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PzKpfw VI Tiger II heavy tank

Written by Sakhal

It is a fact that, as soon as a weapons system starts to be produced, the idea of its successor has to be developed. Thus, as soon as the assembly lines of Henschel, Krupp and Porsche started to work in the Tiger, it was ordered to these companies to start working in a new heavy tank with improved armament and protection. The cannon would be the same L/71 88 millimeters - then still in stage of prototype - that would be mounted in the Ferdinand tank destroyer. With a longer barrel and, in consequence, a higher muzzle speed - reaching 1020 meters/second instead of the 840 reached by the L/56 mounted on the Tiger -, the KwK 43 L/71 could perforate 180 millimeters of armor at normal ranges. The version of the new tank built by Porsche, the VK 4502 (P) was based in the same gasoline/electric propulsion system used in his previous projects. Again, it had no success, this time due to strategic considerations, like when the "conical" bore cannon was rejected because of the drastic scarcity of tungsten. In this case, it was because of the copper coils required for the huge electric motors, for the supplies of copper were too scarce as well.

The project by Henschel was chosen, but it was imposed, without possibility of answer, that it accepted to include an important element from his competitor: the turret, which Porsche had designed to mount a cannon of up to 150 millimeters. But this turret was not perfect; it had a pronounced trim in the lower frontal edge that produced a very dangerous "shot trap". Henschel finally had to spend a time in producing the molds for his own turret that removed such problem. So, the first 50 tanks were built with the turrets made by Porsche. Except for the "shot trap", this turret was very well modelled. Built with an armor 100 millimeters thick, its sides were inclined vertically and horizontally. These angles existed as well in the hull, unlike in its predecessor, to help the ricochet of piercing projectiles, incorporating so the lessons learned, through the Panther, from the T-34. In fact, it is considered that the Tiger II was more a development from the Panther than from the Tiger I, for it has more in common with the first one. Actually, one of the requirements of the specification was to normalize as much elements as possible relative to the project of the Panther II tank, which never appeared. Like in the other two German heavy tanks, the hull was built by welding plates and not in a single piece.

PzKpfw VI Tiger II heavy tank

PzKpfw VI Tiger II Ausf B (SdKfz 182) with Porsche turret. Only 50 of them were built.

PzKpfw VI Tiger II heavy tank

PzKpfw VI Tiger II Ausf B (SdKfz 182) with Henschel turret.

One of the elements that the Tiger II shared with its predecessors was the engine, the Maybach HL230 with 12 cylinders in V and 700 horsepower. But this engine, which had been suitable for the 45- ton Panther and also acceptable for the 55-ton Tiger I, barely had power for a 68-ton tank. Due to this the characteristics of the Tiger II resented a lot. It could still reach about 40 kilometers/hour by road, albeit its acceleration was very bad and fuel consumption was astronomic: with 865 liters of gasoline it could make only 60 kilometers in cross-country and less than twice of that in road. The worst was the constant need of forcing the engine to give the maximum power, which caused frequent failures and malfunctions. It is a mystery why the Maybach HL 230 was included in the specification. There were other more valid and powerful alternatives, such as the Daimler-Benz MB 509, mounted in the cancelled Maus, or the always efficient Maybach HL 234, which would have provided all the required power with the same fuel consumption. Also were to be available Diesel engines of similar power, which certainly would have reduced the consumption and burned an easier to obtain fuel, due to being less refined than gasoline.

Like in the other two German heavy tanks, the turret of the Tiger II was hydraulically moved, with a complementary manual mechanism for when the engine were stopped or - as it happened often - ran out of fuel. In fact, the hydraulic system did not allow for much precision, so the gunners frequently used the manual system. It was required to give two turns to a wheel 25 centimeters in diameter to rotate the turret one degree, which entailed 720 turns for a full 360 degrees turn. The interior of the turret was spacious but the mechanisms of the large cannon reached the rear wall, totally dividing the space in two parts. In the sides and the floor of the turret up to 78 projectiles for the cannon could be stored and there was a number of racks for the smaller equipment. The commander's cupola allowed for good visibility, but generally it was preferred to pop the head out. Besides, like the Tiger I (or at least the first 500), to the Tiger II could be attached a snorkel, and with an adequate preparation, which took several hours, the tank could remain fully submerged at a depth of four meters during two hours and half. Pumps were adapted in the tank to pump out the small quantity of water that leaked in. Albeit not apparent at first glance, in the Tiger II was suppressed one of the inconvenients of the Tiger I: the road wheels were not interleaved, but simply overlaped, solving so the problems of immobilization during the winter nights in the cold and humid regions. The tracks, up to 80 centimeters wide, along with the torsion- bar suspension, granted an extraordinary comfort during travel and a rational distribution of the weight on the terrain up to the possible in such a heavy vehicle.

Apart from the frequent mechanical failures caused by the insufficient power of the engine, the Tiger II was generally well accepted, if only because it was practically invincible if properly used. The combination of its formidable cannon and massive armor made it the most powerful tank of the Second World War; it could engage more than one enemy at a time without suffering damage. But its size and weight were a drawback; often very difficult to hide, it soon fell behind in a quick battle, which frequently happened in Russia. The Tiger II was called by its crews Konigstiger and the English equivalent (King Tiger or Royal Tiger) was used by the Allied soldiers.

When the Germans launched their offensive in the Ardennes in 1944, the Allies were totally taken by surprise because they did not think that Germany, drained by the war and the bombings, could make such an effort. Naturally, the German official propaganda started a campaign to praise the efforts of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS, in an attempt to demonstrate that the German forces marched towards the final victory. With this purpose were distributed photographs of "absolutely invincible" new tanks that would thwart the Allied ranks. The Tiger II were, of course, the lauded tanks. In fact, the propaganda was not absent of a certain veracity when it said that these were invincible tanks, for in the Allied ranks there were no armored vehicles capable of engaging these monsters frontally. Only in the Eastern Front they had some troubles with the IS-2 tanks armed with a 122-millimeter cannon. But the propaganda did not say anything about how this tank required 860 liters of gasoline to travel only 110 kilometers by road, or that its turning radius was 4.8 meters, and that it was enough a somewhat weak or narrow bridge, an excessively low overpass or an excessively tight curve in a bend or in a town street to put its irresistible march in trouble. And this without mentioning that the Allied aircraft watched closely the supply columns that provided the German armored vehicles with the precious and scarce gasoline. The mentioned problems with the engine would not be so important in a defensive combat, but they were to be taken into account in an offensive, and when the Tiger II was tested in the Ardennes it did not result specially notable. Many of them were lost in the Eastern Front, where they had difficulties to withdraw, albeit this happened in good part due to the scarcity in fuel.

PzKpfw VI Tiger II heavy tank

PzKpfw VI Tiger II Ausf B (SdKfz 182) with Henschel turret.

In total were produced 485 exemplars, from the beginning of the summer 1944 until one year after, when the war ended. This rhythm of production was inferior to the one reached with the Tiger I, of which 1350 units were produced in two years, but production never stopped despite the harsh Allied bombings. Henschel kept in his factories at least 60 tanks in construction. In maximum production only 14 days were required to complete a Tiger II. The severe restrictions in fuel forced the factories to use bottled gas for the trials. The Tiger II entered service in the autumn 1944 in the same distribution than the Tiger I, this is, small units of four or five vehicles. Only one variant was produced of the Tiger II, the Panzerjager Ausf B - probably more known as Jagdtiger (Hunting Tiger) -, a tank destroyer built with a frontal inclined armor that reached 250 millimeters in thickness and a PaK 44 L/55 128-millimeter cannon of high muzzle speed, which fired a piercing projectile weighing 28.3 kilograms capable, probably, of perforating the armor of a light battleship. With a weight of 72 tonnes, but still fitted with the engine Maybach HL 230, this vehicle had very deficient propulsion power and, due to that, its reliability was even worse then in the Tiger II. In Germany, it was dedicated a big effort during the second half of the Second World War to develop weapons and vehicles that usually did not pass from the stage of prototype and that a more rational mind than the one of Hitler - who usually was the instigator of these projects - would have promptly rejected. Armored vehicles, of course, were not an exception to these methods.

PzKpfw VI Tiger II heavy tank

Panzerjager Ausf B (SdKfz 186) "Jagdtiger".

Crew: 5

Armament: One L/71 KwK 43 88-millimeter cannon; one MG 34 7.92 millimeters co-axial machine gun; one MG 34 7.92-millimeter machine gun in the front of the hull

Ammunitions: 72 for 88-millimeter cannon; 5850 for 7.92-millimeter machine guns

Armor: 40-185 millimeters in overall; 100-150 millimeters in the front of the hull; 80-185 millimeters in the turret

Length (total): 10.28 meters

Length (hull): 7.25 meters

Width: 3.75 meters

Height: 3.09 meters

Ground clearance: 48.5 centimeters

Weight: 68 tonnes with Porsche turret and 69.4 tonnes with Henschel turret

Ground pressure: 1.07 kilograms/square centimeter

Power/weight ratio: 8.78 horsepower/tonne

Engine: Maybach HL 230 D30 with 12 cylinders, refrigerated by water, developing 700 horsepower at 3000 revolutions per minute

Maximum speed (in road): 38 kilometers/hour

Maximum speed (in cross-country): 17 kilometers/hour

Maximum operational range (in road): 110 kilometers

Maximum operational range (in cross-country): 60-85 kilometers

Maximum surmountable trench: 2.5 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 0.85 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 35 degrees

Maximum fording: 1.6 meters

Article updated: 2014-12-27

Categories: Tanks - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-12-26

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