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How did they catch that Tiger?

The Tank Museum presents two letters that question the veracity of claims made in Botham and Montague’s 2012 title Catch That Tiger.

There have been numerous books and documentaries written about The Tiger Tank since the first intact machine was captured in April 1943. 

But no other title has sought to challenge the accepted version of events as dramatically as Catch That Tiger – a book that provides a new account of the capture and recovery of Tiger 131 which is based on a previously unpublished (and, to date, unverified) source. 

Click here to see the accepted account of Tiger 131's capture. (Tank Times, February 2012, page 3.) 

The account given in Botham and Montague's work fails to correspond with the evidence held at The Tank Museum, which includes the testimony of the book’s lead protagonist, Major Douglas Lidderdale. 

The letters that Doug Lidderdale wrote before his death in 1999 make it clear that whilst he was heavily involved in the story of Tiger 131, he wasn’t there when it was captured. 

In contrast, Botham and Montague put him central to the action. They claim that Lidderdale kept a secret wartime diary, which reveals that the capture of Tiger 131 was the result of a top-secret mission given to him by Winston Churchill in person. They describe a “close hand shoot-out” in which Lidderdale and his men overpower the crew of Tiger 131 in order to secure its capture. This is despite the fact that the war diary of the German unit that Tiger 131 belonged to states "Crew members of Tiger 131 panic and abandon the tank after two harmless hits from a Churchill". 

The book goes on to state that Lidderdale’s son uncovered the diary and that the Major had been ordered to remain silent about the mission. 

Letter 1: “He was there at the time, I only later...”

As a REME officer, Lidderdale’s role was to recover the tank from the battlefield and see it safely back to the UK for evaluation. 

This led to a life-long fascination with the tank that had also played a large part in the life of Peter Gudgin - a veteran 48 RTR officer who was knocked out of his Churchill tank by Tiger 131 on the day it was abandoned. The two exchanged a lengthy correspondence in their later years. Peter Gudgin died in 2011. 

Crucially, Lidderdale never claimed or insinuated any involvement in the capture of Tiger 131, nor did he allude to any of the more fantastic events found in the book. On the contrary, his letters reveal a man who is both fascinated and concerned with accurately piecing together every minute detail of what occurred to Tiger 131 from its capture to the day it arrived at The Tank Museum in 1951. He was particularly keen that his understanding of events was supported by Peter Gudgin, as the following letter reveals. 

Download & view Douglas Lidderdale's letter to George Forty (7/11/87) here. 

In this letter, written by Lidderdale to the then Museum Director George Forty on 7 November 1987, Lidderdale reminds us that one of the biggest risks facing Tiger 131’s safe return to the UK was the souvenir hunting activities of Tommy Atkins, rather than spies or saboteurs as suggested in the book. He also recalls that it was whilst receiving the briefing to recover the tank from the battlefield that he first heard that Tiger 131 had been immobilised in battle by a Churchill. 

He goes on to acknowledge that Peter Gudgin was the most reliable source on events that day because; “He was there at the time, I only later.” 

That statement alone is enough to fundamentally challenge the premise of Catch That Tiger, before one questions the veracity of the journal on which the book is based. The notion of a REME Officer and a handful of men forming a snatch squad for what would effectively be a commando mission without specific training may well seem far-fetched. That the officer charged with this top secret mission would then keep a journal that is so specific about names, dates and places, (which the book states were "noted in situ as the story unfolded") would have been directly contrary to military practice. Such a cavalier approach to secrecy would be highly out of character for a man so fixated with detail. 

Letter 2: “...Instructed to `tiptoe` away from the subject!”

On page VII, the book makes reference to another letter – providing an example of how source material can be abridged in a way which deliberately changes the meaning of evidence in order to give credence to a particular point of view. 

The book reads; 

During his lifetime, Douglas Lidderdale felt obliged to remain silent with regard to his mission to `catch a Tiger`. In a letter to Captain James Henderson dated 4 November 1986, Doug wrote, 'I was instructed to tiptoe away from the subject [of the Tiger tank]! Which I did, yet with misgivings which have bothered me until today.'

This hand written letter to Captain Henderson (which is actually dated 4 November 1988), is also held in The Tank Museum Archive. Henderson had been one of the Officers aboard the Liberty Ship Ocean Strength which had transported Tiger 131 and Lidderdale from Africa to Glasgow in 1943. The letter explains a more benign and trivial reason for the Censorship imposed on Lidderdale. 

Download & view Douglas Lidderdale’s letter to Captain James Henderson (4/11/88) here.

In it Lidderdale is seeking to “make amends” with the Captain for failing to respond to what appeared to be a simple request – for Henderson had written to ask Lidderdale if it would be possible to mention the Tiger as a recent cargo when giving a talk to a Glasgow girls school on the work of Ocean Strength. 

“For security reasons I could not authorise that personally…” Lidderdale wrote. Explaining that he needed to get clearance from a Senior Security Officer as the Tiger was soon to be on public display at Horse Guards, he informs Henderson that the clearance was never granted and for that reason he was “ordered to tiptoe away from the subject.” 

In the final paragraphs of the letter, Lidderdale again outlines the way in which the Tiger was captured, concluding: “No one can be quite sure which of Peter [Gudgin]’s troop fired the shot which caused the Tiger crew to abandon ship but he is content that one of them did.” 

Conclusion

The Tank Museum has challenged the authors to provide more evidence to support the claims they make. 

So far nothing has been produced that ties the events in the `Lidderdale journal` to any other documentary source or personal testimony.

“This book has put us in a difficult position because some of those who have read it have come away with the false impression that we support or endorse the work,” said Museum Curator David Willey. “Our judgement on it is based on the evidence we hold, which I feel speaks for itself.” 

“We aren’t opposed to new theories that challenge our understanding of our artefacts, but we do expect them to be rigorously backed with evidence.” He added; “We should not forget that British soldiers died in the action that led to the capture of Tiger 131 and to cloud such history would be to do Lidderdale, Gudgin and the diminishing number of veterans a tremendous disservice.”