View Full Version : PanzerKampfwagen VI Tiger I

03-05-04, 08:33 AM
The most famous German battle tank, the Tiger generated an aura of invincibility giving it a psychological advantage of great value. This reputation was justified by events such as the action in which SS-Obersturmführer Wittmann, commanding a Tiger on the Villers Bocage road in Normandy on 13 June 1944, destroyed 25 half-tracks and tanks, effectively blocking the road and halting the advance of a complete armoured division. At that time the British and Americans called every German panzer a "Tiger", although most of them were PzKpfw IV. Few would claim it as the best tank of all time, but it showed the way to the Panther and Tiger II which went a long way towards making up in firepower and effectiveness for the numerical deficiency in armor with which the German army had to face the Allied forces in the closing stages of WWII.


The Tiger tank originated from developments started in 1937, when Henschel were instructed to design and construct a 30- to 33-ton tank prototype as possible successor to the PzKpfw IV. The new vehicle was known as the DW1 (Durchbrüchwagen, breakthrough vehicle). However, after one chassis with interleaved road wheel suspension had been built, trials were suspended to allow work to be carried out on a further design for a 65-ton tank, the VK6501. The VK6501 was itself a further development of the original PzKpfw VI NbFz. This project was cancelled to resume development of the DW 1. The improved model, the DW2, weighed 32 tons, accommodated a crew of five, and had to be armed with the short 75mm gun. Trials were carried out until 1941, when Henschel, Porsche, MAN and Daimler-Benz were invited to submit designs for a new vehicle in the same class and weight as the DW2.

The Henschel version (VK3001H) was a continued development of the DW2, which superstructure resembled that of the PzKpfw IV, and had seven interleaved road wheels. It was planned to mount the 75mm L/48 gun in this vehicle, but the appearance of the Russian T-34 with its 76mm gun made the vehicle already obsolete and development was discontinued. The Porsche version (VK3001P) was a turretless prototype with several new features such as petrol-electric drive. With the order for the VK3001 an additional order has been placed for a 36-ton tank, the VK3601, which specifications included a powerful, high velocity gun, heavy armor and a maximum speed of at least 40 km/h. These specifications had been personally proposed by Hitler, who was impressed by the French "Char B1 bis" and the British Matilda I. Experimentel work on both the VK3001 and VK3601 was stopped when a further order for a 45-ton tank was received in May 1941. Designated VK4501, the intended vehicle was to mount a tank version of the 88mm gun, and the prototype should be ready in time for Hitler's birthday on 20 April 1942, when a demonstration was to be staged.

Henschel decided to incorporate the best features of their VK3001H and VK3601H project into the new design as time was limited, while Porsche incorporated as many as possible of the design features from their VK3001P model. The demonstration of the two competing prototypes, the VK4501H and VK4501P, took place before Hitler at Rastenburg, when the Henschel design was considered to be superior. The new vehicle was designated PzKpfw VI Tiger Ausf. E. The Tiger was subsequently in production for two years, from August 1942 until August 1944, and in this period a total of 1350 vehicles were delivered out of 1376 ordered, indicative of the fact that the Tiger was conceived primarily as a fighting machine and not as a mass-production machine. Ninety Porsche Tigers were also ordered, partly as safeguard against delays or failure of the Henschel Tiger, of which the chassis was eventually used as basis for the heavy tank destroyer Ferdinand/Elefant. These vehicles made their unsuccessful battle debut in the Kursk tank battle.

The Tiger I was the first German combat tank to be fitted with overlapping road wheel suspension, arranged with triple overlapping and interleaved wheels of a steel disc type with solid rubber tyres. The overlapping wheel system was adopted for optimum weight distribution. There were eight independently sprung torsion bar axles on each side, with the right hand axles trailed aft and the left hand axles led forward in order to carry all axles inside the hull. This resulted in an extremely soft and stable ride for a tank of this weight and size. Two types of track were used, one 725mm in wide was fitted for combat conditions, and a narrower one of 520mm in wide for travel and transportation. When the narrow tracks were fitted the outer wheels were removed from each suspension unit.

Through this type of suspension gave a superior ride, it also had its drawbacks, one being that the interleaved wheels were liable to become packed with mud and snow during winter fighting, and if ignored until frozen this could jam the wheels. The Russians discovered this and took advantage by timing their attacks for dawn, when the vehicles were likely to have become immobilised during the night's frost. Very late production Tigers had steel disc type wheels with resilient internal rubber spring rims of the type fitted to the Tiger II. In these Tigers, the outside run of wheels was omitted, reducing both the icing-up problem and the overheating problem of the axle bearing.

The Tiger was technically the most sophisticated and best engineered vehicle of its time. The hull was divided in four compartments: the forward two housed the driver and hull gunner/radio-operator, the centre was the fighting compartment, and the engine compartment was at the rear. The driver sat on the left and steered by means of a wheel which acted hydraulically on the differential steering unit. Emergency steering was provided for by two steering levers on either side of the driver operating disc brakes. A visor was provided for the driver and was opened by a sliding shutter worked from a handwheel. Fixed episcopes were provided in both the driver's and radio-operator's escape hatches. The gearbox separated the two forward compartments, with the radio-operator seated on the right. He had a standard MG34 in a ball mounting in the front vertical plate, and had his radio sets mounted on a shelf to the operator's left.

The Tiger's centre fighting compartment had a floor suspended from the turret by three steel tubes and rotated with the turret. The breech mechanism of the 88mm gun reached almost to the inside rear turret wall, dividing the turret into two. Like the hull, the turret was a simple structure; the sides and rear were formed from a single 82mm thick plate curved horseshoe fashion. The front was joined by two 100mm thick rectangular bars, and the upper and lower edges of the turret sides converged towards the front to allow for movement of the mantlet. The turret roof was a single shaped 26mm thick plate, bent slightly forward of the centre line to match the sides at the front. External turret fittings were three 90mm smoke generators on either side towards the front and two stowage bins either side of the centre line at the rear. Two types of cupola were fitted to the Tiger; the original type had five vision slits and was of plain cylindrical appearance, while the later type had seven episcopes and had a less prominent hatch which swung out to the side.

In order to simplify assembly and allow the use of heavy armor plate, flat sections were used throughout the hull. Hull and superstructure were welded, in contrast to previous tanks were a bolted joint was used between hull and superstructure. The front and rear superstructure was in one unit and interlocking stepped joints, secured by welding, were used in construction of both the lower hull and superstructure. The top front plate of the hull covered the full width of the vehicle and permitted a turret ring to be fitted width enough to accomodate the 88mm gun. The Tigers used in North Africa, and in Russia in summer, were fitted with the feifel air cleaner system. This was attached to the rear of the hull and linked to the engine over the engine cover plate. The tropical Tigers were known as the Tiger (Tp), but the feifel air system was soon discontinued to simplify production. The first production Tiger's were equipped for a totally submerged wading with Snorkel breathing, but this proved an expensive luxury and was discarded.