Tiger I

Post 5486

Tiger I

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-299-1805-16, Nordfrankreich, Panzer VI (Tiger I).2.jpg

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
Produced 1942–1944
Number built 1,347
Specifications (RfRuK VK 4501H Ausf.E, Blatt: G-330)
Weight 54 tonnes (60 short tons)
Length 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)
1× 8.8 cm KwK 36 L/56
92 rounds
2× 7.92 mm MG 34
4,500 rounds
Engine Maybach HL230 P45 (V-12
700 PS (690.4 hp, 514.8 kW)
Power/weight 13 PS/tonne
Suspension torsion bar
Ground clearance 0.47 m (1 ft 7 in)
Fuel capacity 540L incl. reserve
110–195 km (68–121 mi)
Speed 45.4 km/h (28.2 mph)

Tiger I About this sound listen  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 to be quite formidable.

While the Tiger I was feared by many of its opponents, 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 immobilizations, and limited in range by its high fuel consumption. It was, however, generally mechanically reliable, but expensive to maintain. It was also difficult to transport, and vulnerable to immobilization when mud, ice and snow froze between its overlapping and interleaved road wheels in winter weather conditions, often jamming them solid. In 1944, production was phased out in favour of the Tiger II.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

inside tiger tank

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 AusführungH (‘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.


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, with over 50 metric tons dead weight, suspension, gearboxes, and other such items had clearly reached their design limits and breakdowns were frequent. Design studies for a new heavy tank had been started in 1937, without any production planning. Renewed impetus for the Tiger was provided by the quality of the Soviet T-34 encountered in 1941. 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 reached 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 and frontal turretarmour of 120 mm (4.7 in) compared to the 80 mm (3.1 in) frontal hull and 50 mm (2 in) frontal turret armour of contemporary models of the Panzer IV.[4][6] It also had 60 mm (2.4 in) thick hull side plates and 80 mm armour on the side superstructure 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). 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 AmericanSherman tank‘s frontal attacks with its 75mm gun.

The nominal armour thickness of the Tiger reached up to 200 mm at themantlet.


Turmzielfernrohr TZF 9c gun sight

The gun’s breech and firing mechanism were derived from the famous German “88” dual purpose flak gun. The 88 mm KwK 36 L/56 gun was the variant chosen for the Tiger and was, along with the Tiger II’s 88 mm KwK 43 L/71, one of the most effective and feared tank guns of World War II.

The Tiger’s gun had a high muzzle velocity and extremely accurate Leitz Turmzielfernrohr TZF 9b sights (later replaced by the monocular TZF 9c). 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). Tigers were reported to have knocked out enemy tanks at ranges greater than 4.0 kilometres (2.5 mi), although most World War II engagements were fought at much shorter ranges.                                                                                                                 en.wikipedia.org


Loading ammunition

Further information: 8.8 cm KwK 36 § Ammunition


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 cu.in.) 12-cylinder Maybach HL 210 P45 developing 485 kW (650 hp) at 3000 RPM. Although a good engine, it was inadequate for the vehicle. From the 251st Tiger onwards, it was replaced by the upgraded HL 230 P45, a 23.88 litre (1457 cu.in.) engine developing 521 kW (700 hp) at 3000 RPM. 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 eleven-tonne turret had a hydraulic motor whose pump was powered by mechanical drive from the engine. A full rotation took about a minute.                                                                         cobra6.deviantart.com

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.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 meters (11.28 ft). In neutral gear, the tracks could be turned in opposite directions, so the Tiger I pivoted in place. There was an actual steering wheel and the steering system was easy to use and ahead of its time.


Clear view of the Tiger I’sSchachtellaufwerk 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 Schachtellaufwerkarrangement, providing unprecedented 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) therefore required the removal of up to nine outer wheels. 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, Germany’s engineers, based on the experience of the half tracks, felt that the improvement in off road performance, track and wheel life, mobility with some wheels missing or damaged and fuel consumption, plus a continuous band of protection from enemy fire was worth the maintenance difficulties of an unnecessarily complex mechanical system operating in adverse environmental conditions. For the short life of a wartime tank, the 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 internal 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 a narrow track put in place to decrease vehicle width.

To support the considerable weight of the Tiger, the tracks were an unprecedented 725 mm (28.5 in) wide. To meet rail-freight size restrictions, the outermost roadwheel on each axle (16 total) could be unbolted from a flange  and a narrower 520 mm (20 in) wide ‘transport’ track installed.

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.                                                                                           www.keywordpicture.com                                                                 www.flickr.com


A major 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 of the Tiger II. The German designs were expensive in terms of 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.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) and IS-2 from the USSR (about 3,800 built during the conflict).

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

Henschel & Sohn began development of the vehicle that eventually became the Tiger I in January 1937 when the Waffenamt requested Henschel to develop aDurchbruchwagen (breakthrough vehicle) in the 30 tonne range. Only one prototype hull was ever built and it was never built with a turret. The Durchbruchwagen I general shape and suspension greatly resembled the Panzer III while the turret would have greatly resembled the early Panzer IVC turret with the short barrelled 7.5 cm L/24 cannon.

Before Durchbruchwagen I was completed a new request was issued for a heavier 30 tonne class vehicle with thicker armour; this was the Durchbruchwagen II, which would have carried 50 mm of frontal armour and mounted a Panzer IV turret with the 7.5 cm L/24 cannon. Overall weight would have been approximately 36 tonnes. Only one hull was built and a turret was not fitted. Development of this vehicle was dropped in the autumn of 1938 in favour of the more advanced VK3001(H) and VK3601(H) designs. Both the Durchbruchwagen I and II prototype hulls were used as test vehicles until 1941.

On 9 September 1938, Henschel & Sohn received permission to continue development of a VK3001(H) medium tank and a VK3601(H) heavy tank, both of which apparently pioneered the adoption of the so-called Schachtellaufwerk overlapping and interleaved main road wheel concept for tank chassis use, that had long been standard on German military half-tracked vehicles such as the SdKfz 7. The VK3001(H) was intended to mount a 7.5 cm L/24 low velocity infantry support gun, a 7.5 cm L/40 dual purpose anti-tank gun, or a 10.5 cm L/28 artillery piece 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 used to create the 12.8 cmSelbstfahrlafette L/61, also known as Sturer Emil.                                                                                                                                               Tiger Tank Turret  gorilao.com.br

The VK3601(H) was intended to weigh 40 tonnes, and carry 100 mm of armour on front surfaces, 80 mm on turret sides and 60 mm on hull sides. The VK3601(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 very similar to an enlarged Panzer IVC turret. One prototype hull was built, followed later by five more prototype hulls. The six turrets intended for the prototype hulls were never fitted and ended up being used as static defences as part of the Atlantic Wall. Development of the VK3601(H) project was discontinued in early 1942 in favour of the VK4501 project.

German combat experience with the French Somua S35 cavalry tank and Char B1 heavy tank, and the British Matilda I and II infantry tanks in June 1940 showed that the German Army needed better armed and armoured tanks. Superior tactics had overcome superior enemy armour, but the Germans did take notice.

The Porsche prototype

On 26 May 1941, at an armaments meeting, Henschel and Ferdinand Porsche were asked to submit designs for a 45 tonne heavy tank, to be ready by June 1942.[19] Porsche worked to submit an updated version of their VK3001(P) Leopard tank prototype while Henschel worked to develop an improved VK3601(H) tank. Henschel built two prototypes: a VK4501(H) H1 which used the 88 mm L/56 cannon, and a VK4501(H) H2 which used the 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. 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.” The T-34 was almost immune frontally to every gun in German service except the 88 mm FlaK 18/36 gun. Panzer IIIs with the 5 cm KwK 38 L/42 main armament could penetrate the sides of a T-34, but had to be very close. The KV-1 was almost immune to all but the 8.8 cm FlaK 18/36.

An immediate weight increase to 45 tonnes and an increase in gun calibre to 88 mm was ordered. The due date for 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 from the T-34. Thus, the Tiger’s armour was thicker than it had to be.

Porsche and Henschel submitted prototype designs, each making use of the Krupp-designed turret. They were compared at Rastenburg before Hitler. The Henschel design was accepted, especially because of the problem-burdened Porsche gasoline-electric hybrid power unit and its use of large quantities of copper, a strategic war material. Production of the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. H began in August 1942. Awaiting an order for his tank, Porsche had 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 thePanzerjäger Tiger (P) in the spring of 1943. The vehicle was also officially nicknamed the Ferdinand, and after Hitler’s orders of 1 and 27 February 1944 and the addition of a forward-firing defensive machine gun emplacement on the front of the superstructure, its nickname changed to the Elefant.

The Tiger was essentially 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, safer cupola was the most significant change. To cut costs, the submersion capability and an external air-filtration system were dropped.

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. Strength peaked at 671 on 1 July 1944. 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. 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 adjustments for 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. Due to long production times 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.                                                                                                                                                        www.beny.zettech.pl


Among other variants of the Tiger, a compact, 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 aBergeTiger recovery vehicle. As many as three may have been built. It carried a demolition charge on a small crane on the turret in lieu 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 21 October 1941
VK 4501 (H) Wa J Rue (WuG 6) 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 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 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 PanzerkampfwagenTiger Ausf. E, which was the official designation until the end of the war.For common use it was frequently shortened toTiger.

Gun and armour performance

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

From a 30 degree angle the Tiger’s 88mm gun was capable of penetrating the front glacis plate of an American M4 Sherman between 1,800 and 2,100 m (1.1 and 1.3 mi), the British Churchill IV between 1,100 and 1,700 m (0.68 and 1.06 mi), the Soviet T-34 between 800 and 1,400 m (0.50 and 0.87 mi), and the Soviet IS-2 between 100 and 300 m (0.062 and 0.186 mi).The Soviet T-34 equipped with the 76.2 mm gun could not penetrate the Tiger frontally at any range, but could achieve a side penetration at approximately 500 m firing BR-350P APCRammunition. The T34-85’s 85 mm gun could penetrate the front of a Tiger between 200 and 500 m (0.12 and 0.31 mi), the IS-2s 122 mm gun could penetrate the front between 500 and 1,500 m (0.31 and 0.93 mi).

From 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. The British 17-pounder as used on the Sherman Firefly, firing its normal APCBC ammunition, could penetrate the front out to 1000 m. The US 76 mm gun, if firing the APCBC M62 ammunition, could penetrate the Tiger side armour out to just over 500 m, and could penetrate the upper hull superstructure at ranges of 200 m. Using HVAP ammunition, which was in constant short supply and primarily issued to tank destroyers, frontal penetration was possible out to just over 500 m. The M3 90 mm cannon used in the late-war M36 JacksonM26 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.                                                                                 German Mk VI Tiger tank Knocked out in Germany Feb. 1945   www.508pir.org

With the exception of HEAT ammunition, uncommon in World War II, as range to target decreases all guns possess higher penetrating power. The greater penetrating power of the Tiger’s gun meant that it could destroy many of its opponents at ranges at which they could not reach, let alone penetrate. Compounding the danger to Allied tank crews was the superior quality of German optics, allowing them better accuracy at distance and increasing their chances of a hit on the first shot. In open terrain this was a major tactical advantage. Opposing tank units were often required to make a flanking attack in order to knock out a Tiger.

First actions

The Tiger was first used in action on 23 September 1942 near Leningrad. Anxious to make use of the new weapon, Hitler pressured the use of the vehicle months earlier than planned. Operating in swampy, forested terrain near Leningrad they were largely confined to the roads and tracks, where Soviet anti-tank guns had been set up in emplacements. Many early models proved to be mechanically temperamental, with the transmission unable to handle the heavy weight of the vehicle if pushed too hard. Many in this first action broke down. One Tiger became stuck in the swampy ground and had to be abandoned. It was captured largely intact, which allowed the Soviets to study it and prepare a response.

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

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-Donand adjacent sectors in January and February 1943.

In the North African theatre, the Tiger first saw action on 1 December 1942 east of Tebourba, Tunisia.The first loss to an Allied gun was on 20 January 1943 near Robaa, Tunisia when a battery of the British 72nd Anti-tank Regiment knocked out two Tigers with six-pounders. The failed attack on Béja at the end of February saw seven Tigers lost in the “Panzer Graveyard”.                                                                  This Tiger of the 502nd Battalionflipped over while attempting a bridge crossing in Russia, November 1943, killing the tank commander. It was recovered with extreme difficulty

The tank’s weight limited the bridges it could cross. For this reason the Tiger was built with water tight hatches and a snorkel device that allowed it ford a water course 4 meters deep. The tank’s weight also made building drive-throughs rather risky, as the presence of a cellar could result in a sudden drop. Another weakness was the slow traverse of the hydraulically operated turret. The turret could also be traversed manually, but this option was rarely used, except for very small adjustments.

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. Though the Maybach engines had a max of 3,000 rpm, crews were told not to exceed 2,600 rpm due to the inability of the transmission to hold up under the strain of transferring power to the 57 ton tank. 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.

A Tiger undergoing engine repairs

With the tanks 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 and not uncommonly resulted in the engine of the towing vehicle to overheat and 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.

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 LeibstandarteAdolf Hitler2nd 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.

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 gun batteries. Unfortunately, this also meant rushing the Tigers constantly from location to location causing excessive mechanical issues. 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) andschwere 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.

Combat examples

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.

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.

Fourteen Tiger tank commanders claimed over 100 vehicle kills each, including Kurt Knispel with 168, Walter Schroif with 161, Otto Carius with 150+, Johannes Bölter with 139+, and Michael Wittmann with 138.

Allied response

A Tiger captured by US forces inTunis, 1943

The US Army did little to prepare for combat against the Tiger despite their assessment that the newly encountered German tank was superior to their own. This conclusion was partly based on the correct estimate that the Tiger would be encountered in relatively small numbers.Later in the war, the Tiger could be penetrated at short range by tanks and tank destroyers equipped with the 76 mm gun M1 when firing high-velocity armour-piercing (HVAP) rounds, and at long range with theM2/M3 90mm AA/AT gun firing HVAP, and the M36 tank destroyer and M26 Pershing by the end of the war.

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. So great was the haste that they were sent before proper carriages had been developed, and the guns had to be mounted on the carriages of 25-pounder 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, but this tank was poorly protected, having a front hull thickness of only 64mm, was unreliable, and was fielded in only limited numbers (around 200 were built), 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 famous engagement, a single Firefly destroyed three Tigers in 12 minutes with five rounds;) 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, 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 performance considerably.

Marshal Georgy Zhukov inspecting a Tiger captured by the 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 Armour-Piercing, Composite Rigid (APCR) rounds, it could penetrate the Tiger’s frontal armour under ideal conditions.[45] 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, ultimately making it an unsuitable tank gun. Instead, the 85 mm 52-K anti-aircraft gun was modified for tank use. This was initially used on the SU-85 self-propelled gun (based on a T-34 chassis) from August 1943. 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. The redundant SU-85 was replaced by the SU-100, mounting a 100 mm D-10 tank gun, that could penetrate 185 mm of vertical armour plate at 1,000 m, and was thus easily 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

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.. After repairs, the tank was sent to England for a thorough inspection.

The captured tank was officially handed over to the Bovington Tank Museum by the British Ministry of Supply on 25 September 1951. In June 1990, the tank was removed from display at the museum and work began on its restoration. This was carried out both by the museum and the Army Base Repair Organisation and involved an almost complete disassembly of the tank. The Maybach HL230 engine from the museum’s Tiger II was installed (the Tiger’s original Maybach HL210 had been sectioned for display), 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.


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 SaumurFrance. 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.
  • VimoutiersNormandy 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 MuseumMoscowRussia, 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. This tank was reconstructed by Mr Hoebig in Germany, using parts found in the Trun scrapyard in Normandy  and some parts found in Kurland (Latvia).