Gudgin was really lucky to have survived his engagement with the other Tiger:
It was 21 April 1943 when 48th Royal Tank Regiment newly arrived in Tunisia from Britain went into action against the Germans for the first time. Alongside an infantry battalion, they attacked German positions in the hills at Medjez-aI-Bab. Lt. Peter Gudgin, who commanded one of two troops of Churchill tanks leading the attack, was among them. He was soon to experience the destructive force of the Tiger.
"As we advanced towards our objectives we could see no sign of the enemy," Peter told The Tank Museum. "But suddenly my fellow troop leader's tank erupted in an enormous explosion.Before l had chance to locate the source of this shot, my tank was hit by a shot which passed through the from plate, through the fighting Compartment and into the engine, setting it ablaze."
Lt. Gudgin and his crew bailed out under heavy machine gun fire and were fortunate to escape with minor injuries; the crew of the other tank were all killed. "The next day We took the opportunity to examine our burnt out tank. It had been cleanly penetrated by an 88mm shell which had been fired by a Tiger tank that had been found abandoned on our objective." The abandoned tank was
British tank crews first encountered Tigers in January 1943. German crews had been thorough in carrying out their orders to completely destroy abandoned Tigers in order to prevent them falling into enemy hands. As a result little was known about this formidable new opponent, so the capture of a complete Tiger was a prize of enormous importance which would yield valuable information.
This makes the capture of Tiger 131 as significant as it was enigmatic. The fate of the crew remains a mystery but the fact that the tank was abandoned seems to have been considered dishonourable. The unit's war diary simply states; "Crew members of Tiger 131 panic and abandon the tank after two harmless hits from a Churchill." The evidence shows that the tank was subject to several direct hits which were far from harmless.
The most important strike, which is clearly visible today, saw a 6-pounder round scrape the underside of the Tiger's 88mm gun, before hitting the gun mantlet and lodging itself in the turret ring. This jammed the turret and effectively prevented the Tiger from fighting. It also split the weld on the top plate and, according to a contemporary report, shattered the radio. It was surmised that this shot could have "incapacitated the driver and front gunner."
Tiger 131 and crew
Evidence of a second 6pdr strike can also be seen on the right hand turret lifting stud, but a third 6 pdr hit the open loader's hatch, smashing it and deflecting the round to hit the hatch rim, again potentially injuring crew members inside. Whatever happened, the evidence shows that Tiger 131 was literally fought to a standstill by 48 RTR’s Churchill tanks.
The damage caused by their 6pdr’s indicates an incredibly high standard of gunnery as they were almost certainly firing on the move. The fact the tank was captured at all proves that, despite its clear but often overstated strengths, the Tiger was not invincible.
Behind the myth and hyperbole with which it is often associated, Tiger 131 tells an important story about the human element in tank warfare; the role of the crew. We may speculate that the inexperience or poor morale of its crew led to the surrender of a tank famed for its strength; but what of the men who had to face the fearsome Tiger in machines they considered inferior?
When Lt. Gudgin and his men arrived in Tunisia, they were confronted by the spectacle of stacked Churchill tank hulks. Large holes had been punched through even their thickest armour. It must have been a most discouraging sight. They knew that their comparatively under—gunned Churchills would be no match for the Tigers when they eventually met. But this did not deter them from conducting their duty with almost casual, daily acts of considerable personal courage.
It is with great sadness we report that on 14 September 2011, Peter Gudgin passed away. He was 88. Peter remained in the Army until 1969 when he retired as a Major But it was his encounter with Tiger 131 that, in many respects, defined his career. Following the injury he sustained at its hands, Peter was shipped back to Britain and seconded to the staff of the School of Tank Technology at Chobham. Tiger 131 arrived at the school for evaluation in October 1943 and by coincidence Peter was tasked to write an evaluation report on it. The irony of working closely with a vehicle that nearly ended his life was not lost. "|
felt no anger towards it," he wrote. "ln fact I became quite fond of it."
After the war, he worked within the defence intelligence world in both the MOD and in Washington, before returning to Bovington as a senior tank technology instructor. His duties included a supervisory role in the management of The Tank Museum, where Tiger 131 had recently been deposited. ln the 1960's he attempted to get the tank refurbished but found there was no money available to do so. Peter also pursued a writing career that included eight books on tank design and With Churchills To War a history of 48 RTR between 1939-45. He most recently provided the Foreword to the Tiger Tank Owners Workshop Manual published by Haynes, but also featured in a number of documentaries on the tank, which has become the museum's most famous exhibit. His assistance to The Tank Museum was of immense value and earned him huge respect here and in the wider museum community. To his wife and family, The Tank Museum offers its most sincere condolences.
As published in the Tank Times Feb 2012 by Tank Museum Bovington Dorset.
Edited by Ken Estes, 28 May 2019 - 0623 AM.