This tank had enormous firepower and solid armour – no Allied tank from that period (not counting Russian IS-2) was able to pierce the front armour of the German giant. The phenomenal 88mm cannon offered a range of up to 4 km and 100% accuracy of up to 3 km, which gave the “Königstiger” an advantage over the enemy machines. It should be added, however, that the Tiger II was very unreliable, had too weak and fuel consuming engine, and its production was very expensive. At the end of the war these tanks took part in many clashes on both fronts and too often were eliminated from the battle by faults, shortages of supplies or tactical mistakes of commanders. Despite this, the efficient units were such a dominant weapon on the battlefield that Königstiger became one of the icons of the World War II.
The Tiger II was designed to replace the very successful PzKpfw. VI Tiger tank and, thanks to its capabilities, to reduce the numerical superiority of the Allied armoured forces, especially on the eastern front. Two projects competed in the competition for a new heavy tank for the German army: one by Henshel and the other by Ferdinand Porsche. Henschel’s solution was finally chosen and, after quick tests, series production of the vehicle began in January 1944, in the final phase of the war.
The new tank was named Königstiger, meaning the Bengal Tiger in German (often mistakenly, literally translated as the Royal Tiger).
Thinking about the vast expanses of the eastern front, which was supposed to be the kingdom for Tiger II, during the creation of the tank the focus was on firepower and durable armor. The German armored colossus received a long barrelled 8.8 cm KwK 43 L/71 cannon, which was an elongated 8.8 cm gun known from the Tiger – a cannon considered one the best best during World War II. It was characterized by great accuracy and huge firepower. Königstiger was unrivalled in this field – from a distance of up to 3 km it could penetrate virtually any enemy tank with the possibility of firing 9 times in 35 seconds.
From the outside, the shape of Tiger II resembled the shape of a Panther. The places most exposed to enemy fire were significantly bold and slanted to make it easier to ricochet the bullets. The front plate of the armor, which was tilted by 50 degrees and was 180 mm thick, was not pierced even once during combat! It should be mentioned, however, that although the bullets did not penetrate the tank’s armor, there were chips and cracks inside the vehicle, which were very dangerous for the crew. This weaker steel alloy was caused by the loss of sources of molybdenum, which the Germans used earlier, and replacing it with vanadium, which proved to be a serious mistake.
The Tiger II weighed almost 70 tons and this enormous weight made it too heavy to cross many European bridges without first strengthening them. The tank was equipped with a 690-horsepower Maybach engine, which was already used in the Panther at the time, but it was too weak for a tank as big as the Königstiger. In addition, the unit had an incredibly high fuel consumption (500 liters per 100 km with an 860-litre tank) and refueling the vehicle was a real challenge for the waning Third Reich. For this reason, and also because of supply problems, it happened that crews were forced to abandon their machines during the fighting. The problem was that they were so heavy and huge tanks that only another Tiger could tow a damaged Tiger II.
The new tanks were first used in the battle of July 18, 1944 in Normandy against British forces. Two of them were quickly destroyed, and one of them – the command vehicle – fell into a crater after a bomb and got stuck. It was the first Tiger II captured by the Allies.
A few months later, the Tiger II tanks were part of the German armored fist during the Ardennes Offensive, and although their losses were significant, this was due to shortages of supplies and difficult weather conditions rather than enemy fire. The vehicles themselves did well, as they were able to brutally push the Allied defensive lines with their firepower and thick armor. The Allies, on the other hand, had to use anti-tank mines, bombs and bazookas to immobilize Hitler’s armored giants, since few cannons could penetrate Königstiger’s armor.
Eventually, at the Western Front, Tiger II tanks were stopped by faults, gaps in crew training, 250-500 kg bombs used by the Allies (after which huge tanks could land as shown in the picture below) and by Hawker Typhoon RAF fighter-bomb planes, called “tank hunters”.
On the Eastern Front, Tiger II did not count the successful entry into combat operations. On August 12, 1944, three new German tanks were destroyed in an ambush carried out by one T-34/85 and an infantry platoon (tank commander Alexandr Oskin was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union for this act). During the fighting in that area, the Germans lost 14 more Tigers II, mostly in ambushes performed with IS-2 tanks and ISU-122 guns.
However, soon afterwards, in October 1944, Tigers II of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion took part in Operation Panzerfaust, the pacification of Hungary. During 166 days of fighting in Hungary, these vehicles destroyed at least 121 Soviet tanks, 244 guns and artillery, five planes and one train. German losses reached 25 machines – 10 of them were lost in the fight against the Soviets, 2 were sent for repair, and 13 were destroyed by their own crews – due to faults or shortages of supplies.
The Americans, after an inspection of the Königstigers they had taken over, found that they completely failed to understand the reasons behind the German command when designing these giants. The Tiger II was too heavy for the engine used, too big and too slow (in the Ardennes, they were able to block entire roads and thus delay the offensive of their troops). In addition, the unit cost of one vehicle was astronomically high – the cost of one Tiger II was equal to the cost of ten Soviet T-34s (calculated at 320,000 $ vs. 31,000 $ per tank).
Did Königstiger deserve to be called the most powerful tank in World War II? The refueled, efficient units, driven by trained crews, were able to truly dominate the battlefield, especially on the eastern front, where vast spaces gave Tiger II an advantage over the enemy tanks. At the end of the war, the last Panzerwaffe giant could only really have two worthy competitors: the American M-26 Pershing and the Soviet IS-2. The lighter (46 tons) and lighter armored Pershing would probably have had to give way to Tiger II, but with the IS-2 the matter was not so simple. Stalin’s newest tank had a 120mm cannon and was theoretically able to pierce the armor of the German giant from a shorter distance. Königstiger, on the other hand, with its terrifying 88 mm sniper cannon, could hold anyone, including the IS-2 at a distance and perhaps destroy it before it could fire. In any case, the 492 PzKpfw Tiger II “Königstiger” tanks produced by the Third Reich were too few in number with almost 4000 IS-2s produced; however, if World War II had lasted longer, the German monster would have had the opportunity to confront the British Centurion, one of the most successful tanks of the 20th century.