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Never Penetrated in Combat

Fans of German armoured vehicles often claim that the Tiger II was the ultimate in armoured vehicles of WWII. Particularly, one claim is often made: its upper front plate was never penetrated in combat (even though it was penetrated in testing by several types of guns). Indeed, as this vehicle is rather rare, few photos of them with battle damage exist at all, let alone ones with a visible hole in the UFP. There is one, however.

A typical set of Soviet trophy team markings adorn the tank. A sequential number (196) and circles around hits. One of them, the one marked with an arrow, is a penetration.

This particular tank was photographed in Polgárdi. Let's drill down and see who could have made this shot. The town was subject to heavy street fighting on December 8th, 1944, when the 3rd Ukrainian Front clashed with German forces in Hungary. The Front's documents reflect as much.

"4th Guards Army

The enemy, thrown back by powerful strikes by the Army to a previously prepared defensive line, renewed its resistance and counterattacks in the regions of Polgard, Balaton, and Fekayar. Here the enemy conducted 7 counterattacks today with up to 5 battalions of infantry, 110 tanks and SPGs, 18 APCs, and support from aircraft and artillery."

Looks like this could be our battle. 128 AFVs definitely goes a long way to make reach the 196 vehicles inspected in the vicinity."

Specifically, the 62nd Guards Rifle Division is stated to be fighting in Polgardi. The purple line indicates the position as of December 7th, yellow on December 8th, pink on December 9th, so the area changed hands quite often.

Here is what the division's diary shows. The fighting here is heated enough to take up most of the entry for that day.

"December 8th, 1944

The division, with the forces of the 182nd Guards Rifle Regiment with one battalion of the 131st Artillery Regiment, a battalion of SU-76 and the 186th Guards Rifle Regiment with a battalion from the 131st Artillery Regiment attacked in the thick mist as cover: the first towards the southwestern outskirts of Polgard, the second towards Polgard. Their actions were swift and sudden, and by the end of the day on December 7th they reached:
  • 182nd Guards Rifle Regiment straddling the Polgard-Székesfehérvár highway on the northern outskirts.
  • 186th Guards Rifle Regiment straddling the Fule-Polgard and Lepshen-Polgard, which is to the south-west of Poldard.
During the night of the 7th to the 8th the units fought against enemy counterattacks counting 40 tanks, 12-20 APCs, 15 SPGs, and support from massed fire and aircraft. Polgard burned.
The 182nd Guards Rifle Regiment fought fiercely day and night defending against counterattacks. The first came at 7:00-10:00 from the Polgard station in the strength of 4-6 tanks, 6-9 APCs, 4-6 SPGs, and up to battalion of infantry under cover from a battery of 105 mm guns, 2-3 batteries of 82 mm mortars. The attack failed, 30 prisoners were captured.
A second attack followed at 12:00 with 10-15 tanks, 8-12 APCs, 8-12 SPGs, up to a battalion of 105 mm guns, 3-5 batteries of 81 mm mortars, and up to 1.5 battalions of infantry followed. By 16:00 the line was forced back 400-500 meters north-west of the railroad to the south-east of Polgard. 2 tanks, 2 SPGs, and up to 200 enemy soldiers were destroyed.
At 7:00 the 186th Guards Rifle Regiment was attacked from height 232 at Fule by 5-6 tanks supported by 10 SPGs, 4 APCs, and up to a battalion of infantry with support from a battalion of 105 mm guns, 2 batteries of 81 mm mortars. The attack was repelled, 2 enemy tanks were knocked out.
At 12:00 a second attack followed by 40 tanks, 12-15 SPGs, 15-18 APCs, supported by 2 battalions of 105 mm guns, 3-4 batteries of 81 mm mortars, and at least 30 aircraft. The regiment was forced to retreat at 16:00 and take positions at the railroad 1 km north of Kishcheri, having destroyed 6 enemy tanks, 5 APCs, and over 200 soldiers and officers."

Not really helpful, since both claim tanks knocked out. The records of the regiments provide the details we need: the 186th claims two Tigers.

"At 7:00 on December 8th, 1944, the enemy began an attack with support from 3 Tiger tanks, 7 medium tanks, 10 SPGs, and 8 APCs from the north-west and south-west directions. Reports from a captured Hungarian officer showed that this was the 2nd Hungarian Infantry Division supported by the 23rd Tank Division, tasked with attacking in the Polgard sector.
From 9:00 to 18:00 20 Me-109 and 36 Ju-87 aircraft attacked.
The regiment numbering the 2nd and 3rd infantry battalions captured the south-west outskirts of Polgard (2nd battalion) and north-western outskirts (3rd battalion) by 17:00 on December 7th. From 7:00 to 13:00 the regiment deflected enemy attacks. 2 Tigers and 2 medium tanks were knocked out, in addition to 5 APCs, 2 SPGs, a 75 mm infantry gun, and 20 prisoners were captured."

Neither regiment boasts anything bigger than a 76 mm gun or a 120 mm mortar. All of the heavy firepower comes from the 131st Guards Artillery Regiment that was assigned to the unit, and they seem to have had a fierce fight in Polgardi as well.

"December 8th, 1944. At 11:00 the enemy, supported by 3 artillery batteries, 10 Tiger tanks, 17 SPGs and APCs, and 40 aircraft attacked from the flanks towards our units defending north of Polgard. As a result of the attack, our infantry retreated. Artillery of our regiment had to engage the enemy tanks and infantry on its own in the city streets. Despite the enemy's superiority in tanks and infantry, tearing fiercely at our ranks with the aim to defeat and suppress the artillery and infantry, the personnel of the regiment showed mass heroism, courage, and bravery, showing high morale. Despite the enemy's strong tanks and SPGs, they could not pass anywhere our guns stood. Thanks to the high moral of our soldiers and commanders, the position in Polgard was saved and the infantry could fortify 2 km south of Polgard.

The crew of Sgt. Turygin's gun was disabled. His gun was placed at the crossroads of two major streets. Breaking through the corner of a building, a Tiger tank drove into the street. It started to turn its gun towards Turygin's gun. A direct shot with a subcaliber round from 30 meters punched through the tank. Not losing a second, Turygin loaded another round and fired at a second Tiger. A third Tiger, carefully driving around the disabled vehicles, was not only knocked out but caught fire. The battlefield with three Tigers by Guardsman and Communist Turygin was lit with flames. Disabled tanks crowded the street and prevented other tanks from coming trough. They had to retreat and pass through a neighbouring street, where they were met with fire of the 8th battery.

German Tigers suddenly appeared and smashed two guns with their fire. A direct hit destroyed a limber. Left alone at his gun, Sgt. Yakunin blew off a Tiger's barrel with one shot and disabled it."

Other photos from the battlefield do show a crowding of knocked out Tiger IIs, so this slaughter of tanks by artillery seems very plausible. A very impressive showing, considering that the 131st Guards Artillery Regiment was only equipped with standard divisional artillery: 76 mm ZIS-3 guns and 122 mm M-30 howitzers.

According to Schneider, the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion fighting in this region went from 39 to 28 Tigers from December 6th to 8th and all the way down to 17 by the 15th. The details are sparse, but it's quite plausible for many Tigers to have met their end in Polgardi.

Photos via Yuri Pasholok.

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