Geoff Walden


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End of the War for s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653

   Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 653 (Heavy Tankhunter Battalion 653) was a late-war unit of Jagdtiger (Hunting Tiger) heavy tank destroyers (the unit had been armed with the Ferdinand/Elefant tank destroyer on the Russian Front). These huge 70-ton vehicles with 12.8cm main guns were very difficult for American tanks to knock out, and their large caliber guns allowed them to take on the enemy far beyond his own range. However, the Jagdtiger was heavy and cumbersome, suffered from mechanical breakdowns, and was never fielded in sufficient numbers to be very effective. Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 653 fought the advancing U.S. Army in March and April 1945 in the area south of Mannheim, from Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, past Speyer, to Heidelberg, and then retreated to southern Bavaria toward Austria. While few of their vehicles were knocked out by enemy action, several broke down, or had to be abandoned and blown up by their crews.


Two 3.Kp. Jagdtigers were abandoned on Landauer Strasse in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. The vehicles are shown here being examined by American soldiers from the 10th Armored Division, on 23 March 1945. The modern comparison has been pulled back a little, to show the building across the street (in the left foreground), which is the building seen in the next set of photos.  (U.S. National Archives, Army Signal Corps Collection, RG111SC)  (Google Maps link)


Jagdtiger 331 was left in the middle of the street, while Jagdtiger 323 was parked in a courtyard opposite. Both vehicles had been abandoned due to damage to their final drives, probably as a result of a battle in Neustadt on 22 March in which the 3.Kp. destroyed several U.S. tanks.  (U.S. National Archives, Army Signal Corps Collection, RG111SC-231625, courtesy Digital History Archive)

The 1945 photo was shot from the second story of the building across the street; this modern view was shot from ground level, as the building seemed to be abandoned and locked up when I visited. Jagdtiger 323 was parked in the immediate foreground of this photo.


Color slides were made in 1945 of Jagdtiger 323 (above) and 331 (below). Except for repair of war damage, the buildings have hardly changed.


Jagdtiger 331 had suffered shot damage to the gun mantlet - a chunk was gouged out of the lower right hand side. Several other shots had struck the hull front slope, without penetrating.  (U.S. National Archives, Army Signal Corps Collection, RG111SC-231623, courtesy Digital History Archive)


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Jagdtiger 331 was shipped to the U.S. for testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and is now in storage at Fort Benning, Georgia, awaiting the opening of the National Armor and Cavalry Museum there. The close-up shows the gun mantlet damage. Before abandoning the vehicle, the crew drained the recoil system and fired a final main gun round, jamming the gun out of battery.  (U.S. NARA, RG 111SC-231625 (crop); author's photos)


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On 30 March 1945 a group of 1.Kp. Jagdtigers fought an American armored unit in Schwetzingen, near Heidelberg. Jagdtiger 131 was knocked out in the downtown area at about 200 meters range by a Sherman tank.  (Schwetzingen Stadtarchiv)

Little has changed, save for post-war reconstruction. This scene is at the intersection of Heidelberger Strasse and Mannheimer Strasse.  (MapQuest Map Link)


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The gunner Uffz. Klein was killed by machinegun fire while abandoning the vehicle, and the radio operator died later of burns. The driver was thrown out of his hatch and the vehicle ran into a house. (Schwetzingen Stadtarchiv)

The Jagdtiger ran into the building to the right center of this photo.


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The impact of the gun tube with the building pushed the gun out of battery and damaged the gun mount. The vehicle and building caught fire, resulting in severe damage to the building.  (Schwetzingen Stadtarchiv)

This modern view appears not to match, because the upper floors of the building are missing in the 1945 view, having burned out in the resulting fire from the Jagdtiger.

Click here to see then-and-now views of a wartime Wehrmacht parade in Schwetzingen.


This Jagdtiger was photographed by my father, U.S. Army Air Forces Lt. Delbert R. Walden, most likely in spring 1946. The vehicle had been destroyed when abandoned by its crew. For several years the location of these photos was unknown to me, but the research of Ulrich Mössner has established that this vehicle was destroyed by s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 on the outskirts of the village of Etterschlag, west of Munich, most likely on 28 or 29 April 1945. The photos below show corresponding modern views (the buildings are post-war - the vehicle sat in the grassy area just beside the road ... The vehicle was initially disabled in the road, but was later pushed off to the side to clear the road for advancing American forces).  (collection of G.R. and G.A. Walden; all rights reserved)  (Google Maps link)


The key to identifying this location (thanks to Ulrich Mössner!) was the distinctive church steeple in Etterschlag, which can be seen faintly just above the vehicle's roof, to the left of the gun barrel. A close-up of the modern view at lower left shows this steeple clearly. Amazingly, track links from this vehicle survive in Etterschlag, used by a farmer to add weight to his front tractor wheels on muddy fields.



Third Reich in Ruins,

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This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.