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Tiger I

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Tiger I

Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E
Tiger I in northern France, March 1944
Type Heavy tank
Place of origin Nazi Germany
Service history
In service 1942–1945
Wars World War II
Production history
Designer Henschel & Son
Designed 1941
Manufacturer Henschel
Unit cost 250,800 RM [1]
Produced 1942–1944
Number built 1,347[Notes 1]
Specifications (RfRuK VK 4501H Ausf.E, Blatt: G-330)
Weight 54 tonnes (60 short tons)

6.316 m (20 ft 8.7 in)

8.45 m (27 ft 9 in) gun forward
Width 3.56 m (11 ft 8 in)
Height 3.0 m (9 ft 10 in)
Crew 5

Armour 25–120 mm (0.98–4.72 in)[3][4]
8.8 cm KwK 36 L/56
92 rounds
7.92 mm MG 34
4,500 rounds
Engine Maybach HL230 P45 V-12
700 PS (690 hp, 515 kW)
Power/weight 13 PS/tonne
Suspension torsion bar
Ground clearance 0.47 m (1 ft 7 in)
Fuel capacity 540 L (140 US gal) including reserve
110–195 km (68–121 mi)
Speed 45.4 km/h (28.2 mph)

Tiger I     is the common name of a German heavy tank developed in 1942 and used in World War II. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf.E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly impressive Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, particularly the T-34 and the KV-1. The Tiger I gave the Wehrmacht its first tank mounting the 88 mm gun in its first armoured fighting vehicle-dedicated version: the KwK 36. During the course of the war, the Tiger I saw combat on all German battlefronts. It was usually deployed in independent tank battalions, which proved highly effective.

While the Tiger I was an excellent design, it was over-engineered, using expensive materials and labour-intensive production methods. Only 1,347 were built between August 1942 and August 1944. The Tiger was prone to certain types of track failures and breakdowns, and limited in range by its high fuel consumption. It was expensive to maintain, but generally mechanically reliable. It was also difficult to transport, and vulnerable to immobilization when mud, ice and snow froze between its overlapping and interleaved Schachtellaufwerk-pattern road wheels in both rasputitsa and succeeding winter weather conditions, often jamming them solid. In 1944, production was phased out in favour of the Tiger II.

The tank was given its nickname "Tiger" by Ferdinand Porsche, and the Roman numeral was added after the later Tiger II entered production. The initial official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausführung H (‘Panzer VI version H’, abbreviated PzKpfw VI Ausf. H), with ordnance inventory designation SdKfz 182, but the tank was redesignated as PzKpfw VI Ausf. E in March 1943, with ordnance inventory designation SdKfz 181.

Today, only a handful of Tigers survive in museums and exhibitions worldwide. The Bovington Tank Museum's Tiger 131 is currently the only one restored to running order.

Design history

Henschel & Sohn began development of a large tank design in January 1937 when the Waffenamt requested Henschel to develop a Durchbruchwagen ("breakthrough vehicle") in the 30-33 tonne range.[5] Only one prototype hull was ever built and it was never built with a turret. The Durchbruchwagen DW.I general shape and suspension resembled the Panzer III while the turret resembled the early Panzer IVC turret with the short barrelled 7.5 cm L/24 cannon.

Before Durchbruchwagen I was completed, a request was issued for a heavier 30 tonne class vehicle with thicker armour; this was the Durchbruchwagen II, which would have had 50 mm (2 inches) of frontal armour and mounted a Panzer IV turret with a short-barrelled 7.5 cm L/24 gun. Overall weight would have been 36 tonnes. Only one hull was built and no turret fitted. Development of this vehicle was dropped in 1938 in favour of the larger and better armoured VK 30.01 (H) and VK 36.01 (H) designs.[6] Both the Durchbruchwagen I and II prototype hulls were used as test vehicles until 1941.

The VK 30.01 (H) medium tank and the VK 36.01 (H) heavy tank designs, pioneered the Schachtellaufwerk - already common on German half-tracks such as the SdKfz 7 - overlapping and interleaved main road wheels for tank use.

The VK 30.01 (H) was intended to mount a low velocity 7.5 cm L/24 infantry support gun, a 7.5 cm L/40 dual purpose anti-tank gun, or a 10.5 cm L/28 field gun in a Krupp turret. Overall weight was to be 33 tonnes. The armour was designed to be 50 mm on frontal surfaces and 30 mm on the side surfaces. Four prototype hulls were completed for testing. Two of these were later modified to build the "Sturer Emil" (12.8 cm Selbstfahrlafette L/61) self-propelled anti-tank gun.

The VK 36.01 (H) was intended to weigh 40 tonnes, with 100 mm (4 inches) of armour on front surfaces, 80 mm on turret sides and 60 mm on the hull sides. The VK 36.01 (H) was intended to carry a 7.5 cm L/24, or a 7.5 cm L/43, or a 7.5 cm L/70, or a 12.8 cm L/28 cannon in a Krupp turret that looked similar to an enlarged Panzer IVC turret. The hull for one prototype was built, followed later by five more. The six turrets built were never fitted and were used as part of the Atlantic Wall. The VK 36.01 (H) project was discontinued in early 1942 in favour of the VK 45.01 project.

Combat experience against the French Somua S35 cavalry tank and Char B1 heavy tank, and the British Matilda II infantry tanks during the Battle of France in June 1940 showed that the German Army needed better armed and armoured tanks.[7]

The Porsche prototype

On 26 May 1941, Henschel and Ferdinand Porsche were asked to submit designs for a 45 tonne heavy tank, to be ready by June 1942.[8] Porsche worked on an updated version of their VK 30.01 (P) Leopard tank prototype while Henschel worked on an improved VK 36.01 (H) tank. Henschel built two prototypes: a VK 45.01 (H) H1 with a 88 mm L/56 cannon, and a VK 45.01 (H) H2 with a 75 mm L/70 cannon.

On 22 June 1941, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Germans were shocked to encounter Soviet T-34 medium and KV-1 heavy tanks that completely outclassed anything the Germans were currently fielding.[9] According to Henschel designer Erwin Aders: "There was great consternation when it was discovered that the Soviet tanks were superior to anything available to the Heer."[10] The T-34 was almost immune from the front to every gun in German service except the 88 mm Flak gun. Panzer IIIs with the 5 cm KwK 38 L/42 main armament could penetrate the sides of a T-34, but only at short range. The KV-1 was immune to all but the 8.8 cm Flak guns.

An immediate weight increase to 45 tonnes and an increase in gun calibre to 88 mm was ordered. The due date for the new prototypes was set for 20 April 1942, Adolf Hitler's birthday. Unlike the Panther tank, the designs did not incorporate sloping armour, an innovation taken from the T-34.

Porsche and Henschel submitted prototype designs, each making use of the Krupp-designed turret. They were demonstrated at Rastenburg in front of Hitler. The Henschel design was accepted, mainly because the Porsche design used a troubled gasoline-electric hybrid power unit which needed large quantities of copper, a strategic war material that Germany had limited supplies of.[11] Production of the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. H began in August 1942. Expecting an order for his tank, Porsche built 100 chassis, using some for his Tiger prototypes. After losing the contract, they were used for a new turretless, casemate-style tank destroyer; ninety-one hulls were converted into the Panzerjäger Tiger (P) in the spring of 1943.

The Tiger was still at the prototype stage when it was first hurried into service, and therefore changes both large and small were made throughout the production run. A redesigned turret with a lower cupola was the most significant change. To cut costs, the submersion capability and an external air-filtration system were dropped.


The Tiger differed from earlier German tanks principally in its design philosophy. Its predecessors balanced mobility, armour and firepower, and were sometimes outgunned by their opponents.

The Tiger I represented a new approach that emphasised firepower and armour. While heavy, this tank was not slower than the best of its opponents. However, at over 50 tonnes dead weight, the suspension, gearboxes, and other such items had clearly reached their design limits and breakdowns were frequent.

Although the general design and layout were broadly similar to the previous medium tank, the Panzer IV, the Tiger weighed more than twice as much. This was due to its substantially thicker armour, the larger main gun, greater volume of fuel and ammunition storage, larger engine, and more solidly built transmission and suspension.


The Tiger I's armour was up to 120 mm on the mantlet. This tank is assigned to the schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 operating in northern France in 1944.

The Tiger I had frontal hull armour 100 mm (3.9 in) thick, frontal turret armour of 100 mm (3.9 in) and a 120 mm (4.7 in) thick gun mantlet.;[12] on contemporary Panzer IV model's the armouring was 80 mm (3.1 in) frontal hull and 50 mm (2 in) frontal turret armour.[4][13] The Tiger had 60 mm (2.4 in) thick hull side plates and 80 mm armour on the side superstructure/sponsons and rear, turret sides and rear was 80 mm. The top and bottom armour was 25 mm (1 in) thick; from March 1944, the turret roof was thickened to 40 mm (1.6 in).[3] Armour plates were mostly flat, with interlocking construction. The armour joints were of high quality, being stepped and welded rather than riveted and were made of maraging steel. This made the Tiger immune to the front from the 75mm gun of the American M4 Sherman tank.


Turmzielfernrohr TZF 9c gun sight

The 56-calibre long 88 mm KwK 36 was chosen for the Tiger. It was, along with the Tiger II's 71-calibre long 88 mm KwK 43, one of the most formidable tank guns of World War II.

A combination of a flat trajectory from the high muzzle velocity and precision Leitz Turmzielfernrohr TZF 9b sight (later replaced by the monocular TZF 9c) made it very accurate.

In British wartime firing trials, five successive hits were scored on a 410 by 460 mm (16 by 18 in) target at a range of 1,100 metres (3,600 ft).[10]

Tigers were reported to have knocked out enemy tanks at ranges of more than 4.0 kilometres (2.5 mi).

Loading ammunition

The ammunition for the Tiger had electrically fired primers. Four types of ammunition were available but not all were fully available; the PzGr 40 shell used tungsten which was in short supply as the war progressed.

Engine and drive

Crew working on the engine through the hatch on the rear hull roof

The rear of the tank held an engine compartment flanked by two separate rear compartments each containing a fuel tank, radiator and fans. The Germans had not developed an adequate diesel engine, so a petrol (gasoline) powerplant had to be used instead. The original engine utilised was a 21.33-litre (1302 12-cylinder Maybach HL 210 P45 developing 485 kW (650 hp) at 3,000 rpm. Although a good engine, it was underpowered for the vehicle. From the 251st Tiger onwards, it was replaced by the upgraded HL 230 P45, a 23.88 litre (1457 engine developing 521 kW (700 hp) at 3,000 rpm.[14] The main difference between these engines was that the original Maybach HL 210 used an aluminium engine block while the Maybach HL 230 used a cast-iron engine block. The cast-iron block allowed for larger cylinders (and thus, greater displacement) which increased the power output to 521 kW (700 hp). The engine was in V-form, with two cylinder banks set at 60 degrees. An inertial starter was mounted on its right side, driven via chain gears through a port in the rear wall. The engine could be lifted out through a hatch on the rear hull roof.

The engine drove front sprockets, which were mounted quite low. The Krupp-designed 11-tonne turret had a hydraulic motor whose pump was powered by mechanical drive from the engine. A full rotation took about a minute.

Another new feature was the Maybach-Olvar hydraulically controlled semi-automatic pre-selector gearbox. The extreme weight of the tank also required a new steering system. The clutch-and-brake system, typical for lighter vehicles, was retained only for emergencies. Normally, steering depended on a double differential, Henschel's development of the British Merritt-Brown system.[15] The vehicle had an eight-speed gearbox, and the steering offered two fixed radii of turns on each gear, thus the Tiger had sixteen different radii of turn. In first gear, at a speed of a few km/h, the minimal turning radius was 3.44 m (11 ft 3 in). In neutral gear, the tracks could be turned in opposite directions, so the Tiger I pivoted in place.[16] There was a steering wheel instead of a tiller or levers and the steering system was easy to use and ahead of its time.[15]


Clear view of the Tiger I's Schachtellaufwerk overlapping and interleaved road wheels during production

The suspension used sixteen torsion bars, with eight suspension arms per side. To save space, the swing arms were leading on one side and trailing on the other. There were three road wheels (one of them double, closest to the track's centre) on each arm, in a so-called Schachtellaufwerk overlapping and interleaved arrangement, similar to that pioneered on German half-tracked military vehicles of the pre-World War II era, with the Tiger I being the first all-tracked German AFV built in quantity to use such a road wheel arrangement. The wheels had a diameter of 800 mm (31 in) in the Schachtellaufwerk arrangement, providing a high uniform distribution of the load onto the track, at the cost of increased maintenance. Removing an inner wheel that had lost its solid rubber tire (a common occurrence) required the removal of up to nine other wheels first. During the rainy period that brought on the autumn rasputitsa mud season and onwards into the Russian winter conditions on the Eastern front, the roadwheels of a Schachtellaufwerk-equipped vehicle could also become packed with mud or snow that could then freeze. Presumably, German engineers, based on the experience of the half tracks, felt that the improvement in off road performance, track and wheel life, mobility with wheels missing or damaged, plus additional protection from enemy fire was worth the maintenance difficulties of a complex system vulnerable to mud and ice. This approach was carried on, in various forms, to the Panther and Tiger II. Eventually, a new 'steel' wheel design, closely resembling those on the Tiger II, with an internally sprung steel-rim tire was substituted, and which like the Tiger II, were only overlapped and not interleaved.

Tiger at the Henschel plant is loaded onto a special rail car. The outer road wheels have been removed and narrow tracks put in place to decrease vehicle width.

To support the considerable weight of the Tiger, the tracks were 725 mm (2 ft 4.5 in) wide. To meet rail-freight size restrictions, the outermost roadwheel on each axle (16 total) could be unbolted from a flange [17] and narrower 520 mm (20 in) wide 'transport' tracks (Verladeketten) installed.[18][15][19] The track replacement and wheel removal took 30 minutes for each side of the tank.[20] However, in service Tigers were frequently transported by rail with their combat tracks fitted, despite this practice being strictly forbidden.[21]

Fording system

The Tiger tank was too heavy for small bridges, so it was designed to ford four-metre deep water. This required unusual mechanisms for ventilation and cooling when underwater. At least 30 minutes of set-up time was required, with the turret and gun being locked in the forward position, and a large snorkel tube raised at the rear. The two rear compartments (each containing a fuel tank, radiator and fans) were floodable. Only the first 495 units were fitted with this deep fording system; all later models were capable of fording only two metres.

Crew compartment

The internal layout was typical of German tanks. Forward was an open crew compartment, with the driver and radio-operator seated at the front on either side of the gearbox. Behind them the turret floor was surrounded by panels forming a continuous level surface. This helped the loader to retrieve the ammunition, which was mostly stowed above the tracks. Three men were seated in the turret; the loader to the right of the gun facing to the rear, the gunner to the left of the gun, and the commander behind him. There was also a folding seat on the right for the loader. The turret had a full circular floor and 157 cm headroom.


The main problem with the Tiger was that it required considerable resources in terms of manpower and material. This in part was responsible for the low quantity produced: 1,347 of the Tiger I and 492[22] of the Tiger II. The German designs were expensive in terms of unit build time, raw materials and reichsmarks, the Tiger I costing over twice as much as a Panzer IV and four times as much as a StuG III assault gun.[23] The closest counterpart to the Tiger from the United States was the M26 Pershing (around 200 deployed to the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during the war[24]) and IS-2 from the USSR (about 3,800 built during the conflict).

Although an excellent design, the low number produced, shortages in qualified crew and the considerable fuel requirement in a context of ever shrinking resources prevented the Tiger from having a real impact on the war.

Production history

Installing the turret

Production of the Tiger I began in August 1942, and 1,355 were built by August 1944 when production ceased. Production started at a rate of 25 per month and peaked in April 1944 at 104 per month. Deployed Tiger I's peaked at 671 on 1 July 1944.[25] Generally speaking, it took about twice as long to build a Tiger I as another German tank of the period. When the improved Tiger II began production in January 1944, the Tiger I was soon phased out.

In 1943, Japan bought several specimens of German tank designs for study. A single Tiger I was apparently purchased along with one Panther and two Panzer IIIs, but only the Panzer IIIs were actually delivered.[26] The undelivered Tiger was loaned to the German Wehrmacht by the Japanese government.

Many modifications were introduced during the production run to improve automotive performance, firepower and protection. Simplification of the design was implemented, along with cuts due to raw material shortages. In 1942 alone, at least six revisions were made, starting with the removal of the Vorpanzer (frontal armour shield) from the pre-production models in April. In May, mudguards bolted onto the side of the pre-production run were added, while removable mudguards saw full incorporation in September. Smoke discharge canisters, three on each side of the turret, were added in August 1942. In later years, similar changes and updates were added, such as the addition of Zimmerit (a non-magnetic anti-mine coating), in late 1943.[27][28][29] Due to slow production rates at the factories, incorporation of the new modifications could take several months.

The humorous and somewhat racy crew manual, the Tigerfibel, was the first of its kind for the German Army and its success resulted in more unorthodox manuals that attempted to emulate its style.


Among other variants of the Tiger, a citadel, heavily armoured self-propelled rocket projector, today commonly known as Sturmtiger, was built. A tank recovery version of the Porsche Tiger I, and one Porsche Tiger I, was issued to the 654th Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion which was equipped with the Ferdinand/Elephant. In Italy, a demolition carrier version of the Tiger I without a main gun was built by maintenance crews in an effort to find a way to clear minefields. It is often misidentified as a BergeTiger recovery vehicle. As many as three may have been built. It carried a demolition charge on a small crane on the turret in place of the main gun. It was to move up to a minefield and drop the charge, back away, and then set the charge off to clear the minefield. There is no verification of any being used in combat.


Tigers under construction. This hull rests on a jig
Assembly line; the vehicles are fitted with the narrower transport tracks
Tigers being built
Designation Reference Date
VK 45.01 Henschel 28 July 1941
Pz.Kpfw. VI Ausf. H1 (VK 4501) Wa Prüf 6[Notes 2] 21 October 1941
VK 4501 (H) Wa J Rue (WuG 6)[Notes 3] 5 January 1942
Tiger H1 (VK 4501 - Aufbau fur 8,8 cm Kw.K.Krup-Turm) Wa Prüf 6 February 1942
Pz.Kpfw. VI (VK 4501/H Ausf. H1 (Tiger) Wa Prüf 6 2 March 1942
Pz.Kpfw. "Tiger" H Wa J Rue (WuG 6) 20 June 1942
Pz.Kpfw. VI
VK 4501 (H)
Tiger (H) Krupp-Turm mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. L/56 fur Ausf. H1
Wa Prüf 6 1 July 1942
Panzerkampfwagen VI H (Sd.Kfz. 182) KStN 1150d[30] 15 August 1942
Tiger I Wa Prüf 6 15 October 1942
Pz.Kpfw. VI H Ausf. H1 (Tiger H1) - 1 December 1942
Panzerkampfwagen VI H Ausf. H1
Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E
D656/21+ (Tank manual) March 1943
Pz.Kpfw. Tiger (8,8 cm L/56) (Sd.Kfz. 181) KStN 1176e[31] 5 March 1943
Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E (Sd.Kfz. 181)
Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E
D656/22 (Tank manual) 7 September 1944

Hitler's order, dated 27 February 1944, abolished the designation Panzerkampfwagen VI and ratified Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, which was the official designation until the end of the war.[12] For common use it was frequently shortened to Tiger.

Combat history

Gun and armour performance

German soldiers inspect a non-penetrating hit to the Tiger's armour

Wa Pruef 1 estimated that, from a 30 degree angle the Tiger's 88 mm gun was capable of penetrating the differential case of an American M4 Sherman from 2,100 m (1.3 mi), the turret front from 1,800 m (1.1 mi), but not the upper glacis at any range.[32] The British Churchill IV was vulnerable between 1,100 and 1,700 m (0.68 and 1.06 mi) with the strongest point being the nose and the weakest the turret respectively, the Soviet T-34 between 100 and 1,400 m (0.062 and 0.870 mi) upper glacis and turret front, and the Soviet IS-2 model 1943 between 100 and 300 m (0.062 and 0.186 mi) driver's front plate and nose.[32] The Soviet T-34 equipped with the 76.2 mm gun could penetrate the Tiger frontally with APCR from 300 m at 0 degrees,[33] but with APBC had to aim at the 60mm thick lower side hull to penetrate from 1,000 m at 0 degrees.[33] The T-34-85's 85 mm gun could penetrate the front of a Tiger between 200 and 500 m (0.12 and 0.31 mi) at 30 degrees,[32] the IS-2s 122 mm gun could penetrate the front between 500 and 1,500 m (0.31 and 0.93 mi) at 30 degrees.[32]

Crews were encouraged to engage targets strictly by angling the hull to the Mahlzeit Stellung at 10 ½ or 1 ½ o'clock, to maximize the effective hull armour making it impervious to any allied gun up to 152 mm.[34]

According to Steven Zaloga, the IS-2 model 1944 (120 mm hull front)[35] and Tiger I could knock each other out in normal combat distances below 1,000 m. At longer ranges the performance of each respective tank against each other was dependent on the crew and combat situation.[36]

Wa Pruef 1 estimated that, at a 30 degree angle of attack, the M4 Sherman's 75 mm gun could not penetrate the Tiger frontally at any range, and needed to be within 100 m to achieve a side penetration against the 80 mm upper hull superstructure.[32] The British 17-pounder as used on the Sherman Firefly, firing its normal APCBC ammunition, could penetrate the front out to 1900 yards according to an STT document dated April 1944.[32] Vulnerability reports indicated that when the Tiger was advancing at a 30 degree angle, the 17 pounder lost some penetration. A complete penetration was only then possible up to 1600 yards.[37] From a 30 degree angle the US 76 mm gun could penetrate the Tiger's driver's front plate from 600 m, the nose from 400 m and the turret front from 700 m.[32] The M3 90 mm cannon used in the late-war M36, M26 Pershing, and M2 AA/AT mount could penetrate its front plate at a range of 1,000 m, and from beyond 2,000 m when using HVAP.[38]

The Tiger's thick side armour allowed a degree of confidence of immunity from attack from flanking threats, unlike the lighter Panzer IV or the Panther tanks, it was also immune from Soviet anti-tank rifle fire to the sides and rear. Its large caliber 8.8 cm provided superior fragmentation and high explosive content over the 7.5 cm KwK 42 gun. Therefore in the majority of combat situations, supporting the infantry and destroying fortifications, the Tiger offered superior firepower to that of the Panther. It was also key to dealing with the greatest threat to any tank, towed antitank guns.

The destruction of an antitank gun was often accepted as nothing special by lay people and soldiers from other branches. Only the destruction of other tanks counted as a success. On the other hand, antitank guns counted twice as much to the experienced tanker. They were much more dangerous to us. The antitank cannon waited in ambush, well camouflaged, and magnificently set up in the terrain. Because of that, it was very difficult to identify. It was also very difficult to hit because of its low height. Usually, we didn't make out the antitank guns until they had fired the first shot. We were often hit right away, if the antitank crew was on top of things, because we had run into a wall of antitank guns. It was then advisable to keep as cool as possible and take care of the enemy, before the second aimed shot was fired.
Otto CariusTigers in the Mud, page 118

First actions

A Tiger I deployed to supplement the Afrika Korps operating in Tunisia, January 1943

Eager to make use of the powerful new weapon, Hitler ordered the vehicle be pressed into service months earlier than planned.[39] A platoon of four Tigers was put into action on 23 September 1942 near Leningrad.[40] Operating in swampy, forested terrain their movement was largely confined to roads and tracks, making defense against them far easier. Many of these early models were plagued by problems with the transmission, which had difficulty handling the heavy weight of the vehicle if pushed too hard. It took time for drivers to learn how to avoid over taxing the engine and transmission, and many broke down. The most significant event from this engagement was that one of the Tigers became stuck in swampy ground and had to be abandoned. Captured largely intact, it allowed the Soviets to study the design and prepare countermeasures.[41]

A battalion of Tigers was deployed to the Don Front in the autumn of 1942, but arrived too late to participate in the attack to relieve Stalingrad, (Operation Winter Storm). It was subsequently engaged in heavy defensive fighting in the Rostov-on-Don and adjacent sectors in January and February 1943.

In the North African theatre, the Tiger first saw action during the Tunisia Campaign on 1 December 1942 east of Tebourba.[42] The first loss to an Allied gun was on 20 January 1943 near Robaa[43] when a battery of the British 72nd Anti-tank Regiment knocked out two Tigers with their 6-pounder (57 mm) anti-tank guns. The failed attack on Béja at the end of February saw seven Tigers lost in the "Panzer Graveyard".[44]

Mobility and reliability

The tank's weight significantly limited its use of bridges. For this reason the Tiger was built with water tight hatches and a snorkel device that allowed it to ford water obstacles 4 metres deep. The tank's weight also made driving through buildings risky, as the presence of a cellar could result in a sudden drop. Another weakness was the slow traverse of the hydraulically operated turret. Due to reliability problems of the Maybach HL 210 TRM P45, which was delivered within the first production batch of 250 Tigers, performance for its maximum power output at high gear ratio could not be fulfilled.[45] Though the Maybach engines had a maximum of 3,000 rpm, crews were told in the Tigerfibel not to exceed 2,600 rpm. The engine limitation was alleviated only by the adoption of the Maybach HL 230.[45] A British Army test report showed that the turret on the Tiger E tank turned 360 degrees in nineteen seconds with its power traverse system set at high ratio and with the engine speed at 2000 revolutions per minute (rpm).[46] The turret could also be traversed manually, but this option was rarely used, except for very small adjustments.[47]

Early Tigers had a top speed of about 45 kilometres per hour (28 mph) over optimal terrain. This was not recommended for normal operation, and was discouraged in training. An engine governor was subsequently installed, capping the engine at 2,600 rpm and the Tiger's maximum speed to about 38 kilometres per hour (24 mph). However medium tanks of the time, such as the Sherman or T-34, had an average a top speed of about 45 kilometres per hour (28 mph). Thus, despite the Tiger being nearly twice as heavy, its speed was comparatively respectable.[48]

A Tiger undergoing engine repairs

With the tank's very wide tracks, a design feature borrowed from the Soviet T-34, the Tiger had a lower ground pressure than many smaller tanks, such as the M4 Sherman.

The Tiger had reliability problems throughout its service life. Tiger units often entered combat understrength due to breakdowns. More importantly, the tank's fuel consumption meant that it had a limited operational range.

Tiger I towed by two Sd.Kfz. 9

Tiger tanks needed a high degree of support. It required three of the standard German Sd.Kfz. 9 Famo heavy recovery half-track tractors to tow it. Tiger crews often resorted to using another Tiger to tow the damaged vehicle, but this was not recommended as this often caused overheating and engine breakdown. The low-mounted sprocket limited the obstacle clearance height. The tracks also had a tendency to override the rear sprocket, resulting in immobilisation. If a track overrode and jammed, two Tigers were normally needed to tow the tank. The jammed track was also a big problem itself, since due to high tension, it was often impossible to split the track by removing the track pins. The track sometimes had to be blown apart with a small explosive charge.

Tactical organization

A Tiger I camouflaged in a static defensive position

Tigers were usually employed in separate heavy tank battalions (schwere Panzer-Abteilung) under army command. These battalions would be deployed to critical sectors, either for breakthrough operations or, more typically, counter-attacks. A few favoured divisions, such as the Grossdeutschland, and the 1st SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, 2nd SS Das Reich, and 3rd SS Totenkopf Panzergrenadier Divisions at Kursk, had a Tiger company in their tank regiments. The Grossdeutschland Division had its Tiger company increased to a battalion as the III Panzer Battalion of the Panzer Regiment Grossdeutschland. 3rd SS Totenkopf retained its Tiger I company through the entire war. 1st SS and 2nd SS had their Tiger companies taken away and incorporated into the 101st SS Tiger Battalion, which was part of 1st SS Panzer Corps.[49]

The Tiger was originally designed to be an offensive breakthrough weapon, but by the time they went into action, the military situation had changed dramatically, and their main use was on the defensive, as mobile anti-tank and infantry gun support weapons.[49] Tactically, this also meant moving the Tiger units constantly to parry breakthroughs, causing excessive mechanical wear. As a result, there are almost no instances where a Tiger battalion went into combat at anything close to full strength.

Some Tiger units exceeded the 10:1 kill ratio, including 13. Kompanie/Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland (16.67:1), schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 103 (12.82:1) and schwere Panzer-Abteilung 502 (13.08:1). Against the Soviet and Western Allied production numbers, even a 10:1 kill ratio was not sufficient. These numbers must be set against the opportunity cost of the expensive Tiger. Every Tiger cost as much as four Sturmgeschütz III assault guns to build.

Notable "aces"

Tiger engaging a target at the Battle of Kursk

On 7 July 1943, a single Tiger tank commanded by SS-Oberscharführer Franz Staudegger from the 2nd Platoon, 13th Panzer Company, 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler engaged a group of about 50 T-34s around Psyolknee (the southern sector of the German salient in the Battle of Kursk). Staudegger used all his ammunition and claimed the destruction of 22 Soviet tanks, while the rest retreated. For this, he was awarded the Knight's Cross.[50]

The Tiger is particularly associated with SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann of schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 101. He worked his way up, commanding various vehicles and finally a Tiger I. In the Battle of Villers-Bocage, his platoon destroyed over two dozen Allied vehicles, including several tanks. However in the afternoon a second attack into the town with Tigers met a British ambush and at least three were knocked out or immobilized by anti-tank guns and PIAT infantry weapons.[51]

Several Tiger tank commanders claimed over 100 vehicle kills each, including Kurt Knispel with 168, Otto Carius with 150+, Johannes Bölter with 139+, and Michael Wittmann with 138.[52]

Allied response

A Tiger captured by US forces in Tunis, 1943

The US Army hesitated to place the 76 mm M1 gun in action even when they were already available, as combat through early 1944 indicated that the 75 mm M3 was more than adequate for handling the German tank threat.[53] This conclusion was partly based on the incorrect estimate that the Tiger would be encountered in relatively small numbers and could be knocked out by anti-tank gun fire as they were in Tunisia and Sicily.[54]

In contrast, the more experienced British had observed the gradual increase in German AFV armour and firepower since 1940 and had anticipated the need for more powerful anti-tank guns. Work on the Ordnance QF 17 pounder had begun in late 1940 and in 1942 100 early-production guns were rushed to North Africa to help counter the new Tiger threat. The gun carriage had not yet been developed, and the guns were mounted on the carriages of 25-pounder gun/howitzers.

Tiger I that knocked out the first M26 Pershing in combat. It then backed into a pile of rubble and became stuck, leading to the crew abandoning it

Efforts were hastened to get cruiser tanks armed with 17-pounder guns into operation. The A30 Challenger was already at the prototype stage in 1942,[55] but this tank was relatively unprotected, having a front hull thickness of 64 mm, and in the end was fielded in only limited numbers (around 200 were ordered in 1943), though crews liked it for its high speed. The Sherman Firefly, armed with the 17-pounder, was a notable success even though it was only intended to be a stopgap design. Fireflies were successfully used against Tigers; (in one engagement, a single Firefly destroyed three Tigers in 12 minutes with five rounds)[56] over 2,000 were built during the war. Five different 17-pounder-armed British designs saw combat during the war: the A30 Challenger, the A34 Comet, the Sherman Firefly, the 17pdr SP Achilles, and the 17pdr SP Archer self-propelled gun, while one more, the A41 Centurion, was about to enter production at the end of the war. In 1944 the British introduced an APDS round for the 17-pounder, which increased penetration performance considerably.

Marshal Red Army in 1943

The initial Soviet response was to restart production of the 57 mm ZiS-2 anti-tank gun (production was stopped in 1941 in favour of smaller, cheaper alternatives). The ZiS-2 had better armour penetration than the 76 mm F-34 tank gun used by most Red Army tanks, but inadequate against Tigers. With BR–271N Armour-Piercing, Composite Rigid (APCR) rounds, which were issued sometime before 1943, it was capable of penetrating 125 mm of armour from 1500 m at 0 degrees or 100 mm of armour from 1500 m at 30 degrees; this allowed it to penetrate the 100 mm frontal hull of the Tiger.[57] A small number of T-34s were fitted with a tank version of the ZiS-2 but it could not fire an adequate high-explosive round, making it an unsuitable tank gun. Instead, the 85 mm 52-K anti-aircraft gun was modified for tank use, which was found to be capable of penetrating the 100 mm thick frontal hull armor of the Tiger I from 1000 m.[58][59] This was initially used on the SU-85 self-propelled gun (based on a T-34 chassis) from August 1943. The production of KV heavy tanks armed with the 85 mm D-5T in an IS-85 turret was also started. There was a short production run of 148 KV-85 tanks, which were sent to the front beginning in September 1943 with production ending by December 1943.[60] By the spring of 1944, the T-34/85 appeared; this up-gunned T-34 matched the SU-85's firepower, but with the advantage of mounting the gun in a turret. It also matched the firepower of the heavier IS-85 tank in a more cost effective package resulting in a repeat of the events which heralded the decline of KV-1 production. The IS was subsequently rearmed with the 122 mm D-25T, which with BR–471 AP rounds was capable of going through the Tiger's armour from 1,200 m [61] and with the improved BR–471B APBC rounds at over 2,000 m.[58][62] The redundant SU-85 was replaced by the SU-100, mounting a 100 mm D-10 tank gun, that could penetrate 149 mm of vertical armour plate at 1,000 m,[63] and was thus able to defeat the Tiger's frontal armour at normal combat ranges.

In May 1943, the Red Army deployed the SU-152, replaced in 1944 by the ISU-152. These self-propelled guns both mounted the large, 152 mm howitzer-gun. The SU-152 was intended to be a close-support gun for use against German fortifications rather than armour; but, both it and the later ISU-152 were found to be very effective against German heavy tanks, and were nicknamed Zveroboy (commonly translated as "beast killer" or "animal hunter") because of this. The 152 mm armour-piercing shells weighed over 45 kilograms (99 lb) and could penetrate a Tiger's frontal armour from 1,000 metres (1,100 yd). Even the high-explosive rounds were powerful enough to cause significant damage to a tank. However, the size and weight of the ammunition meant both vehicles had a low rate of fire and each could carry only 20 rounds.



Tiger 131, Bovington Tank Museum, United Kingdom
Tiger Colmar, Musée des Blindés, Saumur, France
the Vimoutiers Tiger tank in Vimoutiers, Normandy, France
Lenino-Snegiri Military Historical Museum, Russia
Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia

Tiger 131

On 21 April 1943, a Tiger I of the 504th German heavy tank battalion, with turret number 131, was captured on a hill called Djebel Djaffa in Tunisia. A 6-pounder solid shot from a Churchill tank of the British 48th Royal Tank Regiment hit the Tiger's gun barrel and ricocheted into its turret ring, jamming its traverse and wounding the commander. The crew bailed out and the tank was captured.[Notes 4][65]. After repairs, the tank was sent to England for a thorough inspection.

The captured tank was officially handed over to the Tiger II was installed (the Tiger's original Maybach HL210 had been sectioned for display[66]), along with a modern fire-suppressant system in the engine compartment. In December 2003, Tiger 131 returned to the museum, restored and in running condition. This Tiger was used in the film Fury, the first time a real Tiger has appeared in a movie since World War II.[67]


Given the low number of just over 1,300 Tiger I's produced during World War II, very few survived the war and the post-war scrap drives. Many large components have been salvaged over the years, but the discovery of a (more or less) complete vehicle has so far eluded enthusiasts and collectors. In addition to Tiger 131, six other Tiger tanks survive as of June 2013, at the following locations:

  • Musée des Blindés in Saumur, France. Indoor exhibit in good condition. Mid '44 version with overlapping roadwheels adopted from the Tiger II, fitted with narrow transport tracks. This Tiger was part of the 2nd company of the SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 102, fought in the Cauville sector, and was abandoned by her crew after a mechanical breakdown. She was recommissioned as Colmar with the 2nd squadron of the 6th Cuirassier Regiment, fighting all the way back to Germany.
  • Vimoutiers, Normandy France : The "Vimoutiers Tiger tank". Abandoned by its crew in August 1944. Outdoor monument. In bad condition, due to the time effect and the elements.
  • Kubinka Tank Museum, Moscow, Russia, in good condition. Displayed as an indoor exhibit.
  • Military-historical Museum of Lenino-Snegiri, Russia. In very bad condition. As a former firing range target it is badly shot and cut up. Displayed as an outdoor exhibit.
  • Tiger 712 of the 501st United States Army Armor & Cavalry Museum, Former Aberdeen Tiger, Fort Benning, Georgia. In good condition. The left side of the hull and turret were cut-away in the late 1940s for interior display and educational purposes.
  • German Panzer Museum, Munster has a Tiger I now on display.[68] This tank was reconstructed by Mr Hoebig in Germany, using parts found in the Trun scrapyard in Normandy [69] and some parts found in Kurland (Latvia).

See also

Tanks of comparable role, performance and era

  • KV-85 or IS-1 : approximate Soviet equivalent
  • KV-220 : approximate Soviet equivalent prototype saw action in the defense of Leningrad 1941[70][71]
  • M6 heavy tank : approximate United States equivalent standardized but never mass-produced
  • M26 Pershing : approximate United States equivalent
  • Churchill tank: British tank with thicker armour (up to 152 mm) but a smaller gun (57 mm or 75 mm)


  1. ^ Although 1,350 is a common figure, World War II magazine reported the figure of 1,355 in their January 1994 edition (p.16). Jentz gives a revised number of 1,347, including the prototype, the result of the most detailed investigation of the primary sources ever undertaken.[2]
  2. ^ Waffenamt Prüfwesen 6 – Panzer and Motorized Equipment Branch of the Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Department)
  3. ^ Wa J Ru-WuG 6--Panzerkraftwagen und Zugkraftwagenabteilung – Tanks and Tractors Branch of Amtsgruppe fur Industrielle Rustung--Waffen und Gerat, the Group for Weapons and Equipment Manufacture
  4. ^ The conservators have kept the damage caused by the ricochet unpainted, it can be observed at the Bovington Tank museum.


  1. ^ Zetterling 2000, p. 61.
  2. ^ Jentz and Doyle 1993, pp. 11–13.
  3. ^ a b Jentz 1993, pp. 8, 16.
  4. ^ a b Hart 2007, p. 17.
  5. ^ B T white German Tanks and Armoured Vehicles, 1914-1945 p69-70
  6. ^ VK from the German Voll Ketten meaning "fully tracked", H for Henschel
  7. ^ Green 2008, pp. 12-13.
  8. ^ Green 2008, p. 13.
  9. ^ Green 2008, p. 14.
  10. ^ a b Carruthers, Bob Tiger I in Combat, Chapter; Design features
  11. ^ Jentz 1993, p. 6.
  12. ^ a b Fabio Prado. "Pzkpfw Vi Tiger I". Armorsite. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  13. ^ Perrett 1999, p. 8.
  14. ^ Green 2008, p. 41.
  15. ^ a b c Green 2008, p. 44.
  16. ^ Green 2008, p. 46.
  17. ^ Jentz 2000, p. 35.
  18. ^ Jentz 2000, p. 36.
  19. ^ Wilbeck 2004.
  20. ^ Anderson 2013, p. 69.
  21. ^ Anderson 2013, p. 71.
  22. ^ Jentz 1996, p. 288.
  23. ^ Panzer Statistics
  24. ^ R.P. Hunnicutt (1971): Pershing: A History of the Medium Tank T20 Series
  25. ^ Jentz and Doyle 1993, p. 13.
  26. ^ Zaloga, Steven (2007). Japanese Tanks 1939-45. Osprey Publishing Ltd. p. 17.  
  27. ^ Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E Sd. Kfz. 181
  28. ^ Crawford 2000, p. 41.
  29. ^ Jentz and Doyle 1993, p. 12.
  30. ^ Table of Organisation, KStN 1150d
  31. ^ Table of Organisation, KStN 1176e
  32. ^ a b c d e f g Jentz and Doyle 1993, pp. 19–20.
  33. ^ a b "Soviet Guns 76mm calibre". Retrieved 2014-11-03. 
  34. ^ p84-85Tigerfibel
  35. ^ Zaloga, Steven (1994). IS-2 Heavy Tank 1944-73. Osprey Publishing. p. 12. 
  36. ^ Zaloga, Steven (1994). IS-2 Heavy Tank 1944-73. Osprey Publishing. p. 13. 
  37. ^ Military Intelligence Division W.D.G.S, M.A London, Report No. 67588
  38. ^ "USA Guns 90mm calibre". Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  39. ^ Guderian 1952, p. 280.
  40. ^ Showalter 2013, p. 48.
  41. ^ Glantz 2005, p. 201.
  42. ^ Schneider 2000, p. 41.
  43. ^ Schneider 2000, p. 42.
  44. ^ Schneider 2000, p. 43.
  45. ^ a b Copy of British report on the HL230 and HL210 engines
  46. ^ Green, Michael. Tiger Tanks at War. MBI Publishing Company. p. 86. 
  47. ^ Carruthers, Bob. Tigers in Combat. Coda Books Ltd. 
  48. ^ Carruthers, Bob. Tigers in Combat. Coda Books Ltd. 
  49. ^ a b Wilbeck 2004, pp25, 99
  50. ^ Agte 2006, pp. 103-105.
  51. ^ Forty, George (2004). Villers Bocage. Battle Zone Normandy. Sutton Publishing. 0-7509-3012-8.
  52. ^ Tiger Aces
  53. ^ Zaloga, Steven (2003). M4 (76mm) Sherman Medium Tank 1943-65. Osprey. p. 13. 
  54. ^ Zaloga 2003, p. 14.
  55. ^ The 17 Pounder Anti-Tank Gun David Boyd,
  56. ^ Hart 2007, p. 65.
  57. ^ "Soviet Guns 57mm calibre". Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  58. ^ a b Potapov, Valeri. "Specification and Armor Penetration of the Soviet Tank Guns". Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  59. ^ "Soviet Guns 85mm calibre". Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  60. ^ Boldyrev, Eugeni. "KV-85 Heavy Tank". Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  61. ^
  62. ^ "Soviet Guns 122mm calibre". Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  63. ^ Zaloga, Steven (1984). Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two. Arms and Armour Press. p. 225.  
  64. ^ Kliment, C.K. and Bernád, D. (2007): Maďarská armáda 1919–1945 (n.b.- The source mentions that perhaps 15 vehicles had been delivered but only 13 are accounted for in the Hungarian Army sources)
  65. ^ Carruthers, Bob (2000). German Tanks at War. London: Cassell.  
  66. ^ The Tiger Tank Restoration project - "Our Tiger" Journal
  67. ^
  68. ^ Deutsches Panzermuseum Munster: Die schwerste Katze aller Zeiten
  69. ^ Article from the French newspaper Ouest-France
  70. ^ Potapov, Valeri. "KV-3, KV-4, KV-5, KV-7, KV-9, KV-220". The Russian Battlefield. Retrieved 25 October 2014. 
  71. ^ Zaloga, Steven (1996). KV-1 & 2 Heavy Tanks 1939-45. Osprey Publishing. p. 13.  

Further reading

  • Jentz, Thomas L. (1997). Germany's Tiger Tanks: Tiger I & II : Combat Tactics. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7643-0225-1.
  • Carius, Otto and Edwards, Robert J (2003). "Tigers in the Mud - The Combat Career of German Panzer Commander Otto Carius". Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-2911-6

External links

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