15 July 1923|
Yielden, Northamptonshire, England
|Died||1 February 2012
Kettering, Northamptonshire, England
|Unit||A Squadron, 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry|
Joe Ekins (15 July 1923 – 1 February 2012) was a World War II British Army veteran. He gained recognition for his action as a tank gunner in France in which he destroyed four tanks in a day, including three Tigers. One of his opponents on that day, 8 August 1944 near St. Aignan de Cramesnil, France may have been the German tank commander, Michael Wittmann, the 4th top scoring tank ace in history, However, in recent years it has been claimed that Sherman Fireflies from the Canadian Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment were the actual killers of Wittmann. Ekins died on 1 February 2012.
During Operation Totalize the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and elements of the 51st (Highland) Division reached the French village of St. Aignan de Cramesnil during the early morning of 8 August 1944. While B Squadron stayed around the village, A and C Squadrons moved further south into a wood called Delle de la Roque.
From this position they overlooked a large open section of ground and were able to watch as German tanks advanced up Route nationale 158 from the town of Cintheaux. Under strict orders from the troop commander, they held their fire until the German tanks were well within range.
With the Tiger tanks in range, the order was given to fire. What followed was an almost 12-minute battle that saw Ekins destroying all three Tigers that '3 Troop' could see (there were actually seven Tiger tanks in the area heading north, along with some other tanks and self-propelled guns).
A short time later, the main German counterattack was made in the direction of C Squadron. A Squadron (less Sgt Gordon, who had been wounded and had already bailed out of the Firefly) moved over to support them and in the resulting combat, Ekins destroyed a Panzer IV before his tank was hit and the crew was forced to bail out.
Following the battle and tankless, Ekins was reassigned to another tank within the squadron as a radio operator and remained in this position for the rest of the war.
Controversy surrounding Wittmann’s death
In 1985, an article in Issue 48 of the After the Battle Magazine chronicled the last battle of Michael Wittmann. In it, Les Taylor, another member of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry during the war, stated that Joe Ekins was responsible for Wittmann's death. Although at the time of his death, Wittmann was practically unknown to the allied forces, following Les Taylor’s account of what happened that day nearly every allied formation in the area and some who were not, claimed to be responsible for killing him.
The 1st Polish Armoured Division, the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, 144th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps and the RAF Second Tactical Air Force were the main claimants. In No Holding Back, by Brian Reid on Operation Totalize, which has an appendix devoted to the death of Michael Wittmann, these claims are discredited.
Examination of the armoured division's war diaries revealed that they were too far north from St. Aignan de Cramesnil to have taken any part in the defeat of the German armoured counterattack. Investigation also ruled out the 144th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps, although they did take part in defeating the counterattack, they were positioned around Cramesnil and therefore out of effective range of the position of Wittmann’s tank.
The main source of controversy surrounding Wittmann's death came from the claim made by the RAF Second Tactical Air Force, partially supported by Mr Serge Varin, who took the only known photo to survive of the destroyed tank and who stated that in his opinion the tank was destroyed from an air attack.
Brian Reid has also discredited this explanation after examining the logs of the Second Tactical Air Force. He notes that they make no claim of engaging or destroying any tanks in the area where Wittmann died during the time of the battle. With the Second Tactical Air Force ruled out, some[who?] on the Internet have claimed Wittmann’s tank therefore must have fallen victim to the US Eighth Air Force, which was bombing in support of Operation Totalize around the time of the German counterattack. However, there is no evidence to support this theory.
Brian Reid then goes on to discuss the possibility that Joe Ekins was not Michael Wittmann’s killer, as there was another armoured regiment in the area, much closer to Wittmann’s tank.
A Squadron of The Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, commanded by Major Sydney Radley-Walters, was positioned in the chateau grounds at Gaumesnil. This area is parallel with the Delle de la Roque woods and the location of the Joe Ekin’s Firefly. From this position, based on verbal testimony from the tankers, they engaged several tanks and self-propelled guns driving up the main road and across the open ground towards Hill 112, including several Tiger tanks.
Reid concludes that given the range Joe Ekins would have had to fire over to hit Wittmann’s tank and the proximity of The Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment to the tank, that the latter were most likely the killers. There is no official Canadian record to support this conclusion, due the Fusiliers' Regimental Headquarter's halftrack being destroyed by a stray USAAF bomb.
After the war, Ken Tout, who at the time of Operation Totalize was a member of C Squadron of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, published an account of the battle and of Wittmann’s demise and claimed Joe Ekins as his killer. However, when researching his new book on the subject, he interviewed former members of A Squadron, Sherbrooke Fusiliers. In the book he does not claim Wittmann for the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry and acknowledges that other regiments were in the area at the time which engaged the Tigers.
After the war, Ekins returned to Rushden, Northamptonshire and went back to work in the shoe factories near his home town. He retired 34 years later, after becoming a manager of one of the factories.
He married his childhood sweetheart and together they had two children. He also had two grandchildren.
- After the battle, Issue 48, Pg 50
- Tout, Fine Night For Tanks
- Tout, Fine By Tank D to VE Day
- Reid, Pg 424
Lord Boardman letter to Radley-Walters, 13 June 1999
- Hart, Pg 52-69
- "Joe Ekins". Daily Telegraph. 29 February 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
- Reid, Brian. No Holding Back (Robin Brass Studios, 2005) p. 410-430
- Reid, Brian. No Holding Back (Robin Brass Studios, 2005)
- Reid, Pg 411-412
- Reid, Pg 418-20
- Reid, Pg 426-429
PRO, Air 25/709, 84 Group RAF Operations Record Book August 1944, pg 8 Serial 18, 8 August 1944
PRO, Air 25/698, 83 Group RAF Operations Record Book August 1944
PRO, 2 TAF Operations Record Book, Sheet 28, 8 Aug 44
PRO, 83 group Operations Record Book, 8 Aug 1944
- Reid, Pg 410-430
- Reid, 2005. Pg 416
- Reid, Pg 414
- Reid, 2005 p. 423
- After the Battle Magazine, Issue 48.
- Agte, Patrick. Michael Wittmann and the Waffen SS Tiger Commanders of the Leibstandarte in WWII: Volume 2, Stackpole Military History (Oct 2006), ISBN 0-8117-3335-1
- Ellis, L.F. United Kingdom Military Series, History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Military, Victory in the West: The Battle of Normandy: Volume I, Naval & Military Press Ltd; New Ed edition (Sep 2004), ISBN 1-84574-058-0
- Hart, Stephen A. Sherman Firefly vs Tiger: Normandy 1944, Osprey Publishing (2007), ISBN 978-1-84603-150-2
- Lefevre, Eric (Author), Cooke, R (translator). Panzers in Normandy: Then and Now, After the Battle (Oct 1983), ISBN 0-900913-29-0
- Reid, Brian. No Holding Back: Operation Totalize, Normandy, August 1944 Robin Brass Studio (April 2005), ISBN 1-896941-40-0
- Schneider, Wolfgang. Tigers in Combat: Volume 2, Stackpole Military History (15 April 2005), ISBN 0-8117-3203-7
- Tout, Ken. By Tank - D to VE Days, Robert Hale Ltd (reprint 29 April 2007, ISBN 0-7090-8148-0
- Tout, Ken. A Fine Night for Tanks: The Road to Falaise, Sutton Publishing Ltd; New Ed edition (16 Dec 2002), ISBN 0-7509-3189-2
- Tank Museum veteran podcasts includes two by Ekins