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Battle of Nordwind: Two Wehrmacht Tanks Vs 21 Us Sherman Tanks

MG is an air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff and a voracious writer on military

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Background

Towards the end of 1944, the thousand-year-old Reich was on its last legs. Adolf Hitler had however not given up hope and was still hoping for a miracle particularly after he survived the July assassination attempt. He formulated an ambitious plan to drive through the Ardennes mountains across central Europe, cross the Meuse and capture the main American- British supply Port of Antwerp. He hoped to drive a wedge between the American and British armies and prolong the war in the hope that the counteroffensive launched by him would lead to an armistice and peace on the Western front. The plan was ambitious but had many imponderables and variables and the most fickle was the weather. As per metrological reports, he hoped that the weather would be bad and the Allied Air Force would not be active. This would nullify the great advantage which the Allied army had. He also chose a sector to attack which was held by the Americans as he had a general feeling that the Americans were the weaker link in the Allied army. Things however didn't go according to plan as the American resistance stiffened and after the initial surprise the Americans were able to rush in reinforcements. Nevertheless, the Americans were surprised that the Wehrmacht could launch an offensive so late in the war.

One of the weaknesses of the offensive was the appointment by Hitler of Field Marshal Von Rundstedt as the overall commander. Rundstedt had felt the plan to be too ambitious and was not convinced of its success – if you have a commander who himself does not believe in the success of a plan the chances of it succeeding are reduced by 50%. Another variable was that American resistance was tougher than expected. The weather also cleared up and the Allied Air Force went into action and this chance of a breakthrough in central Europe became almost zero. The offensive ground to a halt.

During the same period, Hitler ordered a smaller offensive with a limited objective. This was "Operation Nordwind." This operation had a limited objective and the goal was to break through the US 7th army and Free French First Army in the mountains and destroy them and then recapture the city of Strasbourg by the end of January 1945. The aim was to take some of the pressure off the Ardennes offensive and later attack General Patton's Third Army. This brief operation saw an encounter between the Tiger tank and the American Sherman tanks and makes for interesting study and comparison.




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Battle: Tiger tank vs Sherman

The offensive was launched on New Year's Eve 1944 by the Wehrmacht against the lightly held 68-mile long front against the units of the US 7th army. The fighting was heavy and by 15 January Germans and Americans were fighting the toughest ever battle between them around the town of Herrlisheim. The Germans had 17 undermanned divisions and the Americans brought in the tanks. The US 12th Armored division sent in three task forces one of which was based on the 43rd battalion. This battalion was hit by 8 dug in anti-tank guns and was halted. The other two task forces also could not make much headway and were halted.

The Ardennes offensive was now running out of steam. Operation Nordwind on a much smaller scale was still alive till mid-January. General staff now tasked the Frundsberg Division part of Army group B together with the 6th SS Gebirgs Division to make a breakthrough of the Allied line and form a bridgehead at Hagenau for further attacks.

The attack was to be supported by the 3rd Company, 10th SS Panzer Regiment with Obersturmführer Bachmann in command. He had taken command after an injury to the CO. He was a young lad of just 20 years of age and a daredevil. He rode on a bike for reconnaissance and was accosted by a Sherman which he destroyed. He rode back and with 2 tanks attacked and more Sherman tanks were destroyed. The Germans under Bachmann took 60 prisoners and 20 soldiers (including 2 officers) that had been captured by the Americans were released and rearmed. Eight more Sherman tanks were destroyed and the icing on the cake was that 12 Sherman tanks were captured intact. The crew of the captured Sherman tanks was made to drive the tanks forward by armed soldiers sitting next to them.

The attack continued from Herrlisheim towards Drusenheim and a further 9 tanks were destroyed. Much to the chagrin of the Americans the captured Sherman tanks were formed into the 13th Company, 10th SS Panzer Regiment. These served with army markings till the end of the war. This action shows the sting in the tail of the Wehrmacht even at the fag end of a defeat.

By 25 January 1945 Information was conveyed to Hitler and he decided to call off the operation basically to counter the massive assault of the Red Army in the east.


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Lastword

The incident of the captured Sherman tanks is obviously downplayed by the Americans. The fact that the crew of 12 tanks gave themselves up without a fight was never investigated. Worse they piloted these tanks with an enemy soldier sitting by their side obviously holding a gun.

Erwin Bachmann was awarded the Knight's Cross in February 1945. Bachman was next in combat in Pomerania with the 1st Company against the Red Army and at the battle of Christinenberg, there are reports that he destroyed a number of T 34 tanks. In May 1945 he moved west and was captured by the British army at Sandbostel. He died in 2010.

In hindsight, one can see that the most powerful tank during World War II was the 67-tonne tiger II. It could hold up a dozen Sherman tanks and often did. It carried a crew of five, had a 600-horsepower engine and a maximum speed of 21.74 miles an hour, and a range of 105 miles. Thankfully due to the Allied bombing, only 489 of these behemoths were built till the end of the war.

The saga of two versus 21 is an excellent material for a war movie but Hollywood obviously would not like to make a movie that glorifies the Wehrmacht and that is where the matter ends.


Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

Tom, thanks, I haven't seen any of the movies you have mentioned. You do keep abreast.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

Pamela, thank you for commenting. It's a pleasure to read what you write.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

Sp Greaney, thanks for your comment. I hope somebody will film this tale.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 22, 2020:

You have explained another battle of WWII so well. I always learn so much from your historic articles, and this one was no exception. I think you tell the historic details without bias, which isn't always true of others.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on October 22, 2020:

The succeses by the Germans will never be praised. Still the weaker side surpased the strong one here. Obersturmführer Bachmann knew his stuff. It would be an interesting film to watch, that's for sure.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

Tom, Thanks for the figures provided, it makes the discussion so interesting.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

Liz, sweet of you to have commented.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

tom, the Hawker Hunter served the air force for a good part of five decades and flew thousands of hours. I didn't get an opportunity to fly this plane but my dad felt it was a good plane in the circumstances of that period but after the 70s it was dated but the IAF still carried on with it.

tom on October 22, 2020:

germany made 4000 panthers,iaf lost 119 hunters in crashes,hawker now brtish aerospace

Liz Westwood from UK on October 22, 2020:

This is a fascinating episode in World War 2 history. You do a good job of highlighting these otherwise forgotten incidents. It is good that the numbers of these German tanks were restricted.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

Tom, Hawker Typhoon was one of the most successful allied ground attack fighters. Later they produce a Hawker Hunter which was utilized by the Indian Air Force. I remember my dad used to fly the Hawker Hunter and it was a reasonable success in the 65 war.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

Thank you, Tom, for commenting. Hans Rudel was is an exponent of Goering theory and support of the dive bomber. He was a daredevil and that is the reason he is the most decorated pilot of the Luftwaffe.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 22, 2020:

Tom, I remember reading about an encounter with the tiger tank and T34.Two German tanks destroyed 54 Soviet T 34 tanks. The tank did have a lot of defects but heavy allied air bombing gave the Germans no respite to iron out the problems.

tom on October 22, 2020:

typhoon destroyed german tanks ,german tank crew shouted achthung jabo,alert fighter bomber

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