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The Early Panzers

The development of the tank reached new heights during the Second World War, and it was in Germany in particular where a lot of the most rapid development was to take place. This had not always been the case, however, as Germany was relatively late in joining the 'development race'. Although the Germans had successfully matched British achievements with regard to the manufacturing of such vehicles during the latter stages of the First World War, further development in Germany was stifled by the restrictions placed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, but also due to the grandiose ambitions of a number of designers and manufacturers. During the mid-1920s, however, many German manufacturers found ways to get around the restrictions, seeking help from a number of countries, including Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and - perhaps more ironically - the Soviet Union. Given access to the special facility located at Kazan east of the Urals, the Germans were able to carry out the rapid development of what was to be the new generation of armoured fighting vehicles.

The first of the series of armoured vehicle with the prefix Pz. Kpfw. (Panzerkampfwagen - Armoured Fighting Vehicle) - was the Panzer I, designed by the Krupp concern. All vehicle types were also given a unique Sd. Kfz. (Sonderkraftfahrzeug - Special Purpose Vehicle) designation, with the Pz. Kpfw. I being classified as the Sd. Kfz. 101. The Pz. Kpfw. I was a lightly-armed two-man vehicle, which saw action during the Spanish Civil War and the early German campaigns in Poland, the Low Countries and France, although by the time of the Polish campaign their function had by and large been relegated to that of a support role. The success of the Pz. Kpfw. I was to see the development of the Pz. Kpfw. II, which soon gave way to the benchmark Pz. Kpfw. III designed by the Daimler-Benz concern in 1937. The 21-tonne Pz. Kpfw. III was an excellent vehicle, and was to prove to be wholly effective during the early stages of the war, and provided the basis for a number of highly successful variants, notably the Sturmgeschütz (StuG) III, which was used to devastating effect by Michael Wittmann during his first tour of duty in Russia.

The Panzer III Ausf. J

One of the most successful German tanks of the Second World War, the Panzer III. This model is an Ausf. J, one of which was commanded by Michael Wittmann on being assigned to the Tiger Company at the end of 1942.

The Pz. Kpfw. III was soon succeeded by the Krupp-Rheinmetall Pz. Kpfw. IV, which like its predecessor was to prove itself on the battlefield, with many examples remaining in service right until the end of the war. At this time, however - with the threat of war seeming inevitable - there was a growing feeling among many experts that a tank with superior armament and protection was required. A number of German designers instantly showed an interest in the idea of producing a heavy tank; one company assigned the task of carrying out the relevant feasibility studies was the Kassel-based firm of Henschel und Söhne, although a number of submissions from other manufacturers, such as Daimler-Benz, MAN and Porsche, were also submitted. By October 1941, the prototype Henschel VK 3001, a 30-tonne vehicle armed with a 75mm KwK (Kampfwagenkanone) main gun, rolled off the production lines, but this was soon shelved in late 1941 when, after the capture of a Soviet T34/76, the need arose for a heavier vehicle - with a weight in the region of 45 tonnes - which was to offer a greater level of protection and firepower. Thus the idea for the design of the Pz. Kpfw. VI Tiger was born. (Ironically, the 30-tonne design was later revived and resulted in the production of the Pz. Kpfw. V Panther, whose variants were to see a high level of success during the latter stages of the war).

The Development of the Tiger I

Two companies, Henschel and Porsche, had been heavily involved in the design of previous heavy tank prototypes, and it was these two firms who presented their final versions of the Pz. Kpfw. VI at Hitler's East Prussian retreat at Rastenburg on 20 April 1942, the Führer's 53rd birthday. After much consideration the Henschel-built variant was selected as first choice, although ninety of the Porsche versions were also placed on order in case Henschel could not deliver. In the end, this proved not to be the case, as Henschel started to produce the new vehicles (designated Pz. Kpfw. VI Tiger Ausf. H) on schedule as promised. Of the ninety Porsche-built Pz. Kpfw. VIs (given the Ausf. suffix P), only five were built to completion, and the remainder were later converted to tank-hunting (Panzerjäger) variants such as the Sd. Kfz. 184 Ferdinand (after the designer Ferdinand Porsche), although its crews were to dub it the Elefant, a name which was to become semi-official. The Elefant proved to be a dismal failure, its defensive weaknesses being easily exploited by Soviet sappers and anti-tank guns. Soon after the first Pz. Kpfw. Ausf. H's were rolled off the production line, a number of completed prototypes were delivered to the German Army for trial, and by August of 1942 the first four fully-functional Tigers were delivered to 1. Kompanie schwere (heavy) Panzer Abteilung 502, which joined Army Group North in the area around Leningrad.

Pz. Kpfw. VI Tiger

Pz. Kpfw. VI Tiger I Ausf. H, marked in summer/autumn ochre and brown camouflage, belonging to the 2. schwere (heavy) Panzer Abteilung 502, Ostfront 1943

The Pz. Kpfw. VI Tiger was manned by a crew of five, three of whom manned the turret and main gun. The first of these was the Commander, the most important member of the crew, whose central role involved the sighting of targets and directing the other members of the crew from his rotating cupola situated at the left rear of the turret. The commander's role called for high levels of concentration and co-ordination, attributes that were especially crucial during frenetic close-quarter combat. The second crewman, located inside the cramped turret below and in front of the commander, was the Gunner, who was responsible for the traversal of the turret, the sighting of targets, and the firing of the 88mm L/56 KwK main gun. The third member of the turret crew, located on the right-hand side, was the Loader, who was responsible for the loading of the appropriate type of ammunition as specified by the gunner into the breech of the 88mm KwK. The fourth position was that of the Driver, who was seated in the front of the hull on the left-hand side. It was the driver's sole responsibility to manoeuvre the vehicle safely and co-ordinate effectively with the commander, although in more experienced crews the driver more often than not assisted the main gunner in locking onto targets by turning towards the face of the enemy, a technique which compensated for the slow rate of turret traverse. The fifth crewmember was the Bow Machine Gunner/Radio Operator, who was seated at the front of the hull to the right of the driver. As the title suggests, this man was both responsible for maintaining radio contact with other tanks in the platoon and HQ and for manning the the MG34 machine gun mounted in the front plate of the hull.

Pz. Kpfw. VI Tiger

Pz. Kpfw. VI Tiger I Ausf. H, marked in spring camouflage of yellow and light green, belonging to the schwere (heavy) Panzer Abteilung 502, Ostfront 1943

The battlefield strengths of the Tiger were essentially defined by the vehicle's two major characteristics: its thick front hull and turret armour plate - which was in some places up to 100mm thick - and powerful 88mm L/56 KwK main gun. In its early days of service, the standard of opponent faced by Tiger crews provided no real competition, in that enemy tanks would have to close in to suicidal distances to even get a shot in - and even then they were not guaranteed to score a successful hit, with their shells often bouncing harmlessly off the German panzer's front armour plate. Conversely, the powerful gun mounted on the Tiger's chassis could destroy opponents at massive distances. On the wide expanses of the Russian Front, these capabilities more than made up for the Tiger's inherent weaknesses, which included its slow rate of turret traverse, lack of mobility and vulnerable rear and hull-top plate. These disadvantages were to come to the fore during the close-quarter battles in the West, in that the Tiger had little opportunity to exercise its long-range firepower, and its thin turret- and hull-top armour proved to be particularly vulnerable to attacks by Allied rocket-armed aircraft such as the Hawker Typhoon and Tempest. Nevertheless, the Tiger was widely respected and feared right until the end of the war. The 88mm L/56 KwK main gun was an adaptation of the successful anti-tank version of the famous 'eighty-eight' FlaK gun, and was capable of penetrating 112mm of armour at a distance of 1400 metres, and was capable of firing Armour Piercing (AP), High Explosive (HE) or High Explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds. Each Tiger was designed to carry 92 rounds of 88mm ammunition, of which about fifty percent were AP rounds, and was also equipped with two 7.92mm MG34 machine guns for use against infantry personnel and light vehicles.

Pz. Kpfw. VI Tiger, 1. Kompanie sSS Abt. 501

An excellent side-profile illustration of a Pz. Kpfw. VI Tiger. This is a vehicle recently arrived in Normandy, belonging to the 1. Kompanie schwere (heavy) SS Panzer Abteilung 501 led by SS-Hauptsturmführer Rolf Möbius

Technical Specification

The complete technical specifications of the vehicle commanded by Michael Wittmann, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I, variant H/E.

General Details


Five (Commander, Gunner, Loader, Driver, Bow Machine Gunner/Radio Operator)

Hull length

6.3m (20.66ft)

Length, gun forward

8.45m (27.7ft)

Width, combat tracks fitted

3.72m (12.2ft)

Width, transport tracks fitted

3.14m (10.3ft)


3.0m (9.8ft)

Weight, transport

50.5 tonnes (49.7 tons)

Weight, combat

57 tonnes (56 tons)

Ground pressure, combat tracks

1.04kg/ (14.8psi)

Ground pressure, transport tracks

1.43kg/ (20.4psi)

Ground clearance

0.47m (1.5ft)

Fording depth, no preparation

1.6m (5.24ft)

Fording depth, prepared

4m (13.1ft)

Maximum gradient


Maximum trench crossing

2.5m (8.2ft)

Maximum step climbing

0.8m (2.6ft)

Tiger I side profile

Pz. Kfw. VI Tiger I Ausf. E, side profile

Suspension and Drive System

Suspension type

Transverse torsion bars

Number of roadwheel sets

Sixteen (eight per side)

Roadwheel sets per torsion bar


Roadwheels per set

Three, with outer set removable; later two

Return rollers


Wheel size

800x75mm (31.5x2.95in.)


Rubber/composite rubber-steel

Engine and Performance

Powerplant type

Maybach HL230 P45 petrol


4-stroke V12 at 60 degrees; SOHC per bank


Two per cylinder; sodium-cooled in exhaust


Cast-aluminium crackcase and block; cast-iron heads

Nominal output

700hp (522kW) at 3000rpm

Nominal efficiency


Power/weight ration (combat mode)



23,095cc (1,410 cu. in.)


130mm (5.118in.)


145mm (5.709in.)

Compression ratio



Four twin-choke Solex type 52JFF

Crankshaft bearings

Seven, roller type

Lubrication system

Dry sump; two scavenger pumps, one pressure pump

Oil capacity

28 litres (6.16 UK gallons/7.4 US gallons)

Coolant type

Liquid, fan-assisted

Coolant capacity

75 litres (16.5 UK gallons/19.8 US gallons)

Fuel capacity

540 litres (118.8 UK gallons/142 US gallons)

Nominal range, road

195km (120 miles)

Nominal range, cross-country

110km (68 miles)

Nominal maximum speed

45.4kph (28mph); 38kph (23mph) with engine limited to 2500rpm

Average sustained road speed

40kph (25mph)

Average sustained cross-country speed

20kph (12.5mph)

Transmission type

OLVAR hydraulically actuated pre-selector gearbox, 8 forward, 4 reverse speeds, hydraulically actuated clutch

Final drive


Drive sprocket


Tiger I bird's eye profile

Pz. Kfw. VI Tiger I Ausf. E, bird's eye profile

Maximum Speed in Gears


2.8kph (1.8mph)


4.3kph (2.7mph)


6.2kph (3.8mph)


9.2kph (5.7mph)


14.1kph (8.7mph)


20.9kph (13mph)


30.5kph (18.9mph)


45.4kph (28mph)

1st reverse

2.8kph (1.8mph)

2nd reverse

4.3kph (2.7mph)

3rd reverse

6.2kph (3.8mph)

4th reverse

9.2kph (5.7mph)

Steering and Armament Details

Steering type

Wheel-controlled hydraulically operated regenerative; emergency steering by differential braking

Minimum turning radius

3.44m (11.28ft)

Maximum turning radius

165m (525ft)

Main armament

88mm L/56 KwK rifled cannon

Main armament ammunition

92 rounds (field-modified to 106/120 rounds in some cases)

Main armament ammunition type

Armour-piercing (AP), AP/tungsten core, high-explosive (HE) and HE hollow-charge (HEAT)

Muzzle Velocity

600m/sec. (HE); 773m/sec. (AP); 930m/sec. (AP/tungsten core)

Effective Range

3000m (AP); 5000m (HE)

Secondary armament

Two 7.92mm MG34 machine guns; one co-axially mounted, one flexibly mounted in hull-front

Ancilliary armament

One 7.92mm MG34 machine gun (optional); six smoke dischargers (later removed); three 92mm bomb/grenade launchers (later removed); one 9mm MP38/MP40 machine pistol; 9mm P38 pistols

Secondary ammunition

5100 rounds (34 belts of 150 rounds)

Tiger I front/rear profile

Pz. Kfw. VI Tiger I Ausf. E, front/rear profile

Armour and Protection


Rolled homogenous nickel-steel plate; electro-welded interlocking-plate construction (dimensions are nominal)

Hull front

100mm (3.94in.)

Hull side (upper)

80mm (3.15in.)

Hull side (lower)

60mm (2.36in.)

Hull rear

80mm (3.15in.)

Hull top

25mm (0.98in.)

Hull bottom

25mm (0.98in.)

Turret front

100mm (3.94in.)


120mm (4.72in)

Turret sides

80mm (3.15in.)

Turret rear

80mm (3.15in.)

Turret top

25mm/40-45mm (0.98in./1.57-1.77in.)

Cannon manoeuvrability

Turret traverse method


Traverse rate

Six degrees/sec.

Elevation method


Elevation range

+17 to -6.5 degrees



*The above details relate specifically to the Pz. Kpfw. VI Ausf. H/E Variant

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