Tiger I Interiors. Germany’s first true heavy MBT of the war. It first saw service in the Leningrad sector of the Eastern Front in August 1942 and then in Tunisia. It served until the end of the war, taking a heavy toll on enemy tanks in the process. Excellent tank with a superb long-range gun capable of killing any other tank. The Tiger was, however, complicated and thus difficult to maintain. It had an overlapping wheel suspension that tended to clog in muddy conditions or freeze up in cold weather, immobilizing the tank.
Easily the most feared German tank during the war was the PzKpfw VI Tiger. It resulted from an Ordnance Department order in 1937 from Henschel for a heavy breakthrough tank that would be 50 percent heavier than the PzKpfw IV and protected by 50mm armor. First manufactured in March 1941, the Tiger went through several prototypes before production began in earnest on the Ausf. E in July 1942. The PzKpfw VI Tiger weighed some 125,700 pounds (making it the world’s heaviest tank), had a crew of five, a 700-hp engine that produced a maximum speed of 24 mph, and was armed with a powerful 88mm (3.46-inch) gun. It had 100mm hull front armor and 120mm armor on the gun mantlet, the movable piece of armor surrounding the main gun.
Although the Tiger was not especially nimble and was in fact better suited to defense than offense, its gun could destroy any other tank in the world. It in turn could be destroyed only by the heaviest Allied antitank guns, and then only at much shorter ranges than that of the Tiger’s main gun. Guderian had urged the Tigers be held back until sufficient numbers were available to enable them to effect a major victory, but Hitler insisted on trying out the tanks that September in the Leningrad sector, where they fell prey to well-sited Soviet antitank guns. Guderian noted that the result was “heavy, unnecessary casualties, but also the loss of secrecy and of the element of surprise for future operations.”
The Tiger was a complicated AFV and thus difficult to manufacture and maintain. It also had an overlapping wheel suspension that tended to clog in muddy conditions or freeze up in cold weather, immobilizing the tank. Nonetheless, its superb 88mm high-velocity main gun took a heavy toll of Allied tanks through the end of the war. The Soviets learned through the hard experience of tank-on-tank combat that the only way to nullify the Tiger’s longer-range 88mm gun was to close the distance before firing. In the close-quarters fighting of Stalingrad, for example, distances hardly mattered.