German Tiger Tank

German Tiger tank

The Tiger tank was possibly the most famous tank of World War 2

The German Tiger Tank was introduced in August 1942 and was at that time the most powerful tank in the world. The success of the Tiger was so profound, that no allied tank dared to engage it in open combat. This psychological fear soon became to be known as "Tigerphobia".

A battalion of Tigers being transported by rail.
Tigers of sPzAbt.505 before Operation Zitadelle
A battalion of Tiger tanks being transported by rail. Their combat tracks can be seen rolled up in front. Tigers of sPzAbt.505 taking up positions shortly before commencement of Operation Zitadelle.


 Development History
Battle Tanks
Battle Tanks
Germany was late to join in the race for the development of heavy tanks. By the time of Operation Barbarossa (invasion of Russia), the Russians had possessed the best tanks of its time, both superior in quality and quantity. The Red Army was the only one in the world equipped with heavy tanks (KV-1) and the superior medium tanks (T-34).

Many had noted that the Tiger was conceived after the Germans encountered the Russian T-34 during the campaign on the east . This is not entirely accurate as the planning had already begun at a meeting with Hitler on 26th May, 1941. It was not until June 22nd, 1941 that Operation Barbarossa was launched. However, Hitler's interest in the project peaked after the Germans encountered the T-34 medium tank which had practically rendered the entire German panzer forces obsolete. This caused the development of the new heavy tank to progress at a feverish rate. Germany wasted no time in catching up in the gun-armor race and was soon to have developed some of the best armored fighting vehicles of world war 2.

Going back further, German heavy tank development can be traced back to 1937 with the German Armaments Ministry issuing a specification for a new heavy tank to Daimler-Benz, Henschel, MAN and Porsche. This project however was ignored as the current 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.

On May 26th May1941, during a Germans armament 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. Another condition was the prototype had to be completed and presented to Hitler in time for his birthday on April 20, 1942. These key decisions led to the development of a new heavy tank, the Tiger 1. This project was known as the "Tiger program".


Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. E Tiger I

Two firms were contracted for the design of the new tank, Porsche of Stuttgart and Henschel and Sohn of Kassel. It's an interesting note that Porsche is the same firm that today produces the famed Porsche sports car. Both Porsche and Henschel were responsible only for the chassis and automotive design. Turret and main weapon design was awarded to yet another firm, Krupp of Essen.

The first consideration for the Tiger 1 was the selection of a more powerful main gun. The invasion of Russia had shown that the current armament on German tanks were incapable of defeating Russian tanks except at very close ranges. The only effective weapon the German army possessed at that time against the Russian T-34 and KV-2s was the 88mm antiaircraft gun. The 88mm was a versatile weapon capable of serving many roles from anti-aircraft to anti-tank and artillery. By this time, the 88mm had already proven itself as a formidable tank killer, highly accurate and capable of taking out enemy tanks at extreme ranges. Its rise to fame was especially noted in the hands of the Afrika Korps, under the command of Rommel during the African campaign. In fact, during that time, the 88mm was the only weapon the German army possessed that could effectively deal with Russian tanks.

The 88mm was a cumbersome weapon, needing to be towed and deployed in order to be readied for action. As it was, the Tiger 1 was the first tank to mount the 88mm gun in a fully traversable turret. Krupp designed the turret to mount the KwK 36 L/56 88mm anti-tank gun. The designation KwK 36 and L/56 simply implied the model number year 36 and the barrel length of 56 calibers. Depending on the type of ammunition used, the Tiger's 88mm has a muzzle velocity of 930m per second and could penetrate up to 110mm of armor at a distance of 2000 meters. For comparison's sake, the T-34's armor was 90mm at its thickest and this was only on the late T-34 models which possessed armor upgrades. Since the flight time of an armor piercing round at a range of 2000m is about 2.1 seconds, accuracy and correction of fire against moving targets is more important than with older anti tank guns. This made it ideally suited to open terrain where it could engage enemy tanks at long range before the opponent's weapons were even in range.


88mm flak
Inside view of the 88mm of a Tiger H1 (E)
The 88mm Fliegerabwehrkanonen (FLAK) proved very deadly to allied planes and tanks. Inside view of the 88mm Kwk36 L/56 in a Tiger H1 (E).

For the chassis, Henschel and Porsche had produced their own designs. Porsche was more advanced than Henschel as they had independently embarked on a new heavy tank project beginning in the autumn of 1940, even before the official order was given for a new heavy tank. Porsche designed a totally new chassis codenamed VK4501 (P). The codename VK was for Volkettenfahrzeuge or "fully tracked experimental vehicle", 45 means a 45 ton class and 01 represents the first model. The new VK4501 (P) chassis had 100mm of frontal armor, 80mm side and rear armor, 25mm top armor and 20mm bottom armor. It utilized an advanced power drive train system which used both a combination of petrol and electric to power the tracks. The engine was a two 10 cylinder, 15 litre, air-cooled Porsche Typ 101/1 delivering 320hp at 2400 rpm. These engines did not power the tank's drive train directly. Instead it was linked to an electric generator which then supplied electricity to two electric motors. These electric motors would then power the drive train.

This concept of an electrically powered tank would have greatly conserved fuel and while technologically advanced, was too new and untested and very prone to breakdowns. Furthermore the electrical system used copper, a vital resource Germany was in short supply of. Weighing in at full combat weight of 59 tons, it could achieve a top speed of 35km/h. Designated Tiger (P) or Tiger P1, the Porsche Tiger had its turret mounted ahead in the front section of the hull.

On September 1941, an order was placed for 100 turrets and hulls for the VK4501 (P). On April 1942, the first prototype of Tiger (P) was completed, in time for a demonstration on Hitler's birthday. However Tiger (P) encountered serious complications and manufacturing had been suspended many times. On October 1942, the Tiger commission met to evaluate which of the Tiger (P) or Tiger (H) would be selected for mass production.

Porsche Tiger (P)
Ferdinand Panzerjager Tank Destroyer
Porsche Tiger (P) had its turret mounted upfront. Porsche Tiger (P)s were converted to Ferdinand Panzerjager Tank Destroyer.

Henschel was working on a VK3601 (H) project when the order was received for new heavy tank design on May 1941. The VK3601 (H) was designed to carry the 75mm KwK 42 L/70 tapered bore gun and before the new order was given, Henschel did not intend to mount the 88mm gun. On September 1941, it was then decided that it is not possible to mount an 88mm gun on the VK3601 (H) chassis. Furthermore, Hitler had ordered that the Krupp designed turret for Porsche's VK4501 (P) chassis with the 88mm KwK L/56 was to be fitted to Henschel's Tiger. These restrictions left Henschel with no other option but to design a new VK4501 (H) chassis.

Known as Tiger (H), Henschel utilized as much already available components from previous heavy panzer designs. The VK4501 (H) was created by redesigning the hull of the VK3601 chassis. The chassis had 100mm frontal armor, 80mm side superstructure, 60mm side hull, 80mm rear armor and 25mm top and bottom armor. The turret was originally designed by Krupp for Tiger (P), but was modified and used by Tiger (H). For the engine, it utilized a 12 cylinder Maybach HL 210 P45, delivering 650horsepower at 3000rpm. The transmission was an 8 speed Maybach Olvar 40 12 16 designed to provide a maximum speed of 45km/h. As was usual with German tanks during that time, it was equipped with a ball mounted machine gun fitted on the front right side of the hull. Weighing in at full combat weight of 57 tons, Tiger (H) could carry up to 92 rounds of main gun ammunition and up to 5700 rounds of 7.92mm MG34 rounds.

Versuchsserie Tiger
The first prototype of Tiger (H) was completed on April 1942, in time for a demonstration on Hitler's birthday. The first Tiger (H) known as Versuchsserie Tiger Nr. V1 was fitted with a new feature called the Vorpanzer, which was a frontal shield which could be lowered to protect the tracks and drive sprocket. This feature was quickly discontinued and having been fitted only on the first Tiger (H).
By July 1942, both Tiger (P) and Tiger (H) were being tested at the firing grounds at Berka, Germany. The Tiger (H) proved superior and was approved for mass production. The production for Tiger (P) was discontinued. Of the original 100 Tiger (P) ordered, only 10 had been assembled by October 1942 (chassis Nr 150001 through 150010). The remaining 90 turrets were converted for mounting with Tiger (H). 90 hulls were converted to the Ferdinand Panzer-Jager (tank destroyer), named after its designer Dr. Ferdinand Porsche. This Panzer-Jager was later renamed to Elephant. Of the 10 assembled Tiger (P), three were converted to Bergefahrzeuge (recovery vehicles), another three were converted to Raumpanzer Tiger (debris clearance vehicle) and the last four were retained for further testing (Nr 150004, 150005, 150013 and 150014). Only one (Nr 150013) saw action as a command tank on the Eastern front.


 Production Series
Officially designated Panzerkampfwagen VI Sd.Kfz 181, Tiger Ausf. E, the Tiger tank was the first tank to use animal names by the German army (such as Panther, Tiger, Elephant) as a propaganda tool to draw attention. Production started in July 1942 with the first Tigers delivered in August 1942. There is only one official production version for the Tiger 1, although several modifications had been made as suggested by battle experienced crews. These modifications began to be known as the early, mid and late production Tigers.

The early production Tigers had rather tall commander cupolas which used bullet proof glass as its vision ports. Other visible characteristics were a top opening commanderís hatch, smoke dischargers on the turret sides, rubber rimmed road wheels, dual headlights and Feifel air cleaners. Mid production models saw the replacement of the commanderís cupola which was now shorter and used seven periscopes instead of vision ports. The commanderís hatch now swivels to the side, an MG34 ring mount was added to the turret top for anti-aircraft defense, a gun travel lock at the rear was added and the dual headlights were replaced with a single centrally mounted headlight. The rubber rimmed road wheels were retained but the first outer wheels were often removed due to the muddy and snowy terrain Vimoutiers Tiger
on the Eastern front. Zimmerit was applied from August 1943 onwards. The smoke dischargers, pistol ports on the turret sides and Feifel air cleaners were discontinued. About 470 units of mid production series were produced between July 1943 and January 1944. Late production Tigers are most easily identified as the rubber rimmed road wheels were replaced with steel road wheels. the gun travel lock was discontinued and the gun sight was changed from a binocular TZF9b to a monocular TZF9c.

Despite the overall excellent design, the Tiger tank suffered from mechanical and logistical problems for a tank of its size. It was prone to mechanical breakdowns and needed constant repairs and maintenance to keep it operational. It was at one point forbidden to run the Tiger tank for long extended marches due to the overtaxed drivetrains. Fuel requirements were enormous, a resource which Germany was in short supply of. 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. However when properly supported and maintained, it was a superior tank when deployed. It was not slow and un-maneuverable as some had noted. The road speed of the Tiger 1 was 38km/h, a mere 2km/h slower than the Panzer III and IV. The cross country speed equaled the Panzer IV at 20km/h while slightly faster than the Panzer III which was 18km/h.


 Combat Service
The first Tiger to see action was against the Red Army on August 29 1942, southeast of Leningrad with 1st company of sPzAbt 502. Four Tigers were deployed in a single file on marshy ground, a terrain completely unsuitable for a tank their weight. Three of the Tigers broke down due to mechanical failures and all four of them had to be recovered and repaired.

They were committed to battle again on September 22 1942 around the same marshy area. This time, either all four Tigers were knocked out by Russian antitank guns or got stuck in the mud. Three were later recovered and the forth was destroyed by its own crew to prevent it from being captured.

Despite the initial failure of the Tiger tank, the Tiger 1 would soon prove its battle worthiness when properly deployed to work around its weaknesses. Tiger tactics demanded that it is best suited to open hard terrain where it could use its superior optics and high velocity gun to destroy enemy tanks even before their weapons were in range. The first American encounter with the Tiger tank was in Tunisia (North Africa) in late 1943. Its effectiveness was best explained by a US Army Colonel who stated :-

"I have inspected the battlefield at Fais Pass in Tunisia, being with the force which retook it. Inspection of our tanks destroyed there indicated that the 88mm gun penetrated into the turret from the front and out again in the rear. Few gouges were found indicating that all strikes had made penetrations."

Tiger E being resupplied
Hole caused by a 75mm Sherman
Tiger E being resupplied by a German halftrack, eastern front. Hole caused by a 75mm Sherman.

The Tiger tank served in all fronts of the western, eastern, and African theatres where it proved to be a formidable tank. The main strength lies in its armor protection and powerful 88mm gun. Until the introduction of more powerful allied antitank guns, the existing American 75mm equipped on the Shermans and 76mm on the T-34s could not penetrate the Tigerís armor at ranges over 800 meters. The armor was also very different from that used on other German panzers. The Tiger used rolled homogeneous nickel-steel plate armor which had the highest level of hardness of any armor during world war 2. This allowed the Tiger to engage enemy tanks even on closer ranges without taking too much damage itself. The other strength of the Tiger was the powerful 88mm Kwk 36 L/56 gun. Besides possessing superior penetration capabilities, it is also a highly accurate gun which allowed the crew to engage and destroy enemy tanks up to 2000 meters and beyond. However under normal combat conditions, the Tiger would begin engaging enemy tanks at ranges of over 1000 meters, still out of effective range of enemyís tanks.

The combination of superior armor and firepower allowed the Tiger to dominate the battlefield where it could outgun any allied tank of its time. The success of the Tiger was so profound that no allied tank dared to engage it in open combat. This psychological fear soon became to be known as "Tigerphobia". To prevent further damage to allied morale, General Montgomery banned all reports mentioning the Tiger's prowness in battle. Even with allied air superiority and tank killers like the Firefly, the general notion was that it takes 5 Shermans to destroy a cornered Tiger and even then, only 1 Sherman would return.

Perhaps the most famous Tiger battle occurred at Villers Bocage under the command of world war 2 top tank ace, SS-ObersturmfŁhrer Michael Wittman. An entire column of 25 tanks, 14 half-tracks and 14 bren-gun carriers were destroyed in a single engagement. Decorated with the prestigious Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, it was the second highest decoration awarded by the German armed forces for valor in combat. Michael Wittman was the most decorated tanker of world war 2 and had destroyed 138 allied tanks and 132 anti-tank guns during his career. Michael Wittman's death was a bit of a mystery. Some say he was ambushed and shot to pieces by Michael Wittman
allied tanks whereas there were indications that his tank was blown up by a rocket fired by an allied aircraft. Another famed WW2 tank ace is 1st Lieutenant Otto Carius with a kill count of over 150 tanks during his career. He has written a book titled Tigers in the mud covering his combat experience as a tank commander.


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

Tank 223 destroyed in Kursk
S33, SS-Panzer Grenadier Division Das Reich, Kursk
Tank #223, destroyed during the Kursk offensive and pushed off the road. Tiger S33, Kursk. Dent on the top-left front plate caused by an antitank rifle.


 Specifications

Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. E (Sdkfz 181)
Other designation: Tiger Tank, Tiger I
Type: Heavy tank

Manufacturer: Henschel, Krupp
Chassis Nos: VK4501 (H)
Production: 1298 units including prototypes and various variants from April 1942 to August 1944

Crew: 5 (three in turret)
Weight (tons): 57 (Combat weight)
50.5 (Transport weight)
Height (meters): 3.00
Length (meters): 6.32 (excluding gun barrel)
8.45 (including gun barrel)
Width (meters): 3.14 (with transport tracks)
3.72 (with combat tracks)
Engine: V12 Maybach HL 210 P45 (650hp)
V12 Maybach HL 230 P45 (700hp) - later variants
Gearbox: Maybach OLVAR OG 40 12 16 (8 forward and 4 reverse)
Speed (km/h): 38 (road)
20 (cross country)
Range (km): 125 (road)
80 (cross country)
Radio: FuG 5 and FuG2
Armament: 88mm KwK 36 (56 calibers)
1 hull MG 7.92mm
1 coaxial MG 7.92mm
1 commander's hatch MG 7.92mm
Ammunition: 88mm - 92 to 120 rounds depending on modifications
7.92mm - 4800 rounds
Sight: TZF 9b later changed to TZF 9c

Armor (mm/angle) Front Side Rear Top/Bottom
Turret 100/8 80/0 80/0 25/81 later 40-45mm
Superstructure 100/0 80/0 N/A 25/90
Hull 100/24 60/0 80/8 25/90
Armor Type Rolled homogeneous nickel-steel plate electro-welded
interlocking-plate construction.


Vimoutiers Tiger, France

Southern Normandy, August 1944, fighting was intense after the American invasion of the Normandy coast. The germans were in constant retreat and were faced with a chronic fuel shortage crisis. A convoy of german tanks, near the town of Vimoutiers were headed to a nearby fuel dump. Many tanks never made it and had to be disabled after exhausting all fuel supplies. This was one of them, belonging to sPzAbt 501, blown up by their own crew to prevent capture. Two charges were placed, one in the turret and one in the engine compartment. It now sits facing west, close to the town of Vimoutiers, France. The outside has been restored and properly painted, but the hatches and all openings are welded shut. The inside is nothing but a mangled steel of rust.


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 Resources

Recommended books & movies :-

  • Germany's Tiger Tanks D.W. to Tiger I - This hardcover book covers the history, development and production history of the Tiger tank variants from conception up to the end of Tiger I production.

  • 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 :-

  • Tiger I information center - Pictures, history and technical data on all variations of the famous German Tiger I tank of World War II.

  • Tanks in World War 2 - Reference site with pictures for WW II Tank information.

  • Achtung Panzer - You can find more detailed information and photos here. Excellent reference site.




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