Sd Kfz 181 Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf E (E1951.23)
It was a formidable combination. The gun was very effective and extremely accurate while the armour was proof against most contemporary anti-tank guns at anything but the closest range. Yet it was not all progress. the Tiger was so wide it had to be narrowed down to travel by rail and in bad conditions the overlapping wheels trapped mud and ice sufficient to bring the big tank to a halt. The engine had a nasty habit of catching fire while the gearbox, if subjected to great stress, was liable to break down. If this happened the repair crew had to lift the turret off to get at it.
For all that the Tiger was regarded as formidable. It saw action in Russia, Tunisia, Sicily, Italy and north west Europe (although production was limited to just 1,354 tanks) and it was feared by all Allied tank crews, which gave the Panzer forces a considerable pyschological advantage. Even so it would probably be fair to say that more Tigers were lost through mechanical failure than combat action.
Our exhibit was in service with 3 Platoon (Troop), 1 Kompanie, Schwere Panzer Abteilung 504, German Army
It was captured by 48 RTR, A Squadron, 4 Troop, at Djebel Djaffa, Tunisia, on 21st April 1943.
This tank was the first Tiger to be captured intact by British or U.S. forces when it was knocked out in the final month of the Tunisian campaign. It arrived in Tunisia some time between 22nd March and 16th April 1943 and was involved in an action with 48 RTR near Medjez-el-Bab on 21 April 1943. It knocked out two Churchills but a shot from another's six pounder stuck the gun mantlet, and although unable to penetrate the tank's thick armour, jammed the turret and wounded the commander. Damage is still visible on the mantlet, superstructure front plate and turret lifting boss. The crew abandoned the tank and it was recovered the next day and refurbished using parts from other vehicles. The Tiger was later displayed in Tunis and inspected there by King George VI and Winston Churchill. In October 1943 it was sent to the School of Tank Technology for evaluation and in November 1944 displayed on Horse Guards Parade.
Precise Name: Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Aus E
Other Names: Pz Kpw VI, SdKfz 181, VK 4501(H), SdKfz 182, Tiger Aus H1
The Tiger has attained almost mythical status: it is the one German tank that nearly everyone recognises.
This is due in part to its’ psychological dominance of the battlefield – at one time every enemy tank was a ‘Tiger’ to its opponents – reinforced by the exploits of ‘tank aces’ like Michael Wittman and Otto Carius, heavily publicised by German propaganda.
There is no doubt that the Tiger I was a formidable weapon. This was because of its’ lethal 8.8cm gun, thick armour and excellent optical sights as well as the high standard of training of the Panzer crews. It is equally true that it had weaknesses: its’ great weight and relative lack of power restricted its’ tactical mobility, it was difficult to transport by rail, it was mechanically unreliable, it was prone to engine fires and it required frequent skilled maintenance.
The Germans started a limited heavy tank programme in 1937 but large-scale work didn’t begin until the spring of 1941. The object was to counter the perceived threat from new British tanks and anti-tank guns. The whole program was approached with greater urgency after German troops encountered the Soviet T34/76 and KV1 tanks in July 1941 during the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The development history of this first generation of German heavy tanks is complex. The first product of the heavy tank programme was the Panzerkampfwagen VI (Porsche) also known as the VK4501 (P). This was a radical design that used petrol-electric propulsion. The Porsche project experienced severe technical difficulties and it was decided in May 1941 that the Henschel Company would design a second heavy tank, the VK4501 (H) based on the components developed for an earlier, lighter, project, the VK3601.
It was agreed that both the Henschel and Porsche tanks would be armed with an 8.8cm gun derived from the 8.8cm Flak 18 anti-aircraft gun. The gun would be mounted in the turret originally developed by Krupp for the Porsche tank. It was also decided that the front armour would be at least 100mm thick while the sides would be 60mm thick.
Prototypes of both tanks were built and tested during the summer of 1942. Following these trials it was decided at the end of October 1942 that the Henschel prototype would be the new heavy tank.
Ninety Porsche Tigers were converted into Assault Guns called the Ferdinand. They were armed with the long 8.8cm PaK43/2.
One historian has described the development of the Henschel Tiger as ‘a rushed job’. The only major new component was the Maybach petrol engine, initially the HL210, replaced during production by the slightly larger HL230. The suspension, transmission, steering gear and hull developed from designs for earlier Henschel projects, the VK 3001 and VK3601. The turret was a modified version of the one developed for the Porsche Tiger. This reuse of existing designs could also be considered as pragmatic and sensible engineering.
One of the constraints on German heavy tank designs was a need to keep the weight down to less than 30 tons so that existing bridges could be used. Another was a restriction on the width of tanks to fit within the railway loading gauge, a prerequisite for strategic mobility. The weight limit made it very difficult to produce a balanced design that met the joint requirements to carry a big gun and have thick armour. The weight constraint was removed when it was realised that there were very few bridges in Eastern Europe that could bear even a 30 ton load. It was then decided that new medium and heavy tank designs should have a deep wading capability. The Tiger I eventually weighed 57 tons.
The Tiger hull was built from welded armour plate. The armour on the front of the superstructure and turret was 100mm thick, the sides 80mm thick. The turret was a horseshoe shape and mounted the 8.8cm KwK36 gun. The gun, 56 calibres long and with a muzzle velocity of 930 metres/second, could penetrate 13.2cms of armour inclined at 30 degrees at 1,000 metres. It was very accurate.
Every contemporary Allied tank was vulnerable to the Tiger I at 2,000 metres; in contrast most Allied tanks had to close to within a few hundred meters to stand any chance of damaging the Tiger. The only British tank gun that could penetrate the Tiger’s armour was the 17pdr, only available in small numbers until the last few months of the war, mounted on the Sherman Firefly and some M10 Tank destroyers.
The hull was carried on 8 large wheels on each side. The wheels were mounted on twin torsion bars, were interleaved and ran on very broad tracks. This running gear gave the Tiger good mobility in mud and snow. It also had several disadvantages: the interleaved wheels tended to clog with frozen mud and ice while changing a torsion bar or one of the inner wheels was lengthy and heavy job. When the Tiger was moved by rail the wide combat tracks had to be swapped for narrow transport tracks and the outermost wheels removed.
The Maybach petrol engine was mounted in the rear of the hull and drove the tracks via a Maybach Olvar gearbox and steering gear. Like all German war-time tanks the gearbox, steering gear and drive sprockets were located at the front of the Tiger. The engine and transmission were rather ‘delicate’ and required careful handling by the driver.
A total of 1,354 Tiger I tanks were built between July 1942 and May 1944. The design was continually modified in detail. The major visible changes included: a new cast commander’s cupola in place of the original dustbin shape in July 1943 and the use of steel tyred rubber cushioned road wheels from February 1944. The features needed for deep wading were no longer needed and were deleted to simplify production.
The Tank Museum’s Tiger is unique: it is the only one of the six surviving Tiger I tanks that is capable of running. It was the first Tiger to be captured relatively intact by either the British or the Americans. It was manufactured in February 1943: its’ chassis number is 250112. It was sent to Tunisia at some time between March 22nd and April 16th 1943 and was issued to the 3rd Platoon, 1st Kompanie, Schwere Panzer Abteilung 504 of the German Army. It was involved in an action with 4 Troop, A Squadron, 48th Royal Tank Regiment on 21 April 1943. The fighting was at Djebel Djaffa near Medjez el Bab.
The Tiger knocked out two British Churchill tanks but was then engaged by a third. The crew of this Churchill hit the gun mantlet of the Tiger with a 6pdr (57mm) shot and although this failed to penetrate it jammed the turret and wounded the Tiger’s commander. Damage from 6pdr hits is still visible on the front of the superstructure, the gun mantlet and the turret lifting boss. The German crew abandoned the Tiger without destroying it and it was captured by 48 RTR. It was subsequently recovered and refurbished using parts from other destroyed Tigers.
Prime Minister Churchill and His Majesty King George VI inspected the captured Tiger in Tunis. In October 1943 it was sent to the United Kingdom and displayed on Horse Guards Parade in London. It was then passed to the School of Tank Technology at Chertsey during November 1944 where a thorough technical evaluation was carried out. The Tiger was given to the Tank Museum after the war.
A painstaking restoration of the Tiger was started in the 1990s which was eventually completed with help from the National Heritage Lottery Fund. Great care was taken to recreate the original camouflage and markings. The Tiger ran under its’ own power for the first time in 2004.
The Tiger I was too valuable as a gun tank to be converted to other uses, although a number were completed as command tanks. Eighteen damaged hulls were rebuilt as Assault Rocket Mortar carriers, the Sturmmorser Tiger. The barrel of a rocket launching mortar is displayed in the Museum.
The Tiger I was issued first to the 502nd Heavy Tank Battalion of the German Army and made its combat debut on the Leningrad front in August 1942. It subsequently served with 9 other Army Heavy Tank Battalions; the 3rd Battalion of the Army’s Gross Deutschland Panzer Regiment, a number of ad hoc Army units and three SS Divisions.
The Tiger I fought on the Eastern front, in North Africa, Italy and Western Europe until the end of the war. It achieved a combat reputation that was totally disproportionate to the small number produced. Its heavy armour and powerful gun were well suited to the type of defensive fighting that the German Army was engaged in during the later years of the war.
Summary text by Mike Garth V1.0