At the German War Cemetery in La Cambe, France, you can find the grave of tank ace SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann (∗ April 22 1914 – † August 8 1944). Wittmann enlisted in the army in 1934, joined the Waffen-SS in 1936 and became a member of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) in April 1937.
Wittmann would witness Hitler’s ambition for the Third Reich first hand by participating in the occupation of Sudetenland and the Annexation of Austria. At the start of the war in 1939 he was a commander of a Panzer reconnaissance unit of LSSAH during the Invasion of Poland.
For Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the annexation of Russia, he was assigned to the SS Panzer Regiment 1 as a tank commander of a StuG III. During this time he was mainly active on the Eastern Front and took part in Operation Citadel and the Battle of Kursk. Wittmann’s total of destroyed tanks would start to stand out and his actions drew the attention of the Nazi Propaganda machine.
On January 14th 1944, Wittmann was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. The portrait picture of this article was taken on the day of the award ceremony.
As a commander of a Tiger I, Wittmann earned his title “Panzer Ace” (Eng: Tank Ace) in Normandy when on June 13th 1944 he destroyed an estimated 14 tanks and 15 transport vehicles during the Battle of Villers-Bocage, earning him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords and a promotion to SS-Hauptsturmführer. Wittmann eventually had to abandon his tank when it was put out of action by an anti-tank gun.
Wittmann received the Oak Leaves from Hitler himself during a ceremony at the Wolf’s Lair (Ger: Wolfsschanze) in Rastenburg (now Poland).
On August the 8th 1944 Wittmann and his crew lost their lives when their Tiger tank was attacked in an Allied ambush during Operation Totalize. Anti-tank shells coming from the side penetrated the Tiger’s hull and ignited the ammunition inside. The resulting explosion was so fierce that it blew off the Tiger’s turret.
Shortly after their death, Wittmann and his crew were buried in an unmarked grave until they were found by the German War Graves Commission in 1983 and reburied at the La Cambe War Cemetery.
At the time of his death Wittmann had a record of 130 tanks destroyed.
Wittmann is buried at the German War Cemetery La Cambe in Normandy together with his tank crew:
- SS-Unterscharführer Hein Reimers (driver),
- SS-Unterscharführer Karl Wagner (gunner),
- SS-Sturmmann Rudolf (Rudi) Hirschel (radio operator),
- SS-Sturmmann Günther Weber (loader).
You can visit Michael Wittmann’s grave at the German War Cemetery La Cambe.