503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

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dsbc
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503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by dsbc » 31 Jan 2020 20:20

Hi,
I recently purchased the book "Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung The Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503, In Action in the East and West with the Tiger I and II".
Really good book, and has lots of information I was looking for.
I'm interested in the 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion in Normandy ... specifically details of their battles/locations, and individual tank records throughout their time in Normandy. I'm also looking for details of the Tiger I type they were refitting with before moving to Normandy, and the paint schemes and colors used ... and of course, photos.

Please reply if you know of other sources that would provide more information and detail, than the above mentioned book.

And, as mentioned in the book ... one of their Companies was located near the water tower in Troan and fought there for two days after the start of Operation Goodwood. From a quick first read, I think it was 1st Company ... with Tiger II's. Maybe there are Allied records relating to this?

And any further information about the actions of 2nd and 3rd Company also, especially July 18 1944.

Thanks
David

Michael Kenny
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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Michael Kenny » 31 Jan 2020 21:16

As you discovered there is a distinct lack of information about the contribution the Tigers of sPz Abt 503 during GOODWOOD. They don't seem to have had any impact at all. They only appear in Allied accounts as targets.

spannermann
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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by spannermann » 01 Feb 2020 16:42

Hi David,
A recently published memoir by von Rosen of 3/sPz503, about 503 from Barbarossa via Normandy and to the wars end, it does have several references to their Goodwood involvement. Its a very interesting book, published 2018 by Greenhill books.

cheers leonard paul

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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Alanmccoubrey » 02 Feb 2020 11:50

spannermann wrote:
01 Feb 2020 16:42
Hi David,
A recently published memoir by von Rosen of 3/sPz503, about 503 from Barbarossa via Normandy and to the wars end, it does have several references to their Goodwood involvement. Its a very interesting book, published 2018 by Greenhill books.

cheers leonard paul
Is that the one available in The Works for £7 ?
Alan

Michael Kenny
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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Michael Kenny » 02 Feb 2020 13:46

Alanmccoubrey wrote:
02 Feb 2020 11:50


Is that the one available in The Works for £7 ?
yes

Michael Kenny
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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Michael Kenny » 02 Feb 2020 13:51

spannermann wrote:
01 Feb 2020 16:42
Hi David,
A recently published memoir by von Rosen of 3/sPz503, about 503 from Barbarossa via Normandy and to the wars end, it does have several references to their Goodwood involvement. Its a very interesting book,
Its the same few stories from the earlier JJF book. . The bombing and von Rosen's aborted attack just north of Cagny. That is it. von Rosen makes a reference (page 251) to a 'British Report' that attributes the failure to capture Cagny to an attack by (his) 6 Tigers. Some British accounts mention Tigers briefly and mainly as being destroyed and I have never seen any that say his aborted attack (he retreated when his Tigers started taking hits) was that important. von Rosen left after GOODWOOD to re-equip and took no further part in the fighting until August 11 and once again his company was destroyed.

Simon Trew 1
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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Simon Trew 1 » 02 Feb 2020 18:26

There is quite a lot published about 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion. The following is extracted from one of the (incomplete) chapters from my forthcoming bibliography / research guide to the German perspective on the Normandy campaign.

3.2.3. 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion (schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503):

This battalion arrived near Caen in early July. It suffered very heavy equipment losses during the campaign. One company fought around the Mantes bridgehead on the north bank of the River Seine in late August.

3.2.3a. Primary sources:

No unit records appear to be available, although the unit is frequently mentioned in 5th Panzer Army’s war diary and anlagen for the period during July and August 1944. [Detail needs fleshing out.]

3.2.3b. Unit histories and order of battle:

Lochmann, Franz-Wilhelm; Von Rosen, Richard; and Rubbel, Alfred: The Combat History of German Tiger Tank Battalion 503 in World War II (Stackpole Books edition, Mechanicsburg 2008; viii + 439pp., maps, illustrations; also J. J. Fedorowicz edition, Winnipeg 2000). Most of this book concerns 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion’s experiences on the Eastern Front, but pp.253-302 describe its activities in Normandy, especially during Operation ‘Goodwood’ in mid-July. The book includes a roster of officers (pp.9-12) and lists of personnel losses (pp.427-36). The book is available in a French-language edition (Tigerabteilung 503: La schwere Panzerabteilung 503 du Front de l’Est à la Normandie: Editions Heimdal, Bayeux 2014) and a German-language edition (Erinnerungen an die Tigerabteilung 503: Die schwere Panzerabteilung 503 an den Brenpunkten der Front in Ost und West: Flechsig Verlag 2009).

Lodieu, Didier: 45 Tiger en Normandie: La s.Panzer-Abteilung 503 (Ysec Éditions, Louviers 2002; 192pp., maps, illustrations). This French-language book describes 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion’s activities in Normandy. The author examines the role of other formations with which the battalion cooperated. The book is heavily illustrated with photographs from private collections and official archives. It contains many maps. Coverage of operations, including some that are not widely known, is to a high standard, reflecting careful research and assistance from veterans who served with the unit in France.

Ruff, Volker: Der Tiger, Volume 3: Schwere Panzerabteilung 503 (self-published, Buch Dorf 2018; 128pp., illustrations). This is a photographic history of 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion. The text and photo captions are provided both in English and German. The book covers the entire war. The battalion’s activities in Normandy are described and illustrated on pp.100-15.

3.2.3c. Interrogation reports:

There is a single interrogation report of a member of 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion in the UK National Archives. It provides a few details about the battalion’s organisation and equipment. See WO 208/3646 (LDC/190).

3.2.3d. Biographies, memoirs:

Ritter, Dale (ed.); Polzin, Günther; and Burmester, Martin: The Tiger Project, Book Three (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen 2014; 136pp., illustrations). This book is based on contributions by two former members of 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion. Chapter 3 (pp.70-81) includes their reminiscences of the Normandy campaign. Most of the text, however, is concerned with other theatres of war and the men’s experiences as prisoners of war from 1945 to 1948.

Rosen, Richard Freiherr von: Panzer Ace: The Memoirs of an Iron Cross Panzer Commander from Barbarossa to Normandy (Greenhill Books, Barnsley 2018, xvi + 390pp., maps, illustrations). This is the English-language edition of the author’s 2013 Als Panzeroffizier in Ost und West: Im Panzer III, Tiger und Königstiger in Russland, Frankreich und Ungarn (Flechsig Verlag). The book describes the author’s experiences throughout the Second World War. The opening chapters cover his early war service and experiences on the Eastern Front. Pages 227-62 describe events in Normandy from July to the end of August 1944, during which time von Rosen was an officer in 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion. The book describes several battles fought near Caen in mid-July. It also includes the author’s recollections of an Allied fighter-bomber attack on 12 August, during which he was wounded.

3.2.3e. Battle accounts and other secondary sources:

Bernage, Georges: “Sherman contre Tiger II le lieutenant Gorman a-t-il menti?”, in Normandie 1944 Magazine, Number 14, 2015, pp.36-41. This is an illustrated account of a well-known incident that occurred during Operation ‘Goodwood’ (18 July 1944), when a British Sherman tank allegedly rammed and disabled a Kingtiger belonging to 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion. French text.

Jacquet, Stéphane: “Opération Matador, 7 août 1944: Objectif Le Plessis-Grimoult”, in Normandie 1944 Magazine, Number 05, 2013, pp.54-69. This is an account of a battle that occurred in a French village towards the end of the Normandy campaign, with close attention paid to the destruction of a Kingtiger that belonged to 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion. French text.

Renoult, Bruno and Havelange, Geneviève: La Tête de Pont de Mantes, la Bataille du Vexin – Mémorial des Combats de la Libération (self-published, Magnanville 2000; 352pp., maps, illustrations). This French-language book describes battles that took place at the Mantes bridgehead north of the River Seine from 18 to 31 August 1944. A company from 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion was involved in this fighting. The book describes its role in some detail.

Renoult, Bruno: “’Tigres à Mantes’ (1): L’engagement de la 3./s.Panzer-Abteilung 503 au nord-ouest de Paris (20-30 août 1944)”, in 39/45 Magazine, Number 313, July-August 2013, pp.30-40. This article describes fighting that took place at the Mantes bridgehead west of Paris at the end of the Normandy campaign. It focuses on activities by elements of 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion between 21 and 25 August 1944. French text.

Another obvious source is:

Schneider, Wolfgang (trans. ‘Battle Born Books and Consulting’): Tigers in Normandy (Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg 2011; vi + 377pp., maps, illustrations). This is the English-language edition of the author’s 2004 Tiger im Kampf: Die Einsätz in der Normandie (Schneider Armour Research). As its title indicates, the book focuses on the role of German heavy tanks during the Normandy campaign. Fewer than 140 Tigers and Kingtigers fought in Normandy, and this book clarifies the fate of almost all of them. Although the emphasis is on describing tactical actions (using numerous personal accounts), there is plenty of analysis, plus a refreshing willingness to challenge widely held assumptions about some well-known incidents. There are several appendices, providing orders of battle, information about tactical markings applied to vehicles, details of the numbers of tanks available to each battalion during the campaign, and a list of every Tiger and Kingtiger known to have been destroyed or abandoned between 13 June and 30 August 1944. The book is heavily illustrated with photographs and maps. The book is thoroughly researched, although there are no footnotes, which makes it difficult to know from precisely which sources the author has derived information contained in his text.

For ‘Goodwood’ specifically, probably the most interesting things are in Ian Daglish’s two books on the subject. Easily found via an internet search.

Hope this helps,

Simon

Michael Kenny
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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Michael Kenny » 02 Feb 2020 18:47

None of the above have anything of note on anything other than GOODWOOD. In fact nothing much is known about any specific actions other than the engagement on July 11th (Operation STACK)and von Rosen's movements on July 18th. He was transferred out of Normandy directly after the bombing and came back in August when we again can find accounts of specific engagements over The Seine.
I dispute the claim Schneiders 'Tigers In Normandy' is well researched. It has a number of errors and basically its the info from the 1990s TIC I & II with more photos (very poorly duplicated) and maps. Though Schneider does take Wittmann to task for his reckless advance at Villers Bocage that is more than compensated for by the way he tries very hard to portray John Gorman a liar over the rammed TII incident outside Cagny.

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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Simon Trew 1 » 02 Feb 2020 19:59

Thanks for your observations, Michael - and for the separate thread on the Goodwood Tigers, which I read and enjoyed. I look forward to seeing you publish something on that, as it promises to be a valuable contribution. One thing I need to do with my guide is add references to particular discussion forum threads - I've done that with some already, but (as you can see) not yet the 503rd unit entry. It all takes time, and as noted above the stuff I cut and paste into this thread is by no means complete.

I can't help but feel you are a little bit dismissive of Didier's book and the two works by Bruno Renoult ("none of the above have anything of note other than GOODWOOD"). But of course you are entitled to your opinion.

I accept what you say about potential criticisms of Schneider's book. But having written a few books over the years I can only say that I find it an agonising process and can't help but admire those who plug away month after month and produce something as detailed and interesting as his books about the Tigers in Normandy. We all make mistakes and I have given myself a good verbal kicking for some of those I know I have made - not through malice or even incompetence (though the latter is certainly quite possible), but simply as a result of not knowing enough at a given moment and consequently trusting too much in particular sources. And I also know that we can all develop strong opinions on specific incidents that are probably not justified or entirely admirable. Again, we are human and full of flaws.

Anyway, thanks again for the comments.

Simon

Michael Kenny
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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Michael Kenny » 02 Feb 2020 20:33

Simon Trew 1 wrote:
02 Feb 2020 19:59


I can't help but feel you are a little bit dismissive of Didier's book and the two works by Bruno Renoult ("none of the above have anything of note other than GOODWOOD").
I was trying to say that the accounts of Normandy have little beyond the GOODWOOD story. Of course Renoult has a mass of detail about the later actions of the 503 TII but that was not Normandy.
Check TIC I for the entries for 1 & 2kp 503. After GOODWOOD. They appear to do little more than blow up their own tanks.
Schneiders loss record for the unit says that after the 13 Tigers lost during GOODWOOD they blew up 29 and sent 3 for factory repair!
There is much 'assumed' about the performance of their Tigers but very little fact.

Simon Trew 1
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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Simon Trew 1 » 02 Feb 2020 21:42

Thanks Michael,

Ah, now you raise an interesting Q - i.e. what are the chronological and geographical parameters of the 'Normandy campaign'? There are many problems in answering this question - not least, the fact that Normandy includes five (not three) departements, one of which extends a considerable distance north of the Seine. And, of course, lots of the fighting that most people would include in the 'Normandy campaign' - especially the battles around the southern side of what eventually became the Falaise Pocket - took place in departements that were not part of Normandy at all (e.g. Mayenne, Sarthe)! It is also interesting to note that the River Seine was crossed (at Mantes) several days before the fighting in the Falaise Pocket finished, and that battles were already raging there when the last Germans were frantically heading past Chambois and the Mace in their headlong retreat to the north!

For me, bearing in mind the operational concepts emerging in the minds of Allied commanders during August (and other factors), the 'natural end' of the Normandy campaign is at the end of August, when the last German troops withdraw across the River Seine, their counter-attacks against the Mantes bridgehead have completely failed, and Paris has been decisively liberated (individual Germans and small groups were still percolating out of the city on 28-9 August). So I include the activities of lots of divisions you would exclude (I suspect) from your own definition of the 'Normandy campaign' - 331st Infantry, 344th Infantry, 17th and 18th Luftwaffe Field, 6th Parachute, and even 47th, 48th and 49th Infantry divisions.

I suspect this is changing the subject of this thread too much so I won't labour or develop the point further. Suffice it to say that how you or anybody else responds to my source list (and therefore my inclusion of Renoult) would depend on what you regard as the geographical and chronological end point(s) of the Normandy campaign. We might not agree about our answer to this question, but I hope we could agree that the answer is justifiably a subject for debate.

I agree with you completely, however, in your basic point that we think we know a lot about the Normandy campaign (and I guess we do know quite a lot about bits of it), but that there is a massive amount still to discover - e.g. about the activities and achievements of the German heavy tank battalions. I guess that ought to keep us both active for the rest of our lives!

Best wishes,

Simon

dsbc
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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by dsbc » 02 Feb 2020 21:58

Thanks Leonard Paul for mentioning that book.
And thanks very much Simon for your comprehensive list of resources; most of which were unknown to me, especially ones written in French (since I don't speak that language).
And thanks also Michael for your comments trying to sort out if these references contain more details.

Although it seems there isn't a lot of information about 503 during Goodwood and shortly after ... I'm not convinced their role was small or insignificant.

Joachim Thaysen, Gunner of Tiger 122, says in "Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung The Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503":
"During that time period, the British lost 437 tanks, many of which were due to the actions of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503."

Perhaps the loss of their official diary has hidden from us the tools needed to better realize and understand the events that took place.

Glimpses of their actions appear in the book "Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung The Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503" ... but it takes a bit of work to construct a meaningful timeline of events from the individual accounts of 503 contributors.

As a start point for further discussion ... perhaps we can create a timeline of events for each Company?
First would be the location of each company during the bombardment that started early morning of July 18 1944.

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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Michael Kenny » 02 Feb 2020 22:16

dsbc wrote:
02 Feb 2020 21:58


Joachim Thaysen, Gunner of Tiger 122, says in "Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung The Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503":
"During that time period, the British lost 437 tanks, many of which were due to the actions of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503."
That claim falls apart at the very start. The 437 'lost' number is a vast overclaim. It usually now degenerates into a bunfight about what exactly is meant by a 'loss' but British total losses (destroyed tanks) would be c.150-200.
Apart from Rosen and his aborted attack (he immediately left the battlefield when 3 of his Tigers took hits) the only other solid info on a Tiger engaging a British tank is the rammed TII where Thaysen was a crew member

dsbc
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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by dsbc » 03 Feb 2020 04:47

Michael Kenny wrote:
02 Feb 2020 22:16
dsbc wrote:
02 Feb 2020 21:58


Joachim Thaysen, Gunner of Tiger 122, says in "Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung The Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503":
"During that time period, the British lost 437 tanks, many of which were due to the actions of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503."
That claim falls apart at the very start. The 437 'lost' number is a vast overclaim. It usually now degenerates into a bunfight about what exactly is meant by a 'loss' but British total losses (destroyed tanks) would be c.150-200.
Apart from Rosen and his aborted attack (he immediately left the battlefield when 3 of his Tigers took hits) the only other solid info on a Tiger engaging a British tank is the rammed TII where Thaysen was a crew member
Hi Michael,
my point wasn't to validate his claim of Allied tanks lost, or the semantics of how tank losses are calculated. Instead I was trying to lay ground work for further investigation about the actions of 503 during Operation Goodwood. If a Tiger Gunner in a different Company than Rosen states their Battalion played a significant role ... then it might be good reason to look for other sources of information that might support support it.

Have you read "Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung The Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503"?

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Re: 503 Heavy Panzer Battalion Normandy

Post by Michael Kenny » 03 Feb 2020 07:09

dsbc wrote:
03 Feb 2020 04:47
Joachim Thaysen, Gunner of Tiger 122, says in "Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung The Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503":
"During that time period, the British lost 437 tanks, many of which were due to the actions of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503."

That is not Thaysen being quoted. Its at the end of the section where he is quoted but it is not his words. The '400+' British tank loss number is from a single source. Military Operational Research Unit Report No. 23 where some casualties are counted twice and thus every account that uses them as a reference is wrong.
Thaysen's claim to fame is that he was inside the TII rammed by a Sherman and thus is able to tell us that just a split-second before the Sherman collided with the TII it was hit in error by a German AT round and thus the TII was not knocked out by a Sherman after all but was a friendly fire accident.

dsbc wrote:
03 Feb 2020 04:47
If a Tiger Gunner in a different Company than Rosen states their Battalion played a significant role ... then it might be good reason to look for other sources of information that might support support it.
If you do find any confirmation of this claim be sure to let me know because despite years of searching I have been unable to find any.

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