" Tigers! Everywhere! "
Tiger I, sPzAbt.508, Italy, 1943.
Tank Defense of Italy
Having been pulled out of Russia in July 1943 in response to the landings in Sicily, Panzer-Grenadier-Division 'Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler' (LSSAH) was refitted and sent to Italy in August 1944. Attached to the division were elements of the nearly formed schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung of the I.SS-Panzer-Korps LSSAH with the 27 Tigers thet had been issued to it in July. Responding to the threat caused by the Italian change in allegiance, LSSAH with the 27 Tigers remained in northern Italy through mid-October, when they were transferred back to the Eastern Front. None of the 27 Tigers were lost in Italy. Considering the driving conditions in the mountainous terrain, their operational status remained fairly high.
Before the loss of Sicily, eight Tigers were shipped from the ordinance depot on 28 July to outfit an independent unit destined to Italy. Known as Tigergruppe Meyer , this small unit consisting of two Zuege each with four Tigers, was attached to Panzer-Jaeger-Abteilung 48 from August through November 1943. By 4 February 1944, the unit, re designated as Tigergruppe Schwebbach , was attached to the LXXVI.Panzer-Korps to attack the bridgehead created by the Allied landing at Anzio.
The Allies attempted to bypass the defensive line by landing at Anzio-Netuno but failed to penetrate inland. In response, the OKH organized and sent a special force of armor consisting of 45 Tigers in schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508 , 76 Panthers with the I.Abteilung/Panzer-Abteilung 4 , 11 Ferdinands with the 1.Kompanie/schwere Panzer-Abteilung 653 , 57 Sturmpanzer with Sturmpanzer-Abteilung 216 , and 30 Sturmgeschuetze with Panzer-Abteilung (Fkl) 301 to drive the Allies back into the sea.
Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508 had been unloaded at a railhead 200 kilometers from the Allied landing site. About 60 percent of the Tigers suffered mechanical failures due to problems negotiating the narrow, sharply twisting mountain roads. instead of a significant force of 45 Tigers, it arrived at the front in bits and pieces with only eight Tigers operational on 23 and 24 February. Their operational strength gradually built up to over 30 by the end of the month, but this force was unable to make a significant dent in the Allied bridgehead. On 11 March, the surviving crews and Tigers of Tigergruppe Schwebbach were incorporated into schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508.
A trip report to the landing site in Italy written by Oberstleutnant d.G.Rohrbeck on 27 February 1944 reveals why this assembled force of 'superior' German armor wasn't able to wipe out the beachhead:
" North of Aprilia the enemy have positioned Sherman tanks under cover of the railway embankment in mutually protective flanking positions. The terrain south of Aprilia is not suitable to Panzers. The long approach march along mountain roads and then the employment of Panzers in deep mud have resulted in especially high equipment losses through breakdowns. There are many problems with the terrain and visibility. The enemy has spread out from both landing sites and has firm roads in his sector. Our own observation positions are countered by the unfavorable position of the sun and by artillery spotter aircraft with our own fighters is impossible because their aircraft remain within the effective range of their anti-aircraft units.
The difficulty of the terrain (soft ground, cratered fields, steep ravine cutting across the path of advances) forces the Panzers to remain on the hard-surface roads. This channels every movement and results in high equipment losses when attempting to engage the enemy in his superior position."
Having failed in several attempts to retake the bridgehead, the specialized Panzer units were pulled back to the area of Rome to recuperate. The Allies, after finally managing to capture Monte Cassino, started a major offensive on 22 May 1944. The 3.Kompanie/schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508 was one of the units committed to stopping the Allied drive. They lost almost all of their Tigers, as related in the following report on their activities between 23 and 25 May 1944 in the area of Cisternia:
"The 3.Kompanie, which had brought 14 Tigers down from France, lost two burned out at the end of of February 1944 - one through carelessness on the part of the crew and another by Allied anti-tank action. A driver had not paid attention to the tightness of fuel line joints, and fuel leaking onto the floor of the Tiger was ignited by a discarded cigarette butt. The crew got off unharmed, but the Tiger was a total write-off. The incident was glossed over but would have had serious consequences on home service, for crews were strictly warned not to smoke inside a Panzer, and drivers in particular are told:
'Be careful, you've got a million marks and three and a half million working hours under your ass.'