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Tanks of Bagration: Konigstiger (King Tiger aka Tiger II)

by on November 21, 2012

German heavy tank development began as early as 1937 with the German Armaments Ministry issuing a specification for a new heavy tank to Daimler-Benz, Henschel, MAN and Porsche. The project however was ignored as the Panzer III and IV had so far proved effective tanks and served well in combat. It was not until spring 1941 that the project was revived after Hitler was impressed with heavy allied tanks, such as the French Char B1 and British Matilda 1 during the campaign in the west.

At a meeting with Hitler on 26th May, 1941, the planning for the development of a new heavy tank begun. During that meeting, Hitler ordered for the creation of heavy Panzers which were to have an increased effectiveness to penetrate enemy tanks; possess heavier armor than was previously achieved; and attain a maximum speed of at least 40km/h. These key decisions led to the development of a new heavy tank, the Tiger 1 tank and ultimately the King Tiger. However, no clearly defined objectives or action plans were laid out for the succession of the Tiger 1 tank until January 1943 when the order was given for a new design which was to replace the existing Tiger 1.

Although the designation implies that the Tiger II is a succession of the Tiger 1, it is in effect a completely different tank. The first design consideration for the new tank was the selection of a more effective main gun. As with the Tiger tank, it was to mount an 88mm anti tank gun but the main gun on the Tiger II was far more powerful than that on the Tiger 1. For the development of the chassis, two firms were contracted to come up with the designs namely Henschel and Sohn of Kassel and Porsche of Stuttgart. Both firms Henschel and Porsche were responsible for only the chassis and automotive designs. Turret design was awarded to another firm Krupp of Essen.

The main gun specification of the King Tiger was to be a variation of the 88mm anti-aircraft gun. Although the 88mm was initially designed for an anti aircraft role, it proved to be an excellent tank killer. Originally, the intention was to mount an 88mm Flak 41 into a turret for the Porsche VK4501 (P) chassis. The turret had been originally designed by Krupp to hold the 56 caliber 88mm KwK 36 gun of the Tiger 1. After much experimentation and debate, it was decided in early 1943 that it was not possible to mount the 88mm Flak 41. Krupp had then been contracted to design a new turret that could mount their own version of a 71 caliber 88mm Kwk 43 gun that could fit in both the chassis for Henschel and Porsche.

The 88mm gun with the designation KwK 36 and KwK 43 indicated the model number year 36 and 43. The Tiger II with the model 43 has a length of 71 calibers (71 times 88mm) as compared with 56 calibers of the Tiger 1 with model 36. The length of the barrel itself is over 20 feet long while the rounds weighed almost 20kgs. It is in effect a much more powerful gun than the Tiger 1.
The King Tiger’s 88mm main gun has a muzzle velocity of 1000m per second when firing armor piercing rounds. It was highly accurate and able to penetrate 150mm of armor at distances exceeding 2200m. Since the flight time of an armor piercing round at a range of 2200m is about 2.2 seconds or less, accuracy and correction of fire against moving targets is more important than with older anti tank guns. This made this heavy predator ideally suited to open terrain where it could engage enemy tanks at long range before the opponent’s weapons were even in range.

For the chassis, much has been learnt from the sloped armor design of the Russian T-34. As with the Panther, the King Tiger was to have sloped and interlocked front and side armor. The front armor was 150mm thick and the side was 80mm thick. Both firms Henschel and Porsche submitted their own designs.

Porsche designed the VK4502 (P) chassis which was built on the previous VK4501 (P) design of the Tiger 1. The codename VK was for Volkettenfahrzeuge or “fully tracked experimental vehicle”, 45 means a 45 ton class and 01 represents the first model. The VK4502 (P) chassis had a similar outlook with the Tiger 1, sharing many similarities such as the suspension and automotive parts. Two designs were submitted, the first one having its turret mounted centrally and the second had the turret mounted towards the rear with the engine in front. However, it used copper for the electric transmission which Germany was in shortage of. This design was rejected and did not enter production.
Officially designated Panzerkampfwagen VI Sd.Kfz 182, the King Tiger was placed into service early 1944. It served in the western and eastern front notably in the battle of Normandy, operation “Market Garden” in Holland, and the offensive in Ardennes. It also served in various other operations in Poland, Hungary, Minsk and a small number also defended Berlin in April and May 1945. With its great firepower and thick armor, it proved to be more than an opponent for any tank the allied forces could field. However, the size and weight of the King Tiger had its share of problems. It suffered mechanically with many breakdowns and had poor maneuverability. Many roads and especially bridges were not suitable for a tank this size and the fuel requirements was enormous. Many were abandoned due to lack of fuel rather then being destroyed during the offensive in the Ardennes. Production also suffered with the bombing of the Henschel factory and there simply weren’t enough of these around. The King Tiger was a case of too late and too few in number to make a difference in the outcome of the war.

The Porche designed turret.

The Henschel designed turret.

However, the great firepower and armor of the King Tiger created the impression of a powerful armored force with almost invulnerable tanks. Able to destroy enemy tanks at extreme ranges and impervious to those same tanks made the King Tiger more than a match for any allied tank. Indeed for the allied forces, the sight of a King Tiger on the battlefield was terrifying and did great physical and morale damage to the enemy. This fame and almost mystical fascination helped it earn its reputation as the most feared weapon of world war 2. For the German forces, it was the hallmark of German armored might and restored morale even in the last days of the war. Due to the havoc it wreaked during the Ardennes offensive, the allies advancing into Berlin would fear the King Tiger up to the very last day of the war.

The 503. Shwerepanzer at full strength on the Russian front.

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