German King Tiger Tank

German King Tiger tank

The King Tiger tank was one of the most feared weapons of world war 2




The German King Tiger Tank was introduced in early 1944 and was the most powerful tank during world war 2. With its powerful 88mm gun and an almost impenetrable front armor, it was one of the most feared weapons of world war 2. Up to the end of the war, the allies had not introduce any effective means to counter the threat.

Henschel King Tiger Tank #502
Porsche King Tiger Tanks during firing trials
Henschel King Tiger Tank #502. "Glory to Korobov" is inscribed on the barrel. Porsche King Tiger Tanks during firing trials.


 Development History
German heavy tank development began as early as 1937 with the German Armaments Ministry issuing a specification for a new heavy tank to Daimler-Benz, Henschel, MAN and Porsche. The project however was ignored as the Panzer III and IV had so far proved effective tanks and served well  in combat. It was not until spring 1941 that the project was revived after Hitler was impressed with heavy allied tanks, such as the French Char B1 and British Matilda 1 during the campaign in the west.

At a meeting with Hitler on 26th May, 1941, the planning for the development of a new heavy tank begun. During that meeting, Hitler ordered for the creation of heavy Panzers which were to have an increased effectiveness to penetrate enemy tanks; possess heavier armor than was previously achieved; and attain a maximum speed of at least 40km/h. These key decisions led to the development of a new heavy tank, the Tiger 1 tank and ultimately the King Tiger. However, no clearly defined objectives or action plans were laid out for the succession of the Tiger 1 tank until January 1943 when the order was given for a new design which was to replace the existing Tiger 1.

Although the designation implies that the Tiger II is a succession of the Tiger 1, it is in effect a completely different tank. The first design consideration for the new tank was the selection of a more effective main gun. As with the Tiger tank, it was to mount an 88mm anti tank gun but the main gun on the Tiger II was far more powerful than that on the Tiger 1. For the development of the chassis, two firms were contracted to come up with the designs namely Henschel and Sohn of Kassel and Porsche of Stuttgart. Both firms Henschel and Porsche were responsible for only the chassis and automotive designs. Turret design was awarded to another firm Krupp of Essen.

Learn more about the development history of the King Tiger

Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II (Henschel turret)

The main gun specification of the King Tiger was to be a variation of the 88mm anti-aircraft gun. Although the 88mm was initially designed for an anti aircraft role, it proved to be an excellent tank killer. Originally, the intention was to mount an 88mm Flak 41 into a turret for the Porsche VK4501 (P) chassis. The turret had been originally designed by Krupp to hold the 56 caliber 88mm KwK 36 gun of the Tiger 1. After much experimentation and debate, it was decided in early 1943 that it was not possible to mount the 88mm Flak 41. Krupp had then been contracted to design a new turret that could mount their own version of a 71 caliber 88mm Kwk 43 gun that could fit in both the chassis for Henschel and Porsche.

The 88mm gun with the designation KwK 36 and KwK 43 indicated the model number year 36 and 43. The Tiger II with the model 43 has a length of 71 calibers (71 times 88mm) as compared with 56 calibers of the Tiger 1 with model 36. The length of the barrel itself is over 20 feet long while the rounds weighed almost 20kgs. It is in effect a much more powerful gun than the Tiger 1.

More about the Tiger I tank

King Tiger with the Henschel production turret. Note the length of the 88mm barrel
One of the few surviving tanks on display at LaGleize museum
King Tiger with the Henschel (production) turret. Note the length of the 88mm. One of the few surviving tanks on display at LaGleize museum.

The King Tigerís 88mm main gun has a muzzle velocity of 1000m per second when firing armor piercing rounds. It was highly accurate and able to penetrate 150mm of armor at distances exceeding 2200m. Since the flight time of an armor piercing round at a range of 2200m is about 2.2 seconds or less, accuracy and correction of fire against moving targets is more important than with older anti tank guns. This made this heavy predator ideally suited to open terrain where it could engage enemy tanks at long range before the opponentís weapons were even in range.

For the chassis, much has been learnt from the sloped armor design of the Russian T-34. As with the Panther, the King Tiger was to have sloped and interlocked front and side armor. The front armor was 150mm thick and the side was 80mm thick. Both firms Henschel and Porsche submitted their own designs.

Porsche designed the VK4502 (P) chassis which was built on the previous VK4501 (P) design of the Tiger 1. The codename VK was for Volkettenfahrzeuge or "fully tracked experimental vehicle", 45 means a 45 ton class and 01 represents the first model. The VK4502 (P) chassis had a similar outlook with the Tiger 1, sharing many similarities such as the suspension and automotive parts. Two designs were submitted, the first one having its turret mounted centrally and the second had the turret mounted towards the rear with the engine in front. However, it used copper for the electric transmission which Germany was in shortage of. This design was rejected and did not enter production.

Henschel production turret
Henschel production turret.

Henschel designed the VK4503 (H) chassis which was very similar in appearance to the Panther. The front armor was 150mm thick and sloped at an angle of 50 degrees. The side was 80mm thick sloped at 25 degrees. As with all German tanks at that time, it had a ball mounted MG34 fitted on the right front side of the hull. The suspension consisted of torsion bars with nine sets of overlapping steel rimmed wheels on each side. The tracks were 2 feet 8 1/2 inches wide, weighing 2.5 tons. Henschelís design was accepted and destined to enter mass production.

Krupp had designed the turrets to fit both the Porsche and Henschel chassis. The initial design called P-2 Turm (or commonly known as Porsche turret) mounted a single piece (monobloc) barrel of the 88mm and had a curved mantlet in the front. The front armor was 100 mm thick, the sides were 88mm thick sloped at 60 degrees and the top armor was 40mm thick. It had space to carry 16 rounds of ammunition in the turret. However, the curved mantlet in the front acted as a shot trap by deflecting incoming shots downwards towards the roof of the hull. A new design was ordered to fix this but as an interim measure, it was decided to go ahead with the production of 50 units with this turret. This was commonly referred to as Porsche turret. The new design called Serien Turm, or commonly known as Henschel or Production turret was to retain the many features of the Porsche turret and was to be adopted for mass production. Henschel turret had the front curved mantlet replaced with one 180mm thick armor plate sloped at 81 degrees. The sides were altered to slope at 69 degrees and it could carry an additional 6 six rounds or 22 rounds of ammunition in the turret. The full combat weight was 68,500kg when fitted with the Porsche turret and 69,800kg with the Henschel turret.

Henschel Krupp production turret
Although the two turrets were different in appearance, it had the same layout. The large overhang at the rear acted as counter balance for the heavy gun. This additional space was used to store ammunition making the loader’s job easier. It had three hatches, the commander’s hatch on the left, the loader’s hatch on the right and as escape hatch in the rear. The turret housed three of the five crews. The commander’s position was on the center left, the gunner below and in front of him and the loader on the right.

For the engine, it used a Maybach
HL 230 P30 engine which was the same as was fitted to the Panther. It produced 700hp of output which was inadequate for a tank this size, which was 11 tons heavier than the Panther. This made the King Tiger miserably underpowered and susceptible to surprise flank attacks. Although a maximum road speed of 41.5km/h has been achieved during trials, it could sustain only 35 to 38 km/h on the road and 17 km/h cross country. The transmission was an 8 speed Maybach OLVAR EG 40 12 16 B gearbox (8 forward and 4 reverse). Besides the electric starter motor, the engine is also equipped with a crank starter to conserve battery power on cold days. Fuel consumption was enormous with the Mayback V12 engine needing 500 liters per 100km. This was a problem at that time as Germany was in constant shortage of fuel. It carried 860 liters of fuel giving it a maximum range of about 110km on the road and 80km cross country. As with the Tiger 1, the massive size of the tank could not fit into the standard rail compartment. To overcome this, two sets of tracks were needed, one narrower 66cm transportation tracks and a wider 80cm combat tracks.

More related information about the Kingtiger Heavy Tank

 Combat Service
Officially designated Panzerkampfwagen VI Sd.Kfz 182, the King Tiger was placed into service early 1944. It served in the western and eastern front notably in the battle of Normandy, operation "Market Garden" in Holland, and the offensive in Ardennes. It also served in various other operations in Poland, Hungary, Minsk and a small number also defended Berlin in April and May 1945. With its great firepower and thick armor, it proved to be more than an opponent for any tank the allied forces could field. However, the size and weight of the King Tiger had its share of problems. It suffered mechanically with many breakdowns and had poor maneuverability. Many roads and especially bridges were not suitable for a tank this size and the fuel requirements was enormous. Many were abandoned due to lack of fuel rather then being destroyed during the offensive in the Ardennes. Production also suffered with the bombing of the Henschel factory and there simply werenít enough of these around. The King Tiger was a case of too late and too few in number to make a difference in the outcome of the war.

However, the great firepower and armor of the King Tiger created the impression of a powerful armored force with almost invulnerable tanks. Able to destroy enemy tanks at extreme ranges and impervious to those same tanks made the King Tiger more than a match for any allied tank. Indeed for the allied forces, the sight of a King Tiger on the battlefield was terrifying and did great physical and morale damage to the enemy. This fame and almost mystical fascination helped it earn its reputation as the most feared weapon of world war 2. For the German forces, it was the hallmark of German armored might and restored morale even in the last days of the war. Due to the havoc it wreaked during the Ardennes offensive, the allies advancing into Berlin would fear the King Tiger up to the very last day of the war.

Tigers in the mud - combat career of German Panzer commander Otto Carius

Tank #502 abandoned at Ogledow, eastern front.
Tank #234 stuck and abandoned intact at the eastern front.
Tank #502 abandoned at Ogledow, eastern front. Tank #234 stuck and abandoned intact at the eastern front.


 Specifications

Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. B (Sdkfz 182)
Other designation: King Tiger, Tiger II, Royal Tiger, Konigstiger
Type: Heavy tank

Manufacturer: Henschel, Krupp
Chassis Nos: VK4503 (H)
Production: 485 units including various variants from December 1943 to March 1945

Crew: 5 (three in turret)
Weight (tons): 68.5 (Porsche turret)
69.8 (Henschel turret)
Height (meters): 3.09
Length (meters): 7.62 (excluding gun barrel)
10.28 (including gun barrel)
Width (meters): 3.66 (without skirting)
3.76 (with skirting)
Engine: V12 Maybach HL 230 P30 (700hp)
Gearbox: Maybach OLVAR EG 40 12 16 B (8 forward and 4 reverse)
Speed (km/h): 35 - 38 (road)
17 (cross country)
Range (km): 110 (road)
80 (cross country)
Radio: FuG 5
Armament: 88mm KwK 43 (71 calibers)
1 hull MG 7.92mm
1 coaxial MG 7.92mm
1 commander's hatch MG 7.92mm
Ammunition: 88mm - 80 rounds (Porsche turret), 86 rounds (Henschel turret)
7.92mm - 5850 rounds
Sight: TZF 9b later changed to TZF 9d

Armor (mm/angle) Front Side Rear Top/Bottom
Porsche turret 100/curved 80/30 80/30 40/77 40/90
Henschel turret 180/9 80/21 80/21 40/78 40/90
Superstructure 150/50 80/25 N/A 40/90 40/90
Hull 100/50 80/0 80/0 40 - 25/90


Kingtiger on display at LaGleize museum

This particular tank #213 on display outside the La Gleize Museum was one of the six left behind by Kampfgruppe Peiper during the Ardennes offensive. It was part of the 501st Abteilung, commanded by Dollinger and was abandoned in front of the town hall. Most of those left behind in the Ardennes had either ran out of fuel or broken down rather than destroyed. In La Gleize one of the captured tanks was used as target practice by US troops once the village had been retaken. They fired bazooka after bazooka round at it - none penetrated!! This one was restored some years ago, the main gun being damaged. It was repainted, but the original tank number, '213' was kept. It was moved to its present site in 1951.


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There are too many photos that could fit on one page. So I moved it to a separate page.

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 Resources

Recommended books & movies :-

  • King Tiger Heavy Tank, 1942-45 (New Vanguard, No 1) - by Tom Jentz. This book is a must read for the King Tiger tank enthusiast. You will find 48 pages packed with development history, cutaway drawings, photos, technical data and battle history.

  • Tank Combat in North Africa - Covering operation Sonnenblume, Brevity, Skorpion and Battleaxe; February 1941-June 1941. Witness Rommel's panzers during the African campaign in this 221 pages hardcover book.

  • Cross of Iron DVD - WW2 on the eastern front from the German perspective. For fans of war movies, this is definitely worth watching.
Recommended links :-



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