The Tiger Collection features the memories of a number of veterans who fought in and against the Tiger. This short series of “Second World War Veteran” articles takes a more detailed look at the experiences of both British and German veterans. This first part focuses on two German soldiers.
Wilhelm Fischer and Waldemar Pliska were both members of the Wehrmacht and used the Tiger in combat. Wilhelm joined the army at 17, in 1941 and was assigned to the 7th Panzer Division. Here he trained as a driver on Panzer II, Panzer III, Panzer IV and later retrained on the new Tiger I. As a young man of 17, Waldemar Pliska served in the 7th Panzer Division from 1943 as a tank driver in the Tiger I.
Fischer’s first impression of the Tiger was very positive: “Oh, what a tremendous thing; that is a whopping colossus of a tank! When you got in and it fired up for the first time and got going, it was really exciting.” Pliska was also impressed: “At that time the Tiger really was perfection to us, that’s what we thought. Technologically and also in firepower. Mechanically too…Even the name, Tiger, that meant to me; man that must be something scary. Fast, agile as a tiger. And as dangerous as a tiger.”
From the beginning, Pliska recognized that the Tiger was a step forwards from earlier tanks: “It was like day and night. The appeal, the automotive power, comfort, the technology… In the smaller tanks you really felt the road…It was 100% better.” However “the Tiger had certain characteristics, more refined than the ones we had come across in the other tanks.” This led to reliability problems, which prompted Fischer to recall that “There were more tanks in the workshops than there were fighting, probably!”
Quite apart from the danger, going into combat in a Tiger was a physical experience, especially firing the gun. “Do you know what a noise it made when you were inside?!” Fischer was told to “keep your mouth open so you didn’t burst your eardrums. If you closed your mouth, you could burst them.” Pliska agreed: “Yes, it really was loud. There was no sound insulation in the tank…We didn’t have earplugs, that was bad, but you just got used to it.”
Pliska also remembered his tank being hit: “It sounds like throwing a cup against the wall, but much louder! And dark, noisy. Dark noise. When you do not have any earplugs in your ears, then you begin to shake…”
Aside from the gun, Fischer “heard only the roar of the engine, nothing else. And nothing over the orders on the radio. Orders and nothing else.”
In Part Two of the German Veterans’ Story, Wilhelm Fischer and Waldemar Pliska recall what it was like to live in a tank and how they remember it now.