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Sandomierz, Poland, Aug. 1944: Battle of Titan Tanks
In late July and early August, 1944, the Russian juggernaut had punted the German war machine out of Russia and into Poland. Many Russian units were establishing bridgeheads over the Vistula River, south of Warsaw. The Germans were in panic mode, tossing threadbare units into the fray attempting to hold the tide.
The German counterattack at Sandomierz, Poland, like many then, was a rushed affair. The Germans were trying to plug gaps in the line with just about any unit. The unique thing about this battle was that both side's baddest tanks first met. The German's with the untried in battle King Tiger, or, PzVIb, with so thick of armor it seemed unstoppable and the Russian Joseph Stalin-2, equally monsterous in dimensions and armor. For the Germans, the whole attack was rushed, plagued with numerous breakdowns of the new tank. The crews had little training in the monster, and, there was no reconnaissance of the battle area. Hitler was convinced victory was theirs and the Russians would be pushed back across the Vistula. For the Russian, they sat and waited while they built up their bridgehead.
Few German accounts of the battle exist and the few Russian ones are confusing as to dates and sequence of battle events. The only thing for certain is that the German's arrived at Szyldow on August 11 after two days of march and breakdowns with the new tank. The 501 Tank battalion had 45 PzVIb's, but only 20 arrived for this battle and of that, only 11 actually made it to staging near Ogledow. For infantry, Cos. 6,7, 8, 10\ 2Bn\79PG Reg. of 16th Panzer arrived, as did a mix of 20 Pz V and PzIV tanks. For the Russians, near Staszow, the 2nd and 3rd Tank Bns of 53rd Brigade and the 52nd Tank Brigade waited. The 11 JS-2 tanks were further back in the 71st Bn. Also present was the 294 infantry regiment from 97th Division, 51st Tank Brigade, 1893 Self-propelled Bn with SU 122 tanks, 353rd Antitank Regiment, plus two units of artillery.
The Germans had a total AFV strength 40. The Russian, 60 AFV. From the reports, it is unclear if the attack began at 0700 on the 12th or 13th, in any case, the German new weapon, never seen by any Russian, lurched into view, jerked and swerved (a clear indication that the crew was not accustomed in driving it). The Russians from 400m out, thought it was a Panther (PzV), but then, thought otherwise when its massive 88mm gun fired. Russian fire seemed to bounce off the front-and it did. As the Germans made their clumsy advance due to sandy ground (they were forced to stay on roads), Russians in ambush positions allowed the tank to pass, which allowed them to attack the flank of the tank. It was soon found out, these monsters could be immobilized by aiming at the wheels.
The Joseph Stalin-2 tank was the other monster. The tanks fired at a range of 2000 yds, other tanks did not dare to get closer. Because the German gun and AT shell and sighting optics were superior to the Russian, the King Tiger was King, but a very slow one, averaging not more than 6-7 mph in battle. This proved to be a real negative because the Russian tanks, were twice the speed and could manuever to attack from the side or rear. Even its JS-2 was faster and could destroy the King Tiger.
In battle, many of the new German tank did what they loved to do-breakdown. Their crew would simply abandon them. After a two day battle, 12 of the new tanks had been lost, three were operational and simply abandoned. The entire counterattack had been a waste and utterly failed because the Russians had expanded it with growing numbers. Hitler was furious that his new "wonder weapon" had so many issues and sacked its commander! The tank was sent back to Berlin for refitting.