In Part One of the German veteran recollections, Waldemar Pliska and Wilhelm Fischer described their awe at seeing the new Tiger and what it was like in battle. In Part Two they share what it was like to live in the Tiger and how they feel about it all now.
Living in the tank
Tigers served not only as weapons, but as their crew’s home. For Pliska, this required adjusting his understanding of what that word meant: “My concept of home was not what it was. It was dirty and smeared, everything was oily and now and then it leaked.” However, “That was my house at that time. It had everything in it you needed…The most important things like razors and toothbrush.”
Razors and toothbrushes may have been important, but hygiene more generally was not a priority. For Fischer it was “the last thing you think about.” He was dismissive of the whole concept: “Barely need to talk about it. Where would you want to have a wash? Where could you? You were happy enough just having enough to drink. Hygeine? Pff.”
During the summer both men would sleep outside the tank. Pliska preferred “barns that had been emptied,” whereas Fischer and his crew “dug a hole and then drove the tank over it. Then we slept in the hole… It was shelter, cover from shots and the like.“
They had different preferences during the cold winter. Fischer was happiest sleeping in the tank, as “Russian huts and shacks weren’t nice at all, they were all crawling with lice… I preferred to stay in the tank; it stank of petrol but there was no lice.” Unfortunately there was also no space: “You couldn’t lie down…You stayed sitting, hunkered down in our seats.” In contrast, still preferring to be outside, Pliska and his crew “slept around an oven.”
Both men recalled the close bonds that existed between the Tiger’s five man crew. For Fischer it was “a relationship. It was like a little family. You had to stick together. One for all and all for one, that’s what it was.” Pliska remembered how they passed the time together: “I had a harmonica and we made music… One of us could sing really well, another always made jokes…, everyone did his bit for our little community.”
After the war Pliska’s “terrible experiences” stayed with him, “and I often dream of them still. I wake up drenched in sweat, because I can’t forget.” He knew he was safer in a tank than as an infantryman, “but…we still called them moving coffins…After my last tour, it was just a case of survival for me.”
For Fischer the memories eventually faded, but, “when I was younger, lying in bed, I would wake up in the morning soaking in sweat. Because I thought the Russians were coming.” Although he knew the Tiger could not win the war for Germany, he remained fond of the tank: “My Tiger. I was always pleased when I was in it, like being back home.”
In Part Three of the Second World War Veteran accounts, two British soldiers share their memories of their war and what it was like to come up against the Tiger. Read more about German and Allied tanks, as well as the history of tanks from their conception onwards, in the books below.