Tiger I

Tiger I
Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J14953, Sizilien, Panzer VI (Tiger I).jpg
Tiger I in Sicily in 1943
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 [2]
Produced 1942–1944
Number built 1,347[Notes 1]
Weight 56.9 tonnes or 62.72 tons
Length 6.29 m (20 ft 8 in)

8.45 m (27 ft 9 in) (gun forward)

Width 3.55 m (11 ft 8 in)
Height 3.0 m (9 ft 10 in)
Crew 5

Armour 25–120 mm (0.98–4.7 in)[3][4]
8.8 cm KwK 36 L/56
92 rounds
(106 and 120 rounds for some modifications)
2× 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34
4,800 rounds
Engine Maybach HL230 P45 (V-12 petrol)
700 PS (690.4 hp, 514.8 kW)
Power/weight 12.3 PS/tonne
Suspension torsion bar
110–195 km (68–121 mi)
Speed 38 km/h (24 mph)

Tiger I 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 Tiger Ausf. E, often shortened to Tiger. It was an answer to the unexpectedly formidable Soviet armour encountered in the initial months of Operation Barbarossa, particularly the T-34 and the KV-1. The Tiger I design gave the Wehrmacht its first tank mounting the 88 mm gun, which had previously demonstrated its effectiveness against both air and ground targets. 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, used expensive and labour intensive materials and production methods, and was time-consuming to produce. Only 1,347 were built between August 1942 and August 1944. The Tiger was prone to certain types of track failures and immobilisations, it was however, generally mechanically reliable but expensive to maintain and complicated to transport due to its overlapping and interleaved road wheels. In 1944, production was phased out in favour of the Tiger II.

The tank was given its nickname Tiger About this sound listen by Ferdinand Porsche, and the Roman numeral was added after the later Tiger II entered production. The initial official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausführung H (‘Panzer VI version H’, abbreviated PzKpfw VI Ausf. H), but the tank was redesignated as PzKpfw VI Ausf. E in March 1943. It also had the ordnance inventory designation SdKfz 181.

Today, only a handful of Tigers survive in museums and exhibitions worldwide. Perhaps the most notable specimen is the Bovington Tank Museum's Tiger 131, 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, suspensions, 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.[5] 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 turret armour of 120 mm (4.7 in), as opposed 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).[3] Armour plates were mostly flat, with interlocking construction. The armour joints were of high quality, being stepped and welded rather than riveted.

The nominal armour thickness of the Tiger was reaching up to 200 mm at the mantlet.[7]


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 very flat trajectory 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 16 by 18 in (410 by 460 mm) target at a range of 1,200 yards (1,100 m). Tigers were reported to have knocked out enemy tanks at ranges greater than 2.5 miles (4,000 m), although most World War II engagements were fought at much shorter ranges. Triangulation (range finding) equipment was not yet available,[citation needed] so tank crews had a vested interest in approaching the enemy as closely and as fast as possible.

Ammunition used

  • PzGr. 39 (armour-piercing, capped, ballistic cap)
  • PzGr. 40 (armour-piercing, composite rigid)
  • Hl. Gr. 39 (high explosive anti-tank)
  • sch. Sprgr. Patr. L/4.5 (incendiary shrapnel)

Engine and drive

Clear view of the Tiger I's overlapping and interleaved road wheels during production

The rear of the tank held an engine room 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. Engine was a 21-litre (1282 cu.in.) 12-cylinder Maybach HL 210 P45 with 650 PS (641 hp, 478 kW). Although a good engine, it was inadequate for the vehicle. From the 250th Tiger, it was replaced by the uprated HL 230 P45 (23 litres/1410 cuin) with 700 PS (690 hp, 515 kW). The engine was in V-form, with two cylinder banks 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 hull roof.

The engine drove front sprockets, which were mounted quite low. The eleven-tonne turret had a hydraulic motor whose pump was powered by mechanical drive from the engine. A full rotation took about a minute. 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 on each arm, giving a good cross-country ride. The wheels had a diameter of 800 mm (31 in) and were overlapped and interleaved. Removing an inner wheel that had lost its tire (a common occurrence) therefore required the removal of up to nine outer wheels. The wheels could also become packed with mud or snow that could then freeze. 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.

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 outer row of wheels had to be removed and special 520 mm (20 in) wide transport tracks installed. With a good crew, a track change took 20 minutes.

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.[8] The vehicle had an eight-speed gearbox, and the steering offered two fixed radii of turns on each gear, thus 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.[8] There was an actual steering wheel and the steering system was easy to use and ahead of its time.[8]

Fording system

The Tiger tank was too heavy for small bridges, so it was designed to ford four-meter deep water. This required unusual mechanisms for ventilation and cooling when underwater. At least 30 minutes of set-up 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 meters.

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. Two men were seated in the turret; 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.


A major problem with the Tiger was that it used too many resources in terms of manpower and material. During the Second World War, over 58,000 American Shermans and 36,000 Soviet T-34s were produced, compared to 1,347 Tiger Is and 492[9] Tiger IIs. The German designs were expensive in terms of time, raw materials and Reichsmarks, the Tiger I costing over twice as much as a contemporary Panzer IV and four times as much as a StuG III assault gun.[10] The closest counterpart to the Tiger from the United States was the M26 Pershing (around 200 deployed during the war) and IS-2 from the USSR (about 3,800 built during the war).

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.

Design history

Early development prototypes

Henschel & Sohn began development of the vehicle that eventually became the Tiger I in January 1937 when the Waffenamt requested Henschel to develop a Durchbruchwagen (breakthrough vehicle) in the 30 tonne range. Only one prototype hull was ever built and it never was mounted 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 IV C 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 fall 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 overlapping and interleaved main road wheel concept, for tank chassis use, that were already being used 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 cm Selbstfahrlafette L/61, also known as Sturer Emil.

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 along 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 Matilda 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 unsuccessful Porsche prototype

On 26 May 1941, at an armaments meeting, Henschel and Porsche were asked to submit designs for a 45 tonne heavy tank, to be ready by June 1942. 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 surprised to encounter Soviet T-34 medium tanks and KV-1 heavy tanks that completely outclassed anything the Germans were currently fielding. 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.

The emergence of the Soviet T-34 and KV-1 was a great shock; 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."[citation needed] 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. Tiger's armour was hence thicker and heavier than necessary.

Porsche and Henschel submitted prototype designs and 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 the Panzerjäger Tiger (P) in spring 1943. The vehicle was also known as Ferdinand, and after Hitler's orders of 1 and 27 February 1944, it was renamed Elefant.

The Tiger was essentially at the prototype stage when it was first hurried into service, and therefore changes both small and large 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

Tiger I tank factory

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.[11] 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.[12] 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 in late 1943.[13][14][15] 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.


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 mis-identified as a BergeTiger 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 any were used in combat.


Designation Reference Date
VK 45.01 Henschel 28 July 1941
Pz.Kpfw. VI Ausf. H1 (VK 4501) Wa Prüf 6[Notes 2] 21 October 1941
VK 4501 (H) Wa J Rue (WuG 6)[Notes 3] 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[16] 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[17] 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 February 27, 1944, abolished the designation Panzerkampfwagen VI and ratified Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. E, which was the official designation until the end of the war.[7] For common use it was frequently shortened to Tiger.

Combat history

Gun and armour performance

German soldiers inspect a non-perforating 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),[18] the British Churchill IV between 1,100 and 1,700 m (0.68 and 1.1 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 0.19 mi).[18] The Soviet T-34 equipped with the 76.2 mm gun could not penetrate the Tiger frontally at any range[citation needed], but could achieve a side penetration at approximately 500 m firing BR-350P APCR ammunition.[citation needed] 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),[18] the IS-2s 122 mm gun could penetrate the front between 500 and 1,500 m (0.31 and 0.93 mi).[18]

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.[18] 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 penetrations were possible out to just over 500 m. The M3 90 mm cannon used in the late-war M36 Jackson, M26 Pershing, and M2 AA/AT mount could penetrate its front plate at a range of 1000 m, and from beyond 2000 m when using HVAP.[19]

As range decreases in combat, all guns can penetrate more armour (with the exception of HEAT ammunition, which was rare in World War II). The great penetrating power of the Tiger's gun meant that it could destroy many of its opponents at ranges at which they could not respond; compounding the Allied tankcrew's problem was the superior quality of German optics, which increased their chances of a hit on the first shot. In open terrain, this was a major tactical advantage. Opposing tanks were often forced to make a flanking attack in order to knock out a Tiger.

First actions

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

The Tiger was first used in action on 23 September 1942 near Leningrad. Under pressure from Hitler, the tank was put into action months earlier than planned. Many early models proved to be mechanically unreliable; in this first action many broke down. Others were knocked out by dug-in Soviet anti-tank guns. One tank was captured largely intact, which allowed the Soviets to study it and prepare a response.

In the North African theater, the Tiger first saw action in late 1942[citation needed] near Robaa Tunisia. In the ensuing battle, a battery belonging to the 72nd Anti-tank Regiment of the British Army equipped with six-pounders knocked out three Tigers. As the campaign continued, Tiger tanks did appear in limited numbers. Their armor and armament let them dominate in the open terrain of North Africa, but they were never deployed there in great numbers.

Mobility and reliability

A Tiger I assigned to the SS-Pz. Korps "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" operating in France.
This Tiger of the 502nd flipped over while attempting a bridge crossing in Russia, November 1943, killing the tank commander. It was recovered with extreme difficulty.[20]

The tank's extreme weight limited which bridges it could cross and made drive-throughs of buildings, which might have had basements, risky. 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; crews were told to not exceed 2600 rpm due to unreliability of the early Maybach engines at maximum 3000 rpm. Later an engine governor was installed, capping the engine to 2600 rpm and the maximum Tiger's speed to about 38 kilometres per hour (24 mph). By comparison, the medium tanks of the time, such as a Sherman or T-34, averaged a top speed of about 45 kilometres per hour (28 mph), so the Tiger did have a very respectable speed being nearly twice as heavy.

Tiger undergoing engine repair

The Tiger had reliability problems throughout its service life; Tiger units frequently entered combat understrength due to breakdowns. It was rare for any Tiger unit to complete a road march without losing vehicles due to breakdown. The tank also had poor movement range. Due to its very wide tracks, the Tiger had a lower ground pressure than smaller tanks, the most notable exception being the Soviet T-34.

Tiger I towed by two Sd.Kfz. 9

The infrastructure to support such a heavy vehicle was found wanting. For example, the standard German Sd.Kfz. 9 Famo heavy recovery half-track tractor could not tow the tank; up to three tractors were usually needed to tow one Tiger. Therefore another Tiger was needed to do this, but on such occasions, the engine of the towing vehicle often overheated and sometimes resulted in an engine breakdown or fire, so Tiger tanks were forbidden by regulations to tow crippled comrades. The low-mounted sprocket limited the obstacle-clearing height. The tracks also had a bad tendency to override the 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 disassemble the track by removing the track pins. It was sometimes simply blown apart with an explosive charge.

Tactical organization

A Tiger I camouflaged in a static defensive position.

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 Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, 2nd 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 Korps.[21]

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.[21] 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) and schwere Panzer-Abteilung 502 (13.08:1). Against the Soviet and Western Allied production numbers, even a 10:1 kill ratio would not have been 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

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.[22]

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.
Over 10 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.[23]

Allied response

A Tiger captured by US forces in Tunis, 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.[24] 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 HVAP rounds,[25] and at long range with the M2/M3 90mm AA/AT gun firing HVAP, and the M36 tank destroyer and M26 Pershing by the end of the war.[19]

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 in the carriages of 25-pounder howitzers.

Tiger I that knocked out the first M26 Pershing in combat. The Tiger then backed into a rubble pile and became stuck. The crew abandoned the tank.

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,[26] 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 shots[27]) and 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.

Marshal Georgy Zhukov inspecting a Tiger captured by the Red Army (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 APCR rounds, it could penetrate the Tiger's frontal armour under ideal conditions.[28] 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 round 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.[Notes 4][29][page needed] The tank was repaired and displayed in Tunisia before being sent to England for a thorough inspection.

On 25 September 1951, the captured tank was officially handed over to the Bovington Tank Museum by the British Ministry of Supply. 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[30]), 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 number produced, very few Tiger Is 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, five other Tiger tanks survive, at the following locations:

  • Musée des Blindés in Saumur, France. In good condition. An indoor exhibit. It has the narrow transport tracks fitted. 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 her way all the way back to Germany.
  • Vimoutiers, France. In bad condition. Outdoor monument. Heavily damaged by demolition charges set by the crew when abandoned in 1944.
  • Kubinka Tank Museum, Moscow, Russia. In good condition. It has the narrow transport tracks fitted. An indoor exhibit.
  • Military-historical Museum of Lenino-Snegiri, Russia. In very bad condition. A former badly shot and cut up firing range target. An outdoor exhibit.
  • United States Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen Proving Ground, United States. In good condition. Most of the left side of hull and turret was cut up in the late 1940s for display and educational purposes. This tank currently resides at the Wheatcroft Collection for restoration, but it will be returned to the USA soon.


  1. ^ Although 1,350 is a common figure, World War II magazine reported the figure of 1,355 in their January 1994 edition (p.16). Jentz gives a revised number of 1,347, including the prototype, the result of the most detailed investigation of the primary sources ever undertaken.[1]
  2. ^ Waffenamt Prüfwesen 6 – Panzer and Motorized Equipment Branch of the Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Department)
  3. ^ Wa J Ru-WuG 6--Panzerkraftwagen und Zugkraftwagenabteilung – Tanks and Tractors Branch of Amtsgruppe fur Industrielle Rustung--Waffen und Gerat, the Group for Weapons and Equipment Manufacture
  4. ^ The conservators have kept the damage caused by the ricochet unpainted, it can be observed at the Bovington Tank museum.


  1. ^ Jentz and Doyle 1993, pp. 11–13.
  2. ^ Zetterling 2000, p. 61.
  3. ^ a b Jentz 1993, pp. 8, 16.
  4. ^ a b Hart 2007, p. 17.
  5. ^ Jentz and Doyle 1993, p. 3.
  6. ^ Perrett 1999, p. 8.
  7. ^ a b Fabio Prado. "Pzkpfw Vi Tiger I". Armorsite. http://id3486.securedata.net/fprado/armorsite/tiger1.htm. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  8. ^ a b c Green, Michael; Brown, James D. (2008). Tiger tanks at war. St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press. pp. 44,46. ISBN 9780760331125. http://books.google.com/books?id=S1gbrYELbT4C&lpg=PA43&dq=Tiger%20tank%20turning%20clutch%20gear&pg=PA44#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  9. ^ Jentz 1996, p. 288.
  10. ^ Panzer Statistics achtungpanzer.com
  11. ^ Jentz and Doyle 1993, p. 13.
  12. ^ Zaloga 2007, p. 17.
  13. ^ Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E Sd. Kfz. 181 achtungpanzer.com
  14. ^ Crawford 2000, p. 41.
  15. ^ Jentz and Doyle 1993, p. 12.
  16. ^ Table of Organisation, KStN 1150d
  17. ^ Table of Organisation, KStN 1176e
  18. ^ a b c d e Jentz and Doyle 1993, pp. 19–20.
  19. ^ a b "USA Guns 90mm calibre". Gva.freeweb.hu. http://gva.freeweb.hu/weapons/usa_guns7.html. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  20. ^ Schneider 2000, pp. 78, 104.
  21. ^ a b Wilbeck 2004[page needed]
  22. ^ Agte 2006, pp. 103-105.
  23. ^ Tiger Aces alanhamby.com
  24. ^ Zaloga 2003, p. 14.
  25. ^ "USA Guns 75mm and 76mm calibre". Gva.freeweb.hu. http://gva.freeweb.hu/weapons/usa_guns5.html. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  26. ^ The 17 Pounder Anti-Tank Gun David Boyd, wwiiequipment.com
  27. ^ Hart 2007, p. 65.
  28. ^ "Soviet Guns 57mm calibre". http://www.freeweb.hu/gva/weapons/soviet_guns4.html. Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  29. ^ Carruthers, Bob (2000). German Tanks at War. London: Cassell. ISBN 9780304353941. 
  30. ^ http://www.tiger-tank.com/secure/journal41.htm
  • Agte, Patrick (2006). Michael Wittmann and the Waffen SS Tiger Commanders of the Leibstandarte in WWII, Vol. 1. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books. ISBN 9780811733342. 
  • Hart, Stephen (2007). Sherman Firefly vs Tiger: Normandy 1944. Reading: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1846031508. 
  • Jentz, Thomas (1996). Panzertruppen 2: The Complete Guide to the Creation & Combat Employment of Germany's Tank Force 1943-1945. Schiffer. ISBN 9780764300806. 
  • Jentz, Tom; Doyle, Hillary (1993). Tiger 1 Heavy Tank 1942-45. illustrated by Sarson, Peter. Osprey. ISBN 9781855323377. 
  • Perrett, Bryan (1999). Panzerkampfwagen IV medium tank : 1936 - 1945. Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey. ISBN 9781855328433. 
  • Schneider, Wolfgang (2004). Tigers in Combat I. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books; 2nd edition, originally published 2000 by J.J. Fedorowicz; Winnipeg, Canada. ISBN 0811731715. 
  • Schneider, Wolfgang (2005). Tigers in Combat II. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books; originally published 1998 by J.J. Fedorowicz; Winnipeg, Canada. ISBN 0811732037. 
  • Wilbeck, Christopher (2004). Sledgehammers: Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II. Bedford, Pa.: The Aberjona Press. ISBN 9780971765023. 
  • Zaloga, Steven (2007). Japanese Tanks 1939-45. Reading: Osprey. ISBN 9781846030918. 
  • Zaloga, Steven (2003). M4 (76mm) Medium Tank 1943-65. Osprey. ISBN 1 84176 542 2. 
  • Zaloga, Steven (2005). US Anti-Tank Artillery 1941-45. Osprey. ISBN 1 84176 690 9. 
  • Zetterling, Niklas (2000). Kursk 1943: a statistical analysis. London: Frank Cass. ISBN 9780714650524. 
  • "Tiger and Tiger II sections from Handbook on German Military Forces". http://www.lonesentry.com/tm_tigertank/index.html. Retrieved October 8, 2009. 

Further reading

  • Jentz, Thomas L. (1997). Germany's Tiger Tanks: Tiger I & II : Combat Tactics. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 9780764302251.

External links

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