Panzerjager Jagdtiger

The dramatic spiral in size and capability continued to the end of World War II.

Just what were the upper limits? Could a monster vehicle be effective in combat? Let’s take a look.

I’ve had some fun with a few monster armored fighting vehicles the last few months, but its time to put an end to it. Something had to be the biggest, the ultimate, the baddest AFV of the bunch.
Is it any surprise the biggest AFV of the War was built on the Tiger II (King Tiger) chassis? But the King Tiger was only 68 tons. So if we upgrade that tank with a 128 mm anti-tank gun, 250 mm of frontal armor and a solid casemate gun mount; we get that weight up to 75 tons. Now we have the largest, heaviest production armored fighting vehicle of World War II.
I do have to specify “production” for a couple reasons. We have to separate this from certain armored trains used on the Eastern Front, those were generally one offs. But also, the Germans had actually set their sights on something much bigger. They built two prototypes of a Panzer VIII, the Maus, that weighed 188 tons. The Maus is the heaviest true tank ever built. Events at the end of the War kept it from production. It was first conceived to use the 128 mm gun, with a “secondary” co-axial 75 mm gun. The prototypes actually ended up with a 150 mm main gun.
But the idea came to use the 128 mm gun in a “smaller” tank destroyer derived from the Tiger II. I love how the largest AFV of World War II was a smaller, second choice.

What almost was, Panzer VIII Maus. Notice the “little” 75 next to the main gun. [Wikipedia]

But the Jagdtiger did enter serial production and saw service. Numbers vary by source, but somewhat less than 90 were built. They first saw service in the Ardennes offensive. By far their biggest challenges were mechanical reliability and fuel.
The Jagdtiger used the same 700 HP Maybach engine and transmission as the Tiger II. That drive train was already over-worked with an extra 7 tons to move around, but add in a casemated gun with only 10 deg of traverse. That means engine/transmission were needed just to aim.
Fuel was in critically short supply during the Jagdtiger’s entire service life too.

pedestal mounted machine gun on the engine deck looks marginal to me. It might provide very limited anti-air capability.

Otto Carius, the commander of the 512th Heavy Anti-Tank Battalion mentioned these and other challenges for the vehicle. Allied domination in the air was a constant, effecting all Wehrmacht operations. The first Jagdtiger lost to enemy action was knocked out by a simple Bazooka, which is indicative of critical crew training problems. Carius states the correct action always involved keeping the massively thick front armor (and gun!) pointing at the enemy, yet his young crews would often try to turn and run if outnumbered. That meant turning much thinner side or rear armor towards incoming fire.
Driving a vehicle as wide as most roads was also a challenge, and many inexperienced drivers wound up stranded in ditches.
At least one Jagdtiger was lost to a Panzerfaust; friendly fire was a problem because the uncommon AFV was unknown to most German troops!

When a King Tiger isn’t quite big enough…
The Marder at left is the first generation of tank destroyer produced from a Panzer 38(t) chassis. The Hetzer at right was a late War tank destroyer from the same chassis; but it was a contemporary of the Jagdtiger. Not everything German was ultra heavy!

Obviously this monster could dominate a battlefield like much heavy German armor, if given the opportunity. But just as obviously, the design pushed mechanical engineering and simple practical considerations well past the point of calling it a “good idea”.

The Jagdtiger could kill a Sherman at 3 km. Not even a Pershing could take it from the front. The 128 mm gun is like a naval destroyer’s main gun.

This is the Tamiya kit. A fun build, extra entertaining just at the shear size of major body parts. I felt like I was working with a larger scale kit!

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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22 Responses to Panzerjager Jagdtiger

  1. Jeff Groves says:

    The Jagdtiger was a victim of the old adage “Armor, Mobility, Armament. Pick any two.” There were some designs which managed to hit a good balance point between the three.

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Always interesting Dave even if I am not into tanks.

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    Quite the monster for your string of behemoths. Once the Sherman Fireflies were able to take on German armor on equal terms, firepower wise, there was no way they were going to be stopped by a few more inches on fewer and fewer tanks. Still there were the Russians to think of, but they had tanks to equal both the firepower and the armor of the best tanks Germany could field. I suppose it is the V-weapon mentality that drove the tank designs as well, but the V2 and the Me262 were far too late to make a difference, there was no conceivable way a few “super tanks” was going to.

    Still a neat series of builds to show one aspect of the WWII “arms race” in Europe.

    • atcDave says:

      That was all well put. I think it was a part of the desperation in the last two years of the War; a drive for unbeatable weapons. Perhaps they knew they could never compete with the mass of American and Soviet industry. But obviously there comes a tipping point where “quality” gets to be so expensive it can’t compete with mass at all. Not to mention bigger gets to be counter-productive for other reasons too.

      Your old saying, perfect is the enemy of good, seems true in many different senses.

  4. jfwknifton says:

    Surely there can’t have been many bridges in Germany that could accommodate a 188 ton tank?

  5. Pierre Lagacé says:

    About my Japanese tank… I think it was Bandai.
    It could have been in 1/72 scale though. Senior’s moment…

  6. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Aurora made one in the 60s… 1/48 scale. It has to be this one.

  7. I was always confused by the idea of a tank killer that didn’t have a turret. Aiming at moving targets must have been very difficult with a ‘stationary’ gun platform unless it, the target, was coming directly at you. As the Germans found out, bigger is not necessarily always better!

    • atcDave says:

      I know initially the idea was putting a bigger gun on an older, smaller platform. So getting rid of the turret saved weight, cost and complexity. Even on the Jagdtiger we’re looking at a platform that as a tank supported “just” an 88. So adding the weight and complexity associated with the 128 they needed to do something to save weight.
      I think as the Wehrmacht found themselves fighting even more of a defensive War the casemated weapons made some sense too, because the vehicle could pick an ambush point and wait for the enemy to come to them. Basically the German type of tank destroyer trades mobility and flexibility for pure toughness at a set point and angle.

      And of course the obvious, they ultimately took it too far. They likely would have been better off taking all the time and money they put into the Jagdtiger and spending it on more Hetzers or Panthers…. or even Panzer IVs.

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