08 June 2018
The fate of a German King Tiger, buried under a road in France, has been decided. It will now be recovered.
There had been a year of uncertainty, but now the fate of German Army King Tiger No. 124 has finally been decided by the French Government and it is coming to Normandy.
After a struggle between a local re-enactment group, the local Council and author and historian Gary Sterne (owner of the Maisy Batteries in Grandcamp-Maisy), the regional Governor of Yvelines has now confirmed that the tank must have a new home.
The location of the Tiger II (lost in combat in August 1944) had been known about for the last 17 years as it is located under a road near Paris, but there were objections to it being recovered. Negotiations had taken place with the German Government and the French Ministry of Defence for over four years and in 2017 the Regional Governor, Prefet Serg Morvan, gave his permission for the tank to be recovered.
Regional Chairman Pierre Bedier and his council unanimously confirmed this decision in June 2017 at a public meeting and the matter became legal two months later.
However, a re-enactment group and a local amateur historian subsequently questioned the process. This brought about a stand-off between the group and the Council, which meant Council Chief Bedier asked that the argument be settled once and for all again by the Regional Governor.
A senior lawyer for Yvelines Council Mr Kauffmann stated, “All decisions of the County Council pass the control of legality of the prefecture.” Mr Bedier and DRAC (French Department of Cultural Affiairs) publicly agreed to be bound by the Prefet’s final decision.
The whole project was therefore re-investigated by the Regional Governor’s office which has spent almost six months re-looking into the affair from a legal perspective. The long awaited deliberation arrived after consultation with all Government bodies, including the Ministry of Defence, Army, Ordnance Department, Mayor, Gendarmerie, Police etc.
As one of the last things he did before moving on to a more senior Government post, Prefet Morvan repeated his authorisation giving the tank to Mr Sterne for display in Normandy, and he confirmed that this tank will not become a State-claimed trophy of war.
The fate of Tiger 124 in August 1944 is reasonably well known. During the retreat of the German army towards Paris and the river Seine the King Tiger IIs of the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion were at the forefront of the fighting. Whilst in combat near the small French town of Fontenay St. Pere, Tiger 124, commanded by Fritz Zahnner, was retreating into a wooded area along a road when it came under attack by US fighter-bombers. It was fired upon and fell into a shell crater at which point the crew bailed out, leaving the tank to be destroyed later by advancing Allied soldiers. The turret of Tiger 124 was blown off and the barrel was removed leaving the body in the road and the turret in the ditch nearby.
A year later, when the road was being repaired, it was simply easier to push the remains of the Tiger into the shell hole and build the road over it, than it was to remove it.
Mr Sterne stated, “It has been a long time of negotiation and it was important that we spoke to everybody who could have an interest. In particular we made sure that the council also informed everyone - including the French department of DRAC back in 2017. We want to put this tank in a new museum - on display for the public, so we have worked with the authorities to ensure they were happy with what we were doing. This is a rare historical item and we have given firm assurances that it will remain in France - on public display.”
Part of the tank's turret was recovered from the side of the road 17 years ago but then the turret has stayed in a local garden ever since - but new changes in French law prohibit the private ownership of armoured items like this, so it too must go into a museum.
The recovery work is scheduled to begin later this year. www.maisybattery.com will post more details in the future.
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