SdKfz 186 Jagdtiger (Hunting Tiger) Tank Destroyer (TD) / Self-Propelled Assault Gun
The Jagdtiger was an optimistic - yet powerful - German tank destroyer design that was ultimately fielded in limited numbers.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Jagdtiger ("Hunting Tiger") served as the most powerful armored vehicle of World War 2 and was a further development of the fabled "King Tiger" (Tiger II) chassis (also known as the "Konigstiger"). She sported a lethal main gun and was clad in heavy armor protection but suffered from excess weight and production issues leading to a slow and cumbersome machine that was underpowered for the life of her operational run. As such, her production levels reached less than 90 units and some of these were not even fitted with the intended main gun armament. Regardless, when she found favorable conditions on the battlefields of World War 2, no Allied tank could withstand the firepower of the Jagdtiger tank destroyer
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in these early campaigns and subsequent actions ultimately forged a rather standardized process of converting outdated or new tank designs into dedicated "tank destroyers" to help combat the ever-growing flow of Allied tanks that were appearing with each passing war year -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.
The Jagdtiger was an impressive design for its time and went on to become the heaviest armored vehicle fielded in quantity during all of World War 2. She sported no less than 250mm of thickness across her frontal facing alone, ensuring that the crew was relatively safe from enemy anti-tank guns and projectiles from this direction. Regardless of what main gun was fitted, she always held the potential of knocking out any Allied tank at distance with a first shot. The crew was given one or two MG 34 general purpose machine guns for anti-infantry defense and to combat low-flying attack aircraft with 3,300 rounds of ammunition. Power was derived from a single installation of a Maybach HL 230 P30 series V12 liquid-cooled, gasoline-fueled engine developing up to 700 horsepower. While inherently powerful on its own, the engine was taxed by the sheer weight of the Jagdtiger frame and allowed for a top speed of just 21 miles per hour with an operational road range of 62 miles (this decreased to 43 miles when attempting off-road travel). The chassis was suspended on a torsion bar system across eight overlapping road wheels to a track side. She fielded a length of 35 feet to the tip of the main gun barrel and was 12 feet in width and some 9.2 feet high - a rather large profile to say the least. "Zimmerit" anti-magnetic paste - a special anti-tank mine coating - was applied to outgoing factory models up until the end of September in 1944 (Zimmerit was noted by its "ribbed" like appearance across armor facings on German tanks).
Externally, her original King Tiger design shown through with her sloping front glacis plate, partially-skirted road wheels and rear-mounted engine. One key different in identifying the Jagdtiger design was the fixed superstructure sporting the thick gun mantlet at the barrel base and the superstructure's sloped side facings. The fixed nature of this arrangement meant that traverse was extremely limited and forced the crew to point the entire tank in the direction of the enemy - a key disadvantage in any tank battle. This essentially made the Jagdtiger a mobile gun platform that served better as a defensive implement than an actual tank hunter/killer. All things considered for Germany late in the war, the defensive-minded nature of the design was actually suitable for the defensive war she now found herself in.
There was no denying the inherent value of the Jagdtiger - her firepower was second to none and her armor protection proved excellent. However, all of these features came at a price and the limitations inherent in the King Tiger design itself soon shown through. The Jagdtiger fought to maintain consistent and useful speeds, particularly when heading off-road to which a measly 9 miles per hour could be reached in prime conditions. This was more akin to the ponderous tanks being fielded in World War 1 than anything the modern battlefield should have seen in this point in history. The lack of a traversing powered turret was a true detriment to the crew yet ultimately sped up production time. Only about 40 of the large 128mm projectiles could be carried aboard, limiting her long-term usefulness in a stand-up firefight, and projectile and explosive charge were loaded individually which resulted in a slower rate-of-fire than desired. The heavy nature of the chassis, hull and superstructure combined meant that the engine worked harder than it should have and could easily lead to mechanical issues in-the-field in terms of reliability. Couple this with limits in spare parts and accessibility to these parts and one can quickly draw up a recipe for failure. The power-to-weight output also meant that the engine burned more fuel than what was tactically adequate, limiting her operational reach to the extreme. With all of these restrictive elements in hand, the Jagdtiger really did serve the more logical role of a defensive gun fixture or support for infantry spearheads. She could be used to wait in ambush for columns of primed enemy tanks to appear on the horizon or supports ground offensives as an assault gun. However, once her position had been overrun, the type was rendered rather useless thereafter. Additionally, direct hits to the side or more vulnerable rear facings (no more than 80mm thick) through a combined flanking maneuver could yield a destroyed or even disabled Jagdtiger, ultimately forcing surrender by the crew. Some were blown up with explosives by retreating crews.
The tenure of the Jagdtiger ended with the capitulation of Germany in May of 1945. By now, Hitler was dead and had passed on his power to trusted authorities - though these persons would recognize a losing war effort when they saw one and the unconditional surrender of Germany spawned VE Day celebrations on May 7th/8th. The Jagdtiger was captured by the Allies and evaluated for a time after the war. An interesting testament to her powerful design, there was never really a true answer to the Jagdtiger from the Allied point of view. Her limited production and tactical capabilities certainly played well into Allied hands and worked against the tactics of the German Army - an army that was initially build on speed and numbers to achieve ultimate victory. Speed and numbers were not the Jagdtigers strong points.
Only two German Army units ever fielded the Jagdtiger - these being schwere Panzerabteilung 512 and Panzerjagerabteilung 653.
In the end, the Jagdtiger was anything but the tank-hunter that it was advertised to be. The system ended up faring better as a stationary artillery platform, offering up infantry support or holding ground as a sort of armored and mobile "bunker" than it was at chasing down and destroying the faster-moving American, British and Soviet designs. Though no Allied armor could withstand the might of the 128mm projectile of the Jagdtiger's main gun, the Allies still held the advantage of being on the offensive by the time the Jagdtiger was ready for action.