PzKpfw VI Ausf. E 'Tiger I'
|Manufacturer||Henschel und Sohn GmbH, Kassel, Germany|
|Primary Role||Heavy Tank|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseUp until the PzKpfw IV tank design, the German Army had always favored a balance between mobility, armor, and firepower, however, studies for designs focusing on certain elements existed, such as a project that started in 1937 for a new heavy tank design which did not have any production schedule associated with it. When the front line tankers reported that they were unexpectedly and significantly outgunned by new Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks, army leadership looked into its heavy tank programs with a renewed interest, seeking a specialized tank design that would focus on armor and firepower, while having a powerful engine so that mobility would not be sacrificed. On 26 May 1941, shortly prior to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the firms Henschel and Porsche were already requested to submit designs for such a heavy tank by Jun 1942; the discovery of advanced Soviet tanks pushed the deadline date to 20 Apr. During this time, Ferdinand Porsche nicknamed this project "Tiger", which would evolve into a common name for the resulting project. Henschel's VK4501(H) design defeated Porsche's VK3001(P) design to win the contract. Henschel's design, which would later be designated Panzerkampfwagen VI or Tiger I, called for between 97 and 120 millimeter of armor on the front of the tank and 8.8-centimeter dual purpose guns as the primary weapon. These upgrades meant that, as combat experiences would soon show, these soon-to-be-deployed heavy tanks could penetrate the armor of enemy tanks at a long range where the enemy tanks' guns would not be able to penetrate that of the Tiger I tanks. While the heavy weight of the Tiger I design indeed took away from the performance, the Maybach engine still provided the Tiger tank competitive mobility. In fact, Tiger I heavy tanks could typically travel off-road in comparable speeds as the American M4 Sherman and Soviet T-34/85 tanks (Tiger I 20-25 kilometers per hour, M4 Sherman 17-32 km/h, T34/85 19 km/h), had a tighter turning radius (Tiger I 3.44 meters, M4 Sherman 18.6m, T-34/85 unknown), and had a lower ground pressure (Tiger I 0.735 kilograms per square centimeter, M4 Sherman 0.96 kg/cm2, T-34/85 0.85 kg/cm2). One notable weight-related weakness for the Tiger I heavy tank design was its inability to travel over many bridges; to address that issue, they were designed to be able to converted to wade through rivers up to 1.5 meters deep without a snorkel and 4 meters deep with a snorkel (the snorkel was deleted in later variants to reduce cost).
ww2dbaseProduction for the design, initially called PzKpfw VI Ausf. H, began in Aug 1942, and units were deployed to the field without extensive testing due to war demands, thus revisions were frequent, which slowed down production. Some of the revisions to the design included the removal of the frontal armor shield (Apr 1942), addition of bolted mudguards, addition of smoke discharge canisters (Aug 1942), and changing bolted mudguards to removable mudguards (Sep 1942). The designation later changed to PzKpfw VI Ausf. E in Mar 1943.
ww2dbaseTiger I tanks were first used in combat on 23 Sep 1942 near Leningrad, Russia; many of these first tanks broke down due to mechanical problems. These problems continued to plague them as they were deployed to North Africa. In fact, crews would continue to be plagued by mechanical issues through the end of the war. It was rare to see any unit equipped with Tiger I tanks to operate at full strength due to the extended maintenance and repair periods. Nevertheless, they were fearsome in combat. On 7 Jul 1943, tank commander SS-Oberscharführer Franz Staudegger of the 2nd Platoon, 13th Panzer Company, 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler claimed to have engaged about 50 T-34 tanks and knocked out 22 of them. Similarly, SS-Haupsturmführer Michael Wittmann's platoon of schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 101 claimed to have destroyed over 20 Allied vehicles at the Villers-Bocage confrontation during the Allied Normandy invasion.
ww2dbaseWhen the Americans first encountered PzKpfw VI Tiger I heavy tanks, they decided to not devote any effort in dealing with them, because they were only seen in small numbers. The British took a different approach, upgrading anti-tank weaponry throughout the entire war to deal with the continual improvement in German armor. The Soviets also worked on developing heavier anti-tank weapons to deal with the new threat, culminating in the late-war SU-100 and SU-152 self-propelled guns with 100-millimeter tank guns and 152-millimeter howitzer guns, respectively, that could easily penetrate a Tiger I heavy tank's frontal armor at usual combat distances.
ww2dbaseIn 1943, Japan purchased several German tanks for study, which included a Tiger I heavy tank. It was never delivered to Japan, however, as it was difficult for German submarines break through Allied lines to the South Atlantic. As demands for tanks increased for Germany, the Japanese Army officially loaned the purchased Tiger I tank to the German military out of friendship.
ww2dbaseThe design's high cost kept the production numbers low; a Tiger I tank cost twice as much as a PzKpfw IV tank and four times as much as a StuG III assault gun. Only 1,355 PzKpfw VI Tiger I heavy tanks were built between Aug 1942 and Aug 1944. After Aug 1944, the Tiger II successor design which was finished in Jan 1944 completed the take over the production lines.
David Fletcher, David Willey, and Mike Hayton, Tiger Tank Owners' Workshop Manual
PzKpfw VI Ausf. E 'Tiger I' Timeline
|26 May 1941||Adolf Hitler met with tank generals and tank designers at his residence Berghof in southern Germany. In a similar meeting three months prior he had asked for 75-millimeter guns for Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks. Because 75-millimeter guns relied on special tungsten shells, Hitler now asked for 88-millimeter guns to be used for future heavy tanks. He also demanded 100-millimeter frontal armor and 60-millimeter side armor.|
|16 Sep 1942||German 502nd Tank Battalion, stationed near Leningrad, Russia, received the first batch of Tiger I tanks.|
|23 Sep 1942||Tiger I tanks saw combat for the first time, operated by German 502nd Tank Battalion near Leningrad, Russia.|
|21 Apr 1943||Troops of 48th Battalion of British Royal Tank Regiment captured German Tiger I heavy tank "131" near Medjez-el-Bab, Tunisia.|
|8 Oct 1943||British merchant ship Ocean Strength arrived at Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom with a supply of iron ore and captured German Tiger I heavy tank "131".|
|20 Oct 1943||Captured German Tiger I heavy tank "131" arrived at the village of Chobham, Surrey, England, United Kingdom via a Scammell 100-ton truck.|
|25 Sep 1951||Tiger I heavy tank "131", captured by British troops in 1943, was given to the Tank Museum in Bovington Camp, Dorset, England, United Kingdom.|
|Machinery||One Maybach HL 210 P45 water-cooled V-12 engine rated at 650hp|
|Suspension||Transverse torsion bars|
|Armament||1x8.8cm KwK 36 L/56 tank gun (92 rounds), 1x7.92mm coaxial MG34 machine gun, 1x7.92mm ball-mounted MG34 machine gun|
|Armor||97mm hull upper front, 102mm hull lower front, 82mm hull upper side, 62mm hull lower side, 82mm hull rear, 26mm hull top/bottom, 102mm turret front, 82mm turret side/rear, 120mm gun mantlet, 26mm turret top|
|Speed||20 km/h off-road; 45 km/h on-road|
|Range||80 km off-road; 125 km on-road|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945