Extremely lethal and extremely armored, the Tiger and its later version Tiger II ( King Tiger ) were the most dreaded German tanks. Their technical complexity limited their production and field use.
Tiger tankAfter years of research for a heavy next generation tank, German designers were eventually required to quickly produce one by Hitler's 53rd birthday in April 1942. It would be armed with the most powerful German gun, the 88mm, which was used both as a heavy anti-aircraft gun and as an anti-tank gun. Two prototypes were ready for Hitler's birthday, and one, by Henschel, was selected for production. Officially marked Panzer VI, it was the first German tank which was given a name, they named it Tiger.
1350 Tigers were produced between August 1942 and August 1944, when production shifted to the heavier and even more powerful Tiger II, which was named King Tiger.
There were only two variants of the Tiger, a gunless command tank, and a strange heavy rockets launcher version of which only 10 were produced. The gunless command tank was equipped with a winch for its secondary role of tank tow, a sign of the many technical problems that caused the loss of many German tanks.
The Tiger was an outstanding design. Many modern tanks are remote descendants of it. It had an extremely powerful gun and matching optics, which allowed it to kill every other tank from a longer range. It had very thick armor which made it almost indestructible from front. But it was also very complex for production and maintenance, unlike its American and Russian enemies which were mass produced in great numbers and were very reliable in the field.
Its complex suspension wheels system, designed to carry its heavy weight, could get stuck with stones and even with mud, a severe problem for a tank. This was particularly severe in the Russian winter, where frozen mud totally immobilized Tigers during the night, making them sitting ducks in the morning, when the Russians attacked. It also had two sets of tracks, one for roads and one for the field and combat, an even greater complexity.
The Tiger was a heavy tank (55 tons) with a crew of five. It carried 84 rounds for its killer 88mm gun, and was also armed with two machine guns, one coaxial and one above the front hull, with almost 6000 rounds. It was slower than other tanks and had a road range of just 100km, which was an increasing problem as Germany's fuel supply was decimated towards the end of the war, but in the battlefield its firepower and protection were unmatched.
King Tiger tankIn order to defeat any possible future enemy, the German designers began to plan the Tiger's successor as soon as its production began in late 1942. It would have even more firepower and more armor protection than the Tiger.
One rejected prototype was supposed to carry a 150mm!! gun. Another prototype was rejected because its electric system used "too much" copper, a sign of the extreme difficulties the German industry had to cope with in the later stages of the war ( the most extreme example of that, in my opinion, was the design and production, in late 1944, of the He-162 Salamander, which was a jet fighter made mostly of wood ! ).
The design of the new tank, which was marked Tiger II and named King Tiger, was completed in late 1943, and production began in December 1943, initially together with the Tiger, and since August 1944 instead of the Tiger. Only 485 King Tiger tanks were produced before the war ended.
It first fought against the Russians in May 1944 and in France in August 1944. Its very thick armor, especially in the front, protected it from the guns of enemy tanks, but made it slow, because its engine could not compensate for its very heavy weight of 69 tons, and its size made it harder to hide than other tanks, which was a serious problem given the massive presence of allied fighter-bombers at that stage of the war. It was also technically unreliable, like the Tiger. Many were simply abandoned or self-destroyed for lack of fuel, rather than by enemy fire.
The King Tiger had a crew of five. It was armed with an extremely powerful long-barrelled 88mm gun, even more powerful than that of the Tiger, which fired armor-piercing rounds at a muzzle velocity of 1200 meters per second, about a third faster than those fired by the Tiger. It carried 84 rounds and also two machine guns with almost 6000 rounds, like the Tiger.
German tanks in World War 2, Panzer