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The War List: Great Tank Commanders

By Jon Guttman 
Originally published by MHQ magazine. Published Online: February 10, 2012 
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German tank commander Captain Michael Wittmann (Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-299-1802-08; Photo: Scheck)
German tank commander Captain Michael Wittmann (Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-299-1802-08; Photo: Scheck)

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Led most lethal tank attack
Capt. Michael Wittmann, German, World War II
Credited with destroying 138 tanks, 132 antitank guns, and uncounted other vehicles on the Russian front and at Normandy, SS-Hauptsturmführer Wittmann is best known for his rampage against the British 7th Armored Division outside Villers-Bocage in June 1944, devastating as many as 14 tanks, 2 antitank guns, and 15 other vehicles in 15 minutes. He was finally cornered and killed in his Tiger I tank by five British or Canadian Shermans on August 8, 1944.

Top tank commander in modern history
Lt. Zwi Greengold, Israeli, Yom Kippur War
During the Battle of Golan Heights in 1973, "Zwicka" Greengold of the 188th "Barak" (Lightning) Brigade organized a small scratch force that prevented two large Syrian armored formations from breaking through Israeli lines. Commanding from a series of a half dozen Centurion tanks as each was knocked out, Greengold fought for 20 hours, destroying between 20 and 40 Syrian vehicles before dropping to the ground, wounded, burned, and exhausted, with the words, "I can't anymore." He was awarded the Itur HaGvura, Israel's highest medal of valor.

World War II's top tank strategist
Marshal Georgy Zhukov, Russian
Zhukov made his mark using tanks to flank and annihilate the Japanese 23rd Division at Khalkin Gol in August 1939, as Japan attempted to expand its control from occupied Manchuria into Soviet Mongolia. He went on to integrate armor into the Red Army and win the war's greatest land campaigns, including Moscow (1941), Stalingrad (1942), Kursk (1943), lifting the siege of Leningrad (1944), Operation Bagration (1944), and taking Berlin (1945).

Top tank ace in history
Sgt. Kurt Knispel, German, World War II
Advancing from loader to gunner to commander in Panzer IVs, Tigers, and Tiger IIs on the Russian front and in Normandy, Hungary, and Moravia, Knispel was officially credited with 168 Allied tanks destroyed—including a T-34 hit at almost two miles away—more tanks than any other tanker ever. He was killed in action on April 28, 1945, at age 23, just days before Germany surrendered.

Invented modern armored combined-arms doctrine
Lt. Gen. John Monash, Australian, World War I
As commander of Australian Corps, Monash deftly integrated well-coordinated artillery barrages, armor of the British 5th Tank Brigade, airplanes (for close support and to transport supplies to his front-line forces), and a reinforcing complement of American troops to take the French village of Le Hamel on July 4, 1918, in a surprising setback to the advancing Germans. 

Father of armored blitzkrieg
Gen. Heinz Guderian, German, World War II
Putting Monash's combined-arms mechanized tactics and postwar theory into high-speed practice, Guderian synthesized the blitzkrieg strategy that helped Germany overrun Poland in 1939. At the Meuse River in 1940 he ignored orders to halt and thrust deep into France. Ironically, following victories in Russia, he lost his field command after prudently retreating before the Soviet counterattack outside Moscow in 1941.

Superb field commander of armored forces
Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Maczek, Polish, World War II
Maczek was the only Allied commander to lead armored units from the start of the war—in Poland in 1939—to the end. Among other feats, in 1944 he commanded the Polish 1st Armored Division of II Canadian Corps that played a key role in closing the Falaise Pocket at Chambois. He topped off his distinguished career by capturing Wilhelmshaven in May 1945. 

Top U.S. tank commander in the war
Lt. Col. Creighton Abrams, American, World War II
I'm supposed to be the best tank commander in the Army," Patton once said, "but I have one peer—Abe Abrams." Leading the 37th Tank Battalion from the front, Abrams and the crew of his own M4 Sherman tank, Thunderbolt, are estimated to have destroyed about 50 German armored fighting vehicles.

 

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39 Responses to “The War List: Great Tank Commanders”


  1. 1
    Jes Lewis says:

    Typical of the Anit American "History Channel" to flaunt foreign commanders, while leaving out the best. George Patton could have easily kicked all of their asses.

    • 1.1
      Mark says:

      Amen on George Patton.

    • 1.2
      Brian Monaghan says:

      If you consider chasing an already broken Army across France then yes, Patton is the greatest. Too bad when he came to any woods his finger automatically went two knuckles deep into his right nostril and he began scratching his rear. The end.

    • 1.3
      David says:

      Patton was a great general but the list was specifically tank commanders and emphasized tactical rather than strategic leaders. A list of generals commanding armor would likely have included Patton and his rival Rommel. While not to diminish Patton's skill it is worth noting that unlike his German rivals Patton had, for the most part, a well supplied army with air superiority. Without the supply chain and air cover advantage we can only hypothesize about how history may have turned out.

    • 1.4
      Pav says:

      Hardly.
      "Blood and Guts" prefered your blood and your guts.
      Read up on Zhukov and then compare notes.
      Patton was buds with his superiors while Zhukov at any moment could have been eliminated at a whim. He did come close to it too. That makes for dangerous working conditions!

      • 1.4.1
        Terry says:

        Pav,

        Zhukov, while a great commander, did not have to be cognizant of his casualties, as did Patton. Historically, Patton was not a favorite of Eisenhower. Eisenhower, tolerated Patton because Patton won battles. Zhukov did enjoy the support of Stalin which was worth a lot.

      • 1.4.2
        Attilashrugs says:

        Ironically Patten WAS eliminated in a convenient car "accident" when his anti-Soviet premonitions became too noisome.

  2. 2
    Sebastien says:

    What about Kurt Knispel…

    History forgotten greatest tank commander…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Knispel

  3. 3
    Sebastien says:

    Nevermind, just found him

  4. 4
    Jozy Wales says:

    Patton was overrated. He made the terrible decision to choose the Sherman instead of the much better Pershing . How can a tank commander be one of the best when a PFC could see the Pershing had a more powerful gun , and thicker armor. However, the "genius" Patton the tank which had several unflattering nicknames such as "The Ranson Lighter". Lights the first time every time (catches on fire when hit) , "Death Traps" and "Tommy Cooker" (burning British tankers).

    • 4.1
      David says:

      I don't think Patton necessarily picked the Sherman over the Pershing. The Pershing wasn't available until later in the war. I think late 1944/early 1945 was the earliest the Pershing was fielded. So, Patton did the best with what he had.

      • 4.1.1
        Jozy Wales says:

        Patton and the equally stupid Leslie McNair blocked the development of the Pershing. The Pershing appeared so late in the war because of the total incompetence of Leslie McNair who was supported in his insane insistence of continuing to rely on the M4 Sherman and not develop the M26 Pershing by the “God of War” Patton. (Ref “Tanks, An Illustrated History of their impact “Spencer Tucker. Gen. Bruce Clark, who commanded the American armor during the tank battles in Lorraine, in September 1944 and at St. Vith in the Ardennes in December 1944, later noted: “Of all the people I know, Patton was the worst of all versed in the tanks". Patton’s opposition to the Pershing's development which definitely could have been ready for the invasion of Normandy had not incompetents like McNair and (sorry to criticize America's favorite WWII General) Patton blocked its development. was described in M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943-53 by Steven J. Zaloga.

    • 4.2
      LeBon says:

      Pershing can not cross most of the bridges in europe just like its German counterparts.

  5. 5

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  6. 6
    Oscar Madison says:

    Is there a reason why non-Army historians always leave SSG Lafayette Poole out of this discussion? We learn abut this guy at the Armor Center when we go to Basic Training, PLDC/WLC, ALC and SLC… junior officers in the Armor Corps event know about this guy when they attend the Armor Officer Basic Course (now refered to as BOLC II)… come on… all you list is Officers here… NCOs are the first great tankers. Hittman might have been the Tank Commander but Bobby Wohl pulled the triggers.

    Lest we forget SSG Poole, Americas Great Tank Ace!

    AN ARMOR CORP MAJOR

    • 6.1
      Chris "toadman" Hughes says:

      I wasn't surprised by SSG Poole not being mentioned. Only those who really know about US WW II armor or have been to the Armor Schools have heard of him or know about him. What a shame.

      Chris "toadman" Hughes
      http://www.toadmanstankpictures.com
      http://toadmanstankpictures.blogspot.com/

    • 6.2
      Alan Hamby says:

      I second Lafayette Poole. During WWII, he destroyed 258 enemy vehicles in only 83 days, commanding 3 different Shermans all named "In The Mood" and all of which were shot out from under him. The only reason he wasn't in combat longer is because he lost one of his legs in a German ambush and even that didn't stop his service career. He served in Korea and stayed in the Army until 1960.

  7. 7
    chas m says:

    German and Russian tankers had alot more to shoot at!!! Patton of course was a great general and tanker but he was still a nut!
    Zukov is one of the most underrated commanders during WWII because being russian he didn't get the press others did! same for the German ones but since they were Nazi bastards i don't care!!!

    • 7.1
      David says:

      Agreed, but not all german soldiers were Nazis. The SS units were the more politically indoctrinated units. German regular army units often resented the SS units since they got the better equipment. However, many of the German regular army units fought out of a sense of patriotic duty rather than Nazi ideology.

  8. 8
    Pierre Corbeil says:

    How about René Prioux, the commander of the Corps de Cavalerie, who on May 12-13, 1940, stopped the 680 tanks of the XVIth Panzer Corps, with his 380 tanks (albeit generally superior to most of the German tanks) ? This was the first tank vs tank battle, and both sides saw themselves as an élite force in the arena ?

    • 8.1
      MKSTEEL says:

      Thanks for mentioning him an unsung French hero who stopped the Germans cold in one of the only major French tactical victories in the 1940 campaign. Prioux proved that met en masse with properly organized French armoured counterattacks, the Germans could be tactically defeated. Too bad the French defensive strategy was so flawed and did not emphasize rapid operations. Another French tanker worth mentioning was Pierre Billotte, who's Char B-1 bis Heavy MBT knocked out 2 Panzer IV's & 11 Panzer III's, as well as several anti-tank guns, during the Battle of Stonne in the course of the 1940 French Campaign.

    • 8.2
      MKSTEEL says:

      The numbers of tanks at the Battle of Hannut vary. I have a source which quotes 546 French tanks, versus 722 German panzers, but almost all sources show a disparity, with the Germans outnumbering the French by around 200 tanks, regardless of the exact numbers. However in the course of the battle, French technical superiority is telling, ESPECIALLY in the case of the excellent Somua S-35s medium tanks of the 2/3rd DLMs. Which easily proved a match and often superior in combat effectivness compared to the Czech 35t/38t, as well as Panzer III/IVs utilized by the 3/4th Panzer Divisions. This easily proves that French armour could perform magnificently in tactical battles when employed en masse, too bad French strategy ran counter to this gainful employment of the French armoured forces, instead seeing their formation scattered in support of infantry divisions in scattered battalions, rather than employed in massed divisions for rapid strategic deployment tragically enough.

      • 8.2.1
        Pierre Corbeil says:

        The DLM were indeed mixed units, and their dragoons were effective against tanks. We must be careful in counting tanks, since in French terminology (very important in French thinking) auto-mitrailleuses (which might be translated as armoured cars) were in effect small tanks, better armed and armoured that PzIs or even PzIIs. The fact that the French mission was essentially defensive gave an advantage to the dragoons and anti-tank units, the Germans being forced to attack.
        The situation is very much a paper-scissors-rock game, and I have in fact designed a game about Hannut built on that principle. I have had no reaction from Decision Games, unfortunately. Perhaps I will publish it myself eventually.
        You are quite right that the French high command badly misused the DLM, using them to plug holes, and such. Prioux, in his book, argues that if the French had stayed out of Belgium and lain in wait, his forces could have trapped the Germans as they debouched from the Meuse. The French generals could not break the mindset of re-constructing a line before counter-attacking, and this cost them in May 1940.

      • 8.2.2
        MKSTEEL says:

        The Army High Command also squandered the 3 DCR in reserve around Rheims, the 1st at Flavion, the 2nd at Signy-l'Abbaye, and the 3rd at Stonne. Only the 4th which had hastily finished assembling under DeGaulle, at Laon & Montcornet launched effective, but sadly limited and isolated, counterattacks against the German Panzers Corps. which by this time was advancing en masse, in echelon toward the coast at Abeville.

  9. 9
    mattias says:

    I think that the greatest tank commander who has ever lived is Erwin rommel AKA (desert fox) he destroyed the frence panzer armee in europe and innvaded africa with the briliant tactic "blitzkrieg" and that the only way patton defeted rommel was because of the shortage in tanks in the panzerwaffe.

    • 9.1
      Pierre Corbeil says:

      With all due respect, this is not a very meaningful comment. Leaving aside the problems of spelling and syntax, all three points are inexact.
      1) Rommel did not much confront any French armoured units; his role was to drive into France and destabilize the front, and he certainly did not destroy a French armoured army. The closest equivalent would have been the Cavalry Corps in Belgium, and Rommel never was involved.
      2) Blitzkrieg describes the fast-paced invasion of France. ER never invaded Africa, but rather went to help the Italian ally. His enemy was English, though we can always include Leclerc's brigade, not a major player.
      3) Patton never really confronted ER either, since he was theatre commander and no longer commanding armoured units. After July 20, 1944, Rommel no longer commanded anything, being mostly dead.
      Patton is not of course a specifically armour specialist, since his success was as Third Army commander, at a more strategic, or perhaps operational role.

      • 9.1.1
        MKSTEEL says:

        Actually Rommel ambushed the French 1st Armoured Division at Flavion with his 7th Panzer & 5th Panzer in a double envelopment during the 1940 Battle of France campaign. Mind you they were low on fuel and not expecting an attack that morning, typical of plodding French doctrine during the 1940 campaign, too bad because they had such SUPERB TANKS like the Somua S-35 Medium Tank and Char B-1 bis Heavy Tank, France's MBT.

  10. 10
    Tim Gilliam says:

    I do agree with Michael Wittman's spot, but it has been noted that his charge single-handedly into that column was "not well thought out." But I give the props for such quick reaction, its not if he made a wrong choice or a right choice, it was the fact he made a choice indeed.

  11. 11
    Bixby says:

    Just curious but is this about Tank Commanders, Division Commanders, Army Commanders or ?

    Did some of these Commanders ever ride in a tank during combat or a war? I have a relative that was a "Tank Commander" that really rode in and commanded a tank during combat.

  12. 12

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  13. 13
    widowmaker says:

    Gents,

    Look up Azi Aslanov. If most of Russian tank commanders were underrated, this fella was underrated by Russians for his actions during WWII.

  14. 14
    raj says:

    The German tank aces were the best as they fought the entire Allied forces single-handed for continuous 6 years. They had best tanks but constantly reducing numbers as compared with the US and Russians. There are few Allied tank aces as they were so many against few Germans and on the other hand, the Germans faced so many Allied tanks to shoot at. Allied tanks were of no match to much lethal and technologically superior German tanks.

    • 14.1
      Pierre Corbeil says:

      The first sentence of this comment is chronologically meaningless ??
      German tanks never had technological superiority in general. The French Somua and B1bis tanks were superior to contemporary German tanks in 1940. The Russian KV and T34 were superior in armour and firepower. The Panther and Tiger were created to give the German tankers a chance against these Russian tanks, but in the meantime the Russians had built larger and more powerful tanks.
      We can agree that Panther and Tiger tanks were superior to the American Shermans, and contemporary English tanks. German succcesses were due to efficient tactics and operational adaptation in all levels of command.

  15. 15
    Edwin 'Sergeant' Williamson says:

    1 – Granted, Knipsel was a great tank ACE with the largest confirmed kill-count in the history of armoured warfare, though OTTO CARIUS also deserves to be put on this list as he was a true TACTICAL ACE. He also had decisively more cunning, brasen daring – and yet with a hint of flair – approach to tank combat.

    2 – I'd hate to be the one to say this – BUT – VASILY CHUIKOV deserves to be rated as one of the best field commanders as he had the ingenius idea to bring the NAZI Blitzkriegmasjiene to a halt using the city he was charged with defending as a weapon:

    The Blitzmacht was used to open, mobile warfare. Chuikov had the foresight to identify the hidden achiles heel of the Blitzmacht: urban warfare + Blitzkrieg-orientated army = Bog-Down

    3 – I do have trouble believing that PATTON was the best of the best – don't get me wrong, he was a GREAT & GUTSY general, BUT he was a little too much of a typical COWBOY for my tastes – ERWIN ROMMEL on the other hand was a more calculating general with a keener eye for detail and variables, which is essential for tank warfare.

    4 – Lastly, I do believe that PAVEL EREMIN has been overlooked as the most die-hard yet cool-headed tank ace / commander of WWII. He had a superhuman ability to use his rage and anger against the Wehrmacht to enhance his ability to engage in fast-paced, adrenalin-fueled mass-blitzkrieg warfare against far superior tanks like the Tiger. In other words: he used his charged state to take his already crude-but-effective equipment and re-invent the wheel in terms of Russian tank warfare with astounding prowess and finesse.

    5 – Additionally – We're also – sadly – forgetting the amazing work of Panzer Generaal – Hiasinsth Strachwits Vonn Gross Zauch. After all: he did prevent a recurrence of the Stalingrad-style encirclement of Wehrmacht Grube Nord in the Balkan states in late 1943-early 1944.

  16. 16
    Brutus says:

    I would have to disagree with people saying that Patton was to cowboyish and that Rommel had a better eye for details. Check the contigency plans Patton's staff had in case of a German counterattack. They came very much in handy during the Battle of the Bulge.

  17. 17
    Edwin 'Sergeant' Williamson says:

    Granted. PATTON was a calculating and methodical commander, though his in-battle attitude was decisively more gun-ho than most: see the BATTLE OF BASTOGNE [Part of the BULGE CAMPAIGN]. His relentless charge to the town was a monumental achievement: a distance of about 215km covered in 24 hours will always be no small task.

    Though none of the 502 AIRBOURNE DIVISION [the unit charged with defending BASTOGNE] have never agreed that they were ever in need of PATTON's 'resque.'

    It also needs to be said that the tactics that assisted the US ARMOURED in achieving tank supremecy in IRAQ against SADDAM's REPUBLICAN GAURD were the brainchildren of ROMMEL. ROMMEL had the ability to MOULD his tactics to the battlefield on which he was engaging the enemy on. PATTON's tactics were far too 'FIXED' [If you will] to effectively adapt to the battle at hand.

    ROMMEL also seemed to recognize the value of a joint ARMOUR-AIR assault. In other words: a COMBINED BLITZKRIEG of sorts. PATTON [No, the US MILITARY, let's NOT LAY BLAME ON PATTON] stratedgy utilized CARPET bombing FOLLOWED BY armoured assault. ROMMEL's premise was to use BOTH TOGETHER and not IN SERIES, giving the enemy no option but to RETREAT or CAPITULATE.

    In hindsight though: PATTON had the amazing ability to inspire a die-hard attitude in his troops which was almost impossible to acquire in the BULGE CAMPAIGN. ROMMEL [in my eyes] had an almost fatherly approach to his men [with HONOUR as key] the AFRIKA KORP was never linked to any war crimes and orders to execute Jews were ignored.

    Comparing the two is like comparing apples with pears though – ROMMEL was an ARMOURED KNIGHT of sorts and PATTON a John Wayne-style WESTERN HERO. Which could never be debated against each-other on a level playing-field.

  18. 18
    Wayne R. Keeler says:

    'Sergeant' Williamson, you must have served in the infantry.

    I appreciate your efforts to be universally complimentary toward both Gentlemen, but your subtle jabs at Patton are relatively transparent.

    I have been a Tanker (enlisted, NCO and Officer) for 24 years and I am NOT an absolute fan of Patton. However, your statement – \…Though none of the 502 AIRBOURNE DIVISION [the unit charged with defending BASTOGNE] have never agreed that they were ever in need of PATTON's 'resque.' \ Is a significantly over-simplified remark. I DO NOT know, specifically of a referance to a Bastogne defender saying specifically was essential to their rescue, but MG MacCauliffe very specifically stated that, \…one of my great regrets is that more of the CREDIT for the defense of Bastogne, wasn't directed towards the 10th AD…\(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9CGp3lOShQ).

    The reason I bring this up is because it was Armor and AMERICAN Combined Arms Doctrine that set the conditions for the defense of Bastogne. 10th ADs TF DeSobry and TF Cherry attacked to gain significant key terrain east of Bastogne days before the first 101-er entered town. These 10th AD TF's encountered the Advance Guard of the German attack, and established a hasty defense against several German assaults employing coordinated indirect fires and close air support (what we refer today as multiple Warfighting Functions), buying critical time to allow the 101st (…and the 502PIR amoung others) to occupy Bastogne. Once they had been attrited to a point of ineffectiveness – they suffered significant casualties as the first line of defense – they conducted a retrograde back into Bastogne and task organized themselves to contribute to the defense of the city. Col Cherry was killed in the battle. THE 101st DID NOT DEFEND BASTOGNE ALONE!

    Furthermore, this idea that Rommel was the only guy to possess a sophisticated method of conducting combined arms warfare is just predjudicial.

    So what does this have to do with Patton and Rommel. Well it is to imply that the 'cult of personality' does not ABSOLUTELY reflect the application of professional expertise. Patton was INSTRUMENTAL in developing US Army Tank Doctrine after the Louisiana Maneuvers (1940) and the 1941 Desert Maneuvers in the Mojave. Those Commanders from the 10th AD as well as other well known US tactical commanders of the day (Abrams, Irzik, etc.) were as proficient at combined arms maneuver as Rommel and Patton set the stage for their success.

    PS. I obviously was not present the day that 1LT Charles Bogges and \Cobra King\ led his tank company past the defensive bunker on the outskirts of Bastogne, but if I was, I am certain I would have been pretty gald to see a column of M4s entering the town to support us.

    • 18.1
      Edwin 'Sergeant' Williamson says:

      Wayne.

      With all due respect Sir, I actively served as part of the 1 Special Service Battalion [ 1SSB] of the former SADF in the so-called ‘BORDER WAR’ (1975-1988) [Enlisted]; again in the Intervention Force [SAIF] in the so-called CONGO CRISIS (1989-1996) [Veldbevelkommandant / Field Command Officer]; as a volunteer in the recent conflict in Libya (2009-2012) [NCO] under the banner of the newly formed SANDF Special Reserve Battalion and I now advise SANDF-NHQ as a ‘Knowledgeable Decommissioned Officer’ [KDO] (Your guess is as good as mine as to what that means). [Official Service Count as on 01-01-2014: 25 Years.]
      Now that that’s said and done. To be honest I admire both gentlemen [I even had a framed Dot-Matrix printout of PATTON up on the commander’s hatch of my Olifant Mk 1 and an A3 sketch-drawn ROMMEL poster up above my bunk in the barracks during Border].

      The reason I take the stance I do on BASTOGNE is due to the fact that I was involved in a similar scenario during Border. Let me explain:
      On 8th May 1978 the 1 SSB was ordered to provide ‘Close Armour Support’ to the 9th Para-Bat [Basically SADF PIR] Division who were defending a town called [at the time] OMEPEPA. The Batties [as we called them] had sent several communications to our HQ as well as 32 Battalion HQ that their lines were holding – and holding firm [even though a SWAPO detachment of armoured and infantry units had completely surrounded them in OMEPEPA] and would continue to do so for the next 2 weeks worst-case-scenario.

      We were ordered to rescue them anyway. 2nd Buffel [English: Buffalo] Battalion – the only force of 8 brand-new [at the time] Olifant Mk 1’s [severely modified IDF Centurions] were mobilized for the intervention [Mission Rudolf – Part of Operation Reindeer] – including the one which I was just appointed commander of [at the time]. What follows is an extract from my AAR:
      ————————————————————————————————
      At 11h06 1SSB 2nd BT rolled out of the 1SSB Armoured Base of Oshakati and proceeded north along the main road to Omepepa, all quiet – no sightings of enemy.

      At 12h13 suspicious activity was reported by Sgt Wikus Esterhuizen of O7 on his right flank. At this point it was elected that we take up a PZKL formation to provide effective countermeasure against any hostile engagement and/or ambush.

      At 12h49 our proximity to Omepepa was estimated at 17km. We slowed up pace and were all placed on Brangevaar [High Alert] the formation was also ordered to form tighter as to keep all tanks visible to CO Commandant Jaques Visser. Visser ordered all tanks to load HE-APC rounds while he loaded an AL-HEAT round.

      At 13h21 O7 reported fire received on the right of their turret. Visser ordered a halt as the source of the fire had not yet been identified. The type of fire was reported as small-medium arms fire originating ‘About a Click’ east of O7’s position. Visser notified the 32 Battalion Infantry Division CO 1Maj Werner Jacobs of the suspected location of the possible hostile. Visser ordered O7 to utilize his IR sight to accurately locate the hostile.

      At 13h23 O7 reported that a target had been acquired by his gunner and identified as a hostile infantry scout. Visser ordered that the target be engaged and destroyed. O7 complied and Sgt Esterhuizen opened fire on the hostile with his vehicle’s top-mounted .30 Browning LMG. The hostile was reported neutralized at 13h24.

      At 13h54 Visser reported that he had an ‘Uncomfortable Feeling’ about our current course. Visser informed 1SSB CO Maj Louis Marais of his concerns about our current heading at 13h56.

      At 13h59 our proximity to Omepepa was calculated at 9km. Visser received a Wees Rustig [At Will] order from Marais. From this point on free-reign was granted to Visser on his command of 2nd BT on the basis of battlefield strategic discretion.

      At 14h09 we were ambushed by a battalion of 6 SWAPO T-54/55’s. Visser ordered us into evasive defensive protocol and issued a Fuur Vrylik [Fire At Will] order to commanders of O7 & O6 in the battalion in order for them to mount an effective defensive response.

      At 14h10 O7 reported having scored a direct hit on an enemy tank. Subsequently they reported that the hit vehicle was ‘On Fire’. Subsequently, O6 reported that they had received a direct hit from an enemy vehicle.

      At 14h11 O6 was reported by O5 [my tank] as ‘ablaze’. O6 then reported that they were unable to exit their vehicle and were the first 4 casualties of the skirmish.

      At 14h12 O7 reported a hit received on their engine compartment and a resulting engine fire. I brought O5 around a boulder cluster to assist O7. I observed an enemy T55 taking aim at O7 at a distance of approximately 6 meters to O7’s south-east. I ordered my gunner to acquire the T55 and to advise me upon completion of the task. Approximately 4 seconds later my gunner advised me that he had acquired the target, following which I gave the order to fire. The enemy T55 received a direct hit from me below the main gun barrel to the turret ring and subsequently burst into flames.

      At 14h13 O1 was reported by O2 as being ‘Out For Good’. The crew of O1 had been rendered unconscious by an enemy APC round as no further communication was observed from O1. O1 was reported by O3 as being a ‘furnace’.

      At 14h14 I radioed O2 to advise that I has on route to assist. I ordered my driver to ‘Gun it to O2 as fast as this bloody engine will go’ he complied and hastily reversed our tank to round the boulder cluster, now to our rear. He drove it forward as the tank rounded the boulders and headed to O2 who were directly ahead.

      At 14h15 O2 received a direct hit from an enemy T55 and ignited as a result of an explosion most likely a result of the tank’s ammunition igniting.

      At 14h16 O3 and Visser’s O4 reported that they had engaged and neutralized an enemy T55. I subsequently ordered my gunner to acquire the T55 that had just eliminated O2 and to fire at will. He complied and neutralized the enemy T55 with a direct hit to the side armour just below the rear axle.

      At 14h17 Visser reported that O3 had been hit and the vehicle had rolled down a hill to his left. He subsequently reported that he was not certain of the status of O3’s crew. I radioed that O5 will come to Visser’s aide. Visser responded reporting that he had immobilized the enemy T55 he had engaged.

      At 14h18 Visser reported that he was engaging another enemy T55. I arrived on Visser’s right flank to assist. I had already ordered my gunner to acquire the T55 and to fire at will. He complied as soon as the tank came within a reasonably stable state. The enemy T55 turned left as my gunner fired causing the shell to bounce off the frontal armour of the enemy T55.

      At 14h19 the enemy T55 fired at Visser and penetrated his tank through the driver’s hatch. Visser then reported to me that he had lost 2 crew. My gunner then advised me that he had a HP-AP round loaded. I immediately ordered him to acquire the enemy T55 and fire at will. He complied and scored a successful penetration on the T55 in a location that I cannot recall.

      At 14h21 Visser reported that his tank was out of action and proceeded to exit his tank and make his way to mine. I ordered my driver to ‘swing around’ to extract Visser from the battlefield.

      At 14h22 my tank received a direct hit from the remaining enemy T55 which incapacitated my driver.

      At 14h23 my tank careened into a nearby ditch killing my driver and loader and incapacitating me and my gunner.

      At 18h04 I regained consciousness and found my gunner unresponsive after several attempts to rouse him. I also found the driver and loader KIA.

      At 18h05 I managed to re-start the engine of O5 and proceeded to attempt to locate all the remains of the dead for burial purposes at a later occasion.

      At 18h34 I managed to gather only 9 bodies including that of Visser and my deceased crew. I could not retrieve more as I decided my tank could not reasonably transport more and those left were too severely damaged to be re-claimed by their families.

      At 18h36 I headed north to Omepepa at a constant speed of 30km/h.

      At 19h02 I was encountered by the 9th Bats who subsequently informed me that they had secured the town and its surrounding area.
      ————————————————————————————————
      As you must be able to clearly see from my above After-Action Report [being a tanker yourself]: The 9th Para-Bat Division was able to secure victory over the surrounding enemy force without our assistance being required.

      To this day the 9th Para-Bat Division has maintained that they did not require any armoured support that day. There has always been anger levelled towards command by myself and the 9th Bats as to the handling of the Omepepa skirmish.

      The 9th Bats insisted that no assistance was required and I maintain that we would’ve been of better use as part of the Cassinga offensive [where a further 36 lost their lives as part of a joint light armour-infantry assault, 12 of them Ratel crew.] 32 of my Battalion were killed that day as a result of our command at the time not taking heed of the Bats insistence that they had the fight under control. 'Till this very minute I still think that 2nd BT could’ve saved some 68 lives if command had just given the Bats some leeway.

      That is the reason of my frustration with PATTON. He was a natural-born armoured commander who could’ve contributed heavily elsewhere on the Bulge front and brought the might of the SS to a halt sooner, buying the Red Army precious time to make it to Berlin and enabling him to bring the full might of his 10th AD to bear on the retreating Germans.

      The reason I favour ROMMEL is due to the fact that he gave his unit commanders the freedom to choose their battles on an almost democratic basis. The Afrika Korps was allowed to use their own discretion in terms of which target to assault and the manner best fit to do so. Had our command granted that to Com. Visser, we would’ve been nowhere Omepepa on 8th May, we would’ve been where the real fight was: Cassinga. 68 fathers and sons would still be alive today.

      If you’ve made it this far. Thank you for hearing a fellow tanker out.

      ‘VOORWARTS MARTS!’

      Maj: Edwin Samuel Williamson [SADF/SANDF Ret.]

  19. 19
    Wayne R. Keeler says:

    MAJ Williamson,

    That is a great narrative and as such, I can appreciate your perspective based upon your experience. I just tend to refer back to the primary source… the testimony from the link above and the interviews with the belligerents in the case – they are clearly evidentiary. Our experiences, albeit valid for our particular vignettes may influence our 'opinions' and that is humanly natural, but in the end it is the position and perspective of the 'primary source/participant' that we are lucky enough to have here.

    I just don't believe, and McAuliffe didn't either, that the 101st could have held Bastogne alone and in that regard, that the arrival of Patton's relief elements in Bastogne broke the 'stalemate' defense that would have degraded to become untenable if the encirclement had lasted much longer.

    At any rate, thanks for sharing your Battle Account… it was an exciting read!



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