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The WWII Tank Duel at St. Vith

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 8, 2022 3:02 am

The WWII Tank Duel at St. Vith

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 8, 2022 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, The History Guy tells of the story during the Battle of St. Vith, Belgium, on 18 December 1944, where one of the most extraordinary David Vs. Goliath tank actions of the war took place between a little American M8 armored car and Hitler's enormous German King Tiger tank.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb
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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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There's a better way to fly private. This is Our American Stories, and our next story comes to us from a man who's simply known as the History Guy. His videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages on YouTube. The History Guy is also heard here on Our American Stories. Here he is telling the story of the tank duel during the Battle of the Bulge at Sainte-Vie, Belgium. Today we're going to talk about an event that was described in an after action battle report on December 18th, 1944, where a US light armored car engaged to destroy a German heavy tank in combat, which is something so unlikely that you might not even think it was true, except that there were multiple witnesses and an official army report. And while it really is an interesting and exciting story worth telling, it is also an interesting microcosm of the world shattering events that were going on in the winter of 1944.

And an interesting life lesson as well. But before we talk about this duel between armored vehicles, let's talk about the events that led up to it. The Germans launched one of their last major offensives of the Second World War on December 16th, 1944. They were attacking a heavily forested section of Belgium called the Arc Den. It was lightly defended by the Allies because they believed that the terrain was so impassable that there couldn't be an offensive there. The goal was to drive all the way through to the Belgian port of Antwerp that would split the Western Allies in half, isolate entire army groups, and, Hitler hoped, inflict such a defeat on the Western Allies that they would have to sue for peace, allowing him to concentrate on the war with the Soviet Union. It was a massive attack that included 206,000 troops, 1,200 tanks, and 4,000 artillery pieces.

The goal was to use surprise and speed to move so quickly that the Allies would not be able to mount a defense or a counterattack. That required a very aggressive timetable where the German army needed to take certain towns that had crossroads necessary for moving those numbers of troops. One of those was the town of Bastogne, and the defense of Bastogne by the 101st Airborne is pretty well known.

But another one that's not discussed nearly as much is the defense of the tiny belted town of Saint-V. December 17th saw chaos in the tiny town of Saint-V. The German assault the night before had caught the Americans completely off guard. Thousands of American troops were in headlong retreat. Two entire regiments had been surrounded and forced to surrender. But the Americans knew the importance of the crossroads in Saint-V, and so they were desperately trying to throw up a defense, creating ad hoc units from the retreating troops, and trying to bring up reinforcements from the 7th and 9th Armored Divisions through the traffic jam of retreating troops and destroyed vehicles.

But on the other side, things were almost as bad. The Americans had held in the north, cutting off one of the major roads that the Germans had intended to use, and that meant that the entire 5th Panzer Army was stuck on one road. And on that road, the traffic jam was so bad that one of the German commanders, Field Marshal Model, was standing in the road trying to direct traffic.

And that's how things stood as the day ended on December 17th. The Americans were in a traffic jam, desperately trying to create a defense of the Saint-V crossroads. And the Germans were in a traffic jam, desperately trying to take Saint-V before the Americans could mount that defense. And that brings us to December 18th, the date of our duel between a U.S. M8 armored car and a much-feared Tiger Tank in the high-stakes defense of the town, the Saint-V. So let's talk about those two vehicles that met that day. The M8 armored car is a reconnaissance vehicle, in this case with Troop B of the 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.

The job of a reconnaissance squadron is to make and keep contact with the enemy so that you know the enemy's strength and intention. Their vehicles were built around speed and agility, not armor and armament. The M8, made by Ford, was lightly armed with a 37-millimeter cannon. That's not enough to, say, hurt the front armor on a large tank, but it could take on an enemy reconnaissance vehicle or a soft vehicle like a truck or an artillery piece. The M8 was armored, but only enough to protect it from, say, machine gun fire, not a cannon like on a tank.

Although the M8's off-road capability was disappointing, the M8 was very fast on roads and capable of maintaining speeds up to 55 miles per hour. On the other side of the battlefield, the Germans brought with them some of the most powerful armored fighting vehicles of the Second World War. Not only did they have the formidable Panzer IV and Panther medium tanks, but they brought along the masters of the battlefield, the mighty Tiger Tank.

Made by the Hengell Corporation, a Tiger weighed in at more than 60 tons, more than eight times the weight of an M8. Its frontal armor was 120 millimeters thick, which was virtually invulnerable to the 37-millimeter cannon on an M8. And its own cannon was the mighty 88, an 8.8-centimeter gun meant to destroy the best armor that the Allies could bring to the battlefield. Against an 88, an M8 might as well have been armored with paper. The only weakness for a Tiger was the armor in the rear, because tanks are built to be attacked from the front. But even there, a Tiger had 80 millimeters of armor, which meant that for an M8 to hurt a Tiger, would essentially have to shoot into the back of the tank at point-blank range.

But of course, that's exactly what happened on December 18th, witnessed by an infantry captain and recorded in an after-action report. According to the report, the M8 was concealed in a bush and was surprised when a Tiger Tank rumbled by right in front of it. The commander realized that the crew of the Tiger Tank had not seen his M8, and the Tiger was driving on a sunken road so that it wouldn't be able to maneuver. The commander realized an opportunity, so he rolled out his M8 to charge at the rear of the Tiger Tank, hoping to get his shot in before even being seen.

Well, it didn't work out as easily as he had hoped. The commander of the Tiger Tank spotted them as they approached, and so it became a desperate race, with the M8 racing to get close enough to use its tiny 37-millimeter cannon, and the commander of the Tiger Tank desperately trying to traverse its massive turret so it could shoot at the M8. At just 25 yards, a mere 75 feet, the M8 fired three shots straight into the rear of the Tiger Tank.

The huge beast shuddered, rumbled to a stop, and exploded into flames, the crew abandoning the tank. And then, in my favorite bit of the after-action report, the witness mildly noted that, having just scored perhaps the most extraordinary kill in the entire history of armored warfare, the M8 returned to its position. Sure, it's an exciting story, but what does it really teach us? Well, I think one of the most interesting parts of the story is that this attack was not an act of desperation, it was an act of calculation. The sergeant commanding the M8 knew the strengths of his own vehicle, knew the weakness of his enemy, saw an opportunity, and took it.

And isn't that a great life lesson? If you understand your strengths and recognize your opportunities, you can defeat even overwhelming odds. But it's also a great illustration of the plucky American defense of the town of Saint-Vie. Like the M8, the Americans in Saint-Vie were facing overwhelming odds in a chaotic situation, and yet they put up a defense greater than anyone might have imagined. The Germans expected that their overwhelming numbers would easily take Saint-Vie on December 18th, and yet the outnumbered Americans held out for an entire week.

It wasn't until December 24th that they finally withdrew to new positions. By the time the Germans finally took the town, it was really just too late. While their offensive, better known as the Battle of the Bulge, would rage on for another month, in practice the Germans had no chance of achieving their goals after they lost the initiative in the first few days against determined defenses at places like Saint-Vie. In the end, the Germans lost more than 100,000 casualties in the battle killed or captured, and virtually all the equipment they took was lost as well. The surprise offensive turned out to be an astounding victory for the Allies, maybe best illustrated by the time when the little M8 armored car defeated the Goliath of the battlefield on a lonely road in Belgium. Desperation but calculation, American ingenuity and courage took guts to leave a post. Clearly they hadn't been seen, but to go track down a tiger tank and try and take it down is not only the most extraordinary kill in the history of armored warfare, but a sheer and pure example of how Americans seize initiative and take risks.

This is Lee Habib, another great story from the History Guy, here on Our American Stories. Hey guys! Want to know how to be the best gift-giver this holiday season? Spring for something unexpected, like beauty from Estee Lauder. Surprise her with a fresh floral fragrance like Estee Lauder's best-selling Beautiful Magnolia, or give the gift of glowing skin. Estee Lauder's Advanced Night Repair offers 7 skincare benefits in just one bottle. You'll find something for every beauty lover on your list at Estee Lauder, plus free gift wrapping and free shipping.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-08 04:31:47 / 2022-12-08 04:36:48 / 5

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