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

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 The following description is based on a meantime outdated thesis from cameraman Jim Bates, that no German soldier survived the tank duel: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.

Made with Freemake video software
Short animation of the colorized photo above ...

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. Video runs on youtube server.


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 three 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.

Photo: Bryan Allen. Courtesy of his son Dave Allen
Davis and Deriggi with a third soldier on top of the Panther. At this time there were several photographers that took photos from this scene.

Photo excerpt: Bryan Allen. Courtesy of Dave Allen
Bulldozers remove the debris on the street Komödienstraße. On the right side the Sherman, the Panther had destroyed the day before. The Sherman driver Julian Patrick, who was killed during the duel, was still sitting on the driver chair at this moment.

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.


NEW: The advance of E Company on March 6, 1945 in colored pictures. From Gladbacher Straße to the cathedral as well as the death of Katharina Esser.




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 and the rest of the crew, after a short rest in Cologne, crossed the Rhine south of Cologne in their Pershing and then advanced via Marburg and Paderborn to the vicinity of Dessau, where the war then ended for the crew.

Tank Commander Early and cameraman Bates received the Bronze Star for their action soon after the battle. Smoyer and posthumously recognized McVey, DeRiggi and Davis received the Bronze Star during a ceremony in Washington on September 19, 2019. External link to the MSN article Clarence Smoyer was the last surviving participant in the tank duel. He died September 30, 2022 at the age of 99 news article

In 2013 I had the opportunity to accompany Clarence Smoyer and star author Adam Makos through Cologne for two days. Of course we visited the crossroads where Clarence shot down the Panther. Here Clarence points to the area where the Pershing was driving.


FAQ - Frequently asked questions

Q:  Why did the Panther leave the protection of the tunnel and drive
        to the position where it was shot down ?

A: It can only be speculated. The position from which the Sherman had been shot down was now known to the US troops. In this respect, a change of position would have been an obvious good decision to avoid a possible shelling of the old position. However, there were hardly any retreat possibilities, behind the Panther lay the Rhine, the Hohenzollern bridge as the last retreat possibility over the Rhine was destroyed. For a battle-ready crew that had to change positions, it was therefore only logical to advance a little and to remain in the protection of the corner houses at the beginning of Komödienstraße and thus halfway secured in a westerly direction.
In addition, the Panther had observed several roads coming from the west from its old position until then and could not know at first through which road exactly the Americans would now come. But now the Americans had come through the Komödienstraße and the Panther had attacked and destroyed the first forces there. It was probably only logical for the Panther crew to come closer to this specific road during a change of position, which was necessary anyway, to confront the enemy and, if necessary, to inflict further damage there.

In addition, the Panther had a direct view from this position into three streets to the northwest, Marzellenstraße, Komödienstraße, and also into Andreasklosterstraße, which lies between the two.
Possibly the crew also felt sufficiently protected in a southwesterly direction. South of the cathedral was the cathedral bunker, in which originally a command post had been set up, and in the area of the central station there were obviously still some German soldiers lurking around. Perhaps the 3rd Panzer, which had crossed the bridge in the morning, was still there somewhere in the southern area. In addition, the streets there were possibly just as full of rubble as the Komödienstraße, so that tanks could not easily get through there. Thus, the Panther crew may have assumed that this southwestern area was under surveillance or safe - in contrast to the northwestern streets, which were more difficult to survey from the rear. Moreover, the street An den Dominikanern was passable.
This would perhaps also explain why two crew members of the Panther had fled in a southwesterly direction into the street Burgmauer, of all places, after disembarking.


Q:  Why did the Panther show its broadside to the Pershing ?

A: Basically, we can only speculate here as well. The Panther stood aligned in the direction from which the US troops came. To the west. Possibly the Panther expected further US tanks primarily on the Komödienstraße (where they came from before). But theoretically he also had to cover roads running north and possibly south of him towards the cathedral from the west. He could best secure these by this "middle position", with equally fast rotation of the tower to the left or right, north or south.
In addition, this also left him the option of quickly changing his position by reversing when enemy forces appeared to the north and south of him. If it had positioned itself crosswise, it would have had to turn first or, alternatively, it could have driven only in the line of fire and would then also have crossed the streets Komödienstraße or Burgmauer coming from the west. For example, if the Panther had moved back only 5 meters from its position at the corner of Komödienstraße, the Pershing would not have been able to see it from the position of Marzellenstraße / An den Dominikanern and thus would not have been able to hit it.
An aerial view of the local conditions:

Blue arrows show the possible access routes of arriving US troops at the cathedral. Their possible field of view from these directions is marked in green. The yellow arrows show the surveillance possibilities of the access routes by the Panther (red dot) at the respective position. There he had everything in view. In the conrete orientation of the Panther (front side towards Komödienstraße) he could have escaped the direct field of view of approaching US troops by merely moving back a few meters (white arrow).
If he had positioned his broadside in the direction of Komödienstraße, he would have remained in the field of vision of US troops coming from the north (Marzellenstraße) or south (from the direction of Wallrafplatz) if he had merely driven forwards or backwards.

Perhaps the Panther at the Cathedral from Marzellenstraße / An den Dominikanern, where the Pershing finally came from, did not expect tanks either. The crews of the three deployed German tanks probably did not know their way around Cologne very well. The tank ordered to the freight yard, for example, had arrived in Cologne only a short time before and the crew there were strangers. Perhaps the Panther at the cathedral also hoped that this northern side was secured by this other German tank, which must have driven right there to come in the direction of the goods station. Or maybe he assumed that the third German tank, which should still be in this area, would secure this side.
The theory is also put forward that the Panther was unable to change its position due to lack of fuel. Well, it may be that the Panther had its engine running permanently to be able to change its position in case of an emergency and to turn the gun faster with engine support and that the fuel ran out sometime before the duel with the Pershing. But even with fuel there would have been no time left for a turn only when the Pershing appeared, and the time before that was obviously the tactical initial situation described in more detail above, which was decisive for the fact that the Panther had not turned. The question of whether or not there was a lack of fuel would therefore have been of only minor relevance to the position in the specific situation.


Q:  Why did the Pershing keep firing even though the crew of
        the Panther was already disembarking ?

A:  Clarence Smoyer, the Pershing gunner put it this way:
"First of all, my view was not anything like what the view in the film that Bates shot. I was down on street level. I was dealing with visibility limited by dust and smoke after the first shot. What I could see was the muzzle of the German gun aimed right at us and what I knew was that all it all that was needed was for one of those German tank crew members to have survived and to have pulled the trigger. So I wasn't going to stop after one shot.
Also, during my sighting and firings, I was completely unaware of crew members bailing out and running away. I was unaware of bodies through my gun-sight. The smoke and my low angle contributed to that. Of course, it was years later, when I first saw the Bates film that I realized what the German crew went through and that it was possible that several had survived."
source: 3ad.com


Q:  Why did the Panther commander confuse the emerging Pershing ?

A: Commander Bartelborth obviously expected a Sherman tank from the Americans, which was the "usual" tank of the advancing American troops at that time. There were different versions of Sherman tanks, but all of them resembled each other in important details:

The tanks had a rounded or bent lateral progression of the superstructure on the side, the gun barrel did not have a visibly large muzzle brake and there was no protective plate in front of the running gear. The most striking feature, however, was the running gear with a so-called Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS), later also with similar-looking Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS), both having only relatively small running wheels in common.
So this is what the enemy's tank would have looked like, which the crew of the Panther was actually expecting on the street corner.

Instead, this tank came around the corner:
Horizontal, straight run of the superstructure, visibly large muzzle brake, mudguards at the front of the running gear and, above all, no running gear with vertical suspension but a running gear with larger running wheels.

German tank drivers knew these features from German tanks, such as the Panther:

Horizontal, straight run of the superstructure, visibly large muzzle brake, mudguards at the front of the running gear and, above all, no running gear with vertical suspension but a checker plate running gear with large running wheels.

The German commander must have been understandably confused as to what kind of tank this was and, since it was certainly not a Sherman and he was probably not yet familiar with the Pershing, initially thought it was a tank from his own ranks and hesitated for the decisive few seconds too much ...


  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.

Then and Now in one photo, same position
More Then and Now ?
You like this Then and Now pictures ? Watch my page Cologne Then and Now with more than 40 interesting Then and Now pictures.

More Weblinks:

General links:
YouTube, 3AD during capture of Cologne
YouTube, The WW2 Tank Battle Caught On Film!
YouTube, 1000 bomber raid May 30/31, 1942
YouTube, Bates interview with movie sequences
YouTube, Smoyer interview, History channel
3ad.com, Smoyer memoirs on 3ad.com
YouTube, The Americans capture 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:

Spearhead cover
From the New York Times bestselling author of A Higher Call, Adam Makos, comes the riveting World War II story of Clarence Smoyer, the Pershing gunner
Battling through the ruins, Clarence will engage the fearsome Panther in the Cologne tank duel immortalized by an army cameraman. And a few hours earlier he will square off with Gustav Schaefer, a teenager behind the trigger in a Panzer IV tank, whose crew has been sent on a suicide mission to stop the Americans.
As Clarence and Gustav trade fire down a long boulevard, they are taken by surprise by a tragic mistake of war. What happens next will haunt Clarence to the modern day, drawing him back to Cologne to do the unthinkable: to face his enemy, one last time. Well, I had the honor to attend this meeting. Photo link leads to Amazon website, where Adam's book can be ordered.

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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Special 2
Tank duel blow-by-blow
At war
Back to Cologne at war

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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