Tiger I Tank
Production of the Henschel vehicle began in mid-1942. The new heavy tank was originally designated the Panzer VI Tiger Ausf H1 in March 1942. In March 1943 the German tanks Army changed the designation from Tiger H1 to the much more familiar Tiger I. The Ausf designation was also changed from the original Ausf H1 to Ausf E. By this time, combat-loaded gross vehicle weight had increased to 57 tons from the original 45-ton design weight. This added weight imposed severe mobility and reliability penalties. For example, long forced marches were forbidden since they placed undue strain on the engine, transmission, and suspension systems.
As soon as the first production run of Tiger I heavy tank rolled off the Henschel factory floor, Hitler quickly ordered them into action against the Soviet army. Their debut on August 29,1942, was a dismal failure because they were committed in a very small number (only four were available) to an area of marshy ground completely unsuitable to their heavy weight and large bulk. On this day's outing three of the Tigers broke down with mechanical problems. After all four vehicles were withdrawn from service and repaired, they were once again committed to action on September 22,1942, in the same general area. On this second operation, all four Tigers were either knocked out by Soviet antitank guns or became bogged down in the soft ground. Three of the vehicles were recovered from the battlefields, while the fourth vehicle was destroyed in place by the Germans to prevent it from falling into Soviet hands.
Despite Hitler's initial disappointment with the German heavy tank's combat debut, which rested squarely on his own shoulders, the Tiger I was soon to prove its worth in battlefield tactical settings better suited to its design limitations. The optimum combat situation in which the Tiger I excelled was one where the crew could take advantage of its first-rate optical sights and long-range gun on hard, open terrain to destroy enemy tanks before they could return effective fire with their shorter-ranged weapons.
The U.S. Army would first meet the Tiger I Tank with its deadly 88-mm gun in Tunisia (North Africa) in late 1943. Its effectiveness made a strong impression on almost every American tanker who had the misfortune of meeting it in battle. An American colonel stated, "I have inspected the battlefield at Faid Pass in Tunisia, being with the force which retook it. Inspection of our tanks destroyed there indicated that the 88-mm gun penetrated into the turret from the front and out again in the rear. Few gouges were found indicating that all strikes had made penetrations."
Between July 1942 and August 1944, German industry built 1,354 Tiger I tanks. Most of these vehicles were immediately shipped to the eastern front. From the summer of 1941 until the closing stages of the war the bulk of the German army, including its panzer divisions, were committed to Fighting the Soviet army.
In the field, Tiger I tanks were organized into heavy battalions of 59 tanks each. It was originally intended that each panzer division would be assigned a Tiger I battalion. Due to the high cost of the vehicle and its complexity, German industry was unable to produce the number of Tiger I tanks needed. Instead, only a handful of elite army or Waffen SS panzer divisions had a Tiger I tank battalion permanently assigned. Most Tiger I battalions were assigned to army group commands and attached to subordinate units such as corps and divisions for specific missions only. Once a mission was completed, the Tiger battalions reverted to army group command.
To make the Tiger I tanks easier for the manufacturers to build, the Germans designed the thick steel armored plates on the hull of the Tiger I to run vertically. Only after meeting the Soviet T-34 medium tank in battle did the German designers really realize the advantages of sloping the armor on their tanks. Unfortunately, the vertical armor plates of the Tiger I had been approved for production before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
Despite its lack of well-sloped armor (when compared to the Soviet T-34 tank) the Tiger I, when introduced into service, featured the thickest armor ever fitted to a German tank: The front vertical plate was 102 millimeters thick and the hull sides were 62 millimeters thick. Prior to the Tiger I introduction, the thickest armor plate found on a German tank was less than 50 millimeters. In an effort to further strengthen the Tiger I's various armor plates they were interlocked and step-jointed together.
The Tiger I's one-piece armored superstructure was a separate component that was welded to the hull during assembly. All earlier German tank designs had the armored superstructure bolted to the hull.
The turret of the Tiger I was made from a single, large piece of steel armor, 82 millimeters thick, bent into a horseshoe shape. At the front of the turret sat the Tiger I's 110-millimeter-thick mantle. (A mantle is the piece of armor that protects the gun mount in the front of the turret.) The turret could be turned manually by a hand-wheel, or by a hydraulic power traverse system controlled by the gunner.
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