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Special - tank duel at the cathedral (2) Deutsche Version

2.) Skirmish Pershing vs. Panther

In a parallel street the US-troops from E Co, 32nd A.R., 3rd AD hear about this incident in Komödienstrasse.

They just have reached street Gereonstrasse, when the Sherman on Komödienstrasse was hit. Smoke goes up from that area (arrow).

Video popup:
Smoke going up in close-up shot

They move forward to street An den Dominikanern...

... and receive the command, to approach and attack the Panther tank with the help of a Pershing tank

The lurking Panther

The T26E3 Pershing tank


What happened the last minutes before the upcoming tank duel ?

The US troops are only 200 - 300 m away from Marzellenstraße which leads to the central place at the cathedral where the German Panther tank now is located. US Army Signal Corps cameraman Jim Bates wants to film the upcoming tank duel.


Jim Bates:

Courtesy: photos.ppld.org, Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District, 161-3315.
Jim Bates 1972
A Tank Commander named Robert Early from E Company 32nd. Armored Regiment went on foot to investigate. I asked to go along and we went on the mezzanine of a building and saw the tank. He told me to stay there and he would come back in his tank and try to put the German tank out of commission and I could photograph it. He had one of the new M-26 Pershings with a ninety-mm gun. Sgt. Early said he would turn into the square under me, stop and fire at the German tank.
Source: Website by Charles R. Corbin Jr.

This is the building of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, where Bates and Early watched the German tank and the surroundings.


At this time the German Tank crew is waiting what happens and observes the surroundings.

View today from the window where Bates took his famous movie. The blue dot was the place of the Panther was lying in wait for the enemy. Red dot the place where the US-troops were waiting in Street An den Dominikanern.

When Early comes back to his tank he gives last instructions to his crew and starts the mission. The Pershing tank approaches the crossing An den Dominikanern / Marzellenstraße. Jim Bates:

When his tank came in the square under me the German tank began to traverse the gun.

Pershing gunner Cpl. Clarence Smoyer:

Smoyer "Gunner" Clarence Smoyer:
Shortly before our T26 "Pershing" tank destroyed the German Mark V Panther tank in the Cologne Cathedral square, the same German tank destroyed one of our Sherman tanks and killed three of its crew. When this happened, our crew was ordered to go down the adjacent street and destroy the Panther. We were told to just move into the intersection far enough to fire into the side of the enemy tank, which had its gun facing up the other street. However, as we entered the intersection, our driver had his periscope turned toward the Panther and saw their gun turning to meet us. When I turned our turret, I was looking into the Panther's gun tube; so instead of stopping to fire, our driver drove into the middle of the intersection so we wouldn't be a sitting target.
Source: 3rd Armored Division Website - www.3ad.com
The German tank crew discovers the tank the same time when it is leaving the cover of the destroyed houses in street An den Dominikanern.

Photo montage of images of the Signal Corps and Archives NARA.
This is the sight that an observer might have had in this moment. The two tanks were facing. The panther is lurking in the background and in the foreground the Pershing moves into the intersection.

Both tanks are in direct visual contact now. The first shot now will decide the fate of the other tank, the fate of five soldiers and their families.

What's the reason the Panther didn't shot immediately ?

As the Pershing gunner Smoyer said, the gun was turning to meet the Pershing.
What's the reason the Panther crew hesitated ?
Panther commander Bartelborth is already dead, so you can not ask him. His daughter, however, told in the documentary "Köln 1945 Nahaufnahmen" that her father had told the family during his lifetime, the tank that had appeared in that situation on the street corner, would have been a German tank. He probably expected a Sherman tank and the tank was not a Sherman tank. So he was very surprised. And so it is clear that Bartelborth had not give the order to fire because he did not recognize the Pershing as an American tank immediately.

A German tank commander did not recognize an American tank ?
Well, the Pershing had his first appearance in Europe only a few weeks previously, and only in small numbers. Many soldiers did not know this new tank type. The flow of information at this time, near the end of the war, was not comparable with the present times. Gunner Smoyer writes in his memoirs on the 3ad.com website:

"U.S. troops and German civilians were in awe of seeing the M26. Some troops thought it was a captured German tank."
Quelle: 3ad.com

Even American soldiers mixed up the Pershing with a German tank sometimes! Thus, it is not so far-fetched that even the German tank commander Bartelborth was wrong in thinking ...

In any case this delay is crucial for the fate of the German tank. Fractions of seconds decide between life and death.


Overview battle area

On the right side the building of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront where Jim Bates filmed the Panther in his tank duel movie. The Panther tank location is marked blue on the left side. The Pershing now is located on the crossing in front of the building.

Jim Bates:

Cpl. Clarence Smoyer the gunner, did not wait for his tank to stop but fired before the gun was aimed at him.

The Pershing tank drives to the crossing An den Dominikanern / Marzellenstrasse and fires toward the German Panther at the end of Marzellenstrasse. Distance between the two tanks: 110 m / 360 ft.
Video popup:
Shot and 3. hit

A crew member of the German tank flees. Movie pictures taken from cameraman James Bates
The following graph shows the positions of the Panther crew in the second, the Pershing shell had hit the Panther. The gun and the turret pointed toward the Pershing and the intersection An den Dominikanern / Marzellenstrasse

This and following graph created from two graphs by F. Gruber, from the book "Panzer V Panther" by Spielberger/Doyle, with friendly permission by Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 2010

- Position 1: commander
- Position 2: gunner
- Position 3: loader
- Position 4: radio operator
- Position 5: driver

The nearest or the fastest achievable emergency exits of the crew are visible on the graph below

Driver: driver's hatch (red)
Radio operator: radio operators's hatch (green)
Commander / gunner: upper turret hatch (blue)
Loader: rear turret hatch / loader's hatch (yellow)

Another shell is on the way to the German tank
The shell a short time before the hit

The shell hits the tank
A German crew member is running away.

And a third shell appears
Again a hit.
Video popup:
2. and 3. hit


The German Panther tank is on fire
Following the film made by Jim Bates four crew members are able to escape, one of them dies in a hospital a short time later. According the records another soldier was found dead in the Panther the next day.

Smoyer Pershing gunner Clarence Smoyer described the event several times. The following description is based on a meantime outdated thesis from cameraman Jim Bates, that no German soldier survived the tank duel:

... our driver drove into the middle of the intersection so we wouldn't be a sitting target. As we were moving, I fired once. Then we stopped and I fired two more shells to make sure they wouldn't fire at our side. All three of our shells penetrated, one under the gun shield and two on the side. The two side hits went completely through and out the other side.
As for the German tank crew, I spent many years wondering if they survived. Only recently, did I find the answer. A documentary film about the life of Jim Bates, the Army photographer who took the famous Cologne footage, revealed that three of the crew died outside of the tank. A letter I received from another soldier who looked through one of the shell holes said he saw one burned to death inside the tank. Apparently none of them survived the ordeal. The T26 tank was the best tank we had during the war.

Source: 3rd Armored Division Website - www.3ad.com


The three hits caused by the Pershing - (1), (2) and (3). Number (4) is the Panther's optic, not a hit (one can see the optic in the little picture top right showing another Panther - red arrow). So you see the fire inside the Panther through this optic. Hit number (2) is hidden behind the gun.

On this picture one can see hit (2) much better.
The burning German tank. The Sherman which was hit by the Panther is located in the road going to the right side.

Photo: NARA.
The burning Panther. Photo was taken by Signal Corps photographer John Himes.

The same view, about 70 years later, year 2013.

Photo: NARA, published on footnote.com
Another picture showing the burning Panther and the theater.

The description of the tank duel Pershing / Panther above is only a short summary of the events. A more detailed description of this tank duel and especially the bale out of the German tank crew with 37 and more photos and detail pictures can be found on my webpage tank duel blow-by-blow. In addition there are 5 digital worked movie sequences close up and not that blurred as the original.
Video popup:
Youtube video, the entire Panther movie sequence


The next days US soldiers examine the destroyed German tank, it becomes a popular photo subject
Again the destroyed German tank in front of the cathedral
The days and weeks after the tank duel many people took pictures of the Panther. First when he still stood at the place where he was shot (they turned the gun to the side later) and then when he was moved to the square in front of the central station


The crew of the US tank which fired at the German tank, left to right:

Asst. Driver Homer Davis
Tank Commander Robert Early
Gunner Clarence Smoyer
Driver William McVey
Asst. Gunner John Deriggi

Photograph by Jim Bates. Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District, 161-3307, photos.ppld.org
Once again the Panther tank at the cathedral. This and the following two other pictures were taken by Jim Bates on March 07, 1945, when Bates and other reporters were taking pictures around the cathedral. At the right side of the picture one can see the destroyed Sherman on street Komoedienstrasse (red arrow).

Excerpt from picture above, the destroyed Sherman on the street.

Photographs by Jim Bates. Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District, 161-3311 and 161-3314, photos.ppld.org
Left: Asst. Driver Homer Davis and Asst. Gunner John Deriggi in front of the destroyed Panther tank. Right: Davis and Deriggi with a third soldier on top of the Panther.

And finally a photo where one can see the way the US-troops made through the Cologne center.

Yellow line the way of Company 'F' with the Sherman tanks coming from Friesenstrasse, passing Zeughausstrasse and ending in Komödienstrasse next to the cathedral. Red line the way of Company 'E' with the Pershing tank, coming from Gereonstrasse ending in street An den Dominikanern. Blue point the location where the Panther was located finally - at crossing Komödienstrasse / Marzellenstrasse.
This picture in big resolution here - 535 KB.


The German Panther tank at the cathedral was one of the last German tanks in the city center at this time. The other German units had already left this side of the city and had withdrawn across the Rhine. During the senseless tank duel at least 2 crew members (one inside the tank, one later in a hospital) of the German tank and 3 crew members of the US tank die. From two German soldiers we know they survived WWII. The German crew:

Bartelborth - survived
König - survived
? died in a hospital
? died inside the tank
? ?

Clarence Smoyer today lives in the US. The other German and US tank soldiers died in the meanwhile.


  Overview battle area
  Several pictures show the interior of a Panther, one
can see how straitened it was for the tank crews.

Video Battle for Cologne - tank duel
Youtube Video tank duel at the cathedral, March 06, 1945. Chronic and analytical presentation of the famous tank duel at the Cologne cathedral. See the fascinating original film with descriptions. 10 minutes of interesting film scenes show the destruction of a Sherman tank, the destruction of a Panther tank and the escaping crew members. 5 presentation parts show different analyses. Original film scenes show injured persons.
tank duel sightseeing tour
In case you plan to visit Cologne and look for the places the tank duel took place, this page could be a little help for you. Here I have created a little sightseeing tour, where you will visit the most relevant places of the tank duel. Even without a scheduled visit this page is certainly very interesting because of the many pictures and descriptions.

More Weblinks:

General links:
Corbis photo: Panther and Cathedral
Corbis photo: Sherman before hit (Ramage)
3AD Panther photo sequence (with partially incorrect descriptions)
youtube Video, 3AD during capture of Cologne
1000 bomber raid May 30/31, 1942
Bates interview with movie sequences
Smoyer interview, History channel
Smoyer memoirs on 3ad.com
Once again capture of Cologne, tank duel
Combat Mission scenario "Duel in Cologne"

Please visit and support this fantastic project: Donald Becker from New Jersey, US, is working his 2nd large area 1/35th scale recreation and tribute to the soldiers who bravely fought in World War 2. This project will represent March 06 1945 in Cologne, the tank duel at the cathedral:

And another great project, already finished. Christian van der Sanden created a model of the destroyed Panther in 1:35 scale. He worked 6 months, every day 4 hours, at this project. The finished model:

More pictures here

And here's a russian page about the tank duel:


In case you want put a link to this website on your homepage feel free to use the banner above. Download the zip archives here.

Only a fake ?
In early 2008 the German journalist Hermann Rheindorf had published a DVD in Germany with title "Köln 1945 Nahaufnahmen" - translated: "Cologne 1945 close up" - about the last war days in Cologne in March 1945. In this documentation he says the tank duel was only a fake, a propaganda show to promote the new Pershing tank. He presented several proofs for his opinion.
I have checked Rheindorf's proofs and arguments and after all I'm sure they are wrong. I have published an extensive inquiry in German on my webpages and there I check and refute each of Rheindorf's proofs and arguments. Since there's no English DVD version available I do not publish this webpages in English. You will find this webpages here. In case you are interested you can use two free online translation tools which are included there to translate the text to your favourite language.

Tank duel
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Tank duel blow-by-blow
At war
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Back to the Cologne Page

Photos courtesy of:
The U.S. Army 3rd Armored Division History website
Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society
The Third Armored Spearhead Division website
Kevin "The Rocketeer" Trotman
Movie "Allies Drive Across Rhine To Victory" by Universal Studios


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