Tiger 131 on display at Tankfest 2012
|Location||The Tank Museum|
|Designer||Henschel & Son|
|Length||6.316 m (20 ft 8.7 in) 8.45 m (27 ft 9 in) (gun forward)|
|Width||3.70 m (12 ft 2 in)|
|Height||3.0 m (9 ft 10 in)|
Tiger 131 is a German Tiger I heavy tank captured by the British 48th Royal Tank Regiment in Tunisia during World War II. Preserved at The Tank Museum in Bovington, England, it is the only operating Tiger I in the world.
Known to the Allies as a Tiger I, the German model designation was a Panzerkampfwagen VI, Tiger I (H1), Sd.Kfz. 181. It was built in Kassel, Germany with the hull being constructed by Henschel while the turret was made by Wegmann A. The tank was completed in January or February 1943 with the chassis number 250122. It was shipped to Tunisia between 12 March and 16 April 1943. The tank was assigned to No. 3 Platoon in No. 1 Company of the 504th Schwere Heerespanzerabteilung (German heavy tank battalion) in Tunisia during the North African Campaign bearing the turret number 131 by which it has come to be known.
Knowing that the Allies were preparing a major push toward Tunis, the Germans launched a spoiling attack on the night of 20/21 April 1943. Four points were attacked simultaneously, including a pass on the north side of a hill called Djebel Djaffa. Two Tigers and several other tanks advanced through this pass before dawn, and were gradually driven back during the day. Tiger 131 was hit by three shots from 6-pounders from British Churchill tanks of A Squadron, 4 Troop of the 48th Royal Tank Regiment. A solid shot hit the Tiger's gun barrel and ricocheted into its turret ring, jamming its traverse, wounding the driver and front gunner and destroying the radio. A second shot hit the turret lifting lug, disabling the gun's elevation device. A third shot hit the loader's hatch, deflecting fragments into the turret. The German crew bailed out, taking their wounded with them and leaving the knocked-out but still driveable and largely intact tank behind. The tank was secured by the British as they captured Djebel Djaffa hill. Tiger 131 was the first intact Tiger tank captured by British forces.
A 2012 article in the Daily Mail followed by a book by Noel Botham and Bruce Montague entitled Catch that Tiger claimed that Major Douglas Lidderdale, the engineering officer who oversaw the return of Tiger 131 to England, was responsible for the capture of Tiger 131 as the leader of a secret mission appointed by Winston Churchill to obtain a Tiger for Allied intelligence.
Though the account has been considered plausible (if only in light of Churchill's reputation for being 'hands on' in his dealings with military affairs during wartime) it has been rejected by The Tank Museum as inaccurate. The story as told in the book contradicts Lidderdale's own letters and papers written in the years before his death, in which he stated that he was not personally present when the Tiger was captured.
In April 2019, Dale Oscroft visited the Tank Museum and was struck by the similarity between Tiger 131 and a story told to him by his father John Oscroft who was part of 2nd Bat Sherwood Foresters who took point 174 without the promised tank support. After its capture the Germans immediately counter attacked with tanks including Tigers. John Oscroft was told to hit one Tiger with his PIAT. After crawling forward to get as close as he dared he saw the bomb just bounce off the Tiger so decided to get his head down. Fortunately their supporting Churchill tanks had finally arrived and one shot from a Churchill jammed the turret. Based on photographic and documentary evidence, the disabled Tiger was definitely 131 at Gueriat el Atach ("Point 174") during an attack on 2nd Bn The Sherwood Foresters on 24 April 1943. The Tiger was struck by a Churchill of either 142 Regiment RAC or 48 RTR which were supporting the Foresters and abandoned. This confirms that the Tiger at Djebel Djaffa on 21 April was not 131.
Tiger 131 was repaired with parts from other destroyed Tigers and inspected to judge its performance. It was displayed in Tunis and formally inspected there by King George VI and Winston Churchill. The tank was sent to England in October 1943 where it was displayed as a trophy at various locations to raise wartime morale before it was subjected to extensive testing and evaluation by the School of Tank Technology who produced detailed reports on its construction. The captured tank was transferred to The Tank Museum by the British Ministry of Supply on 25 September 1951 where it was given the accession number 2351 (later E1951.23).
In 1990, the tank was removed from display at the museum for restoration by the museum and the Army Base Repair Organisation. The restoration involved an almost complete disassembly of the tank. The Maybach HL230 engine from the museum's Tiger II was installed as the Tiger's original Maybach HL210 had been cut into cross sections for display. A modern fire-suppressant system was added to the engine compartment, the only other significant alteration. The wear and performance of the refitted Tiger engine was studied by metallurgists to explore the alloys and performance of WW II German manufacturing.
In December 2003, Tiger 131 returned to the museum with a working engine, making it the only working Tiger tank in the world and the most popular exhibit at the museum. Further work and repainting in period colours completed the restoration in 2012, for a total cost quoted at £80,000.
- "Our Tiger: The Tiger Tank Restoration Project Journal", Bovington Tank Museum, p.2
- "United States Army in World War II, Mediterranean Theater of Operations", "Northwest Africa", Chapter XXXII
- "ORDER FOR THE OPERATION FLIEDERBLÜTE"
- Bob Carruthers, Tiger in Combat, Coda Books, 28
- "The Capture of Tiger 131", Tank Times, February 2012, p.3 Archived 2014-10-06 at the Wayback Machine
- Noel Botham and Bruce Montague, Catch That Tiger: Churchill's Secret Order That Launched the Most Astounding and Dangerous Mission of World War II, John Blake (2102)
- "How Did they Catch that Tiger?". The [Bovington] Tank Museum. 29 January 2013. Archived from the original on 4 July 2017. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
- A Twist in the Tale of the Tiger, The Tank Museum, 8 September 2017
- New Chapter in Story of Tiger 131: 6/6 -What Happened at Point 174?, The Tank Museum
- Michael Green and James D. Brown, Tiger Tanks at War, Zenith Publishing (2008) p. 17
- "Our Tiger: The Tiger Tank Restoration project Journal", The Tank Museum, p. 141
- Saeed, Adil; Khan, Zulfiqar A; Hadfield, Mark; Davies, Steve (2013), "Material Characterization and Real-Time Wear Evaluation of Pistons and Cylinder Liners of the Tiger 131 Military Tank" (PDF), Tribology Transactions, Volume 56 (Issue 4): 637–644, doi:10.1080/10402004.2013.771416, OCLC 882579452 pp. 637-644
- Michael Green and James D. Brown, Tiger Tanks at War, Zenith Publishing (2008) p. 15
- "Tiger Tank inspected by Winston Churchill back on the move", The Daily Telegraph, 1 April 2012
- " 'Last' WW2 Tiger tank to be used in Brad Pitt film", BBC News, 18 November 2013
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