One of only a handful left, this King Tiger is perhaps the best known of the lot. Located in the picturesque town of La Gleize in the Ardennes, Belgium, this is the only Tiger II visible from the public road. Because of the incredible amount of photos I have taken, I decided to split this walk-around into multiple parts. In this first post I will dive into the events that would eventually lead to the loss of this Tiger. In upcoming parts, the Tiger and all of its components will be featured in more detail.
Leibstandarte during the Ardennes offensive
Tiger ‘213’ was one of the tanks of schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501 attached to 1. SS-Panzer-Division ‘Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler‘ during the Ardennes offensive. This last-ditch effort of the Third Reich saw the mustering of three armies: 6th SS-Panzerarmee, 5th Panzerarmee and the 7th Armee. On 16 December 1944 these armies attacked the allied position along a 100 kilometres long front between Monschau and Echternach. Their goal was to cross the Meuse river and head for Antwerp to cut off the bulk of the allied armies on the western front. Hitler was convinced that cutting off the allied armies in the low countries would force them into peace negotiations.
On the northern shoulder of the offensive the 6th SS-Panzerarmee attacked over five so called Rollbahnen. The roads, often single-file and filled with mire, were completely unsuitable for heavy traffic, let alone the movement of entire armies which resulted in enormous traffic jams. Spearheading the attack of Leibstandarte was Kampfgruppe Peiper commanded by Joachim Peiper. KG Peiper made its way over Rollbahn D in direction of Werbomont to Baugnez via Büllingen1 and Faymonville. At Baugnez crossroads just south of Malmedy a tragedy took place: 84 POWs were shot in cold blood on 17 December.
In search of a crossing over the Amblève river, the Kampfgruppe moved towards Stavelot where a bridge was successfully captured on the 18th. The reconnaissance group, Schnelle Gruppe Knittel, and multiple Königstiger of sSS-PzAbt 501 joined Peiper here. Travelling along the west bank, Trois Ponts was reached, but the road bridges were blown by its defenders, blocking the route to Werbomont. The drive westward was continued in direction of La Gleize. At Cheneux the bridge was found intact, but the convoy was strafed by P-47 Thunderbolts, severely delaying their advance. When approaching the bridge over the Lienne near Habiémont, it too was blown. On the same day a regiment of 30th Infantry Division made its way to Stavelot and Peiper now faced the risk of being cut off from resupplies and reinforcements.
Desperately looking for another crossing, Peiper attacked Stoumont on 19 December. The village was taken after heavy fighting, but attacks past Targnon towards the Stoumont station were halted. US engineers managed to destroy the main bridge over the Amblève in Stavelot, separating Peiper from the rest of his division on the southern bank. The net was tightening around Peiper as Americans also appeared on the road between La Gleize and Trois Ponts. With inadequate strength to defend Chenaux and Stoumont, all troops were withdrawn to La Gleize on the 21st. Peiper’s last life line was cut when the narrow wooden bridge over the Amblève at Petit Spay collapsed under the weight of a Panzer IV/70.
The Tigers at Wérimont, 21-22 December
Preparing to defend La Gleize, Peiper organised his defences around the town. All command posts were situated in cellars, sheltered from the continuous heavy artillery bombardments that the 30th Infantry Division brought to bear. Tiger commanders SS-Obersturmführer Wilhelm Dollinger and SS-Untersturmführer Georg Hantusch are ordered to defend the south-eastern flank of La Gleize. Both tanks take up positions at Wérimont, a highpoint just south of La Gleize. A command post is located in the nearby farm, ferme Wérimont. As the below photo illustrates, their position gave a good view of anything coming from Trois-Ponts (right) towards La Gleize.
Dollinger had assumed command of 213 after his own tank broke down, and Hantusch commanded 221. The next day, about 15 tanks of Task Force McGeorge appear from the direction of Roanne. A firefight ensues, but no hits are scored by either Tiger. 213 is hit, losing about 1/3 of its barrel, rendering it inoperable. 221 is also struck and its electrical firing mechanism fails. Both crews bail to find shelter in the farm’s basement.
This encounter goes to show that even the invincible Tiger II could be knocked out due to the large number of tanks the American were able to field. Moreover, the use of the Tiger II in forested areas, like the Ardennes, was disliked by its crews: the long barrelled gun prevented traversing the turret and the limited room for manoeuvring made the tank vulnerable from the sides.
Without fuel, Peiper was unable to manoeuvrer let alone break out from the encirclement. On the 23rd, crippled by a lack of fuel and ammunition, Peiper finally received permission to withdraw. Leaving behind all heavy equipment, about 800 men broke out of the Allied encirclement on foot. After a two and a half day journey, 770 of them managed to link up with their parent division at Wanne.
A tremendous amount of materiel was left in the area around La Gleize after Peiper’s chaotic retreat, including no less than six Königstiger. While most of the Tigers are recovered and scrapped by US engineers, 213 is saved by interference of Madame Jenny Geenen-Dewez who buys the tank at the price of a bottle cognac. After the war it is towed to Place Publique besides the presbytery near the church.
In November 1951, the tank was subsequently moved to its currently place with help of the Belgian army. September 1970 saw the lifting of the tiger onto a more solidly built underground. Monsieur Gérard Gregoire bought a piece of a Panther’s 7,5 cm barrel which was attached to the severed barrel in 1975, giving the tank a more authentic look.
Some people might assume the barrel on display at the museum is an original piece from 213, but this is untrue. After inquiring at the museum, I learned this is actually a piece of a Panther gun.
Through the years, the tank has been liberated of many of its sheet metal components and fittings. Only the front fenders are original and the remaining pieces of track guard were been recreated and welded on in the early 90s2.
The chassis number is 280273, indicating that it was assembled by Henschel in October 1944. It has the series production turret, mounting an 8,8 cm KwK 43 L/71 gun. The gun is stuck in full recoil and it is likely the recoil buffer was drained before firing its last shot. Photos of the turret interior clearly show the gun out of battery. The turret traverse gear, normally located underneath the gun, is visible to the right of the gun.
In the next part we will take a closer look at the engine deck and turret. Stay tuned.
99th Division MIA Project. “Kampfgruppe Peiper.” MIA Project, 2013. http://www.miaproject.net/the-battlefield-then-now/kampfgruppe-peiper-2/.
Beevor, Antony. Ardennes, 1944 : Hitler’s Last Gamble. London: Uk Penguin Books, 2016.
Cole, Hugh M, and Center Of Military History. The Ardennes : Battle of the Bulge. Washington: Office Of The Chief Of Military History, Dept. Of The Army, 1965.
Marriott, Leo, and Simon Forty. The Ardennes Battlefields : December 1944–January 1945. Havertown, Pa: Casemate Publishers, 2017.
Schneider, Wolfgang. Tigers in Combat. Vol. 2. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2005.
“Tiger 213.” December 44 Historical Museum La Gleize. Accessed March 2020. http://www.december44.com/en/tiger-213.htm.
Walden, Gregory A. “The Battle 21-25 December: The Cauldron of La Gleize, and the Final Struggle for Stavelot.” Tigers in the Ardennes, June 3, 2012. https://web.archive.org/web/20120603083814/http://www.ss501panzer.com/Battle_21-25_Dec.htm.
———. “The Restoration of 213.” Tigers in the Ardennes, January 23, 2010. https://web.archive.org/web/20120604081657/http://www.ss501panzer.com/213_restoration.htm.
———. Tigers in the Ardennes : The 501st Heavy SS Tank Battalion in the Battle of the Bulge. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2015.
- Originally, this village was not on the route of 1. SS-PzDiv as it was located along Rollbahn C designated to 12. SS-PzDiv. Peiper made a detour via Büllingen to refuel his vehicles at an American fuel depot.
- Some sources state the guards were added in 1994, but footage dating from March 1993 show them already fitted. They were not present in 1991.