The Tiger tank is so synonymous with German armor that many seem to think every German Tank was one. Yet it was actually a very specialized heavy unit, that made an impression way beyond the 1300 units built.
So let’s look at an impressive German tank.
The genesis of the Tiger lay in the surprise the Germans got when they first encountered heavy soviet armor like the T-34 and KV-1. The Germans quickly discovered that their 88 mm anti-aircraft gun was the only weapon that could reliable knock out the heaviest Soviet tanks. So the game became to build a tank that could mount that gun in battle. This really was an engineering challenge for that time. The Germans took a “safe” route of designing a new medium tank mounting a 75 mm main gun (the Panzer V Panther) in addition to the new heavy Tiger with its 88.
The Tiger would be a beast in every sense. It weighed 54 tons, compared to 26 for the Soviet T-34 or 30 for the Sherman. It had 120 mm of armor on the front mantlet (compared to 76 mm on a Sherman). Combining the differences in guns with armor, it meant most allied tanks needed to be nearly point blank to penetrate a Tiger, while Tigers could score kills at over a mile.
No doubt the Tiger was a problem on the battlefield. We get epic tales like Michael Wittman, with just his one Tiger, ambushing the British 7th Armored Division and destroying 14 tanks, 2 anti-tank guns and 15 vehicles in 15 minutes. Wittman would be killed two months later by a Sherman Firefly.
Fortunately for the allies, the Tiger’s mechanical reliability and mobility were terrible. And even if the Germans could produce a tactically fearsome monster they were loosing badly on a strategic level; that is, the allies controlled the supply and transportation system. The best tank in the world is limited if it can’t be fueled and resupplied.
This example is the Tamiya kit. It fought in Russia in 1943.
The Tigers were for the elite forces,
Yeah, usually Waffen SS.
I’d just point out that, in addition to being practically irrelevant strategically, the Tiger was tactically problematic for many of the reasons you mentioned. Because of the reliability problems you mentioned units often entered combat understrength with a vulnerable supply train necessary to support them. They could be outmaneuvered and overwhelmed by lighter faster allied forces (who also had the benefit of devastating close air support plus well coordinated concentrated artillery support). Also, the tiger had a very slow turret traverse speed compared to allied tanks, so they were often outmaneuvered and taken out by multiple allied tanks, even though they were far superior in armor and firepower.
Great comments Ernie, thanks. From what I’ve read the Panther was hardly better in any of those issues.
I think the Discovery Channel sort of documentaries cranked out in the last 20 years have given many buffs a skewed perspective. In particular, they emphasize the lightness, and some of the inadequacies of the Sherman, while downplaying its strengths (reliability, speed, maneuverability, fast turret traverse, gyroscopically stabilized gun for aiming on the go). And they flip that on the Tiger, emphasizing its obvious strengths and downplaying serious weaknesses.
I find it interesting that in Korea the Marines were still using Shermans, against the North’s T-34s, and the Sherman had an overwhelming positive kill ratio.
Much of the difference was training and doctrine. But the Sherman was a good weapon system with much to its credit.
Sorry, guess I’m a shameless Sherman apologist. Does it seem familiar to you that I might go off on a tangential rant I feel passionate about?
I’m with you on the Sherman. The Israeli’s were using a modified late model variant as late as the 1967 war. But you also mention doctrine and training as very important factors.
One thing I always like to bring up as far us US forces in Europe is that by the war America had a generation of young men who were largely familiar with and comfortable working on engines and transmissions, whether it be the family tractor or the car they were trying to re-build or keep running in hard times. German units often had to wait for scarce mechanics to come and repair vehicles, whereas US units often had amateur but reliable mechanics spread throughout the unit.
Yeah that’s all part of the “Greatest Generation”. It was even more than mechanics, American units could face up to most language barriers in Europe, literacy was high, and even skills like driving a jeep or truck, or reading a map were commonplace among American troops.
You hear of other nationalities units getting lost because the guy who knew how to read the map was killed, or the only guy who could turn on the radio wasn’t available. That just wasn’t a problem in the US military.
I don’t doubt the Boy Scouts had some influence on the broad abilities of US troops.
I still always remember one of my favorite moments in Band of Brothers where we see columns of captured Germans being marched to the rear, supported by horse-drawn wagons as the columns of American trucks and tanks advance. Webster, taking in the scene just starts screaming at the Germans, What were you thinking!!
Great scene. “You got horses?! What were you thinking?”
That really sums a lot of it up.
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