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Countdown to Bagration: the tanks of Bagration – Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf.E (aka Tiger I)

by on August 3, 2012


In 1937, Heinz Guderian described the operational principles and tactics that would shape German thinking on how to employ armored formations in a future war. The mission of the heavy tank within this concept was to effect a breakthrough, and it’s first objective was to engage and destroy the enemy’s anti-tank guns in the defensive line. The next objective of the heavy tanks was to destroy the enemy artillery – but Guderian correctly anticipated that the penetration of the defensive lines would force the enemy to throw his armor reserves in a counter-attack. About the importance of defeating this counter-attack, Guderian emphasized that the greatest enemy of the tank is another tank, and that because of that, the armored forces had to be capable of defeating this counterattack, or the breakthrough would fail.

The German doctrine of that time focused mainly on the offensive. Naturally, when the tide turned against Germany, the doctrinal recommendation was that the armor formations would be kept back, and ready to counter-attack any breakthrough of the German defense lines. Consequently, the doctrinal mission of the Tiger was first and foremost, whether in the offense or in the defense, to kill the enemy’s tanks.

Heinz Guderian, Germany’s greatest armor theorist, thought that the primary mission of the heavy tank was to kill enemy’s tanks in counter-attacks against German breakthrough attempts.
As Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen, Guderian understood the value of the Tiger as a force multiplier factor either in the offense or in the defense. After the tide turned against the Wehrmacht, the Tiger proved to be a most effective weapons system in defensive operations.


The hull of the Tiger was a comparatively simple welded unit with a one-piece superstructure welded on top. At the front it was 100 mm, around the sides 80 mm, and 26 mm on the top. To assist production all shapes were kept simple. The turret was also simple, and the sides were almost upright. It remains a curious fact why Henschel’s engineers came up with what was essentially a square box for the Tiger’s hull. The only steeply sloping element on the Tiger was the short glacis plate, forward of the hull upper front plate with its ball-mounted machine gun and driver’s vision slots, which was set at 81 degrees to the vertical. However, the vertical plating was massive enough to withstand virtually everything. The mantlet was very heavy, with 120 mm of armor, and carried the long and heavy gun.

The armor of the Tiger I was not well sloped, but it was thick. Here is where many fail to understand that, in terms of World War II tank warfare, thickness was a quality in itself, since armor resistance is mainly determined by the ratio between armor thickness and projectile diameter (T/d). The T/d relationship regarding armor penetration demonstrates that the more the thickness of the armor plate overmatches the diameter of any incoming armor piercing round, the harder it is for the projectile to achieve a penetration. On the other side, the greater the diameter of the incoming projectile relatively to the thickness of the armor plate which it strikes, the greater the probability of penetration. This explains why the side armor of the Tiger I, being 80 mm thick, was so difficult to be penetrated at combat ranges by most Allied anti-tank and tank guns, whose calibers were overmatched by the thickness of the Tiger I armor.

The rolled homogeneous nickel-steel plate, electro-welded interlocking-plate construction armor had a Brinell hardness index of around 255-280 (the best homogeneous armor hardness level for the corresponding thickness level of the Tiger’s armor, by WW II standards), and rigorous quality control procedures ensured that it stayed that way. About this issue, and according to Thomas L. Jentz, “there is no proof that substandard german armour plate was used during the last years of the war. All original documents confirm compliance with standard specifications throughout the war” (JENTZ, Thomas L. Germany’s TIGER Tanks, VK45.02 to Tiger II: Design, Production & Modifications).


In May 1941 the German general staff had demanded a new Kampfwagen Kanone (Tank Gun) specification for the Tiger; it had to be capable of penetrating 140 mm thick armor at a range of 1,000 meters, without specifying that the caliber had to be 88mm. This specification was a direct consequence of Hitler’s directive dated 26 May 1941, which stated that if the same penetration capability could be achieved by a gun of smaller caliber than 88mm, then preference should be given to the smaller caliber gun, based on the increased ammunition load and the lower turret weight. However, the same directive stated that the chosen caliber must be adequate to engaging tanks, ground targets, and bunkers. This resulted in Rheinmetall receiving a contract in mid-July 1941 to design a turret with a gun that fulfilled those requirements. The first gun designed by Rheinmetall, the 75mm KwK L/60, barely met the requirements, being able to achieve a penetration of 100mm of armor inclined at 30 degrees, at a range of 1400 meters.

The 13.(Tiger) Kompanie, of Panzer Regiment Großdeutschland, reported on the performance of the 88 mm KwK 36 L/56, when their Tigers engaged the T-34: “First round hits were usually achieved at ranges between 800 to 1,000 meters. At these ranges, the Panzer Granate (they are referring to the PzGr. 39 APCBC ammunition) absolutely penetrated through the frontal armor, and usually still destroyed the engine at the rear of the T-34 tank. In 80 percent of the cases, shots from the same range hitting the side of the hull toward the rear of the tank resulted in the fuel tanks exploding. Even at ranges of 1,500 meters and longer, during favorable weather, it is possible to succeed in penetrating the T-34 with minimal expenditure of ammunition” (JENTZ, Thomas L.; Germany’s TIGER Tanks – Tiger I and II: Combat Tactics; op. cit.). Many more reports like this one attest to the precedent arguments on the superior performance of the 88 mm KwK 36 L/56 gun.

The Tiger I carried 92 rounds of ammunition, although it is known that experienced crews frequently broke the regulations, by storing more than that. The recommended and most usual mix was 50 percent APCBC (Pzgr.39) and 50 percent HE (Sprenggranaten – high explosive shells). A few rounds of the rare (due to the shortage of tungsten carbide) APCR (Pzgr.40) ammunition might be carried for use against the heaviest armored Russian tanks and tank destroyers. The Gr.39 HL (Hohlgranate) based on the hollow charge principle (HEAT), was less accurate and much less destructive than the APCBC rounds, but could be carried in place of the HE rounds and used either to combat armor or as effective high explosive ammunition against soft targets.

Much have been said about the Tiger’s maneuverability, that the Tiger was a “lumbering monster”, or that “it could barely move”, but that is not exactly the truth. The Tiger I was very maneuverable for its weight and size, and superior to the Sherman in muddy terrain, despite its size and weight, as it had less ground pressure. This capability was provided by the the combat tracks of 755 mm width, which resulted in a ground pressure of 15.0 psi, or 1.05 kg/cm².

Tigers, like all German tanks, used regenerative steering, hydraulically operated – the separate tracks could be turned in opposite directions at the same time, so the Tiger I could neutral steer (pivoting in place) , and completely turn around in a distance of 3.44 meters (11.28ft). This used to take by surprise many unlucky enemy crews. As a result of all those facts, the reality is that the Tiger I was not slow at all: The Panzer IV road speed was 40 km/h. Cross country speed was 20 km/h. The Panzer III (Ausf E to N) road speed was 40 km/h. Cross country speed was 18 km/h. The Tiger I road speed was 38 km/h. Cross country speed was 20 km/h.

The only German tank that was faster than the Tiger I was the Panther, with a road speed of 46 km/h and a cross country speed of 24 km/h. But, overall, the Panther was not more reliable than the Tiger I. The table below demonstrate that the percentage of Tigers operational at the Front was about equal to the PzKpfw. IV and as good as or better than the Panther.


From → Flames of War

  1. I think its interesting that it was just as fast as a panzer 4, the Tiger was a beast for sure. I’m wondering if the panzer 4 maneuvered that much better to have it classed in FOW as a standard tank-

  2. Well the caveat is this – they often moved slow not because it couldn’t move fast, but because it was designed for very long range and had a very slow traverse speed on the turret (due to the weight) and they couldn’t move and fire very effectively (they did not have stabilizers as the American Shermans did). So I believe that most of the movies taken with these tanks moving in them had them moving slow because they didn’t really NEED to get up close or move super fast. They only needed to move enough to get into a firing position, stop, line up the sights and fire. I believe Panzer 4’s didnt have nearly the range that the Tiger had. Also something else to consider – the Germans were trying to be careful about not busting gears or burning out engines in these things because repairing them in the field is a bitch, and they didn’t have very many in the first place. The same was true of the Panther. The Panther was capable of fairly decent speed… but in reality, they were told, particularly toward the end of the war, not to push those valuable tanks very hard in the field because they wouldn’t be able to replace them and they didn’t want to lose tanks just because drivers were burning up engines or busting gears. Most movies with actual footage of panther tanks show them moving fairly carefully and slowly so as not to ruin their tanks, yet the panther was actually capable of faster movement. FoW also has some simplified rules, and classes the Tiger as a heavy tank due to its armor and gun. Most other heavy tanks in other armies did actually move very slowly (the Churchill, for example), so its easier in terms of game terms to lump all heavy tanks as “slow” and give them a max of 8 inches… although all Germans get a chance to do an extra 4 inch move anyway with a skill check (and Hungarians and Italians too now that I think of it), so there isn’t much to complain about anyway. If they gave it faster movement, they’d have to raise the points even more, and Tigers are already really expensive in points and get an extra 4 inch move, and all German variants have an ace skill on top of that (my Hungarians don’t but get a slight points reduction for their Tigers).

  3. I just noticed that the top picture in this article I posted has the knight on horseback symbol used for the 505 Schwere Panzer army that Luke is running. It’ll be difficult to paint that on the side of a tank, but it would look awesome if you got it to work, Luke.

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