The Tiger I: A Fearsome Opponent


Tiger I Photo Album

A Tiger I heavy tank. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

A Tiger I heavy tank. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

When Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, German tanks encountered, albeit in small numbers, T-34 and KV-1 tanks, which proved tough to beat.

The T-34 was immune to head-on fire from every German gun except the 88mm FlaK, but its side armor could be penetrated by German guns at close range. The KV-1, however, was immune to nearly all German guns from all angles, with the exception of the FlaK 88.

The Germans needed a solution, and they needed it fast, before the Soviets produced more medium and heavy tanks.

The Panzer VI, later designated the Tiger I, was that solution.

German vehicle manufacturer Henschel & Son had been working on a large tank design since 1937, but the process was expedited after the encounter with Soviet tanks. Both Henschel and automotive engineer Ferdinand Porshce submitted designs, and Henschel’s was accepted in the spring of 1942.

When the first finished Tigers entered service a few months later, they were essentially still prototypes that Adolf Hitler had rushed into service, and the Tigers continued to undergo design changes.

The front of a Tiger I as it appears in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

The front of a Tiger I as it appears during Lt. Mike Powell’s basic training in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

The Tiger’s emphasis on firepower and armor decreased its mobility, but its top speed was only a few miles per hour slower than the average medium tank. It was reportedly able to reach 28 mph (45 kpm), but the tank’s top speed was later capped at 24 mph (39 kpm).

Armed with the 8.8 cm KwK 36 L/56 gun, the Tiger was the first tank to use a FlaK 88-inspired weapon, and it was capable of destroying most enemy tanks long before their guns could penetrate its thick armor.

According to the Wa Pruef report from Oct. 5, 1944, reprinted in Hilary Doyle and Tom Jentz’s book Tiger I Heavy Tank 1942-45, the U.S. 75 mm Sherman and the British Cromwell and Churchill tanks could penetrate the 60 mm armor on the side of the Tiger’s hull from 900 meters.

However, they had to close to within 100 meters to breach the 80 mm armor on the side and rear of the turret, while the Tiger remained invulnerable everywhere else. Only when the British 17-pounder gun (76.2 mm) turned some Shermans into the Sherman Firefly did the U.S. or the U.K. have a tank capable of taking out the Tiger at ranges in excess of 1.5 km ( one mile), though even this tank had to get within a few hundred meters to combat the Tiger head-on.

The heaviest Soviet tanks, like the T-34-85 with its 85 mm gun, or the IS-2 with its 122 mm cannon, could puncture the 100-120 mm armor on the front of the Tiger, but only the IS-2 could destroy it before the Tiger got close enough to be effective.

The Tiger’s armor could’ve been more effective if it was sloped, like that of the Panther, but it was still made of tough maraging steel with high-quality welded joints, a process that, while effective, made the Tiger expensive to produce.

Soldiers inspect a non-penetrating hit on the Tiger's armor. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

Soldiers inspect a non-penetrating hit on a Tiger. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

For every Tiger built, two Panzer IV‘s could be built, and the high cost in both manpower and material contributed to the fact that only about 1,350 Tigers were built before August 1944 when it was phased out by the Tiger II.

Although its 54 tonne weight was mitigated by wide tracks (wider than any previous vehicle), it was unable to cross small bridges. The first 495 tanks had  a fording system that required 30 minutes to set up and allowed the Tiger to cross water four meters (13 feet) deep. This apparatus was dropped to save money, and later Tigers could only ford two meters (6.5 feet) of water.

The tank was mechanically reliable, but expensive to maintain, as many of its mechanical systems were at their design limits. One of its major weaknesses was the layout of its wheels beneath the tracks, which made it easy for mud and snow to build up and freeze, immobilizing the tank.

If this happened, two Tigers were required to tow the incapacitated tank, and, because of the high-tension tracks, a small explosive charge was sometimes used to blow them apart to get to the blockage.

The Tiger saw combat on all German battlefronts, and was usually deployed in independent heavy tank battalions. Its thick side armor meant it could brave fire from anti-tank guns and deal with the towed weapons more easily than other tanks.

Otto Carius. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

Otto Carius. Photo from the German Federal Archive.

Otto Carius, a German tank commander, says in his book Tigers in the Mud that although anti-tank guns weren’t considered threats by the general public or other branches of the military, tankers found them far more dangerous than other tanks. He said that these guns usually waited to ambush tanks from an advantageous, camouflaged position, and they were hard to see before they opened fire.

The Tiger is the first tank Lt. Mike Powell encounters in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, when it appears as a demolition target during basic training. Three of them are later destroyed when Powell raids the North African motor pool, including one with a detatched turret that resembles this photo. Another appears in France after D-Day, and three more fall to Powell’s explosives during his mission with the French Resistance.

Tigers come out in force after Powell steals the King Tiger, and he must destroy a few of them as he makes his way towards Brest. Once he reaches the bridge near Brest, Powell must help the King Tiger destroy a large number of German Tigers by calling in artillery and airstrikes.

The first Tiger went into action in North Africa in December 1942, about a month after Operation Torch, which makes it unlikely Powell would’ve encountered any during this campaign. However, it is possible that the Afrika Korps may have received a few Tigers between the start of production in August and the game’s first mission in December.

The first captured Tiger, Tiger 131, was taken on April 21, 1943, so one definitely would not have been available for Powell’s training, much less blown up.

The tanks in Allied Assault appear to be about the right size, but are missing the two MG34 machine guns all Tigers had. When destroyed by the King Tiger in the French countryside, up to three of the five-man crew will bail out. At the bridge, the flood of Tigers is more representative of how they were deployed.

However, the 5th Panzer Army, which was deployed to Normandy, had been retreating towards Germany as the Allies pushed across France, and so many valuable Tigers probably would not have been left behind to defend Brest, which was heavily fortified.

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~ by John on November 10, 2014.

One Response to “The Tiger I: A Fearsome Opponent”

  1. Reblogged this on John Does Stuff and commented:

    If you’ve seen the movie “Fury,” you’ve seen the first real Tiger I to appear in a movie since World War II: Tiger 131. In this week’s History Through Gaming post, I take a look at the iconic German tank and how it’s portrayed in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

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