Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 4/25/2015):
As the war in Europe raged on, German tank development proceeded at a feverish pace. Gone were the days when the Panzer I and II series light tanks and subsequent Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tanks ruled the European battlefields. German engineers ultimately delivered their excellent "Panther" heavy tank series mounting its lethal 75mm main gun which went on to become the best all-around battle tank of the Wehrmacht. Up next was the heavier "Tiger" series which fitted the fabled 88mm FlaK-based anti-tank main gun and extremely thick frontal armor. This was soon followed by the "King Tiger" - a massive tank creation fielding ever more armor protection and the 88mm main gun, becoming the most powerful of all the German tanks fielded in the war.
By this point in the war, Germany was playing an ever more defensive war. The early years of the conflict were filled with outright conquests, sometimes achieved without firing a single shot and at other times bringing whole nations down in a matter of weeks. Experience in these early campaigns and subsequent actions ultimately forged a rather standardized process of converting outdated or new tank designs into dedicated "tank destroyers" to help combat the ever-growing flow of Allied tanks that were appearing with each passing war year - primarily the American M4 Shermans and the Soviet T34 medium tanks - heavier class tank types for the Allies were sure to come. The Panther chassis was used to create the "Jagdpanther" in February of 1944 and the next logical evolution of the King Tiger became the "Jagdtiger" - an equally formidable creation that fitted a powerful 128mm main gun with heavy frontal armor protection intended to destroy any Allied tank - even upcoming heavy class types.
The German government awarded the development contract to Henschel in February of 1943 and the modified King Tiger (the hull lengthened up nearly 16 inches) appeared in a mocked up form for review in October of 1943. Ferdinand Porsche convinced Adolf Hitler to allow the new tank system use of his newly developed suspension system. Nibelungen Works produced a pair prototypes, in February of 1944, and each differed in the use of a Porsche-based suspension and the original Henschel-based suspension. The Porsche models were noted for their use of eight road wheels to a track side and ten further examples were produced for evaluation of the new running gear. Ultimately, the Porsche-design set proved troublesome and was dropped in favor of the Henschel brand, these sporting nine road wheels to a track side that were also larger size. Serial production was authorized in 1944. The type entered service with the German Army under the designation of "Jagdtiger IV" but its formal designation ultimately changed to "SdKfz 186 Panzerjager Tiger Ausf. B" but would be more well known to history under its "Jagdtiger" name. Production was handled out of the Nibelung-Werk facility at St. Valentin.
The Jagdtiger was a decidedly mammoth machine, fulfilling the dimensions of the original King Tiger tank while fielding a combat-ready weight in excess of 167,000lbs (158,000lbs when "empty"). Her operating crew consisted of five or six personnel including a driver and commander as well a gunner, loaders and machine gunners. Her primary armament was initially intended to be the 128mm (12.8cm) PaK 44 L/55 series anti-tank gun - the most powerful of its type fielded in all of the war with penetration of 170mm of armor out to two miles - but supply and demand in wartime Germany dictated that she should be fitted with the 128mm (12.8cm) PjK 80 L/55 series instead. Truth be told, supplies and logistics in Germany at the time also meant that some Jagdtiger prototype tanks were fitted with the 88mm (8.8cm) PaK 43/3 FlaK-based anti-tank gun as a stopgap maneuver - a proven and powerful tank-killer in its own right but of a far lesser nature than the intended armament originally envisioned.
What caused the shortages in such components was the relentless Allied bombing campaign that sought to disrupt all flow of German war-making capabilities. This meant attacking key oil reserves, weapons stores, production facilities and transport routes that ultimately served these production facilities. Bridges and railways were high on the priorities list. The German defense was effective but only up to a point for with each passing month, the war produced an ever smaller German Empire to defend and air superiority eventually slipped away from the Luftwaffe. Along with that fact, German-held factories ultimately fell into Allied hands as territories were inevitably lost and vital supply routes became furthermore disrupted in the process, delaying production of key valuable systems such as gun barrels, ammunition and engines. At peak production in December of 1944, twenty Jagdtigers rolled off of German assembly lines. From thereon, totals of no more than thirteen were reached (February 1945) and only three were completed in March of 1945.