German Tiger tank drivers meet with their British counterparts 72 years after WWII
Wilhelm Fischer and Waldemar Pliska instilled terror in British troops by manning the fearsome fighting machines and unleashing fury with their huge 88mm guns.
Two of the enemy who had first hand experience of the heavily armoured Tigers were British tank men Ernest Slarks and Dr Ken Tout.
Now aged in their 90s, the four old foes became friends when they assembled today for the launch of an historic exhibition at the Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset.
For the first time ever, five of the six variants of the Tiger tank have been brought together in the same place.
This is the first time ever 5 of the six tanks are together in the same place
Before we were enemies but today we are friends together
The former enemies warmly greeted each other with hugs and handshakes before sharing pleasantries while sat in the shadows of the imposing Tigers.
For Herr Fischer and Herr Pliska, the reunion with the Tigers and Normandy veterans Mr Slarks and Dr Tout stirred up mixed emotions.
Herr Pliska, 92, of Dortmund, said: “Before I arrived at the museum I didn't know how I was going to react to seeing the tanks.
“When I looked inside it brought back so many memories and emotions which I struggled to control for a few minutes. It was all too much.“
Herr Fischer was knocked unconscious six times by flying shrapnel inside a Tiger during the war.
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Ernest Slarks (right) and Wilhelm Fischer
The 93-year-old of Wiesbaden, near Mainz, said: “It is great to meet these British men. Before we were enemies but today we are friends together.
“Seeing the Tigers brings back a lot of emotions. I served in most of these tanks.”
Dr Tout, 93, of Rustington, West Sussex, said: “To shake hands with people you were trying to shoot so many years ago is a very unusual experience.
“But it has been absolutely thrilling to meet them because they have so much in common with us.
“You are able in a sense to get a better idea of what the people you were fighting against were thinking because before they were unknown quantities who have been tarnished by propaganda.
“Now you have the chance to realise they are fellow men who have been through similar experiences, lived their lives and are now happy to shake your hands.“
Now aged in their 90s, the four old foes became friends
He added: “The Tiger Tanks were terrifying. They were so much more powerful and bigger than anything else on the battlefield.
“We were all scared of them but thankfully they were only able to produce a relatively small number of them.”
Ernest Slarks, 94, of Sittingbourne, Kent, said: “When you heard the name Tiger it filled you with fear.
"They could fire at you and take you out from a mile and a half away.
“It's been amazing, incredible, to meet these Germans after 70 years, although it is a very strange feeling.“
Herr Fischer was 17 when he joined the German military in 1941 and was assigned to the 7th Panzer Division.
Tiger Tanks during World War II
He trained as a driver on Panzer tanks and later retrained on the new Tiger I, which He was deployed to the Eastern Front in Russia and spent four years there, enduring harsh conditions where the winter temperatures plunged to -40C.
He was taken prisoner at the end of the war.
Herr Pliska served in the 7th Panzer Division as a tank driver in the King Tiger. He served in the Ukraine from 1943.
Dr Tout was a gunner in a Sherman tank in the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry. He arrived in France seven days after D-Day in June 1944 and took part in some of the fiercest fighting in Normandy, seeing many comrades in killed in action.
He himself was badly himself in Holland in October 1944 when his tank overturned.
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Dr Tout has written military history books on tank warfare and the Normandy landings.
Mr Slarks was a sergeant in the 23rd Hussars who landed at Arromanches on June 14, 1944 with the 23rd Hussars, 11th Armoured Division and the 29th Armoured brigade.
He served as a radio operator in a Sherman Firefly tank and saw action shortly after D-Day in June 1944 The Tank Museum's own Tiger 1 – the only working example in existence – its two King Tigers and its Jagdtiger (Hunting Tiger) have been joined by the Elefant Tiger, which has been loaned by the US Army Centre of Military History, for the new exhibition.
David Willey, curator of The Tank Museum, said: “Seeing the Tiger veterans and the British veterans meet was quite a moment.
“From speaking to them it's clear that they shared so many experiences and they were very much looking forward to meeting.
“To bring them together at the exhibition in these legendary Tiger Tanks was a wonderful way to promote the story of the tanks and the men who fought in them.
“These stories are of course as powerful as the machines themselves.”