Just when you thought the stream of World War II memoirs might have dried up, here is another wartime adventure. And this one presses all the right buttons. A monster tank called the Tiger, the most deadly weapon in Hitler’s arsenal, is devastating the Allied forces in North Africa. Cue an intrepid, young British army officer, who is summoned in person by Winston Churchill and ordered to: ‘Get that Tiger!’
The book is authored by two seasoned professionals in the entertainment business, although my guess is that Noel Botham, journalist and author of The Murder Of Princess Diana, might have done the lion’s share. After an eye-catching first chapter, which features the Fuhrer singing a Cole Porter ditty, and Eva Braun’s legs as she slips out of her knickers on Hitler’s birthday, you might wonder what you are in for — but don’t give up. What lies ahead is a truly absorbing yarn.
The story first surfaced over a casual lunch between the authors and their friend David Lidderdale, better known as the singer Dave Travis. His father, the dashing Major Douglas Lidderdale, is very much the hero of this tale, which had never before been heard outside the Lidderdale family circle. In late 1942, Lidderdale, aged 28, already had a reputation as a brilliant engineer. He was a major in charge of the newly formed Tank Training Unit when a new and terrifying class of German tanks emerged.
Dwarfing Hitler’s Panzers, these 60-ton monsters had steel armour casing 120 millimetres thick and could hurl shells, each weighing nearly a ton, well over a mile. They demolished Britain’s smaller Churchill tanks, whereas the Churchill could barely dent a Tiger. The entire impetus of the campaign in the North African desert was faltering before these invincible giants. In January 1943, Lidderdale was summoned to Churchill’s Private Office and ordered by the PM to catch one of these Tigers and transport it intact back to London. ‘Park the bloody thing outside my front door. Do you understand?’
Before the handsome, blue-eyed major could even enjoy his honeymoon, he was packed off to Algiers with the handful of men he had chosen for the mission: his Cockney driver, Corporal Rider; an engineer, Sergeant Sam Shaw; and a young lieutenant with the Tank Brigade, Reg Whatley. Together, they faced an almost insuperable task. The Tiger was shrouded in secrecy; only the Wehrmacht knew how it worked. On Hitler’s orders, disabled Tiger tanks had to be destroyed on the spot.
Lidderdale arrived in Tunisia in February 1943, shortly before nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers with their Sherman tanks were killed in three days of fighting. The Major’s small team braved the battle, crossing treacherous minefields while on the hunt for a disabled Tiger. Their orders were explicit: don’t stop for…