Catch That Tiger: Churchill's Secret Order That Launched the Most Astounding and Dangerous Mission of World War II

Catch That Tiger: Churchill's Secret Order That Launched the Most Astounding and Dangerous Mission of World War II

by Noel Botham, Bruce Montague
     
 

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With exclusive access to private diaries and dozens of photographs, this is the incredible story of one of the most dangerous and thrilling secret missions of World War II

Unleashed by Hitler in 1942, the German Tiger tank was by far the most powerful tank ever built at the time—the 60-ton monster could destroy any Allied tank

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Overview

With exclusive access to private diaries and dozens of photographs, this is the incredible story of one of the most dangerous and thrilling secret missions of World War II

Unleashed by Hitler in 1942, the German Tiger tank was by far the most powerful tank ever built at the time—the 60-ton monster could destroy any Allied tank from more than a mile away. Desperate to discover the secret technology used in its manufacture, Winston Churchill chose a brilliant young army engineer, Major Doug Lidderdale, as his special agent. In a late-night briefing in the subterranean war rooms under Whitehall he ordered him "Go catch me a tiger." Doug did not hesitate, and by February 1943 was facing Rommel's desert army. After several unsuccessful and hair-raising efforts to bag a Tiger on the battlefields of Tunisia, Doug and his team put their lives on the line in a terrifying, close-range shoot-out with the five-man crew of a Tiger, capturing the tank intact. The morale boost to the Allies was such that both Churchill and King George VI flew to Tunis to examine the Tiger firsthand. But the Germans were not finished with Doug—constant attacks by the Luftwaffe and U-boats pursued him and his men on every step of the journey back to England. But eventually, by October 1943, the Tiger was gifted to Churchill, who had it placed on London's Horse Guards Parade. Lidderdale went on to use some of the Tiger technology to develop war machines for the D-day landings and was promoted to Colonel. Tiger 131 is now kept at Bovington Tank Museum and is the only working Tiger in the world. The full extent of Doug's adventures in North Africa only came to light after his son, Dave Travis, revealed the existence of his father's diaries.

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"Gripping."  —Washington Times

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781857826609
Publisher:
John Blake Publishing, Limited
Publication date:
09/01/2012
Pages:
278
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt

Catch That Tiger

Churchill's Secret Order That Launched the Most Astounding and Dangerous Mission of World War II


By Noel Botham, Bruce Montague

John Blake Publishing Ltd

Copyright © 2012 Noel Botham and Bruce Montague
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-85782-971-6



CHAPTER 1

20 APRIL 1942


At eleven o'clock on Monday morning, the most hated man in the world woke alone and naked in his pristine, almost sterile bedroom in Wolf's Lair, East Prussia.

Adolf Hitler, the megalomaniac, who in 1942 ruled most of Europe with an iron will that he believed would one day determine the fate of the entire world, reached for his spectacles and screamed for his valet.

Sturmbannführer Heinz Linge, who had been waiting outside the door for several minutes, knocked once and entered carrying a tray on which was laid the Fuhrer's regular frugal breakfast of tea, biscuits and an apple. A square white envelope was tucked against the teapot. Heinz stopped by the bedside, snapped the heels of his boots together and flung his right arm forward in the Nazi salute favoured by his master.

Hitler waved his hand languidly as he fixed Heinz with a stare of eye-bulging expectancy.

'Did he do it?'

'Sir?'

'Did Rommel get me my birthday present?'

Heinz placed the tray on the table by the bedside and gave an uncertain glance through the window. He had no intention of spoiling his Fuhrer's birthday surprise.

Rain spattered against the windows and a harsh wind rattled their frames. Hitler slammed his hand down on the bed covers.

'Tobruk, you imbecile. Rommel promised me he would take Tobruk by my birthday. What's the news?'

'I'm afraid there has been no news as yet, Mein Fuhrer,' said Heinz, 'Field Marshal Rommel said last night his men are at the gates of the city. They have advanced 300 miles from Benghazi taking everything in their path. The Field Marshal is anxious to fly back to Libya to take personal charge. He is here for your birthday, Mein Fuhrer.'

'But he promised,' Hitler began petulantly. Then he stopped himself. 'No matter. He can give me the news himself later. Now what is this?'

He picked up the envelope and took out a card with an intricately decorated swastika on its cover.

Heinz clicked his heels again.

'Happy Birthday, Mein Fuhrer.'

The ghost of a smile flickered across Hitler's usually impassive face. 'Well, not everyone forgot. How old are you, Heinz?'

'I was 29 last month, sir,' said Heinz, pouring the tea.

'I'm ahead of you by nearly a quarter of a century,' Hitler sighed.

There was a knock at the door. Hitler barked a harsh 'come in'.

The door opened and the voice of an untrained contralto started to sing 'Happy Birthday', and finished with 'Happy Birthday, dear Fuhrer, Happy Birthday to you'.

The singer was a woman of average height with sturdy thighs and an ornament pinned into her freshly permed, light-brown hair that was cut just short of shoulder length. She carried a small birthday cake on which there were three flickering candles.

'Eva!' said Hitler, a rare smile broadening his thin lips, 'When did you get to Wolfsschanze?'

'This morning,' said Eva, giving her lover a coquettish look. 'Now, my dear Adi, you must make your birthday wish ... and receive your gift.'

Hitler made a great fuss of blowing out the candles, then turned to his aide. 'Leave us, Heinz.'

Heinz gave the slightest acknowledgement and left the room. He closed the door and caught a glimpse of Eva Braun's naked legs as she slipped out of her knickers while clambering on to the bed, where Hitler was already throwing back the bedclothes.


Wolf's Lair was the headquarters of Hitler's Eastern operations. It had been built in 1941 for Operation Barbarossa, Hitler's grand plan for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Over 2,000 people worked at Wolfsschanze, so called because, in Old High German, 'Adolf' translates into 'noble wolf'. Zone One had ten vast bunkers, each protected by two-metre-thick steel-reinforced concrete. Zone Two contained the military barracks and compounds for Hitler's special security troops.

East Prussia had suffered its harshest winter for over a hundred years. Though it was now April, an icy wind still blew into the little town of Rastenburg, where Wolf's Lair was situated. All those gathered outside in the early afternoon to celebrate Hitler's 53rd birthday were shivering. A greatcoat covered Hitler and his uniform as he strode towards the marshalling yards bordering the Masurian woods. He was surrounded by members of his inner circle; Hermann Goering, the portly head of the Luftwaffe; Field Marshal Rommel, Head of the Panzer Division of Tanks; Martin Bormann, Hitler's chief aide; the newly appointed Minister for Armaments, Albert Speers; the War Minister, Wilhelm Keitel; and the chief of the OperationsStaff of OKW (German High Command), Alfred Jodl.

Running ahead of Hitler, and attempting to be as inconspicuous as possible, were two official photographers. One took photos on a stills camera, the other shot with 16mm movie film – both were recording every important movement of their beloved Fuhrer. Posterity was paramount.

Hitler was in high spirits. A birthday 'surprise' had been prepared for him, but the Fuhrer knew what was coming, and he looked forward to it. He sang in fractured English, the words of a popular song:

'You'd be zo nice to come home to.
You'd be zo nice by ze fire,
Ba ba zo nice,
Ba ba paradise
To come to and love.'


'Very nice,' said Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering, applauding. 'Cole Porter, isn't it?'

'One of his latest. Eva gave me the sheet music for my birthday. I am older than him, you know, by two years. I'll play it for you later.'

'I can hardly wait,' exclaimed Goering, stretching his jovial jowls.

Hitler claimed to have been taught to play the piano by conductor August Kubizek and later by gifted pianist and business friend Ernst Sedgwick Hanfstaengl, but those who heard the Fuhrer sight-read had their doubts.

Hitler came to an abrupt halt. His entourage shuffled forward and looked at him expectantly.

'Well, where is it?'

'Where is what, Mein Fuhrer?' asked Albert Speers innocently.

'My surprise; my new tank.'

Jodl pointed towards the woods. Seconds later, two huge tanks materialised and rolled slowly towards them on parallel paths.

'The one on the left is the Porsche model.'

'Good for Porsche,' said Hitler, obviously in some awe. Even his expectations were exceeded. 'It looks enormous.'

'Forty-five tons,' said Goering.

'What is its speed?'

'About 2mph.'

'Is that fast enough?'

'It's fast enough if it doesn't stop.'

As Goering spoke, the Porsche stopped abruptly and a plume of smoke rose from the command hatch on the turret.

'What's wrong with it?' asked the Fuhrer impatiently.

'I think it's broken down.'

Hitler looked crestfallen; like a child who had lost his toy. 'What about the other one?'

'That's the Herschel model. It's even heavier.'

The Herschel trundled relentlessly forward.

Hitler brightened. 'It looks bigger than our old Panzers.'

Rommel stepped forward and spoke softly. 'It's twice as big as anything we've had before.'

'Bigger than a Panzer?'

'And fiercer. They call it a Tiger.'

Hitler's eyes lit up. 'I like that name. Is it heavy?

'About 60 tons.'

Hitler blinked at that news. He could barely contain his excitement. 'It has a very big cannon.'

Jodl read aloud from the manufacturer's specifications. 'Fitted with an 88mm cannon, accurate to 2,000 yards. Carries 90 shells that weigh nearly a ton, and its steel armour casing is 120mm thick.'

'Is that better than the Russians?'

'Twice as good as the Russians, three times as good as the Americans and four times better than the British.'

Hitler's eyes glistened. He was breathing faster. It did not take much to capture his imagination. 'How soon can we have them?'

'As soon as you confirm the order.'

'I want them now. I plan to smash our way through to Stalin's hideaway and we need some for you too, my dear Rommel, so you can take over all of North Africa.'

Rommel clicked his heels. 'As you say, Mein Fuhrer.'

Hitler raised his hand. 'One more thing ...'

'Mein Fuhrer?' said Jodl.

'What is that big tube sticking up at the back of the Tiger?'

'A snorkel, sir.'

'A snorkel! I thought snorkels were on U-boats.'

'True, sir. But these tanks can go underwater.'

Hitler looked at Jodl in disbelief.

Speers interceded. 'We have solved the problem of crossing rivers after the enemy has fled and blown up the bridges behind them. We no longer need to waste valuable time rebuilding the bridges. These tanks – Tigers as you call them – will cross rivers underwater. They can submerge to a depth of 13 feet.'

Hitler gave a short laugh – an unusual occurrence. 'Then nothing can stop us. We can go anywhere?'

'Yes, Mein Fuhrer.'

Hitler slapped Speers on the back. 'You have given me the most wonderful birthday present. Thank you. Thank you.'

He turned in a semicircle and raised his hand in the familiar Nazi salute. 'I thank you, gentlemen. Today you have won the war.'

Hitler put an arm on Rommel's shoulder and marched with him towards the tank. 'Erwin, now I want to see inside. In one of these you can drive underwater to Tobruk from Egypt. As soon as you have kept your promise and taken it, that is.'

As the top brass of the German High Command inspected the prototype Tiger tank, the photographers continued to capture every moment.

CHAPTER 2

AUGUST 1942


Operation Barbarossa had been a disastrous enterprise for the Germans. The fierce winter that ushered in 1942 brought death and destruction to Germans and Russians alike on an unprecedented scale. By the summer of that year, Hitler was determined to press on regardless, and he issued Fuhrer Directive No. 41 to order yet another offensive against the oil-rich region of Baku. This was to become known by the Allies as Operation Case Blue.

With a million Soviet soldiers killed and countless thousands captured, many young Russian men were eager volunteers to escape the carnage, if only briefly, and attend weapons-training courses in the country that had now become a reluctant ally – England.

Major Aubrey Douglas Lidderdale's spirits were at a low ebb. The Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) was being created, and Doug was to be one of its founding officers. He knew the motto was going to be 'Arte et Marte' – 'by skill and fighting'. Doug was looking forward to it all, but, until 1 October he was still an engineer in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) and not a happy man.

Having designed the first Leyland twin-engined tank unit, he had signed up immediately after the outbreak of war and was commissioned within months. It took another year before the High Command realised they had a highly qualified engineer in their midst, but, as soon as his worth became apparent, they rapidly promoted him to Major and put him in charge of the newly formed Tank Training unit. Britain had invented the tank, thanks to Churchill, but enemies and allies alike had woefully outdistanced her in the arms race. It had taken an all-out war for the High Command to try to catch up. Thousands of new drivers and maintenance crews were being recruited and they had to be trained. This was 28-year-old Major Lidderdale's job.

He had devised a whole raft of courses on how to drive and maintain tanks. Now he was in charge of a British army tank instruction school in West Kent and his current crop of Russian trainees was worse than bloody useless. Doug confided to one of his driver-instructors, Corporal Bill Rider, that the word 'crash course' took on a peculiarly appropriate meaning when applied to some of his current students – a platoon of disaffected Russians. This was not a promising bunch. The Russians seldom shaved, nor, Doug suspected, washed regularly either. They made no attempt to learn English and instructing them through an interpreter was tiring work.

The group had been brought to this desolate part of Kent and foisted on Doug by the powers-that-be in order to become experts in the art of tank warfare. However, as time went by, his success rate with them remained at precisely zero. Doug's despair grew visibly. Whatever he instructed them to do, there seemed to be a wilful determination on the part of the Russians to do the exact opposite.

The West Kent Country Club, which was only a mile away, had a well-stocked bar. For Doug, the club was growing more hypnotically attractive as the long, hot summer days wore on.

Following the group's latest tests, which they had managed to fail spectacularly for the third time, Doug succumbed to temptation and treated himself to a spiritual reviver at the Country Club bar. As the amber liquid began its soothing work, he resolved to confront the Russian Commandant and get to the bottom of this batch's perverse attitude once and for all.

He drove out of the club in 'The Beast' – the name he had given to the mongrel, two-seater sports car that he had spent many greasy hours building. Its unique appearance vaguely resembled a truncated road version of Malcolm Campbell's 'Bluebird' racer. Though not designed for the racing circuits, it was fast, with a Rolls-Royce engine tucked under the bonnet. Doug loved to drive it, but was sadly reconciled to the fact that, thanks to the latest petrol-rationing squeeze, he would not be able to keep The Beast on the road for much longer.

He was sadly contemplating this inevitability when he spotted a Tin Lizzie coming towards him. The old-fashioned Model T Ford had a young woman with long blonde hair at the wheel. As the two cars approached one another, the Ford spluttered to a halt.

Doug leaped from The Beast and removed his officer's cap. The blonde stepped out. She was tall and poised and dressed for an afternoon at the Country Club. Doug appraised her appreciatively. She had a lithe figure and the sort of legs that seemed to go on forever.

'Can I help?' Doug volunteered.

Man and woman looked at each other and liked what they saw. So struck was he, in fact, that for quite a moment he stood staring at her goofily. It was what the French call a coup de foudre, a lightning bolt to the heart.

After a few moments, the silence was broken.

'Do you know anything about engines?' asked the young lady.

Doug had to shake his head as if to remind himself what engines were. 'A little.'

'Well, I've just filled up with petrol, so it must be the engine.'

'Can I take a look?'

'Oh, please.'

'I thought they'd stopped building Model T Fords years ago.'

'Officially they did. But they still make them to order for you. At least they did until 1941.'

'It must be difficult to get replacement engines.'

'I think that's why they finally stopped.'

'If you open the bonnet, I'll take a gander.'

'That would be absolutely darling of you.'

Doug beamed. Being a darling to this lady would be the cat's pyjamas as far as he was concerned.

Ten minutes later, Doug emerged from the open bonnet covered with oily smudges.

'You had a dirty magneto,' he said.

She looked shocked. 'Dear me,' she said. 'I never even knew I had a magneto; let alone a dirty one.' She came towards him, took out a dainty handkerchief from her purse and rubbed at the smudges on his face.

Doug remained as immobile as a statue. He could smell her gentle perfume – Chanel. This was pure heaven.

'Have you got the starting handle?'

'Oh, no. This has got a self-starter.'

'Really? Oh, of course – custom-built, you said. Well, give it a bash. It might tick over now.'

The lady slid her long legs elegantly over the driving seat and switched on the ignition. The engine burst into life.

'Oh, that's wonderful,' she said. 'How can I ever thank you?'

'Well, you could start by telling me your name,' said Doug.

'Kathleen Crane,' she said. 'And you, Major?'

'Douglas. The chaps call me Doug.'

'Oh, dear, I couldn't call you Doug. I shall always call you Douglas.'

There was the tiniest pause.

'Always?'

The promise hinted at in this one word sent Doug's pulse racing.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Catch That Tiger by Noel Botham, Bruce Montague. Copyright © 2012 Noel Botham and Bruce Montague. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author


Noel Botham is the chairman of the Useless Information Society and the author of several books, including The Best Book of Useless Information Ever, The Book of Useless Information, and The Ultimate Book of Useless Information. Bruce Montague is an actor.

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