Battlegroup Fehrmann Tiger v. three British Comets, 3RTR

Discussion in 'RAC & RTR' started by SDP, Jan 6, 2012.

  1. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    'Maloney': I suggest you start a new thread on the forum where you will no doubt get more information specific to the 4KSLI. My own information relates more to 3RTR so will not, by definition, tell you all you need to know. Having said that, I am currently researching the Aller bridgehead in detail so check back here regularly for any updates. Best Regards and Good Luck with what will no doubt become a quest for knowledge. You will also likely find the 4KSLI War Diary useful and don't forget to contact the KSLI Museum in Shrewsbury; I believe it's currently closed for the winter but reopens late February/March.
     
  2. JDKR

    JDKR Member Patron

    I am the author of No Triumphant Procession which has been referred to in the thread and I have been very interested in the discussion. As I compiled and wrote the book in the pre-internet days of the 1980s and early 1990s I was unable to tap into the wealth of additional information that can now be accessed (although just because it is on the internet does not make it correct!). I am currently engaged in updating the book - including the Essel battle - with a possible view to a second edition, if I can find a publisher as the original publisher (Arms and Armour) is no longer in business.

    As the main focus of my book was the fighting on the 53rd Welsh Division/7th Armoured Division axis centred on the Aller crossing at Rethem rather than on the 11th Armoured Division axis centred on the crossing at Essel I did not put so much detail into the Essel battle. I am now looking to correct that inbalance and have recently visited the National Archives to trawl the war diaries for any information on the Essel battle that I might have missed in the 1980s. I found useful points of additional detail but no major facts or factual errors. I would however like to clarify some inaccuracies in the book, which might be of interest to the thread.

    1. The first is that the callsign for Franzen’s Tiger is emphatically F01, not F02 as stated in my book. The F02 reference came from Ulrich Saft’s book Krieg in der Heimat and I assumed it was correct as it was coming from a German source and I had no other information with which to substantiate it. F02 may be the call sign of one of the other Tigers that took part in the Essel battle but it was not Franzen’s Tiger.

    2. The mechanical fault with F01 that resulted in it returning to Fallingbostel, and hence being available for the Essel battle, was due to a problem with its traversing gear not its clutch. This was the result of a PIAT strike on the mantlet during the fighting against 6th Airborne Division some 5-6 days earlier on the Weser in the Petershagen area.

    3. Saft was also the source of a second error and that concerns Panzer-Jager-Abteilung 71, which he alleges took part in the battle and was equipped with two Ferdinand (aka ‘Elefant’) tank destroyers. I and German researchers can find absolutely no evidence that this unit ever existed (anywhere, anytime) and I’m not sure why Saft seems to have invented this information.

    4. Although I am aware that Brig Mills-Roberts in his account of 1st Commando Bde’s advance from the Meuse to the Baltic (‘Five Rivers’) refers to Ferdinands at Essel I can find no other supporting evidence that such vehicles were operating in this area of Germany in April 1945, and it is possible that other types of SP guns were identified as Ferdinands in the same way that most German tanks were identified as Tigers! What is certain is that the Germans did have some SP guns in the Essel area during the battle as there are frequent mentions of ‘SP guns’ in British war diaries. I think it is probable that they were the 2 x Sturmgeschutz III which joined Oberst Grosan’s kampfgruppe. Anyone have any better ideas?

    As a still-serving British Army officer I have had the opportunity over the years to visit the Essel area quite frequently and I run battlefield tours for the Army on events in my book, including Essel. Some of the forest has undoubtedly had a number of generations of timber but other areas appear, to my eye anyhow, to have trees of 60+ years so the battlefield is in areas largely unchanged. There are however many holiday cottages in the woods.

    regards
     
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  3. maloney

    maloney Junior Member

    JDKR Just ordered your book, Maloney
     
  4. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Welcome to the forum John, will I now go to ''copyright hell'' for posting those maps from your most excellent book?
    ;)
     
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  5. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    Welcome to the forum, John.

    I have a copy of your book (bought on Amazon in January!) and am currently collating all the information I have regarding the Essel/Aller bridgehead. This draws on your own book, a lot from 'The Sharp End' by John Langdon, an extract from the 4KSLI history, the book by Ulrich Saft, an article in AFV News by G Finizio and a few other bits and pieces. Although my focus has to be the history of my fathers Comet tank 'Celerity' of 1st Troop 'A' Squadron 3RTR, I am also obviously interested in the other aspects of the action in order to put everything in to context. I share this interest with others including Stephen White, Dick Taylor and Peter Brown. After what I've found out, it is only a question of time before I visit the area myself; the incredible thing is that I drove by on the local Autobahn few years ago and, of course, was none the wiser at that time....grrrrrrr.
     
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  6. m kenny

    m kenny Senior Member

    I have seen the name 'Ferdinand' mentioned many times in NW Europe and I have to presume someone gave out a recognition manual with a wrongly captioned vehicle.
    This from 2002 on another forum:

    I read the account in Patrick Delaforce's 'The Fighting Wessex Wyverns' about the actions of the 43rd Wessex Division (Infantry) from D-Day to V-E Day. The particular account concerning the Ferdinand's is mentioned during a passage (page 94-5)about an action in and around the village of St Pierre-du-Fresne, at that time held by the 5th Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment. Further references to Ferdinand's can be found over the page, again the same regiment, and another battle, this time at Bois du Homme and Hill 361. Both these battles are mentioned as happening on the 1st August 1944.

    I note that when the Scots Guards got beat up by Jagdpathers on July 30th they described the attackers as a Tiger (for sure) and an SP gun and 'Hornets' were in the area.

    The strength of the force is unknown, but it certainly included one or more Tigersand probably an SP gun mounting an 8.8 cm A/tk gun.

    The first few shots knocked out all three tanks of Lieut Cunningham‘s troop who were watching that flank. Covered by the fire of the others behind the house, one Tiger advanced under the lee of the hedge through ―S Squadron from the SE knocking out several other tanks on its way. It was almost completely covered by the hedge from LF during this operation though one hit by a 75 mm was claimed on it. Apparently, however, finding the opposition more heavy than it expected it sheered off and disappeared in a northerly direction. At about the same time another SP Gun thought to be a Hornet, in from the north but was engaged and driven off.

    and:
    A similar example is the description of "Ferdinand" SP Guns in the Canadian dump at Meppen in March '45 in the photo captions on the Canadian Public Archives site which are the obvously the well known Jagpanthers of 655....so it was a fairly common error even right at the end


    Tank recognition classes a low priority?
     
  7. JDKR

    JDKR Member Patron

    Welcome to the forum, John.

    I have a copy of your book (bought on Amazon in January!) and am currently collating all the information I have regarding the Essel/Aller bridgehead. This draws on your own book, a lot from 'The Sharp End' by John Langdon, an extract from the 4KSLI history, the book by Ulrich Saft, an article in AFV News by G Finizio and a few other bits and pieces. Although my focus has to be the history of my fathers Comet tank 'Celerity' of 1st Troop 'A' Squadron 3RTR, I am also obviously interested in the other aspects of the action in order to put everything in to context. I share this interest with others including Stephen White, Dick Taylor and Peter Brown. After what I've found out, it is only a question of time before I visit the area myself; the incredible thing is that I drove by on the local Autobahn few years ago and, of course, was none the wiser at that time....grrrrrrr.

    Steve – thank you for your welcome and it is a pleasure to be communicating with someone who has such a close, personal connection with the battle. Some additional points:

    1. While Saft’s book is a good piece of local German history it is not in-depth military research. I would therefore advise caution with his information and whenever possible seek collateral sources.
    2. I think you are after John Langdon’s account ‘3RTR The Aller Bridgehead 11 – 14 April’. Coincidentally I have just requested it from the Tank Museum and so am able to attach it for you. It makes graphic reading and really brings to life the toughness of the armour battle in the Essel forest.
    3. I am currently digging out information on the attack on the bridgehead made by Arado 234 from KG76 on 13 April.
    4. Maps – I have contemporary (ie 1945) 1:25000 maps of the Aller bridgehead but sadly not for Essel. The contemporary maps came from the UK’s BAOR map depot but I would guess that this has long since shut and its contents recycled. I will investigate and if unsuccessful try to get a modern equivalent when next I am in Germany.
    5. When I was last at Essel I took a photo of where I believe F01 was knocked out. I will scan this and post it in due course.
    6. I have just bought Peter Elstob's book 'Warriors for the Working Day' which I much look forward to reading. Although it is 'fiction' it is, I understand, almost indivisible from the real events.

    Don’t hesitate to plug me for information if I can be of any help.

    Welcome to the forum John, will I now go to ''copyright hell'' for posting those maps from your most excellent book?
    ;)

    Owen – thank you for your welcome and kind words about the book. Delighted that you copied the maps and you can rest assured that you will not be getting a letter from my solicitor! It is good to see them being put to use beyond the pages of the book. That said, if anyone considered publishing chunks of the book without permission then they would feel the full majesty of the law! Incidentally I saw one used in a Patrick Delaforce book – perhaps my publisher’s gave permission; I certainly didn’t!

    I took ages to draw the maps and was determined to litter the book with them as there is nothing more infuriating than reading military history unsupported by maps. At the risk of a touch of arrogance, perhaps the attitude to maps is the difference between a military-military author and civilian-military authors!
    JDKR Just ordered your book, Maloney

    Maloney – hope you enjoy it. Now that it is only available second-hand, sadly I no longer receive any royalties!
     

    Attached Files:

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  8. JDKR

    JDKR Member Patron

    I said I would post a photo of the location of the site of the destruction of Tiger F01. This site is at the modern grid ref 460406 (apologies for not providing the sheet number etc but I think the 1:50000 sheet title is 'Walsrode'). This grid was extrapolated from knowing both the modern (446400) and 1945 (301584) GR of the road bridge over the Esseler Kanal. This then provided a v simple formula for converting the 1945 GR of the KOd F01 (315590) detailed in the 3 RTR War Diary into a modern GR. I am therefore 99% certain the photograph is of the correct spot, which is immediately after the modern road junction just visible on the left of the photo.

    The photo is taken looking NE and the road can be seen rising to cross the modern A7 autobahn some 700m distant; neither the rise nor bridge would probably have existed in 1945 as the autobahn was still under construction (probably abandoned due to lack of labour, concrete, more important priorities etc).

    I also attach a photograph of the modern road bridge over the Aller to the NE of the village of Essel. The original bridge was demolished prior to the battle.
     

    Attached Files:

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  9. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    John

    This is brilliant and, as I have just said over on the 'Aller Bridgehead' thread, has really made my day (which had already been pretty good anyway!). Everything now stacks up in my mind so I can complete my own 'take' of the 'Aller battle with maps'......

    The account by Langdon, with David Fletchers communications thrown in, is totally fascinating as, from my narrow viewpoint, it includes just that little bit of extra information compared to an almost identical version included in Langdon's book 'The Sharp End'; he confirms three Comets (i.e. including my Dad's Comet 'Celerity') as likely visible to the Tiger when it came round that corner. Previous to this my interpretation had been that 'Elstobs tank' (i.e. Celerity) had been further back. This all now makes sense as the 'further back' bit didn't make sense because there was not enough distance involved i.e. for the rest of the story to make sense, Celerity had to have been further forward than I originally surmised. I just love these 'little' details. Shame Dad is no longer here to witness this unless he is looking down from on high!
     
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  10. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    Steve – thank you for your welcome and it is a pleasure to be communicating with someone who has such a close, personal connection with the battle. Some additional points:

    6. I have just bought Peter Elstob's book 'Warriors for the Working Day' which I much look forward to reading. Although it is 'fiction' it is, I understand, almost indivisible from the real events.

    !


    I've read part of Peter Elstobs book. Slow going because I'm comparing the fiction book to actual fact and I've also got higher priorities (such as something called 'work'). There is no way this book is pure fiction. While the 'fact' does move around between the characters, there is an overall statistical balance that makes me believe Dad is 'Taffy' in the book. Elstob is 'Cpl Brook' and the book is really semi-autobiographical. Of course my conclusions may change as I get further in to the book!
     
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  11. JDKR

    JDKR Member Patron

    I am very happy to have been of help.
     
  12. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    John and other forum members

    Do you have copies of any contemporary (1945) maps of the Essel/Aller area?

    I'm trying to fathom a few discrepancies in the Franzen and Langdon accounts of the battle. I think I know the answers but a 1945 map or aerial photo would clinch it.
     
  13. JDKR

    JDKR Member Patron

    Steve - sadly not. I have a captured, German map complete with map markings which was given to me by a British veteran but that is of the more northern Aller area and doesn't reach Essel. I will see what I can get hold of.

    By the way, you refer to 'Kampfgruppe Fehrmann' in your earlier emails. My own view is that this title is not quite correct and a more correct title would be 'Tiger-Gruppe Fehrmann'. While a kampfgruppe could range in size from a corps to a company it was an all-arms organisation, which Fehrmann's group was not. His Tigers belonged to Major Schulze's larger grouping which contained MkV Panthers and, according to some sources, SdKfz 251 so Schulze's grouping could more correctly be referred to as 'kampfgruppe'. I note that most German researchers refer to 'Tiger-Gruppe Fehrmann' so I think I'm on the right lines.

    Although of only very indirect relevance to your research I'm trying to dig out what happened to KG Schulze after its action on the Weser. There is a considerable amount of inaccuracy in various written sources and internet forums and I find these tend to reinforce each other. For instance the oft-quoted 'fact' that the German armour found at Achum near Buckeberg was destroyed by 5th US Armored Division is way off the mark as this formation, having crossed the Weser at Minden, swung away to the south before resuming its eastwards advance and did not come anywhere near Achum! Let me know if any of that peripheral information is of any interest to you.

    regards

    John
     
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  14. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    John

    Thanks for the feedback; all good stuff! I now realise that several names (Fehrmann, Schulze, Grosan) 'fit' aspects of this Aller engagement reflecting, I believe, the rapidly changing structure of a 'gruppe' that was gradually being worn away by losses in tanks and men and being spread and redistributed across the battlefield. This has been a very steep learning curve but, with some amazing help from a number of people, including your goodself, we all now know more about what really happened. I almost feel like starting an 'Aller Engagement' users group with founding members Pannell, Taylor, White, Russell and Brown but not necessarily in that order! It would also be fantastic if some German colleagues could also join the group......Franzen et alia ?
     
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  15. JDKR

    JDKR Member Patron

    Steve - sadly not. I have a captured, German map complete with map markings which was given to me by a British veteran but that is of the more northern Aller area and doesn't reach Essel. I will see what I can get hold of.

    Steve - attached is the map of the Essel area. It is a 1:25,000 but scaled up from 1:50,000. I hope it meets your needs although not quite as good as the genuine 1:25,000 item.

    Incidentally I will be going to the Essel area this summer; do let me know if there are any photos you want taken and I will see what I can do.

    best wishes

    John
     

    Attached Files:

  16. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    Incidentally I will be going to the Essel area this summer; do let me know if there are any photos you want taken and I will see what I can do.

    best wishes

    John

    John

    Brilliant information as always. Any idea when the map was produced? I note it includes the autobahn and service area and the local riverside campsite near Engehausen but, at the same time, uses a very 'old' style of printing etc.

    There are two photos (among many others!) I would especially like if possible. While I need to check the precise locations (I've got it down to a few yards) it would be good to see the 'other' tanks as would have been seen by Franzen when he came round the RH bend to be confronted by three Comets and the Tiger as would have been seen by Langdon/Brindle/Elstob.

    I will hopefully get to the area one day myself but am wondering what the locals would think of me parking my car where 'Celerity'/Langdon/Brindle would have stood, walking up the road to where Franzen's Tiger would have been and taking a photo of 'Celerity' from that location.....and then repeating the exercise from the other direction! Done it before many times in Normandy at various locations and it's almost guaranteed to get some comments or attention (mad Englishman standing in the middle of the road taking photos of some trees etc!!!)
     
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  17. JDKR

    JDKR Member Patron

    Steve - the map is modern and has been produced for me by the Army to support my battlefield tour.

    You will need to give me grid refs for the photos and directions in which to point the shots. Where is the RH bend? I'm not sure what route F01 took to get to the action.

    From my memory of the area I don't think the locals would bat an eyelid as this is not a busy road. Although any that see you might be a tad puzzled why anyone would want to take photos of nondescript bits of forest and road!
     
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  18. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    Steve - the map is modern and has been produced for me by the Army to support my battlefield tour.

    You will need to give me grid refs for the photos and directions in which to point the shots. Where is the RH bend? I'm not sure what route F01 took to get to the action.

    From my memory of the area I don't think the locals would bat an eyelid as this is not a busy road. Although any that see you might be a tad puzzled why anyone would want to take photos of nondescript bits of forest and road!

    Here is my best estimate to date as to the location of Tiger F01 and the three Comets. F01 would have been at the upper end of the red line (just south of the RH bend when viewed from Franzen's direction of advance). Langdon and Brindle would have been at the lower end of the red line and Elstob (Celerity) at the yellow pin marker next to a track. I'm still fleshing out the detail but that's it in a nutshell as I currently see it. Various accounts have F01 crossing the Drebber Stream and then going round the RH bend. The red line is scaled to match the distance between Langdon and the Tiger as described in Langdon's book 'The Sharp End'.
     

    Attached Files:

  19. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

  20. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    SDP - Got this link from another WW2talk member, Uwe Sewing. It has the contemporary online maps you're looking for: Digital Maps - Harold B. Lee Library

    Absolutely brilliant and answers most (and possibly all) of my questions. I had been struggling with Langdons, Franzens and other accounts because the 'clearing where the start of the Autobahn was being constructed' didn't make sense i.e. the woods either extended a lot further north in 1945 and/or the modern Autobahn was itself constructed further to the north. The latter turns out to be the case and a quick check of the trees planting pattern on Google Earth confirms my earlier suspicion about this i.e. the 'start of the Autobahn' mentioned by Langdon corresponds to where the Essel-Ostenholz road passes over the Drebber Stream and there is a (now mature) trees planting extending to the NNW of this point where Langdon's 'clearing' was located in 1945.

    Thanks again, a bit of a Eureka! moment........just a pity the area involved straddles the joins between four maps!....some cut-and-paste required!
     
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