According to Deirdre O'Brien, journalist from Mirror, it was one of the most dangerous and heroic missions developed during WWII. The order came directly from Winston Churchill. The person who had been mandated to do it, was Major Douglas Lidderdale, a brilliant young military engineer.
Winston Churchill barked “Major! I want you to go and catch me a Tiger. I want you to bring me a Tiger tank. Park the bloody thing outside my front door. Do you understand?”, and the Major replied: “Perfectly sir”.
Tiger tanks on one day had destroyed 100 tanks. Dozens of men burned to death after their own vehicles were destroyed by the Tigers’ powerful and deadly accurate guns. They were wiping out our soldiers, decimating Allied morale. British tank crews’ terror of Tigers was so widespread it had its own nickname, Tigerphobia. The objective was to capture a Tiger one of the 60-tonne vehicles with armour too tough for Allied tank weapons.
The story is as follows. On January 22, 1942, Douglas Lidderdale, accompanied by a hand-picked team: tank driver Corporal Bill Rider, Sergeant Sam Shaw and Lieutenant Reg Whatley left England towards Tunisia. They arrived in the first week of February 1943 to fierce fighting along a 20-mile front from El Aroussa in the south to Beja in the north.
But as March ran into April and under constant bombardment, Douglas became increasingly frustrated. Day after day he risked his life, witnessing first-hand the destruction the Tigers wreaked, yet he only had near misses.
One Tiger was blown up by the Royal Engineers. Another was towed to safety by the German army. A third was destroyed by its crew to stop it being captured.
Then on April 21, Doug’s chance finally came. He woke early, his tent rocked by the sound of heavy gunfire.
With 250,000 enemy troops bottled up in north-east Tunisia, the Allies had been just a day away from forcing the enemy to surrender or sweep them into the sea. But the Germans had got wind of the plans and launched a surprise attack.
Douglas knew it was his big chance. Turning to Reg, he said: “You can bet your life that among them are Tigers on the prowl. This could be our lucky day, the chance to nab one at last.”
Climbing into their Churchill Mark IV tank they went Tiger-hunting, heading to the battlefield where a firefight was raging.
Douglas told his team: “We must spot one that’s in trouble and pounce.”
Almost straight away he saw his opportunity. Less than half a mile away he spotted the turret of a Mark VI Tiger – Tiger 131. The hatch was open and a soldier was examining the gun. The turret was jammed.
“We’ll cut around the edge of the ridge and then down the slope,” said Douglas. “At top speed, we can be right up his backside in just a few minutes.”
He opened fire and peppered the German with bullets – the first time he had shot a man. He shouted to Bill to get alongside the Tiger and climbed on to the roof. As he swayed, trying to maintain his balance, one of the German crew emerged with an MP 40 machine gun.
Douglas was staring death in the face – but then the German soldier’s body began to convulse. Sam had opened fire on him.
A few weeks late, on May 31, Doug received an order: “CHURCHILL ARRIVING HERE TOMORROW. WILL WANT TO SEE TIGER. PROBABLY DRIVE IN IT.”
King George VI was the next VIP to visit the Tiger, after making the longest air journey of a monarch.
After these facts, Douglas set about transporting the Tiger back to Britain. But the Germans knew a British officer had a Tiger Tank and were determined to stop him.
He loaded his cargo on to the SS Empire Candida cargo ship for the first leg of the journey to the Tunisian port of Bizerte with the Germans in hot pursuit. When the ship came under fire from a U-boat, Douglas had an idea.
“I think our Tiger is going to go hunting,” he said as he climbed into his tank and turned its guns on the submarine.
He missed his target – but the U-boat retreated fast. By August, Douglas had got as far as Bone in Algeria.
On the morning of September 20, 1943, under cover of darkness, he drove the tank on to the foredeck of the Ocean Strength. The ramps had to be reinforced to take the weight but finally the Tiger was lashed to the deck under camouflage netting.
Douglas was taking no chances. He was armed with a Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife as well as his service revolver.
And he had ordered 60 life rafts, one for each tonne of his Tiger, in case the ship came under attack. “Winston Churchill wants this tank,” he told his men. “And by God, I’m going to deliver it to him.”
The ship was pursued by U-Boats and strafed by Luftwaffe planes but in October 1943 she arrived at Glasgow. Douglas instructed removal firm Pickfords to take the tank to London then headed to Whitehall, where Churchill greeted him: “Mr Schicklgruber (Hitler) and his Huns will be crying themselves to sleep tonight. Thank you, Colonel.”
“Thank you sir but if I may say so, with respect, I’m only a major,” Douglas said.
“With respect, I think you can call yourself Colonel after this,” replied the Prime Minister.
In November 1943 the tank was paraded on Horse Guards Parade.
Douglas used its technology to develop war machines for the D-Day landings, which changed the course of the war. And Tiger 131 now has pride of place at Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset.
The mission to capture a Tiger was shrouded in such secrecy that it was only after Douglas’s death in 1999 that his son David learned the truth about his father’s mission.
Read full story at "Catch That Tiger" by Noel Botham and Bruce Montague with David Lidderdale is published by John Blake.