King Tiger Buried Since 1944 to Be Recovered
After a struggle between a local re-enactment group and the local Council, author & historian Gary Sterne the owner of the Maisy Batteries in Grandcamp-Maisy, Normandy – the regional Governor of Yvelines has now confirmed (for the second time) that the tank must have a new home.
The location of the Tiger II (lost in combat in August 1944) had been known about for the last 17 years as it is located was under a road near Paris – but there were objections to it being recovered.
Negotiations had taken place with the German Government and the French Ministry of Defence for over 4 years and in 2017 the Regional Governor – Prefet Serg Morvan gave his permission for the tank to be recovered.
Regional Chairman Pierre Bedier and his council unanimously confirmed this decision in June 2017 at a public meeting and the matter became legal 2 months later. However, a re-enactment group and a local amateur historian subsequently questioned the process. This brought about a stand-off between the group and the Council, which meant Council Chief Bedier asked that the argument be settled once and for all again by the Regional Governor Mr Morvan.
Panzerkampfwagen VI somewhere in the Northern France. Photo Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-721-0398-17A / Wagner / CC-BY-SA 3.0/
A senior lawyer for Yvelines Council Mr Kauffmann stated “all decisions of the County Council pass the control of legality of the prefecture”… and Mr Bedier and DRAC (French Department of Cultural Affiairs) publicly agreed to be bound by the Prefet’s final decision.
The whole project was therefore re-investigated by the Regional Governor’s office which has spent almost 6 months re-looking into the affair from a legal perspective. The long awaited deliberation arrived after consultation with all Government bodies, including the Ministry of Defence, Army, Ordnance Department, Mayor, Gendarmerie, Police etc.
As one of the last things he did before moving on to a more senior Government post – Prefet Morvan repeated his authorisation giving the tank to Mr Sterne for display in Normandy – and he confirmed that this tank will not become a State claimed trophy of war.
Tiger II tanks in France. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-721-0359-35 / Vennemann, Wolfgang / CC-BY-SA 3.0
The fate of Tiger 124 in August 1944 is reasonably well known. During the retreat of the German army towards Paris and the river Seine the King Tiger II’s of the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion were at the forefront of the fighting. Whilst in combat near the small French town of Fontenay St. Pere Tiger 124 commanded by Fritz Zahnner was retreating into a wooded area along a road when it came under attack by US fighter-bombers.
It was fired upon and fell into a shell crater and the crew bailed out leaving the tank to be later destroyed by advancing Allied soldiers. The Panzer crew returned to their unit minus the tank and took on roles in other vehicles. The turret of Tiger 124 was blown off and the barrel was removed leaving the body in the road and the turret in the ditch nearby.
A year later when the road was being repaired it was simply easier to push the remains of the Tiger into the shell hole and build the road over it, than it was to remove it.
Tiger II tank on display in Tank Museum, Bovington, England. Photo: Makizox / CC-BY-SA 4.0
The recovery project already has the written agreement of the German Ambassador to France, the German Army and the French MoD and it is being financed from a number of sources including a US D-day Veteran and a US Veterans Association. The Groupes Lourds Association (WW2 French Heavy Bomber Group) had also campaigned in support that the tank should be raised from the ground by Mr Sterne and put on display, and they were delighted by the news.
The local mayor had supported the idea of a recovery project because there are munitions known to be onboard and the towns administration do not want to leave the munitions in place. They are concerned in case they explode and cause injury to local people or a passing motorist – and the risk is one they were not willing to let continue any longer.
The Army Bomb Disposal Department headed by Commander Berthelin had already been given the authorisation to clear the site by the office of the Prefet and it will be their experts that will deal with anything dangerous.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied expeditionary forces, inspects an overturned German tank left by a roadside in France by the retreating enemy.
Mr Sterne stated “It has been a long time of negotiation and it was important that we spoke to everybody who could have an interest. In particular we made sure that the council also informed everyone – including the French department of DRAC back in 2017.
We want to put this tank in a new museum – on display for the public, so we have worked with the authorities to ensure they were happy with what we were doing. This is a rare historical item and we have given firm assurances that it will remain in France – on public display.”
Part of the tank’s turret was recovered from the side of the road 17 years ago but then the turret has stayed in a local garden ever since – but new changes in French law prohibit the private ownership of armoured items like this, so it too must go into a museum.
A local group had been campaigning against the tank being dug up and at first they wanted it to stay in the ground – and then later they wanted it to become a monument at the roadside. But the local authorities were concerned that it did not become a place of homage – and a number of French veterans wrote to the Prefet in support of Mr Sterne’s project.
The wife of highly decorated WW2 French bomber pilot Jean Calmel wrote to the Prefet stating “we should not put the machines of our enemies on display as monuments to them – this tank should be in a museum where it can be studied and not glorified”… and her concerns have been repeated by others.
Tiger II photographed in the Musée des Blindés, France.
The Governor’s office also received letters of support from representatives of the RAF, and even US D-day veterans who landed on Omaha Beach – as well as senior military figures in France & Germany, all supporting the Prefets first agreement that the remains should be recovered by Mr Sterne – they too have welcomed this final decision.
A number of Paris newspaper articles appeared earlier this year wrongly suggesting the tank was going to be sold – but Mr Sterne confirmed that “Those articles were 100% incorrect. The tank will never leave France – and that was an assurance that we gave to the French authorities 4 years ago”… “the tank is part of French history and it will stay in Normandy” he added “but it is very annoying that the turret has now been vandalised”.
Last month a publicity stunt organised by someone with access to the turret went badly wrong and the turret was painted yellow to draw attention to the monument idea. The sad part is the painting took place only days before the Prefet’s final decision was announced.
The re-enactors who has been looking after the turret have not commented on who has painted the turret this colour, but photographs appeared in the Paris press confirming that the turret is now a bright yellow colour and it has lost its original camouflage.
Close-up at Tiger II turret. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-680-8282A-09 / Keiner / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Sterne stated: “The turret is from Tiger No 124 of the 101st Heavy Panzer Battalion and the rare Zimmerit (anti-magnetic paste) and camouflage colouring was unique to this tank. It was painted during the war by the crew and as such it offered historians a unique look at how the Germans tried to hide their vehicles. The damage done to the turret by this new paint is immeasurable and it has literally changed the history of the vehicle. It is a great shame this was done.”
The 2nd letter of authorisation from Prefet Morvan has now been sent to Yvelines Council Chief Pierre Bedier. It confirms that the Council must comply with earlier agreement and the same letter has been received by Mr Kauffmann in Yvelines legal department. This decision is legally binding and it allows Mr Bedier to put an end to the ongoing debate between the council and the re-enactors.
The recovery work is scheduled to begin later this year. www.maisybattery.com will post more details in the future.