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German Balkenkreuz

Germany's Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf E, SdKfz 181, Tiger; PzKpfw VI Ausf E, SdKfz 181


  • PzKpfw VI Ausf E, Tiger I
  • PzKpfw VI Ausf E, Tiger I
  • PzKpfw VI Ausf E, Tiger I
    Tiger in North Africa. United States Army in World War II, Pictorial Record, The War Against Germany and Italy: Mediterranean and Adjacent Areas, 1951, Page 41.
  • PzKpfw VI Ausf E, Tiger I
    Tiger in North Africa. United States Army in World War II, Pictorial Record, The War Against Germany and Italy: Mediterranean and Adjacent Areas, 1951, Page 41.


In 1937 Henschel was instructed to design and build a prototype of a 30-33 ton tank to be the successor to the PzKpfw IV. It was initially named the Durchbrüchswagen I (breakthrough vehicle). However, after two prototypes were undergoing trials this project was canceled and development on the original DW 1 resumed. By 1940 Henschel had improved the design that it was designated the DW 2. It originally carried a short 75 mm gun. Trials were carried out until 1941 when an order was placed for a new design that virtually described the DW 2. Porsche, MAN, and Daimler-Benz were asked to submit designs as well.

Henschel built 2 new prototypes in March 1941, and two more in October 1941. It had a superstructure similar to the PzKpfw IV and the suspension had seven interleaved road wheels and three return rollers on each side. It was to carry to 75 mm L/48, however with the invasion of Russia and their T-34/76s, it quickly become obsolete and development was discontinued. Two of these prototypes were lengthened and mounted a 128 mm K 40 gun and were used in Russia in 1942.


One chassis with interleaved road wheels had been built, but in 1938 this was suspended to work on a 65 ton tank, known as the VK.6501 (Vollkettenkraftfahrzeug).


The VK.3001(H) was based on the DW.2. The superstructure was similar to the PzKpfw IV.


The VK3001(P) had longitudinal torsion bar suspension and gasoline-electric drive. MAN and Daimler-Benz made prototypes similar to this design but they were cancelled as being obsolete.


The Weapons Department contracted with Henschel to develop the VK3601. This was to be a vehicle that weighed 36-40 tons and would mount a tapered bore 60 mm or 70 mm gun. It was also to have a speed of 25 mph / 40 kph as directed by Hitler.

The VK3601 was soon abandoned as the taper bored gun required ammunition that used tungsten steel, which was in very short supply.


However, the Germany Army didn't want to abandon all of Henschel's work, so they were awarded a contract that was to be designated the VK4501(H). This was to use the same chassis as the VK3601 but with a 88 mm gun. Specifications were given in May 1941 for a 45 ton tank that would carry an 8.8cm gun. One condition was that the prototype had to be ready by April 20, 1942, Hitler's birthday.

Porsche received a contract to develop the VK4501 that would be a vehicle that weighed 45 tons and mounted an 88 mm gun.

Henschel was able to take the best features from their earlier designs and built two models. The H1 mounted the 88 mm KwK 36 L/56 and a wooden model H2 which had a 75 mm KwK L/70.

Henschel finished a prototype in March 1942.


Standard German railway flatcars couldn't carry the tank as it was too wide. Henschel designed a travel track, which was installed with the outer road wheels being removed. This allowed for it to be transported by train.


Because the Tiger was so heavy, and couldn't cross most European bridges, they were outfitted with wading equipment which allowed it to cross water obstacles by moving along the river bed. Though this only allowed to a depth of 13' 6"/ 4.1 m. The doors and hatches had rubber seals placed around them to make the Tiger water tight. The turret ring had an inflatable rubber tube. The machine gun ports had rubber plugs inserted when the machine guns were removed. The mantlet had a frame that slid with a rubber seal.

A snorkel was placed on the engine compartment which supplied air to the crew and engine. A bilge pump was installed to take out any water that leaked in.

The Tiger could stay submerged for about 2 1/2 hours.

This equipment was expensive to make and also was little used, so after the first 495 tanks that were produced, it was no longer included.


In the front of the hull were two compartments which had the driver and hull gunner. Then there was the central fighting compartment with the turret. At the rear was the engine compartment with the engine.

The floor of the fighting compartment was suspended by 3 steel tubes and rotated with the turret. The sides of the turret were formed by a 82 mm plate that was curved. This was joined in the front by 100 mm plate. Turret was very slow in moving and it took 2 turns of the traversing wheel (one by gunner and one emergency one by commander) to move 1 degree.

Flat sections of armor were used in the hull to help simplify production. The superstructure was welded to the hull, whereas previous PzKpfw models were bolted. The bottom plate was cut from a single piece of 25 mm homogeneous steel that was 5 m long and 1.8 m wide. This would add to the rigidity of the Tiger.


First German tank to have over-lapping road wheels. These were to help distribute the massive weight of the Tiger. The drawback was that the wheels could get packed with snow and mud.

Sometimes the buildup of debris between the wheels caused the track to ride up and over the sprocket teeth and jam. The tension was such that it couldn't be freed by releasing the tension on the idler wheel, or by removing a track pin. It could be possible to tow the disabled Tiger but some choose to place an explosive under the track to blow out a link. This was a last resort if the other alternative was to abandon the tank.

There were eight torsion bar axles on each side that were staggered. The right side trailed to the rear and the left side towards the front.

Steel tires replaced the rubber tires that went around the wheels starting after chassis 250822.


The driver was on the left and used a steering wheel which acted on the differential steering unit.

Emergency steering was provided by two steering levers. A visor was provided in the front vertical plate. Episcopes were located in the escape hatches for the driver and radio operator. There was a gearbox in between them that virtually separated them.

The transmission shaft went from the engine, under the turret cage, to a gearbox next to the driver.


The Tiger originally had a Maybach HL 210 P45 engine that was found to be underpowered. Starting in December the engine that was used was the Maybach HL 230 P45.


The turret was hydraulically powered by a unit that took its power from the rear of the gearbox and was operated by a foot lever at the gunner's right foot. It had a releasing mechanism that allowed for the turret to be easily removed for maintenance.

The front of the turret was joined by two 100 mm thick bars.

Early models had a commander cupola that had five visions slits. Later models had a cupola with six episcopes. These were the same as used on the Panther to help simplify production.

Self Defense

Early models had five "S" mine discharges on top of the superstructure. It would be shot up approximately three to five feet where it would explode sending 360 3/8" steel balls into attacking infantry.

In late 1943 this was replaced by a Nahverteidigungswaffe (close-in defense weapon) which was installed in the turret roof in place of the extractor fan, which moved to the center. It could be loaded from the inside.


The firepower and protection were second to none, however, the Tiger I was underpowered, mechanically unreliable, and consumed mass amounts of fuel. With a trained crew it was a formidable opponent, but as the casualties mounted, so did the loss of the trained crews.

Main Gun

The gunner fired the 8.8cm gun by a foot petal. The gunner controlled the the traverse and elevation by hand wheels. To make one full revolution of the turret took 720 turns of the handwheel.

There was a coil spring in the front of the turret that counter balanced the massive weight of the main gun.

Penetration tables.

Comparison of Main Tank Armament Performance


Trials of Prototypes

On April 20, 1942, Hitler observed the trails of the Henschel and Porsche prototypes at Rastenburg in East Prussia. Henschel's performed slightly better than the Porsche prototype, and it was also considered easier to mass produce by German industry.

Henschel was given an order for 1,500 on August 1942. Before the trials took place Porsche had been given an order for 90 pre-production versions, however this order was cancelled. The German Army didn't want to throw away the partially completed Porsche chassis, so they were converted into the Ferdinand tank destroyer.


A total of 1,376 Tigers were ordered for production.

It took 300,000 man hours to build one Tiger, whereas it took 1/2 that to build a Panther.

  • VK3001(H): 4
    • Production: March - October 1941
  • VK3001(P); Leopard; Typ 100:
  • VK6501: 2
  • PzKpfw VI Ausf E, Tiger: 1,350, 1,354
    • Production: July 1942 - ?, July 1942 - August 1944, August 1942 - ?, August 1942 - June 1944, August 1942 - August 1944
    • Chassis numbers: 250001 - 251350
    • Manufacturer: Henschel, Wegmann
      • Chassis: Henschel
      • Turret: Krupp

Comparison of Main Tank Production

Comparison of Main Tank Production


  • DW.1, Durchbruchswagen: Was to be a 30 - 33 ton "breakthrough" tank to replace the PzKpfw IV.
  • DW.2: Due to the many design changes, in 1940 project was renamed DW.2.
  • VK3001(H): Henschel prototype. Seven interleaved road wheels and three return rollers.
    • Selbstfahrlafette V: Two of the chassis were converted to self propelled vehicles with a 12.8 cm K.40 gun.
  • VK3001(P); Leopard; Typ 100: Porsche prototype.
  • VK.3601: Designation for a 36 ton tank that was ordered in 1941.
  • VK.4501: 45 ton prototype with 8.8cm gun.
  • VK6501: Two prototypes of the 65 ton vehicle were built but the project was cancelled. Was developed from the NbFz PzKpfw VI.
  • PzKpfw VI Ausf E, Tiger:
  • Tiger (Tp): Tropical version, with Feifel air filters, that were used in Africa.
  • Bergepanzer Tiger Ausf E (Armored Recovery Vehicle), SdKfz 185: Three were converted in 1944. Each had the main armament removed and the turret was locked facing reverse. Had a winch installed to the rear of the turret.
  • Panzerbefehlspanzer Tiger, SdKfz 267: Command tank. Had Fu 5 and Fu 8 radio sets. Added umbrella antenna. Had coaxial machine gun removed to make room for the radio equipment. The 8.8cm ammunition carried was reduced to 26 rounds.
  • Panzerbefehlspanzer Tiger, SdKfz 268: Command tank. Had Fu 5 and Fu 7 radio sets. Had coaxial machine gun removed to make room for the radio equipment. The 8.8cm ammunition carried was reduced to 26 rounds.
  • Sturmpanzer VI, Sturmtiger, Sturmmörser Tiger: Had 38 cm Mrs. R.W.61 rocket mortar installed.
  • Jagdpanzer Tiger (P), Elefant, SdKfz 184: Mounted 8.8 cm Pak 43/2 L/71.
  • Jagdpanzer VI, Jagdtiger, SdKfz 186: Mounted 12.8 cm Pak L/55.
  • Jagdpanzer, Jagdtiger (P): Mounted 12.8 cm Pak 44 L/55.


The Tigers that were used in North Africa had special Feifel air systems installed. There were attached to the rear of the hull and linked to the engine by a cover plate. These were known as the Tiger (Tp).

The layout of the rubber tired wheels did give it a smooth and steady ride. This did cause problems, in winter the wheels could freeze together and cause the tank to be immobile, which would be the favorite time for the Soviets to attack, typically mornings.


Were organized into independent three company battalions with 30 tanks that would be attached to Army or Corp HQ. Guderian had intended that a battalion would be added to each Panzer division but only a few Army and most Waffen SS received them.

Seven Waffen SS Panzer divisions had them.

First Use

In August 1942, the first four production vehicles equipped one platoon of the 1 Company/502nd schwere Panzerabteilung and were sent to Russia at the request of Hitler. This was against the advice of the Wehrmacht who wanted to build up the strength of them and use them in the summer offensives in 1943.

On August 29, they joined Army Group North south of Lake Ladoga. During the 1st week of September, 1 Tiger (the other 3 were temporarily out of commission) went on an uneventful security patrol. The first action was around Leningrad on September 23, 1942. The attack took place on flat road through a swampy area where the Russian gunners were able to stop them by shooting at their tracks.

The 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion was sent to the southern part of the Eastern Front in December 1942. It was sent to help with the counter attacked that was to break the ring around Stalingrad.


Encountered by British near Pont du Fahs, Tunisia in February 1943 in Tiger Unit 501. The two Tigers that were sent into this battle, accompanied by nine PzKpfw IIIs and PzKpfw IVs, were knocked out by British 6 pdr guns, of the 72nd Anti-tank Regiment, RA, at a range of 500 yards against the flanks of the Tigers.

It was found that extensive reconnaissance was needed to determine if the terrain was going to be suitable for the heavy Tigers. Often the Tigers were placed in the rear of a wedge of PzKpfw IIIs and PzKpfw IVs. The PzKpfw IIIs and PzKpfw IVs were to secure the flanks from anti-tank guns and the Tigers to give the main fire support.

Saw combat in all theaters after that.

Surpassed on the Eastern Front

In May 1944, at Targul Frumos, Romania, Tigers went up against Russian IS-II tanks. Much to their surprise they found that they had to get within 1,800 m/5,904' to be able to penetrate the IS-II's armor. This made the Tigers vulnerable to the IS-II's 122 mm guns.

Difficulties in Italy

Between May 23 and 25, 1944, the 3rd Company of the 506th Heavy Tank Battalion, with 16 Tigers, fought around Cori. They advanced across a railway embankment to engage Allied tanks, and two had track problems and a third had gearbox failure. Then two other Tigers came down the embankment and jammed the barrels of their gun into the ground. These had to be towed away. Six Shermans were eventually knocked out. Allied artillery fire knocked out another Tiger and the next day another was destroyed by its crew after being disabled by an anti-tank gun. The company was given the order to withdraw, and five Tigers covered six Tigers who tried to tow 3 disabled ones at the embankment. Four of those broke down. The original three were destroyed, and the remaining 2 Tigers towed the other four clear. By the time they got back to Cori, two of the rearguard were disabled by Allied fire and a gearbox failure, and one of the towing Tigers broke down too. The Germans were unable to repair their disabled tanks and had to destroy them before finally retreating. Out of the 12 Tigers that had been lost, only 3 of them were due to Allied fire.

In Normandy

Here the Tigers were deployed in more defensive formations and thus broke down less. Many of the Allies became very fearful and claimed that Tigers were all over the front lines, when in fact less than 90 were ever present.

British commanders were very concerned about their troops Tiger-phobia. General Montgomery even went as far as to ban all combat reports telling of the Tigers prowess. On June 12, the British observed one Tiger fire for an hour, and then drive away unmolested as no British tank in the area wanted to battle it.

The 316th Heavy Tank Company of the Panzer Lehr had two Tigers. The 101st SS, 102nd SS, and Germany Army 503rd Heavy Tank Battalions had a maximum of 45 each.

Wittmann at Villers Bocage

German Tiger Tank Commander Michael Wittman

Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann was the commander of the 2nd Company of the 101st SS Heavy Tank Battalion/501st Waffen-SS Heavy Tank Battalion.

On June 13, 1944, Wittmann was conducting a reconnaissance when he saw the British 22nd Armored Brigade of the 7th Armored Division (Desert Rats). Wittmann was completely surprised that they had stopped for a tea break. He and four nearby Tigers from his company advanced down Hill 213 toward the town of Villers Bocage. Wittmann knocked out three Churchills of the 22nd Brigade's HQ Squadron. A fourth escaped, but Wittmann knocked it out later as he headed east. He burst out of the woods and within two minutes destroyed 12 vehicles. Soon the four Tigers joined in, and another eight Tigers from the 1st Company supported from a distance. A total of 28 vehicles had been destroyed of the 'A' Squadron of the County of London Yeomanry.

Wittmann, two Tigers, and a PzKpfw IV entered Villers Bocage. There a Sherman Firefly, three Churchills, and a 6-pounder anti-tank gun were waiting in the side streets to ambush them. Wittmann's Tiger was immobilized by the anti-tank gun and one of the Tigers ran into a building that collapsed onto the anti-tank gun. The Firefly knocked out the Panzer IV and a Tiger.

Wittmann was credited with 119 kills on the Eastern Front and 20 in Normany.

Operation "Goodwood"

On July 18, 1944, the assault to outflank Caen commenced. 2,000 Allied bombers hit the German defenses including the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion. The bombardment was so strong that it lifted one of the Tigers into the air and landed upside down. It took three hours to rescue the three surviving crew members. Some crew members were driven insane and a few committed suicide rather than to continue under the bombardment. Even with those loses, the 503rd still knocked out 30 Sherman tanks and help halt the British armor.

The End in Normandy

On August 8, 1944, the Allies were closing in on the town of Vire where the 1st Company of the 102nd SS Heavy Tank Battalion was located. SS-Untersharführer (Corporal) Willi Fey destroyed 14 out of 15 Shermans in a column. Other Tigers in the company added nine more to the score in one day.


Few of the 102nd SS Heavy Tank Battalion escaped Falaise, and none made it across the River Seine. The total score for the 102nd was 227 Allied tanks in the six weeks it operated in Normandy.

Dwindling Numbers

The Tigers peaked in June 1944, with 631 vehicles in the field. This was reduced to 243 by December 1944 from all the heavy fighting on the fronts. During the Ardennes Offensive there were only 23 Tigers on the whole Western Front, and only 1 in the offensive. By April 1, 1945, there were only 70 Tigers and King Tigers operational in the German armed forces.


  PzKpfw VI E Tiger
Crew Commander, gunner, loader, driver, radio operator
Physical Characteristics  
Weight 121,000 lb, 121,250 lb, 121,253 lb
53.13 tons, 55 tons, 56 tons, 57 tons, 62.8 tons
55,000 kg, 56,900 kg
Length w/gun 27', 27' 8.45", 27' 8.675", 27' 9"
8.24 m, 8.25 m, 8.3 m, 8.45 m
Length w/o gun 20.7', 20.75', 20' 4", 20' 8.5", 20' 9"
6.2 m
Height 9.3', 9' 3.25", 9' 3.75", 9' 4.75", 9' 5", 9.5', 9' 10"
2.86 m, 2.88 m, 2.9 m, 2.93 m, 3 m
Width 11' 3.8", 11.7', 11' 8", 12.45', 12' 3", 12' 3"
3.55 m, 3.56 m, 3.7 m, 3.73 m
Width - travel tracks 10' 4"
3.15 m
Ground clearance 1' 5", 1' 6.5"
0.43 m, 0.47 m
Ground contact length 158"
3.61 m
Ground pressure 10.5 psi, 11.3 psi, 14.7 psi, 14.8 psi
1 (kg/sq cm), 1.04 (kg/sq cm), 0.74 (kg/sq cm)
Ground pressure - travel tracks 20.4 psi
Turret ring diameter 6' 1"
1.79 m, 1.83 m
Main 1: 88 mm KwK 36 L/56
1: 88 mm
1: 88 mm L/56
1: 88 mm L/56.1 KwK36
1: 88 mm KwK 36
1: 8.8 cm KwK 36 L/55
1: 8.8 cm KwK 36 L/56.1
1: 88 mm KwK 36 L/36 (what source says)
Secondary 6: NbK 39 90 mm smoke generators
6: smoke dischargers
MG 2 or 3: 7.92 mm MG
2: MG
2: 7.92 mm MG34
MG - coaxial 1: 7.92 mm MG
1: 7.92 mm MG 34
MG - hull 7.92 mm MG
7.92 mm MG 34
Side arms 1: 9 mm MP 38
9mm MP40
P38 or P08 pistols
1: Walther 27 mm signal
Main 84, 92
92 Pzgr
Command vehicle: 66
Secondary 6: NbK 39
MG 3,920, 4,800, 5,100, 5,700, 5,850
4,800 Patr SmK Spgr
Side arms Walther 27 mm signal: 24
Armor Thickness (mm) 25 - 100, 25.4 - 110, 26 - 100, 100
Front: 4"
Side: 3.15"
Hull Front, Upper 100
102@20°, 100@10°, 100@66°, 100@80°
Hull Front, Lower 62@60°, 100@24°, 100@66°, 100@80°
Hull Sides, Upper 60-80
80@0°, 60-80@90°, 60@90°
Hull Sides, Lower 62
Hull Rear 80
82@20°, 80@8°, 82@82°
Hull Top 25, 26
Hull Bottom 25, 26
Turret Front 4"
100-120, 110
100@0°-11°, 100@8°, 100@80°, 100-110@80°
Mantlet: 110, 100-110@0°
Turret Sides 3.2"
80, 82
Turret Rear 80, 82
Turret Top 25, 26
25@81°-90°, 26@0-9°, 26@9°
Engine (Make / Model) Maybach HL 210 P45, (1st 250 produced)
Maybach HL 230 P45, (Dec 1943 on, Dec 1942 on)
Bore / stroke  
Cooling Water
Cylinders 12, V-12
Capacity HL 210: 21.35 liters
HL 230: 23.88 liters
Net HP HL 210: 642, 650, 650@3,000 rpm, 700
HL 230: 700, 700@3,000 rpm
Power to weight ratio 12.9 hp/ton
Compression ratio 6.8:1
Transmission (Type) Preselector, Maybach-Olvar 401216, 8 forward, 1 reverse
Olvar preselective, 8 forward, 1 reverse
8 forward, 4 reverse
Steering Henschel L 600 C regenerative type, wheel control with auxiliary levers
Steering ratio  
Starter Electric and inertia
Electrical system Starting: 12-volt
Normal: 12-volt
Ignition Magneto
Fuel (Type) Gasoline
Quantity 118 gallons, 125 gallons, 141 gallons, 150 gallons
534 liters, 540 liters, 567 liters
Fuel consumed per 100 km road traveled: 535 liters
Road consumption 0.5 mpg
Cross country consumption 0.3 mpg
Traverse 360°, hydraulic
Hand and hydraulic
Speed - Road 22.9 mph, 23 mph, 23.5 mph, 24 mph
37 kph, 38 kph, 45.4
Speed - Cross Country 12 mph, 12.4 mph, 12.5 mph
20 kph
Range - Road 62 miles, 73 miles, 121 miles
100 km, 140 km, 195 km
Range - Cross Country 37 miles, 42 miles
60 km, 110 km
Turning radius 23'
7 m
Elevation limits -9° to +10°
-6.5° to +17°
-4° to +11°
Fording depth 3' 11", 4'
1.2 m, 1.6 m
Fording depth - 1st 495 models 13', 13' 6"
4.1 m
Trench crossing 5.9', 7.6', 10', 5' 11"
1.8 m
Vertical obstacle 2' 6", 31", 2' 7"
0.79 m
Climbing ability 35° (70%) slope
Suspension (Type) Torsion bar
Wheels each side 8 axles with 3 wheels each, 8x3, 8x2
Return rollers each side  
Tracks (Type) Dry pin
Width 0.725 m
Width - combat tracks 28.1", 28.5", 28.6"
0.715 m, 0.725 m
Width - travel tracks 20.3", 20.5"
0.515 m, 0.52 m
Number of links 94
Pitch 5.4"
Tire tread Steel
Track centers/tread 9.3'
2.83 m


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20th Century American Military History Crucial Site