Wittmann represents a real hero who fought to the bitter end for his Fatherland. Wittmann's personal bravery is unquestionable and his place in the annals of military history thoroughly deserved.