Otto Carius – Hitler’s Tank Ace. Opinion about Americans. Biography and Facts
The legendary tanker, a hero of WW2 – Otto Carius owes his popularity not so much to his victories (an incredible number of enemy tanks destroyed in battle during the World War II), as to his book “Tigers in the mud” (“Tiger im schlamm”), published in 1960. However, first things first – let us tell you his war story.
Biography of Otto Carius
Otto Carius was born on May 27, 1922 in the town of Zweibrücken in Rhineland-Palatinate in southwestern Germany. He barely had time to finish school when the World War II began. Otto’s father and older brother were officers of the Wehrmacht, so the choice of Carius was obvious.
Without waiting for his 18th birthday, in May 1940 he volunteered for the Wehrmacht and was sent to the 104th reserve infantry battalion. However, Carius soon decided to rewrite his war story and again voluntarily enlisted in the tank forces. He was sent to the 7th Reserve Tank Battalion in Vaihingen on the Ents. He took an initial tank training course at the Putlos training ground, and then was enlisted as a gunner in the crew of the Pz.38 (t) tank of the 21st Panzer Regiment of the 20th Panzer Division.
- LT vz.38 was originally a Czechoslovakian light tank from the late 1930s. Better known under the designation Panzerkampfwagen 38 (t) or Pz.Kpfw.38 (t) used in Nazi Germany, under which it was produced after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, being considered at that time one of the best light tanks in the Wehrmacht. It took an active part in the initial stage of the Second World War.
On June 22, 1941, the “March to the East” or Operation Barbarossa began and the 20th Panzer Division crossed the Soviet border. It participated in the encirclement of Soviet troops near Minsk, on July 10 entered Vitebsk, fought near Smolensk and Vyazma. However, in most of these battles, the future WW2 hero, Otto Carius, did not participate. On August 1, he was awarded the rank of non-commissioned officer, and three days later he was ordered to leave for the 25th reserve tank battalion in Erlangen, from where, in turn, he was sent to Wünsdorf for an officer’s courses.
At the end of the Officer Courses, Otto Carius did not initially receive an officer rank. On February 1, 1942, after being promoted to Feldwebel, Carius was appointed platoon commander of the 10th company of the 21st tank regiment. Only on October 1, 1942, he was awarded the rank of lieutenant and entrusted with the command of the 1st company. And only then, as part of the Wehrmacht, Otto managed to get to the east and begin his war story.
The battle path of Otto Carius
All this time, the division was part of Army Group Center, being consistently subordinate to the 4th Panzer, 3rd Tank and 9th Field Armies. In August 1942, the division was transferred to the south, to the Orel region, where it became part of the 2nd Panzer Army. In November 1942, the division was again transferred to the north to the Belev – Kozelsk – Sukhinichi area, where it remained until February 1943.
However, in January 1943, Otto Carius left his division for good. It must be said that very little space is allotted to the period from June 1941 to January 1943 in Carius’s memoirs. There is not a single mention of the Soviet tanks he knocked out, which is not surprising, since it was rather difficult to do this on the Pz.38 (t) to become a WW2 hero. True, Carius does not say whether he mastered other types of tanks available in the 20th Panzer Division. At the beginning of July 1942, for example, this unit had 8 Pz.II, 39 Pz. 38 (t), 20 Pz.III and 13 Pz.IV. Apparently, until 1943, Carius’s performance was zero.
Among other things (weak equipment, command duties, etc.), this can be explained by the fact that the 20th Panzer Division was in a secondary sector of the Eastern Front for the whole of 1942. It did not participate in the summer offensive, in the battles near Rzhev. During 1942, the division operated in a weakened composition: the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 21st tank regiment were disbanded at the beginning of the year, the 112th rifle regiment also lost one battalion, and finally the 92nd reconnaissance battalion was withdrawn from the division. However, back to Carius.
In February 1943, he arrived at the 500th Reserve Tank Battalion, where training began for tankers for a new type of tank – “Tigers”. In May 1943, Carius was appointed platoon leader in the 2nd company of the 502nd heavy tank battalion, with which he left to write his war story on the Eastern Front. By this time, the 1st company had already been there for six months, operating in the zone of the 18th field army near Leningrad. On July 22, 1943, with the arrival of the 2nd and 3rd companies, the combat strength of the battalion was finally expanded to full staff. Just on that day, the Mginsky offensive operation of the Soviet troops began, or, as the Germans called it, the third battle on Ladoga. For two months, the “tigers” of the 502nd battalion fought in the front sector near Leningrad.
In October – November, the 502nd battalion operated near Nevel, where it was transferred by rail. In early October, after the liberation of the city by Soviet troops, a situation threatening the German troops developed in this area. Hoping to localize the breakthrough and prevent further advance of the Red Army units, the German command began to transfer troops to this area from other sectors of the front. Among them was the 502nd heavy tank battalion. The wooded and swampy terrain with a large number of lakes limited the maneuver of large tank units and formations and dictated their use by small units, and in the case of the “tigers”, even individual tanks.
Destroyed Soviet tanks by ace Otto Carius
- On November 4, 1943, Lieutenant Otto Carius’s Tiger destroyed 10 T-34 tanks from an ambush, and two days later three more. These were his first successes on the way to the title – the hero of the Second World War.
- On March 17, 1944, two Tigers, Lieutenant Carius and Feldwebel Kerscher, destroyed 13 T-34 tanks, one KV-1 and five guns in one battle. This fight is described in sufficient detail by the German ace in his book.
- According to Carius, during the period from March 17 to 22, 1944, the 2nd company of the 502nd heavy tank battalion destroyed 38 Soviet tanks, four self-propelled guns and 17 artillery pieces.
This is only a part of the confirmed information about the destroyed tanks that we were able to find from confirmed sources.
He spoke with respect about the Soviet T-34 tanks and considered them dangerous opponents until the end of the war. Evaluating the IS-2, he said: “at least as equal to the “Tiger “.
At the same time, the German tankers, at least those whom Carius knew, could not be forced to change to a Soviet captured tank. This happened after the German anti-tank batteries in their sector of the front destroyed two captured “thirty-fours”, which, having gone out on missions during the day, returned already at dusk.
In the dark, the large cross applied to the tower was not discernible, and the gunners, mistaking these tanks for Soviet vehicles that had broken through, simply destroyed them.
The first “Tigers” on the Eastern Front were captured by Soviet troops in January 1943 near Leningrad.
According to various estimates, the Carius crew incapacitated and destroyed 150-200 tanks and self-propelled guns (SPG), many other guns, one aircraft. From a certain point, Otto Carius stopped keeping score. The exact figures of the enemy tanks and self-propelled guns (SPG) destroyed by him, cited by German sources, can be considered controversial.
So, according to the study of Marchenko (Russian historian), comparing data from German and Soviet archival sources, in battles:
- On July 22-26, 1944, in the village of Malinovo, the Soviet losses of the first days of the fighting, according to German data, do not differ very much from the data of the Soviet side; at the same time, there is reason to believe that Carius chalked up all the destroyed Soviet tanks, while, probably, some of them were destroyed earlier by other German tanks.
- For July 22: 23 tanks (17 – T-34-85 and 6 IS-2) according to the Germans and 15-18 tanks (10-13 – T-34-85 and M-3-S and 5 – IS-2 ) according to Soviet reports. For July 23: 2 tanks were recorded at their own expense by the Germans and 5 tanks were written off by the Soviet side (probably some of them were lost on the 22nd).
- For July 24: the Germans declared 17 tanks destroyed, which does not contradict the Soviet data. The losses of Soviet troops announced by the Germans on July 25 and 26 as 16 and 12 tanks, respectively, do not find confirmation in Soviet sources (the total number of Soviet tanks was less than the one declared by the Germans about the destroyed ones), which allowed researchers to talk about a possible double and triple record of destroyed tanks …
Otto’s Opinion on American Soldiers
Otto Carius had a low opinion of Americans as soldiers. Somehow in his company (the company of “jagdtigers”) several “kübelvagen” cars went out of order. The problem was solved easily. At night, he and four of his subordinates went on a visit to the Americans and hijacked a couple of jeeps.
Сarius did not consider this a difficult task. The Americans, as he himself said sarcastically, loved to sit comfortably in their houses at night like “real war veterans.” Of course, they put up a sentry, but that was only if the weather was fine.
So there were no big problems with the theft of “jeeps”. The Americans realized that their cars were stolen only after Carius had already reached his unit. At the same time, the tankman himself noted that if the nights were longer, then in these “jeeps” they would have reached Paris, and the Americans would not have noticed anything.
One of the main advantages of the Americans, Carius considered aviation, which reigned supreme in the air.
Otto Carius’ military awards
Iron crosses 2 classes (1942)
Iron crosses 1 classes (1943)
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross With Oak Leaves (1944) № 535 (1944), presented personally by Heinrich Himmler
Eastern Front Medal 1941/42 (20 August 1942)
Panzer Badge : 2 and 3 klasses (1944)
Wound Badge : Black, Silver, Gold (1941, 1943, 1944)
The end of the war and Otto’s post-war life
At the final stage of World War II in 1945, he took part in hostilities in West Germany on the Jagdtigr self-propelled artillery mount. By this time, the Allies had already crossed the Rhine and surrounded a large group of German troops in the Ruhr area. Otto Carius himself recalled that the Allied aviation dominated the air with impunity, there was an acute shortage of experienced fighters and commanders, the morale of the surrounded troops was completely dry. By order of the command, he surrendered to the American troops, spent some time in a prisoner of war camp, after which, having changed into exchanged civilian clothes and pretending to be a farmer’s assistant, he was released.
After the end of the war and captivity, he became a pharmacist, in June 1956 he acquired a pharmacy in the city of Herschweiler-Pettersheim, which he renamed “Tiger” (Tiger Apotheke). He headed it until February 2011, and later continued to work as a pharmacist on a “part-time” basis.
Otto Carius Died on January 24, 2015 at home.
“Tigers in the Mud” – Memoirs of Otto Carius
Сarius published the book “Tigers in the Mud” (German: “Tiger im Schlamm”, ASIN B0000BH2FP) in 1960. This is the memoir of a tank ace, a hero of the Second World War, about how he and his crew and front-line friends went through the entire Second World War. The well-known expression “In battle it is better to deal with thirty Americans than five Russians”, which is often attributed to General Guderian, is actually taken from the book of Otto Carius.