The Tiger II: King Tiger


Tiger II (King Tiger) Photo Album

A Tiger II (King Tiger) in Budapest during WWII. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

A Tiger II (King Tiger) in Budapest during WWII. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

When the Tiger II rolled into action during the summer of 1944, its heavy armor and exceptional firepower made it all but invincible to Allied guns, although it was not without flaws.

Like the Tiger I before it, the heavy tank’s design can be traced back to 1937, when German vehicle manufacturer Henschel & Son started drafting plans for a large tank. A few years later, Ferdinand Porsche began working on a similar vehicle, both of which used turrets manufactured by Krupp.

Henschel’s design, which featured sloping armor like the Panther medium tank, was chosen over Porsche’s unorthodox plan. Once the design was finalized in 1943, Henschel’s factory produced every Tiger II that entered service during World War II. A total of 1,500 were ordered, but the factory was decimated by Allied bombing raids and only 492 were finished.

Successor to the Tiger I, it was known informally as the Königstiger (German for Bengal tiger), a name that was often mistranslated as “King Tiger” or “Royal Tiger” by Allied soldiers, though not without reason.

In head-to-head combat, the King Tiger was impervious to even the heaviest Allied anti-tank guns, with 100 to 180 mm (3.9 to 7 inches) of armor on the front of the vehicle, with the thickest installed on the front of the turret. The sides and rear of the nearly 70 tonne tank had 80 mm of armor (3.1 inches), and 40 mm of armor (1.6 inches) on the top and bottom of the hull.

The turret of a Tiger II (King Tiger). Photo from the German Federal Archive.

The turret of a Tiger II (King Tiger). Photo from the German Federal Archive.

Its main cannon was a long-barreled 8.8 cm KwK 43 with a 71 caliber length that reportedly retained a 100 percent probability of hitting a test range target up to 1,000 meters (0.6 miles), and an 85 percent chance of hitting a target 2,000 meters away (1.2 miles). In combat, this probability decreased but remained effective.

On the battlefield, the King Tiger far outclassed its opponents, able to take out any Allied tank at ranges beyond the effective range of their guns. This, coupled with its near invincibility from the front, meant that British, Soviet, and U.S. tanks typically tried to flank the King Tiger to strike at the thinner armor on its sides and rear.

In August 1944, two King Tigers were captured and tested by the Soviets, and mobility issues presented themselves before the tanks even reached the proving ground.

According to the translated report, a number of parts failed during travel, the engine continually overheated, the drive shaft failed, and parts of the tracks constantly cracked under the weight of the tank. It was also observed that the tank used more fuel than its manual indicated, and the Soviets never achieved its maximum speed of 41 kph (25 mph).

Lt. Mike Powell's King Tiger destroys a Panzer IV near Brest.

Lt. Mike Powell’s King Tiger destroys a Panzer IV.

These issues were common, as the same Maybach engine powered the lighter Tiger I and Panther tanks and the drivetrain was intended for a lighter vehicle. These, and other, problems were amplified by a lack of crew training. As the war progressed, reliability increased as a result of maintenance and training.

The Soviet tests showed that the rigid German armor dented and spalled when struck by multiple shells in the same place.

When hit by three to four rounds from 100 mm guns or larger, the damaged armor, though not pierced, disrupted the transmission and took the tank out of service. These large-caliber guns occasionally penetrated the frontal armor at ranges under 1,500 meters, while smaller-caliber cannons didn’t even cause structural damage at 300 meters.

The side armor, however, could be perforated by the Soviets’ 85 mm and the Americans’ 76 mm guns at ranges under 2,000 meters.

In Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, the King Tiger is prominently featured in a few missions. Its first appearance is a blurry photograph shown to Lt. Mike Powell during a briefing by Col. Stanley Hargrove, and two are later destroyed by Powell as he infiltrates a German command post in Normandy.

This mission takes place on June 22, 1944, less than a month before the first King Tigers arrived in Normandy. However, because one was built in 1943 and 379 were built in 1944, it’s not entirely improbable.

On Aug. 20, 1944 (around the same time the Soviets captured their two King Tigers), Powell leads a tank crew from the U.S. 6th Armored Division through sniper-infested Landerneau on a mission to steal a Tiger II undergoing “minor maintenance and tread repairs.”

The King Tiger tank outside the Landerneau city hall.

The King Tiger tank outside the Landerneau city hall.

The tank is guarded by soldiers wearing the black uniform of the Waffen-SS, which makes sense, as the Tiger II was only issued to heavy tank battalions of the German Army or the SS.

Powell and his three-member tank crew (which were apparently trained from the documents found in the command post) then drive the tank through Brittany on their way to Brest, destroying a number of Tiger I and Panzer IV tanks, FlaK 88’s, and other enemies along the way.

In reality, the King Tiger was crewed by five (a commander, a gunner, a loader, a radio operator, and a driver). In the context of the mission, a radio operator is unnecessary, dropping the crew to four, the size of Powell’s team. However, Powell drives and fires the main cannon, which, at best, leaves three men to do one job (reload), or, at worst, was impossible.

The MOH: AA version also doesn’t have the King Tiger’s two MG34 machine guns, which would’ve been more useful against infantry than the main gun. I couldn’t find a reliable source for the firing rate of the King Tiger, but the in-game version fires once every five seconds, or 12 rounds per minute.

The tank takes the same amount of damage on its front, sides, and rear, despite its varying armor thickness. On the hardest difficulty, it takes two shots from a Tiger I or FlaK 88, and four from a Panzer IV, to destroy the King Tiger. The tank’s own gun will destroy German tanks in one to three shots, but this appears to be dictated by the location of the enemy tanks on the map (this Tiger in a field will always explode after one shot, but this one will always take three.)

The heavy tank is only faced as an enemy at the end of the bridge defense mission, when one will engage the stolen King Tiger from the right or center of the map. It can be destroyed by an artillery strike or by the friendly King Tiger itself.

Finally, each King Tiger in the game is numbered “332.” These numbers were different on each tank (332 would mean third company, third platoon, second vehicle) and would not have been repeated, though the white outline was a common design.

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~ by John on October 27, 2014.

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