Karl (right) and Ken (left) compare the vehicles fielded by The Allies and Germans during WWII as they visit The Tank Museum. © Tank Museum
Two ageing veterans from opposing sides of the desert campaign of World War Two made a special visit to the Tank Museum at Bovington on Saturday May 14 2005.
Sixty two years ago Karl Konig, 81 of Hamburg, and Ken Ewing, 82 of Poole, faced each other in the heat of the Tunisian desert, preparing for one of the decisive battles of the North African campaign.
Both were tank men involved in the Battle of Tebaga Gap in March 1943; Ken with the Sherwood Rangers and Karl with 21st Panzer Division.
Stood together, in the Desert Warfare Galleries of the museum, the pair remembered the desert war: “We had a lot of respect for the Germans in the desert,” said Ken. “They were good soldiers, brave, and had much better tanks than we did.”
A British Crusader tank is followed by Shermans through a desert village in North Africa © Tank Museum
Karl, who was a gun-loader in a Panzer tank, said: “To me, the war was an adventure; I was a very ambitious officer candidate and very keen to prove myself in this battle. So I was disappointed when our tank was knocked out as we advanced by a Hurricane fighter.”
The battle proved to be Karl’s first and last time in a major action. With the German Afrika Korps in retreat, he was eventually wounded whilst trying to escape. After his capture by the Americans he spent the rest of the war as an interpreter at various prison camps in the States, England and Belgium.
It was a coincidental meeting in Bayeux over 15 years ago which brought the two men together, as Karl explained. “I was staying in the same hotel as Ken, who was in Bayeux for a Sherwood Rangers memorial march. We got talking, and when I told him I was in the 21st Panzers, he said; “You swine!” and gave me a bear hug!”
“He and his other old comrades wanted me to march with them – and when I said I didn’t think it would be right he said; “Why not? You are one of us!” and handed me a beret. So I marched with them.”
A British Lee Grant tank ploughs through the North African desert. © Tank Museum
Ken and Karl have been friends ever since and Karl is now an honorary member of the Sherwood Rangers veterans association. He frequently visits Ken in Poole, and a visit to The Tank Museum is always high on the agenda.
Standing next to a German Tiger tank for a photo call at the museum Ken said: “In the desert there was a code of honour between us and the Germans – it was a ‘rule’ never to shoot crews who had bailed out of tanks and were heading back to their own lines. But all that changed after Normandy. They were a different breed.”
“There is such warmth between them that it is almost impossible to believe they were ever enemies,” said Museum spokesman Nik Wyness. “I think there is perhaps something unique about soldiers of both sides who fought in North Africa; they shared a common enemy in the harsh conditions of the desert – so their experiences were very similar.”