A modest British granddad has finally been credited with killing dreaded German tank ace the ‘Black Baron’ – ending a mystery which has lasted for more than half a century.
New evidence has emerged which proves retired Joe Ekins, 86, fired the fatal blast which ended the reign of terror of Nazi Germany’s most feared tank gunner Michael Wittmann.
Historians argued for decades over who killed the Black Baron after the Canadian army, Polish forces and the RAF each claimed credit for the scalp.
The Baron was a Nazi war hero and household name in Adolf Hitler’s Germany during the Second World War after destroying 138 Allied tanks and took out 132 anti-tank guns.
Now the granddad-of-two, from Rushden, Northants., has been shown as the true hero firing off three shots which blew up the Baron’s tank on the battlefield 66 years ago.
Hero gunner Mr Ekins, of 1st Northampton Yeomanry, welcomed the documentary proof adding the 30-year-old Baron ”deserved to die.”
Historians with Battlefield History TV spent two years researching Wittmann v Ekins: Death of a Panzer Ace.
They proved Mr Ekins was the sole gunner within range of the Black Baron and the only British tank which fitted with a gun which could take out the Nazi Tiger tanks.
The documentary rubbished the Canadian army story proving its tanks were out of range.
Widower Mr Ekins said he hopes the film ends years of debate and speculation.
He said: ”In a battlefield I don’t think anyone can really be 100 per cent sure but most historians now seem pretty sure it was me.
”I volunteered to fight when I was 17-years-old because I saw the dreadful things the Nazis were doing across Europe.
”I felt that anybody who supported the Nazis or who stood by and watched, were criminals and I still believe that.
”Everyday this Black Baron guy went out to kill people and when he knocked someone out he put a ring on his gun.
”When he was coming towards me I didn’t know who he was or his reputation.
”I’ve got no regrets, he deserved to die and I am glad I was the guy who did it.”
Former Trooper Mr Ekins said Allied forces were clueless about the Black Baron’s notoriety back home in Nazi Germany.
It was around a decade after the war ended historians started to piece together the Baron’s life.
Only weeks before his death Wittmann took on the British 7th Armoured Division single-handedly and destroyed 14 tanks, 15 personnel carriers and two anti-tank guns in just 15 minutes.
But exactly who blew up his Tiger tank on a battlefield in northern France on August 8 1944 remained contentious.
Mr Ekins was with three British Sherman tanks when they were ambushed by German forces.
He destroyed the first tank with one shot then trained his sights on the Black Baron’s superior Tiger tank.
He said: ”He came straight at me so I fired at him and the tank blew up on the first shot.
”Then I fired two more shots to finish him off.
”I didn’t know it was Wittmann at the time and only found out many years after the war.”
Mr Ekins destroyed three enemy targets from his Sherman Firefly tank with just five shots in a firefight lasting 12 minutes.
Soon after the war the 4th Canadian Armoured Division claimed its forces killed the feared Baron
As historians dug deeper the 1st Polish Armoured Division and 144 Regiment Royal Armoured Cops also attempted to gain credit for the death.
Even the RAF got in on the act claiming a rocket fired from a Hawker Typhoon from Second Tactical Air Force sent Wittmann’s tank into a ball of flames.
A Canadian documentary, which has since been discredited, reported its tanks ambushed and killed the Black Baron hours before Mr Ekins’ firefight.
Mr Elkins said: ”It was a Canadian-funded film for Canadians and about Canadians. So of course they wanted to take the credit but all the evidence says it was me not them.
”I remember everything that happened. Sometimes it is difficult to believe what we did. I think the only purpose these films have is to tell people how awful war really is. It is not glorious. But I have no regrets.”
Thomas Dormer, Battlefield History TV, launched the film at Abington Park Museum, in Northampton on Thursday.
He said: ”It took us two years of research to get enough facts to make the film. Joe is an ordinary guy who was in an extraordinary place and did an extraordinary thing.”
The documentary is being released for sale on DVD.
Michael WIttmann did what he had to do, he just did it very well, how does it make somebody a criminal? He could have been a National Socialist, a part of the SS, and so on, but did he kill 6 million jews? No, he was a soldier, not a politician and didn’t work in concenstration camps!
Not to mention, Michael WIttmann wasn’t the gunner.
Also, the term “Nazi Tiger tanks” is wrong and stupid anyways, so I’m not going to take all this seriously.
But serious you should as the simple fact is this guy took wittmann out!
A highly debated and exaggerated piece of history that will never truly be finalized.
As stated, another who lays claim to fame.
“Black Baron” seriously!
Whittmann was a hero and those who served with him all agree.
Only crime he had like so many Germans of the time is they were on the loosing side.
I agree, Whittman was a hero to his side and just a soldier doing his job.