SdKfz 181 Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I (PzKpfW VI) / Panzer 6) Heavy Tank
The PzKpfW VI Tiger Heavy Tank saw extensive combat action on all fronts during World War 2 and proved itself a formidable foe to the Allies.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Tiger heavy tank served the German Army during the latter years of World War 2. She proved a most powerful design and an excellent fighting machine but suffered from excess weight and large size as well as German war time resource shortages. When operational, few Allied tanks could match her save for the Joseph Stalin heavy tanks fielded by the Soviets. The Tiger became the first German tank to mount the powerful 88mm anti-aircraft gun and artillery piece as its main armament and showcased thick armor and decent mobility for its size. Some mechanical issues arose over her operational life and she was not wholly invulnerable for Allied doctrine soon developed to combat her greatest attributes and many were felled to Allied guns in turn. At her core, the Tiger led a short legacy in the war and was limited by too many factors for its true battlefield potential to be realized.
The T-34 Changes Everything
Up to this point in the war, medium tanks of the German Army such as the Panzer III and Panzer IV series had played their role quite well up. However, the Germans, not blinded to the ever-changing requirements of the modern battlefield, had been envisioning a replacement for their Panzer IV series as early as 1937 but work proved slow for requirements changed on a seemingly monthly basis. This work was spurred along by previous encounters with British Matildas and French Char B tanks. When Hitler committed to invading the Soviet Union through "Operation Barbarossa" in June of 1941, he effectively sealed the fate of his Third Reich in the long run - the Germans were shocked to encounter the new T-34 medium and KV-1 heavy series tanks of the Soviet Army. These were well-armed and heavily armored fighting tanks and outmatched anything the Germans could field. The T-34 was of particular note for it utilized heavily sloped armor plating, large road wheels set upon wide tracks and mounting a proven 76.2mm main gun. It was only after several captured examples were studied by German engineers that the Soviet's forward-thinking nature was appreciated.
Immediately, the Germans set to work on a T-34 "counter-tank". Designs were provided for by stalwarts Daimler-Benz, MAN and Henschel to be joined later (in 1939) by Porsche. The Henschel and MAN designs moved ahead while the MAN design itself eventually became the excellent "Panther" series. This tank featured wider tracks, overlapping road wheels, sloped armor protection and a powerful 75mm main gun - all lessons learned from studying the T-34. The Henschel and Porsche designs remained and these eventually evolved to become the "Tiger" heavy tank.
From the VK3001 to the VK4501
Originally, both Henschel and Porsche were selected to deliver a new tank system falling into the 30-35 ton weight range. Each firm delivered a prototype designated as VK3001(H) and VK3001(P) respectively ("H" for Henschel and "P" for Porsche). Neither vehicle was formally selected but further development continued and a new project appeared in May of 1941 under the designation of "VK4501". The VK4501 requirement called for a 45-ton heavy tank armed with the potent 88mm Flak gun. The 88mm (8.8cm) weapon was a proven commodity as a dual-purpose gun, originally beginning life as an anti-aircraft system and then evolving to become an effective tank-killer. Krupp was assigned the task of delivering the main gun and turret assembly.
Porsche Versus Henschel
The new tank was slated for review on April 20th, 1942 as a present to the Fuhrer on his birthday. The Henschel prototype became the VK4501(H) while the Porsche submittal became the VK4501(P). Dr. Ferdinand Porsche maintained a close relationship with Hitler and his firm benefitted from this, thus instilling a false sense of confidence that the Porsche design would be selected ahead of the Henschel. Ferdinand geared up his workshop to produce 100 of the Porsche tank designs before a production order was formally assigned. The prototypes were completed and held under review by Hitler as planned with the Porsche design viewed as a heavy favorite. Unfortunately for Porsche, the use of a temperamental gas-electric drivetrain doomed his vehicle as failures during testing were prominent. In October of 1942, a special commission known as the "Tiger Commission" was set up by German authorities to deliver a final verdict and the Henschel design was selected for serial production. The tank was afforded the designation of PzKpfW VI Ausf. H (SdKfz 182) in August of 1942. However, on February 27th, 1944, the designation was permanently changed by Hitler to read PzKpfW Tiger Ausf. E (SdKfz 181).
The Failed Porsche Design
The few completed Porsche VK4501(P) models (also known as "Porsche Tigers") were reused to become other battlefield implements that included the "Berg-Panzer VI" recovery vehicle and the "Panzerbefelswagen" command tank. Some had their problematic engines replaced with Maybach types for improved reliability and logistics. Other Porsche chassis became the basis for the development of the "Panzerjager Tiger P" tank-killer. Only one "Porsche Tiger" is thought to have ever seen direct combat action.
Development of the PzKpfW VI continued after the production decision was made and changes to the original design produced a heavier contender - now 55 tons over the projected 45-ton weight limit found in the original specification. The added weight forced engineers to compensate by adding an additional outboard road wheel to each track side (which increased their width) and made her incapable of being transported by railcar. As such, two sets of tracks were issued - one wide set for combat that promoted better weight displacement and the other narrower set for basic transport/marching. The latter change could be enacted by Tiger crews in one half hour (each track side) by removing all of the outboard wheels and then installing the narrower track run - it was only then that the Tiger could clear transport by rail. German authorities eventually accepted the weight gains as it saw a balance achieved with the Tiger's excellent armor protection and powerful main gun. Full-scale series Production was slated to begin in August of 1942 to which the first four Tigers became available and a rate of twelve per month was envisioned.
Tiger production ran from August of 1942 into August of 1944 to which 1,350 examples were ultimately delivered. The complicated design nature of the Tiger ensured that she would never be produced in any great number - at least enough to affect the tide of the war in Berlin's favor. Between the thousand+ Tiger examples, there inevitably appeared slight variations in design as each factory made required or improvised changes to suit German needs or shortages of some components.
The Tiger Maybach Engine
The initial 250 Tigers were fitted with the Maybach HL 210 P30 engine fielding a 650-horsepower output. After the 250th example, Tiger's switched to the Maybach HL 230 P45 series which beefed up output to 700 horsepower. These Maybach engines were reengineered from existing (and proven) aircraft powerplants and proved suitable for mounting on medium and heavy tanks of the German Army. The HL 230 P45 was the same engine as used on the Panther. Operational range was in the vicinity of 85 miles on-road whereas this value dropped excessively off-road to just 40 miles if the commander was lucky. German reports state a Tiger could be run for just 2.5 hours before needing refueling. As such, many Tiger tanks were lost in combat simply because their crews ran out of fuel. These were therefore abandoned and blown up to prevent capture by the enemy.
Due to the limitations of the Maybach engine, self-driving was a near impossibility so transportation to fronts was by rail car when possible though this event required much preparation to make possible. Routes involving use of Tiger tanks were, therefore, preplanned to the last detail to make note of impassable bridges or tight European roadways. Tigers were also rated at a 24 mile-per-hour top speed making them decidedly slow in keeping up with a mobile, flexible front.
Tiger Production Changes
Following the 391th Tiger, a new turret sporting a redesigned commander's cupola was introduced, this cupola not unlike that as found on the Panther series. A gun barrel clamp was added and an escape hatch was cut out of the rear of the turret. In June of 1943, a mount for an anti-aircraft MG34 machine gun was fitted to a slightly revised cupola to help improve defense and, in August, only one headlight was featured on the upper hull. After the 800th Tiger was built, production went on to include steel-rimmed road wheels, doing away with the rubber-tired ones of the original. The last 54 or so Tigers featured much rebuilding thanks to the deteriorating war situation for Germany - damaged hulls were regularly salvaged and reused when possible and new turrets (at least 22 new ones) were constructed to fill the ranks of the fallen.
Tiger Tank Variants
The early Tiger production series became the PzKpfW VI Ausf. H which sported a tropical system above the engine to facilitate activities in hotter desert climates such as those encountered in North Africa. Additionally, this Tiger form was given some deep water fording capability. The PzKpfW IV Ausf. E became the Tiger norm after February of 1944 and did away with the Ausf. H additions. In true German fashion, the hull of the Tiger tank was used to further other German Army requirements. This included its own Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) as the Tiger tank itself weighed more than any available recovery tractors then in service - a specialized Tiger was designed to pull other Tigers. A command tank existed as the "Befehlspanzer Tiger" with additional communications equipment. The "Sturmtiger" utilized the Tiger chassis while mounting a 380mm naval rocket-launching main gun to utterly destroy standing structures.
Tiger Tank Walk-Around
Design of the Tiger proved highly conventional for the time. Interestingly, its appearance was dominated by straight-angled armor plating across all major facings, this in contrast to the sloped armor of the Panther series. The hull sported a slab-sided superstructure with a short, sloped glacis plate. The glacis plate was forged to become 61mm thick and sloped by 80 degrees for ballistics protection. The plate ran up to the base of the forward superstructure plate (this plate sloped at just 10 degrees) and ran down to form a sloped hull underside. The forward hull underside was 102mm thick and sloped 24 degrees. The superstructure front panel facing was 102mm thick while the hull underside and roof front and rear quadrants were left thin at just 26mm. Side hull armor was 80mm thick with no sloping.
The superstructure sides hung over the wide track systems. The tracks were designed deliberately wider than previous German tank incarnations for improved traction and weight displacement. Such a design measure allowed a heavy vehicle to cross over softer terrains with some relative ease by spreading out the weight. This is not to say that the Tiger was impervious to getting stuck in mud and snow but this design element certainly helped her avoid it on occasion. Tigers were fitted with an overlapping road wheel arrangement similar to that as found on the Panther. The elevated drive sprocket was held at the front of the hull with the track idler at the rear, near the engine. In terms of mobility, the Tiger actually fared quite well given its heavy tank classification. The torsion bar suspension system - a German tank staple - also attributed to the Tiger's above average mobility.
Major Hull Compartments
The engine compartment roof at the rear was slotted for cooling needs and vertical exhaust systems were installed along the rear hull facing which itself was slightly angled inwards towards its bottom edge. The engine was covered over in a slightly-sloped (8-degrees) plate measuring in at 82mm in thickness. Crew accommodations amounted to five personnel that included the driver, radio operator, tank commander, gunner and loader. The driver maintained a position in the front left of the hull while the radio operator was to his right. The transmission system cover divided this forward compartment to space the two crewmembers apart. Each member was afforded his own access hatch along the forward top of the hull roof. The driver viewed the outside world through a vision block directly forward while the radio operator manned a 7.92mm MG34 bow-mounted machine gun with integrated sighting equipment.