Beast of the Battlefield
|A Tiger Tank ready to rumble.|
|Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E (Sd.Kfz. 181). Marking kills. There are well over 20... so far colorized, Federal Archive).|
|A captured Tiger with signs of heavy use.|
|German Tiger I Tunisia, 1943 (Photographer Linke, German Federal Archive).|
|Panzerkampfwagen VI Tigers (8,8 cm L/56) Ausf. E (Sd.Kfz. 181). Rail transport was used for all except the shortest of distances unless it was unavailable or military needs dictated otherwise.|
|German officers inspecting a new Tiger, 1943 (Wessebach, Federal Archive).|
There are different claims as to where the idea or inspiration for the Tiger tank came from. The area in dispute is when and why the Germans began working on the Tiger, not when it entered action or anything like that.
The Urgent Need for the Tiger Tank
|King Tiger with Porsche turret.|
The truth is that too many Germany records were destroyed at the end of the war for them to be considered completely reliable, while Soviet records are unreliable on their face and/or falsified for political reasons, or purposefully unavailable to this day (Soviet troop numbers and weapons counts inevitably are downplayed in their own records to make every battle seem more equal in terms of relative strengths, whereas their operations always somehow ended precisely where their records indicate they were planned to end the day the operations orders were issued).
There is, shall we say, some 'conjecturing' going on due to the absence of hard data. So, we go with the best sources and leave it at that.
|The Tiger at Bovington, used in the motion picture "Fury."|
|PzKpfw VI Tiger I from 2. SS Panzer Division Das Reich in Kursk.|
|Tiger I, Yugoslavia. If you look very closely, there appears to be a doll hanging from the barrel of the main gun. This is quite easy to miss in black-and-white versions of this shot.|
My quibble with the Bovington theory is that the Battle of Arras was a one-day affair that did not stop the Wehrmacht's drive to sea in the slightest. Germans never were too worried about British armor, and they destroyed literally dozens of British tanks during that particular encounter. Experience showed that it was airpower and raw numbers that invariably made the difference when fighting the British, and that formula worked throughout the war. So, it seems a bit much for that one encounter to generate an entirely new class of tanks. A more significant flaw with the Bovington theory is that, when Hitler held a major conference at the Berghof to reform the Panzer arm in mid-February 1941, he only wanted to upgrade the main guns on the Panzer III and Panzer IV - not create new and larger tanks from the ground up. If the experiences in France had had an effect on Hitler, that would have been the time to put it into practice. Hitler didn't.
There's actual indirect proof that the Bovington theory is malarkey. On 18 February 1941, Adolf Hitler held a major conference at the Berghof with his top military advisors and tank manufacturers. He demanded that the Panzer III and IV main guns be upgraded. Field Marshal Keitel protested vigorously because he said there weren't enough trained men to do it. Hitler stood firm: find the men and upgrade the guns. The tanks themselves? They were just fine. Heck, Keitel (representing the orthodox military opinion, as the other generals always briefed anyone who met with Hitler fully before such conferences) didn't even think they needed more powerful guns (which they most definitely did, Hitler was spot on with his analysis).
That meeting is germane to this discussion because of two facts:
- Hitler did not demand a new, heavier tank such as the Tiger at this time;
- It was almost a full year after the Battle of Arras.
My conclusion? Bovington and its running Tiger are terrific, but the Bovington theory is full of it.
It is possible, though, to square the Bovington theory regarding the Tiger with the more commonly accepted story about the genesis of the Tiger, so let's go through that exercise also.
|German Army Oberleutnant Wilhelm Knauth in the turret of a Tiger I heavy tank, Russia, Jan-Feb 1944 (Federal Archives, Wehmeyer).|
|A Tiger Tank of the Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 502 is painted with tiger shark’s teeth on the muzzle brake, summer 1943, Leningrad sector near Lake Ladoga.|
|German Tiger Tank Commanders | Heavy tank PzKpfw VI Tiger Ausf H1 Commander Hauptmann Lange. This shot nicely emphasizes the broad tracks which were so vital for operating in the Russian snow and mud.|
|Early Russian T-34 with a 76mm main gun.|
|A knocked-out Soviet KV tank. I believe this is the first one that the Germans encountered, which caused a lot of concern.|
|A perfunctorily camouflaged Tiger I waiting patiently to greet some Russians.|
|Inside a Sturmgeschütz III.|
|Rejected Porsche Tiger P prototype VK4501 P.|
|s.SS-Pz.Abt. 101 "LSSAH", Tiger 232 northern France, spring 1944. As air attack was deadly at this point, the tank wisely is hiding amidst the foliage. (Sobeck, Federal archive).|
The Tiger IOnce it won the heavy tank competition, Henschel began ramping up production immediately. The first Tigers started appearing on the Leningrad front in August 1942, ten months after the problem before Moscow, but there were issues. Two of the first four Tigers broke down before they got near the enemy. They were undoubtedly impressive and outclassed every other tank, German or Russian, but the first Tigers had engine and transmission troubles and many wound up by the side of the road - or, worse, in the middle of it. The Tigers were big, and towing them presented a problem all its own at first. Some teething problems are inevitable, especially after such a quick turnaround. Some Tigers appeared in Tunisia before the collapse of the bridgehead there, but many more probably wound up at the bottom of the Mediterranean in sunken Italian transport ships (fully half were sunk in the last few months) than actually made it to General Erwin Rommel's troops.
|Tiger Tank Gunnery school in Putlos, Germany.|
|A Tiger in Tunis, 1943.|
|Two Tigers from Schwere Panzer-Abteilung (heavy panzer detachment) 503 as seen through the driver’s vision visor during an advance in the summer of 1943.|
|The commander’s tank of the Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 opens fire with his main gun at Kursk in the summer of 1943.|
|Tiger tanks of 503 Heavy Tank Battalion of the Army Detachment Kempf, advancing with infantry in a Soviet village during the early days of the Battle of Kursk.|
|Tiger Is of the III Panzer Corps, early 1944, riding to the rescue of the Korsun-Cherkassy pocket. Notice the ones parked in the background to the left, too (Jacob, Federal Archive).|
|Tiger I in the field.|
|SS Panzergrenadiers by a Tiger I of the 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich during the Battle of Kursk. They are behind a hill, ready to launch.|
|Obersturmbannführer Christian Tychsen, 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich." The 353rd recipient of the Oak Leaves and a veteran of the Eastern Front, Tychsen was killed by air attack in the latter stages of the Normandy campaign.|
|Despite its 56-ton weight, this Tiger I was overturned by the bombing preparatory to the Allied breakout from Normandy. Three men survived. Normandy, France, July 1944. Just imagine the sheer power of the bombs to do this.|
|Tiger tanks and crews in a commemorative pose. The tanks look new. A commenter notes that this is the newly formed 2nd Company of the sPzAbt 502 (heavy tank) unit in France.|
|German Panzer VI (Tiger I) in front of the Fascist Vittoriano (Altar of the Fatherland, later the Monument to Victor Emanuel II). Rome, Italy first half of 1944.|
|An American Soldier sits in the Turret of a knocked out Tiger Tank, possibly 1944 in Normandy. The soldier is emphasizing the immense size of the turret, which has been blown clean off the body, most likely by air attack (colorized).|
|Soviet T-34 medium tank beside a Tiger I heavy tank.|
|Tiger I commander scanning for targets, most likely at Kursk.|
|s.Pz.Kp./SS-Pz.Rgt. 2 "Das Reich", two unidentified Tigers and a StuG III move forward during Operation "Zitadelle", the Soviet Union, July 1943 (Canticler, Federal Archive).|
|PzKpfw. VI Tiger near the river Orne in Normandy, 1944. A commenter notes that this was SS PzAbt 102.|
|Soldiers admiring Tigers of sPzAbt 507 in an assembly area near Ternopil, April 1944. Note the battalion HQ command tank marked "A." Thanks to a commenter for identifying this scene.|
|s.Pz.Abt. 508, a 2.Kp. A Tiger having work done near Aprilia, Italy, February 1944 (Vack, Federal Archive).|
|German Panzer column comprising Tiger tanks of 506 Heavy Tank Battalion join the retreat of the German army in western Ukraine on May 4, 1944.|
|Wittmann and his crew, who have quite a collection of medals by this point.|
|The driver's seat of a Tiger, shell loading to the right.|
|Wittmann in command. Note all the prominent Zimmerit paste.|
|Wittmann receives his decoration and promotion for his actions at Villers Bocage.|
|2nd SS Pz.Div. "Das Reich" officers: SS-Sturmbannführer Christian Tychsen, SS-Obersturmführer Hans Pavelka and Untersturmführer Karl-Heinz Worthmann.|
|You lookin' at me? A Tiger I.|
With actual experience from the battlefield of the Tiger I, and further developments in enemy tanks, the German tank designers continued upgrading their tank plans. The problems of the initial version of the Tiger were recognized and major changes were made. However, there was only so much that could be done with the technology of the day.
Tiger II, or "King Tiger"
|Tigers. You don't like us? Screw you. Come and get us.|
|PanzerKampfWagen VII, The King Tiger Tank.|
|Kurt Knispel was another Tiger tank expert. In fact, Knispel was the best tank expert in the world. Knispel was a Heer tank commander in World War 2. With all due respect to Michael Wittmann, this is the man who many consider the greatest tank ace of all time. He destroyed 195+ enemy tanks on all fronts of the war, one a T-34 from 3000 meters (which required quite a fancy ballistics calculation). He fought on all fronts and was the leading expert with the Tiger tank. He fought in many major and hopeless battles, turning the tide at the last minute at Caen and Cherkassy. He never made it past Sergeant because he fought with the hierarchy all the time and they despised him. He was KIA at the end of the war, April 28, 1945.|
|Tiger II abandoned during the failed Peiper counteroffensive.|
|Knocked out American M-4 tank and German Sturmgeschütz IV sit side by side in the street. Photo courtesy of the estate of General Charles Day Palmer, a United States Army four-star General.|
|King Tiger II.|
|Captured Tiger II, south of Bastogne, January 1945.|
|The proud crew of an early Tiger in Russia, late 1942.|
|A nest of King Tigers - not something the Allies looked forward to fighting.|
The Porsche heavy tank which lost the heavy tank competition to the Tiger still went into service despite having only a very limited production run. It initially was called the Ferdinand in honor of Porsche company leader Ferdinand Porsche. The common name later changed to "Elefant" after some upgrades because of the weapon's distinctive profile. An easy way to remember the name change is that the tanks had the name "Ferdinand" while operating on the Eastern Front, and then "Elefant" after being transferred to Italy.
|This Elefant has hit a mine during operations against the Allied beachhead at Anzio-Nettuno. It was part of the 1./653 (1. Kompanie of Schwere Panzerjager-Abteilung 653) (Federal Archive).|
|A captured Ferdinand being inspected by Allies.|
|Destroyed Ferdinand tanks.|
|Tiger column, north of France. A colorized shot from the same movement is below (Scheck, Federal Archive).|
Panzer VIII "Maus"The German tendency toward Gigantism in their weapons gathered speed as Germany started losing the war. As discussed above, there were valid reasons for it at times. The Germans understood their industrial base and what it could achieve, but they still sometimes made the wrong choices.
|The Maus was not even the biggest self-propelled gun being developed at the end of the war, but it was pretty darn big.|
|A Maus on the move, note its tracks in the snow and winter camouflage. It looks like a pretty easy target unless it was pointing its gigantic main gun at you|
|Tiger VIII Maus.|
On May 1 a wooden model of the "Maus", a tank project of Porsche and Krupp, was shown to Hitler. It was intended to mount a 150 mm gun. The total weight of the tank was supposed to reach 175 tons. It should be considered that after the design changes on Hitler's instructions the tank will weigh 200 tons. The model didn't have a single machine gun for close combat, and for this reason I had to reject it. It had the same design flaw that made the Elefant unsuitable for close combat. In the end, the tank will inevitably have to wage a close combat since it operates in cooperation with the infantry. An intense debate started, and except for me, all of the present found the "Maus" magnificent. It was promising to be exactly that, a "giant".The thing was big. A 150 mm gun is massive. Despite all of Porsche's technical innovations, it also hearkened back to an earlier era of tank construction. During World War I, the German tanks had tended to resemble castles, including just about everything but moats. The Maus as finally developed had a mortar for close-in defense and actual portholes, like the windows of a castle, for the crew to fire rifles through. It was an insane, completely unrealistic project which would have drawn air attacks like honey draws flies.
|The only operational or completed Tiger VIII Maus.|
|Tiger VIII Maus.|
|Maus - the second prototype captured by the Soviets.|
Geschützwagen Tiger für 17cm Kanone 72(Sf)
|Hull of 17cm Kanone 72 (Sf) Geschutzwagen Tiger - German prototype of a self-propelled gun with 17 mm cannon. Only the hull and wheels were built.|
The Maus was not the only massive German tank project that was nearing completion as the war ended: a modification of the Tiger II to fit a much larger gun was well along the way, too. The official designation was: Geschützwagen "Tiger" fur 17cm K72 (Sf), fur 21cm Mrs 18/1 (Sf) und 30,5 cm GrW Sf I-606/9, or "GW Tiger" for short.
This was a heavy self-propelled gun. Tank destroyers without moving turrets such as the Stug were all the rage as the war dragged on, because turrets were complicated and expensive, and you could get 80% of the value of a tank at a fraction of the cost. Turrets also were a supply bottleneck, requiring all sorts of precise moving parts such as numerous ball bearings.
|Rearview of GW Tiger.|
Krupp developed the running gear to use in other projects. A preliminary plan of the GW Tiger, which received the official designation Geschutzwagen Tiger, was ready in early 1943. It was planned to use the self-propelled undercarriage of the Tiger II with an engine capacity of 650 hp - the same used in the Tiger, though that was upgraded to 700 hp later. It was to use a Maybach engine and an Olvar transmission. The main armament was planned as a massive 170-mm gun 17 cm Kanone 72, which could send the 68-kg projectile at a distance of 25,500 meters, or perhaps even a 210-mm howitzer (21cm Morser) with a range of 111-kg projectile about 17,300 meters. The maximum angle for pointing both types of guns in the vertical plane was from +65 ° to -5 °, with a horizontal angle for pointing of 360 °. In view of the large size of these weapons, the tank would only be able to carry 5 rounds as a full load.
For comparison, the Tiger II had an 8.8 cm (88 mm) KwK 43 L/71 gun. So the GW Tiger would have been a massive step up in firepower, along with everything else. It was another manifestation of the "gigantism" which appear in many late-war German designs.
|American soldier surveying the hull of a GW Tiger.|
The crew of the GW Tiger would have consisted of eight people: a driver, gunner, commander, gunner and four ammunition handlers (the shells being so huge).
Krupp scrimped on the armor in order to save weight and precious nickel: maximum armor thickness was 60 mm in the front of the chassis, compared to the Tiger II's 185 mm. That would have been justified because this was a weapon to stand back and blast away, not get in the thick of the battle. Fighting weight of this self-propelled guns was estimated at 60 tons, roughly the same as the Tiger II.
|American soldiers inside the prototype GW Tiger hull.|
The layout and construction of the prototype body on the Tiger II chassis was completed, as the pictures show, but that was it. In February 1945, on the orders of the Minister of Armaments Speer, all work was stopped. The Allies came into possession of the unfinished hull and scrapped it.
There were other, larger projects, but they existed only on paper and were canceled much earlier.
German Propaganda and Problems
|Operation "Citadel", June 1943: A Tiger I tank, turret number 114, is being towed by tank recovery vehicles. Note that it takes two tractors to move the behemoth at crawling speed.|
|Panzer VI 'Tigers' - Tarnopol, Ukraine - April 1944 (colorized).|
|A Tiger and its crew.|
|Tiger tanks on their way to the Kursk salient, 1943.|
|King Tigers on the move.|
|Sturmmörserwagen 606/4 with 38 cm RW 61, or "Sturmtiger." The Sturmtiger was an assault gun built upon a Tiger Tank chassis. Imagine a rocket coming out of that in your direction.|
The Sturmtiger's primary task was to provide heavy fire support for infantry units fighting in urban areas. It was designed as an offensive weapon at a time when the Germans were in full retreat. The few vehicles produced in September - December 1944 fought in the Warsaw Uprising, the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of the Reichswald.
|Interior of a Tiger.|
German Fantasy TanksGerman industry always had a full staff of designers coming up with fantastic concepts that stretched the limits of imagination. There were several practical reasons for this:
- Original ideas sometimes were worked on with a company's own dime. Heinkel, for instance, worked on a jet fighter throughout the war without Luftwaffe support in hopes that the Luftwaffe would show some interest - but it never did. At some point, a prototype would be shown to Hitler during his occasional visits to the testing grounds at Kummersdorf or Rechlin, with the possibility that he might be impressed enough to order them. This was a speculative practice that usually led nowhere but occasionally led to massive contracts.
|The Ratte would have had two guns of this size.|
The behemoth was completely impossible, as it would have burned a liter of gasoline every 30 meters and destroyed every road or bridge that it encountered. Whether any land targets would be worth that size of artillery shell also is a pertinent question. Obviously, the Allied air forces would be as attracted to such giants as a moth to a flame and they would not have lasted very long.
|Hitler was into big guns. Here, he inspects the Schwerer Gustav.|
|Here is another angle on the rail shipment. Note the removed wheels stacked in the foreground and the transport tracks.|
|Infantryman using a destroyed King Tiger for cover. A commenter below identifies this as KT 222 from SS sPzAbt 501 (heavy tank company), commander Kurt Sowa.|
|This gives some idea of the size of the King Tiger. Check out those tracks.|
|Tigers on the prowl at Kursk.|
|The crew pops out for a photo op.|
|Tigers assembling in Russia, crews out.|
|s.Pz.Kp./SS-Pz.Rgt. 2 "Das Reich", Tiger S13 near Kirovograd, Soviet Union, around 20 October 1943 (Schnitzer, Federal Archive).|