The development of the one of the most famous tanks of World War II started in 1937 and first massive Tiger I heavy tank emerged in July of 1942. Plans for a heavy 30 ton tank was first mentioned in 1935, but it was not until 1937, when Henschel started the development of DW (Durchbruchwagen – Breakthrough Tank) along with Krupp being responsible for the turret housing 75mm main gun.
From 1937 to mid 1941, Henschel produced designs and prototypes of various medium and heavy tanks such as DW (Durchbruchwagen) I and II, VK 3001, VK3601 and VK 6501. They were all designated as VK – Versuchsfahrgestelle – trial/test chassis. DW I and II were to be armed with 75mm guns, while VK3601 was to be armed with larger main gun. At the same, Dr.Porsche developed his VK 3001 Leopard medium tank. None of those tanks entered production but provided both companies with valuable experience in tank design and production, which came to be useful in working on the Tiger heavy tank.
On May 26th of 1941, during the meeting concerning the development of new weaponry, Adolf Hitler ordered both Dr.Porsche and Henschel to supply their designs for a heavy tank, which was to be ready in the summer of 1942. The new tank was to out-armor and out-gun all Allied armor, especially Soviet medium T-34s and heavy KV series tanks.
As usual, Krupp was in charge of supplying main armament and producing turrets for designs by both Henschel and Porsche. The project was known as the "Tigerprogram".
Learn More About The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger from Panzertales
Henschel Tiger’s development was based on previous designs of VK 3001(H) and VK 3601(H), while Porsche Tiger’s development was based on previous design of VK 3001(P) Leopard. The new 45-ton panzer was to be armed with a 88mm KwK L/56 mounted in a turret designed by Krupp. Development of Porsche’s Tiger (also known as Porsche Typ 101) was progressing much faster than that of Henschel, since Porsche worked on an independent project for a heavy tank since autumn of 1940. Henschel was not that advanced and utilized as many already available components from its previous projects to complete its VK 4501 design on time. Originally, Krupp designed the turret for Porsche’s VK 4501, but then it was modified and used by Henschel’s VK 4501. The first eight turrets produced had lower sides and a flat roof with raised centre section to allow the gun to be depressed through larger arc, while the rest had the higher sides and slanted roof. In mid 1941, Henschel decided to build two prototypes – VK 4501(H) H1 and VK 4501(H) H2. Model H1 was to be armed with 88mm KwK 36 L/56 gun, mounted in modified Krupp’s turret designed for VK 4501(P). Model H2 was to be armed with 75mm KwK 42 L/70 (Rheinmetall) gun mounted in a newly designed turret (similar to that later used on Panther Ausf D1 and Ausf A) of which only wooden model was made. In late 1941, Henschel decided to concentrate on model H1 and continued its development and its prototype was ready on April 17th of 1942. The first Tiger by Henschel known as Versuchsserie Tiger Nr. V1 was the only one fitted with Vorpanzer (frontal armor shield) to protect front lower hull and tracks.
Early Tiger I
Pre-Production Tiger I (Versuchsserie Tiger Nr. V1) equipped with a snorkeling device and Vorpanzer (frontal armor shield).
Both, Henschel and Porsche’s prototypes arrived to a station near Rastenburg in East Prussia (today Ketrzyn, Poland) on April 19th of 1942 and then travelled 11km to Rastenburg, while constantly breaking down. On April 20th of 1942 at 11:00am, both Porsche and Henschel prototypes (Versuchsserie) were presented to Adolf Hitler (on his birthday) in Wolfschanze (Wolf’s Lair), East Prussia. In July of 1942, both were put to the extensive tests at the tank school in Berka, Germany. During the tests, Porsche’s VK 4501(P) was a failure, while Henschel’s VK 4501(H) was a great success. In July of 1942, Henschel Tiger – VK 4501(H) was approved and went into production at Henschel und Sohn plant at Kassel.
Wittmann and Tiger
SS-Haupsturmfuehrer Michael Wittmann
"The Tiger Ace"
Tigers equipped special heavy tank companies and battalions (schwere Panzer Abteilung – sPzAbt) both of the Army and Waffen SS. First Tiger companies had 9 tanks per company, number increased to 14 by mid 1943. In 1943, Tiger battalions with 45 tanks were established. Army units (sPzAbt) were numbered from 501 to 510, while Waffen SS (sSSPzAbt) from 101 to 103. Three Waffen SS battalions were formed from three heavy tank companies assigned to panzer regiments of LSSAH, Das Reich and Totenkopf divisions. Tigers were also issued to a heavy company assigned to the panzer regiment of Grossdeutschland division and in turn, Grossdeutschland received complete heavy tank battalion. Tigers were also issued to heavy tank battalion (Funklenk) radio-controlled – sPzAbt (FKL) 301 and to heavy tank company (Funklenk) radio-controlled – Pz.Kp.(FKL) 316. Units formed from remnants of larger units and also training and testing companies also used Tigers. During their service, Tigers saw service on all fronts – Eastern, African and Western.
The first time Tiger saw action was on August 29th of 1942 and September 21st/22nd at Mga, southeast of Leningrad with 1st company of sPzAbt 502. The unsuccessful engagements ended in the new Tiger being captured by the Soviets, who then examined it and exhibited during the captured equipment exhibition in Moscow’s Gorky Park in 1943. The failure of Tigers was attributed to mechanical problems as well as poor terrain conditions, totally unsuitable for heavy tanks. In December of 1942, Tigers from sPzAbt 501, saw action near Tunis in North Africa.
schwere Panzer Abteilungen (heavy tank battalions)
sPzAbt 501 (424)
sPzAbt 502 (511)
sPzAbt 503 (FHH)
sSSPzAbt 101 (501)
sSSPzAbt 102 (502)
sSSPzAbt 103 (503)
"I have inspected the battlefield at Fais Pass in Tunisia, being with the force which retook it. Inspection of our tanks destroyed there indicated that the 88mm gun penetrated into the turret from the front and out again in the rear. Few gouges were found indicating that all strikes had made penetrations." – Report by American Colonel from Tunisia, 1943.
Tiger I heavy tank originally received the designation of Panzerkampfwagen VI H (8.8 cm) Ausf H1 – Sd.Kfz.182, but then in March of 1943, was redesignated to Panzerkampfwagen Tiger (8.8 cm L/56) Ausf E – Sd.Kfz.181. It was commonly referred to as Tiger, Tiger I and PzKpfw VI. Officially there was only single type of Tiger tank produced, but during the duration of production improvements were carried on. Based on their modifications, Tigers can be divided into three main production models – early, mid and late (final). Late production Tigers differed slightly from early models and shared number of common parts (mechanical) with Panther and King Tiger in order to simplify the production. Also many older Tigers being rebuild at factories or repaired in the field were fitted with newer components.
The first Tigers being produced in 1942.
The first production Tigers were ready in August of 1942 and from July of 1942, Henschel and Wegmann manufactured only 1,355 Tigers until as late as August of 1944 (chassis number 250001 to 251346). Henschel produced the chassis and Wegmann assembled the turrets, while Henschel did final assembly. Tiger’s production reached its highest point in April of 1944, when 105 were produced. The main reason for the number produced was Tiger’s difficult production and its cost. Out the entire number produced some 500 saw service with sSSPzAbts. On June 7th of 1943, Japanese ambassador in Germany, General Oshima was shown a Tiger from sPzAbt 502. Single Tiger was then sold to Japan in 1943, but was never delivered due to the war situation and was loaned by Japan to the German Army (sSSPzAbt 101). Henschel charged Japan 645.000 Reichsmarks for fully equipped Tiger (with ammunition and radio equipment), while the regular price for the same Tiger was only 300.000 Reichsmarks. The Japanese officers in "their" Tiger were great subject for propaganda photographs. It is interesting to point out that Tiger tank would be almost useless in the type of warfare and terrain where Imperial Japanese Army operated. The only advantage would be the technological aspects of the Tiger, which in comparison to the Japanese tanks of the time was a modern armored monster. Only 3 Tigers were sold to Hungary in July of 1944 and small number was handed over to Hungarians by sPzAbt 503 or 509. Also some sources state that Spain was interested in acquiring a number of Tigers, but the transaction was never finalized.
"…the Pz Kpfw VI with its heavy armour, dual purpose armamentand fighting ability was basically an excellent tank, and, constituted a considerable advance on any allied tank…" – British Report from 1943 based on a study of Tiger I captured in Tunisia.(with full tropical air filter ‘Feifel’ system – November 1942 to August 1943).
The First Captured Tiger from sPzAbt 502 on display at Gorky Park in Moscow.
The two Marshals of the Soviet Union – G. Zhukov and K. Voroshilov are inspecting the first Tiger captured on the Leningrad front. Please note the unusual location of tool/storage box on the turret. Close to Zhukov is the Chief of the Weapons Department of Red Army Gen.Col. S. Vannikov.
Photo and information provided by Dmitry Pyatakhin.
Tiger I was armed with powerful 88mm gun (originally developed from 88mm Flak 36 L/56 gun) that made it a very dangerous opponent for any Allied tank, and its thick (but not shot deflecting) armor made it virtually indestructible. Both Sherman with 76mm gun and T-34/85 stood a chance against Tiger only at close range. Introduced in July of 1944, Sherman Firefly with 17pdr gun, was the only (Western) Allied tank able to engage and penetrate Tigers armor at normal combat ranges. It is reported that in July of 1944, commander of 3rd company of schwere Panzer Abteilung 506, Captain Wakker, destroyed Soviet T-34 at the range of 3900 meters. The rule applied by the British concerning the engagement of Tigers was that five Shermans were needed to destroy a single Tiger, but only one Sherman was to return from the engagement. Tiger’s only weak spot was its rear armor plate and its engine, which required continuous maintenance. During their combat service, Tigers destroyed large numbers of enemy tanks and other equipment, creating the myth of their invincibility and fearsome power – "Tiger-phobia". Tiger also had tremendous effect on morale of both German and Allied soldiers, Germans felt secure, while Allies thought that every German tank, especially late model PzKpfw IV was a Tiger ! "…and the T-34s and KVs eliminated hundreds of Tigers…", Russian Newspaper Article about Battle of Kursk, Novosti Press Agency, 1943. Late in the war, last models of Panzerkampfwagen IV visible at a distance were often identified as Tigers, hence increasing the number of encountered and destroyed Tigers reported by the Allied tank crews.
Original 250 Tigers were powered by 12-cylinder Maybach HL 210 P 45 engine with total power of 650hp, which made Tiger badly underpowered and its off-road performance suffered as a result. To improve that problem modified 12-cylinder Maybach HL 230 P 45 engine with power increased to 700hp was installed in all models since May of 1943. The sound of the Tiger engine starting had a distinctive noise even at the distance and was well known to the Allied soldiers, who remember it with respect.
The first 500 (495) Tigers were equipped with a snorkelling device allowing them to travel underwater as deep as 4-5 meters for 2.5 hours. Later models were provided with wading equipment allowing them to travel underwater only as deep as 1.3 meters. Tigers produced from November 1942 to August 1943 were fitted with full tropical air filter ‘Feifel’ system.
Five men crew – commander, gunner, loader, radio operator and driver, operated tiger. Tiger’s interior layout was composed of four compartments – driver’s compartment, gunner/radio operator’s compartment, fighting compartment (turret) and engine compartment. Driver’s and gunner/radio operator’s compartment were in one compartment but were divided by transmission and final drive unit. Driver steered the tank by steering wheel, which controlled hydraulic power steering system. In case of breakdown, two manual steering levers were provided. The levers controlled manual steering brakes and were also used as parking brakes.
Tiger’s suspension was composed of driving sprocket, rear idler and interleaved roadwheels (36 in total). Interleaved roadwheel arrangement used in Tiger I caused mud, ice and rocks to jam the track mechanism and as a result immobilize the tank. To overcome this problem, running gear needed constant attention, especially on the Eastern Front.
Tigers were equipped with two kinds of tracks, 520mm narrow tracks (used for transportation) and 720mm battle/combat (wider) tracks. In order to transport Tiger by rail, the outer road wheel was removed from each axle and tank was fitted with transport tracks. This was done in order for Tiger tanks to fit on railcars and to meet clearance requirements. This practice was mainly done in areas with rail traffic, but not often during transport in open country. Also special railroad flatbed cars were produced in order to transport and unload Tigers quickly.An experienced crew could change the tracks in half an hour. The rest of the time was needed to remove or install the outboard wheels and the side mud guards, and to fold or unfold the outboard sections of the front and rear mud guards, among other things.
Tiger I - Turret Interior
Tiger I – inside the turret, showing breech and gunner’s position.
Tiger’s turret housed 88mm gun, which was offset to the right and was mounted on a turret ring with 185cm diameter. The main gun was fired electrically with a switch on gunner’s manual traverse wheel. 92 rounds of AP (armor-piercing) and HE (high-explosive) ammunition were stored in bins beneath the turret basket, on the hull floor and on the side of the superstructure. The large size of the gun divided the turret into two sections – gunner and commander on the left side and loader on the right. The turret was traversed by hydraulic power, but for adjustment and elevation handwheels were used.
Armor-piercing rounds usually accounted for half of a Tiger’s ammunition supply, the rest taken up with Sprgr. High-explosive rounds for use against enemy soft-skinned vehicles and infantry. The hollow-charge Gr.39HL round, which was less productive at short range, was sometimes exchanged for some of the HE load despite being less accurate. The Pzgr.39 APCBC (Armor Piercing Composite Ballistic Cap) round was capable of piercing 100mm of armour at an angle of 30 degrees within a range of 1000m. The tungsten-cored Pzgr.40 round could easily pierce 171mm of armour at short range and 110mm at 2000m, while the Gr.39HL round could penetrate 90mm of armour up to 2000m.
During the production, Tiger was constantly modified and improved almost on monthly bases. Turret’s pistol port of early model was replaced with an escape hatch (also used for loading ammunition) in mid production model. Gunner’s two sight holes (for TZF 9b gun sight) in the gun mantlet of an early model were reinforced with an armor block in mid production model and replaced with single sight hole in late model (for TZF 9c gun sight). Two front Bosch headlights of early version were replaced with single centre mounted one on late model. Three different types of exhaust covers were used, two in early and one in late model. In late 1943, commander’s drum cupola was replaced with cast one designed for Tiger II. From February of 1944, Tigers were mounted with steel-rimmed resilient road-wheels just as those of Tiger II and Panther II tanks. It is reported that some 800 were mounted with such wheels. The wheels had internal rubber rim and were adapted from those used in Tiger II tank but were based on wheels used in Soviet KV heavy tanks. The wheels were introduced because they could stand more weight and allowed the number of road-wheels per axle to be decreased from three to two. Deutsche Eisenwerke produced those wheels.
In addition to factory modifications, sPzAbt 501 field modified their Tigers, while in Tunisia. The modifications included thinner narrow mudguards without folding sections and Bosch headlights moved from upper hull plate to the front hull plate (installed on brackets).
Since September of 1943, Tigers were very commonly coated with Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste until October of 1944.
During service in 1944, 84 Tigers were converted to command tanks – Befehlswagen Tiger I Ausf. E (Sd.Kfz.267/268) fitted with additional radio equipment. Sd.Kfz.267 was fitted with 30-watt FuG 8 transmitter/receiver and 10-watt FuG 5 transmitter, while Sd.Kfz.268 with 20-watt FuG 7 transmitter/receiver and 10-watt FuG 5 transmitter. The number of rounds carried was reduced from 92 to 66 to provide room for additional equipment.
From August to December of 1944, 18 retired or battle damaged Tigers were converted to Sturmtigers armed with short-barrelled Raketenwerfer 61 38cm breech-loaded rocket launchers/mortars.
In 1944, three Tigers were field converted by the sPzAbt 509 to recovery vehicles – Bergepanzer Tiger. In November of 1944, all three were transferred to the sPzAbt 501. Single mid production Tiger I (pictured above) damaged near Anzio in Italy was rebuild and converted by the workshop of sPzAbt 508 to a special purpose vehicle. Conversion took place from March 1st to 5th of 1944. Its gun was removed and the turret traversed to the rear and fixed. A winch was mounted on the turret’s top along with a 10-ton lifting crane. It was also equipped with other auxiliary equipment. This particular vehicle was lost between April 20th and May 25th of 1944 and was captured by the British, who reported it as Bergetiger with a crane. This single Tiger was not a real Bergetiger but charge laying and clearing vehicle. Bergepanzer Tiger received SdKfz.185 designation but it is not confirmed since Jagdtiger with 88mm KwK 43 L/71 gun also received the same designation.
There was also experimental mounting of 88mm KwK 43 L/71 gun on Tiger but it was delayed and abandoned in favour of the development of Tiger II, which eventually was to replace Tiger I.
"It is suggested to the Red Army to use such German tanks as StuG III and Pz IV due to their relability and availability of spare parts. The new German Panther and Tiger can be used until they broken down without trying to repair them. They have bad engines, transmission and suspension." – Department of Weaponry of the Red Army, late 1944.
Late Tiger I
Late production Tiger I at Armour Museum Saumur in France.
This Tiger is fitted with narrow transportation tracks.
Picture provided by Eric Peytavin.
On July 7th of 1943, single Tiger tank commanded by SS-Oberscharfuehrer Franz Staudegger from 2nd Platoon of 13th Panzer Company of 1st SS Panzer Grenadier Division "LSSAH" engaged Soviet group of some 50 T-34 tanks around Psyolknee (southern sector of the Kursk salient). Staudegger used up his entire ammunition after destroying some 22 Soviet tanks, while the rest retreated. For his achievement, Franz Staudegger was awarded the Knight’s Cross.
On August 8th of 1944, single Tiger commanded by SS-Unterscharfuehrer Willi Fey from the 1st Company of sSSPzAbt 102, engaged a British tank column destroying some 14 out of 15 Shermans, followed by one more later in the day using his last two rounds of ammunition. sSSPzAbt 102 lost all of its Tigers during fighting in Normandy but reported 227 Allied tanks destroyed during the period of 6 weeks.
The massive Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger will remain forever a symbol of formidable the German Panzer formations of World War II. Today, six Tigers can be seen on display in Russia – Kubinka and Snegiri; France – Saumur and Vimoutiers and England – Bovington.
The Myth of Italian Tigers !In May of 1943, 36 Tigers were supplied to Italy to form a new crack division named "Mussolini" (1st) Armored Division or "Leonessa" Armored Group . They saw limited combat service due to the Italian surrender in September of 1943. Tigers were then confiscated and quickly pressed into the service with one of the schwere SS Panzer Abteilungens.
The Italian Armoured Division "M" (not "Mussolini") formed by "Camicie Nere" (Italian Fascist Militia – The Blackshirts / MVSN) was in reality a strong Brigade comprising of 5800 men, 24 88/55 Flak guns and an Armoured Group (Gruppo Corazzato LEONESSA) consisting of 12 PzKpfw IV Ausf H, 12 PzKpfw III Ausf N and 12 StuG III Ausf G, but never had any PzKpfw VI Tigers !!! After the armistice the unit was disbanded and the 36 "panzers" were returned to the Waffen SS.
Information provided by Eusebi Eugenio, Cadoneghe, Padova.
Soviet T-55 converted to Tiger.
Photo was provided and is property of Geoffrey Zimmer
Introduction from Report On Pz Kw VI (Tiger) Model Eby Military College of Science, School of Tank Technology, Chobham Lane Chertsey, January 1944The Pz. Kw. VI was introduced into service by the enemy in the Autumn or Winter of 1942, and appeared in North Africa in January 1943 and later in Sicily and on the Russian front.
The vehicle which has been examined is a Pz. Kw. VI (E) or Sd. Kfz. 182 and is also known as the "TIGER". This model to have been developed by Henschel u Soehne G.m.b.H.
The "TIGER" is of course outstanding by reason of its being the heaviest A.F.V. in general service, scaling approximately 56 tons in battle order. Its main armament is an 8.8 cm. gun, whilst its heaviest armour (on the frontvertical plate) is 102 mm. Another feature of outstanding tactical interest is its deep wading facilities, and limited under water performance, to a depth of approximately 15 ft.
Its size and weight, however, impose certain tactical disadvantages, the cost outstanding being the restriction on transportation due to its width, and its limited radius of action, due to heavy fuel consumption, (stated by the enemy as 2.75 gallons per mile on normal cross-country running).
The workmanship appears to be of a high order, and the design has been executed freely from the drawing board, in general unhampered by the utilisation of existing components. There are exceptions however and certain points of detail design appear unnecessarily elaborate and costly to manufacture.
An interesting development in German A.F.V. construction is the introduction of plate interlocking in addition to the normal stepped jointing. This method has no doubt been made necessary by the use of thicker armour.
The steering unit is in principle similar to the "Merritt-Brown" with the further refinement of a twin radius of turn in each gear. This adoption of a full’ regenerative steering system is a distinct departure from the simple clutch/brake system hitherto employed on German tanks. The weight of the TIGER no doubt enforced a radical change in the steering design and the adoption of this system is therefore of interest. The gearbox has much in common with other Maybach pre-selective units, and probably the outstanding merit of this design is the provision of a large number of forward ratios (in this case eight) in a relatively compact main casing. This use of a fully automatic change speed operation is in distinct contrast with current Allied practice.
The transmission and steering units are extremely complicated and undoubtedly costly in man/hours to produce. The resultant light control of such a heavy vehicle may be some justification, since those who have driven the tank comment favourably on this feature.
As yet there is no indication that the Germans favour a compression ignition engine and the Pz. Kw. VI is powered by a V-12 Maybach petrol engine. This engine which has undoubtedly been expressly designed for a heavy tank, is a logical development of the Maybach V-12 type 120 TRM used in the Pz. Kw. III and Pz. Kw. IV and is similar in general design. As this engine represents the very latest German practice it merits close study, and it must be conceded that the design has achieved its purpose in a great measure. It is compact, light and very accessible.