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Unknown Tiger


April 27, 2018

The photograph used in the header image is not Tiger 712

The US Army’s Armor School at Fort Benning holds a Tiger tank captured in Tunisia, with a contested heritage, but likely a longer service than Tiger 131 , read  about the latest American research on the heritage of Tiger 131’s comrade.

Photographic evidence

Photos taken of the American Tiger before it left Tunisia show numbers “2” and “8” underneath the overpainted “7” in the tactical number “712”. These numbers suggest that the tank was from 2nd Company of 501st schwere Panzer Abteilung, which transferred to Tunisia from France in December 1942. In February 1943, the 501st was integrated into the 7th Panzer Regiment of the 10th Panzer Division; the 1st Company tanks were renumbered to begin with the number “7”, the 2nd Company with the number “8”. When the 504th arrived (including Tiger 131), it took over the remaining Tigers of the 501st in a new company with tactical numbers beginning with the number “7”.

Tiger 712 after its capture in Tunisia

Tiger 712 after its capture in Tunisia

US Army photographs show Tiger 712 alongside an unidentified Tiger in an olive grove, without any record of location, although dated June 1943. Other images show that this grove contained at least two other Tiger tanks and a Panzer III tank (a type used by Tiger units), amongst other German vehicles. Probably the grove was the site for a workshop: Tiger 712’s engine cover is shown removed, but undamaged, while its neighbor was demolished, consistent with other German demolitions in Tunisia. Probably the Germans departed without verifying all demolitions, then the vehicles languished undiscovered until the time of the photographs. The photographs suggest no intelligence exploitation. The photographer and accompanying troops were most focused on the demolished Tiger, given the spectacular destruction and the potential to claim Allied action.

Later photos show US troops driving the fully functional Tiger 712 towards Tunis, where the tank was partially disassembled for shipment to Aberdeen Proving Ground, where it was reassembled for training and propaganda films, then disassembled for inspection, before reassembly for mobility trials. At some point, Tiger 712 was archived as a museum piece, stored in the open, then cut open for instructional purposes, leaving Tiger 131 as the only complete Tiger in the world.

Repainted as 112

Tiger 712 was lent to a German museum, which, in 1989, painted the tactical number 112. This is mistaken, in our judgment. The first Allied written record of Tiger 712 was a British one – by the same person who handled Tiger 131: Lieutenant Sewell of the 104th Tank workshop REME. Sewell was attempting to record all Tigers in Tunisia, including in the American area. He recorded Tiger 712 on 9 June 1943, with a chassis number of 250012, but the actual vehicle shows a number of 250031. German records associate 250012 with a tank originally numbered 112, in the 501st, which Sewell recorded as destroyed at Hunt’s Gap in late February. The likeliest explanation is that somebody mixed up Tiger 712 and Tiger 112 when writing up the report.

Our evidence suggests that Tiger 712 had a longer German service than Tiger 131, which did not arrive until February and was captured on 21st April. Tiger 712 was in German service in Tunisia from December 1942 likely to the end of April 1943, when still functional but intended for demolition – which, fortunately for history, failed.

Written By Bruce Oliver Newsome, Ph.D. and Aaron Sadwick, University of California Berkeley

Read more about Tiger tanks, as well as the history of tanks from their conception onwards, in the books below. Make your own Tiger with this Tamiya model.


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  1. The description of renumbering is not quite correct.

    When the 501st was folded into 7th Panzer Regiment, Tigers of the 2nd company were renumbered as the article describes, with a leading “8” digit. But the 1st company did not renumber its Tigers.

    After Operation Ochsenkopf, the unit consolidated its remaining Tigers into a single company, and renumbered them with leading “7” digits. This was before attachment to the 504th. Tigers numbered “8xx” and “7xx” were not used at the same time.

    The presence of Tiger 712 among a group of demolished tanks in an olive grove is puzzling. There is no obvious reason for the Germans to leave a single Tiger intact; they were under strict orders not to do so.
    The simplest explanation is that 712 was not abandoned here, but was captured on Djebel Jaffa, and brought to this concealed workshop by the Allies for repairs with parts from other Tigers. It is noteworthy that a large olive grove did exist in 1943 at a crossroads near Djebel Jaffa. Add to that the photograph of Tiger “712” used in this article. It is stopped by the side of a road that leads directly east from this same olive grove.

    Finally, we are almost certain of the numbering history of this tank. It was originally “221”. Upon attachment to 7th Panzer Regiment, or before, it was promoted to company command tank because the original “21” was lost at Robaa. Therefore, in the renumbering, it became “81” and we have a photo of this. Finally it became “712” and the role of company command went to the old Tiger “111” which became “71”.

  2. My latest information on this tank is at;

  3. Thank you for all you do keeping us up to date on the new US Armor museum at Fort Benning.
    The information and numbering explanation for Tiger 712 is much appreciated.
    As military history enthusiasts like to say, a WWII Tiger I is almost as rare as a Unicorn.
    And as a kid growing up in a family full of WWII vets, I remember the first Tiger, Panther and Sherman tank models that I made. I could only imagine what they were like in real life.
    I was fortunate enough to be able to divert my wife, Lynn, while on our honeymoon in Britain in June 1977 to Bovington, west of Portsmouth. Here we visited their impressive tank collection. It is a must see to all who enjoy the history of armor. And their outstanding collection is not just static, as they periodically take their vehicles out on their maneuver course for exercise.
    Being able to walk right up and touch Tiger 131 was a real thrill. The folks there at the museum were very friendly and helpful sharing its history and the future plans they had for it.
    As the years went by, I stayed in touch with what was happening in Bovington. What a gifted and remarkable team they have there. I was thrilled when during the Iraq War, 2003 & 2004-2005 (I commanded 4th Combat Engineer Battalion of I MEF), some British tankers with 1st UK Armoured Division told me that Tiger 131 was in the final stages of being made completely operational. What with the help of lots of generous volunteers and a dedicated staff, she was soon almost as good as new.
    I know we were all impressed to see her in the outstanding WWII movie Fury.
    Now I just hope that we Americans can be as thorough in getting our Tiger 712 to the same high state of restoration and presentation!
    What a way to honor our WWII forefathers who bravely confronted German Tigers and Panthers with their underwhelming Shermans.
    “Tanks for the Memories”,
    Colonel Michael C. Howard US Marines (Ret), Portland, Oregon

  4. There is a correction to the “numbering history” of this tank. I was only “almost certain” !

    A WW2 photograph has been found that shows the Tiger bearing the turret number “21”.
    And this photo just about rules out the possibility that it was originally “221”

    Because, if you wanted to change “221” to “21”, how would you do it? Paint over the first digit, of course. But, to reproduce what we see in the photo, i.e. the positions of the digits, you’d have to paint over everything and do them again !

    So the only sensible conclusion is that this tank was “21” from the beginning – the command tank of 2. company.

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