Military History blog

PzKpfw. Tiger II “Königststiger” – The last armoured monster of the Third Reich

Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. B “Königstiger”, known as Tiger II, was the largest, heaviest and probably most powerful tank used in the battle during World War II.

The tank had a huge force of fire and a solid armour – no Allied tank from that period (not counting Russian IS-2) was able to break through the front armour of a German colossus. The phenomenal 88mm cannon offered a range of up to 4 km and 100% accuracy of up to 3 km, leaving behind the hostile machines. However, it should be added that the Tiger II had a very failing engine, too weak and fuel-intensive, and its production was very expensive. At the end of the war these tanks took part in many clashes on both fronts and all too often they were eliminated from the battle by defects, shortages in supplies or tactical mistakes of commanders. Despite this, the efficient vehicles were such a dominant weapon on the battlefield that Königststiger became one of the icons of the armoured Forces of the Second World War.

Tiger II was designed to replace the very successful PzKpfw VI Tiger tank construction and by its capabilities alleviate the majority of the Allied armoured forces, especially on the eastern front. Two projects were competed in the tender for a new heavy tank for the German army, one by Henshel and the other by Ferdinand Porsche. The solution of Henschel’s was finally chosen and after rapid tests, the vehicle’s serial production started in January 1944, i. e. in the final phase of the war.

The new tank was named Königstiger, which in German means the Bengal tiger (often confused, literally translated as the Royal Tiger).

Tiger II in the Bovington Museum
Source: Hohum, via Wikimedia Commons

With the vast spaces of the eastern front, which was supposed to be the kingdom of the Tiger II in mind, during the formation of the tank, the focus was on firepower and sturdy armour. The German armoured colossal was given the 8.8 cm KwK 43 cannon, i. e. an elongated 8.8 cm cannon known from the Tiger – a cannon considered to be the best during World War II. It was characterized by great accuracy and great firepower. Königstiger had an unrivalled advantage in this field – from a distance of up to 3 km practically every enemy tank could break through with the possibility of fire 9 times in 35 seconds.

From the outside, the shape of Tiger II resembled that of the Panther. The areas most exposed to hostile gunfire were significantly bold and tilted away from the vertical to facilitate the rickettering of missiles. The front panel of the armour, which was 50 degrees tilted and had a thickness of up to 180 mm, was not punctured even once during the battle! It should be mentioned, however, that although the shells did not penetrate the tank armour, there were some chips and cracks inside the vehicle, which were very dangerous for the crew. This weaker steel alloy was caused by the loss of the German sources of molybdenum, the alloy of which they used earlier and replaced it with vanadium, which turned out to be a serious mistake.

One of the preserved vehicles, picture from 2008
Source: Huhu via Wikimedia Commons

Tiger II weighed almost 70 tonnes and this huge weight made it too heavy to cross many European bridges without first strengthening them. It was equipped with a 690-horsepower Maybach engine, which was already used in Pantera at that time, but it was too weak for such a big tank as the Königstiger. In addition, the unit was characterized by an incredibly high fuel consumption (500 litres per 100 km with a tank capacity of 860 litres) and refuelling the vehicle was a real challenge for the weakening Third Reich. Because of this, and also because of supply problems, it happened that during the fights the crews were forced to abandon their machines. The problem was that they were so heavy and huge tanks that only another Tiger could have towed the damaged Tiger II.

The new tanks were used for the first time in Normandy against British forces on July 18,1944. Two of them were quickly destroyed, and one – the commanding vehicle – fell into the crater after the bomb and got stuck. It was the first Tiger II captured by the Allies.

Abandoned Tiger II in Stavelot, Belgium in December 1944.
Photo: US Army via Wikimedia Commons

A few months later, Tiger II tanks were part of the German armoured fist during the offensive in Ardennes, and although their losses were significant, this was due to a shortage of supplies and difficult weather conditions rather than the enemy’s fire. The vehicles themselves did well, because with their firepower and thick armour they could brutally force the Allies’ defensive lines. In turn, in order to block Hitler’s armored colossus, they had to use launchers and bombs most often, as few cannons could break the armour of Königststiger.

Ultimately, at the Western Front, the Königstiger were stopped by defects, training gaps, 250-500 kg bombs used by the Allies (after which huge tanks could land as shown in the picture below) and also by Hawker Typhoon RAF aircraft (tank hunters).

General Dwight D. Eisenhower watching a destroyed Tiger II tank in France
Source: Acme News Photos, Public Domain

On the Eastern Front, Tiger II did not pass the successful combat baptism. On August 12,1944, three new German tanks were destroyed in a ambush by one T-34/85 and an infantry platoon (the tank commander, Aleksandr Oskin, was awarded the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union for this act). During the fights in that area Germans lost 14 other Tigers II, mostly in an ambush using IS tanks.

But soon afterwards, however, in October 1944, Tigers II of the 503rd Heavy Tigers Battalion took part in the Panzerfaust operation, i. e. the pacification of Hungary. During 166 days of fighting in Hungary, these vehicles destroyed at least 121 Soviet tanks, 244 guns and artilleries, five aircraft and one train. The losses amounted to 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 defects or shortages of supplies.

The Americans, after examination of the Königstigers seized, found that they had completely failed to understand the reasons behind the German command when designing the colossus. Tiger II was too heavy in relation to the engine used, too big and too slow (in Ardennes they were able to block whole roads and thus delay the offensive of their troops). In addition, the unit cost per vehicle was astronomically high – the cost per Tiger II was equivalent to ten T-34s (expressed at $320,000 versus $31,000 per tank).

Panzer VI “Königststiger” tank crew in Budapest, 1944
Source: Das Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons

Did Königstiger deserve to be called the most powerful tank of the Second World War? The efficient units directed by trained crews were able to really dominate the battlefield, especially on the Eastern Front, where the vast spaces gave Tiger II an advantage over the tanks of the opponent. At the end of the war, the last giant of the Panzerwaffe could actually have only two worthy of his competitors: the American M-26 Pershing and the Soviet IS-2. The 46 tones lighter and less armoured Pershing would probably have had to give way to the Tiger II field, but with IS-2 the case was not so simple. Stalin’s newest tank had a 120mm cannon and from a smaller distance he had the theoretical possibility to break through the armour of German colossus. Königstiger, on the other hand, with his terrible 88 mm snipers gun, could keep anyone, including IS-2, at a distance and perhaps destroy him before he could have shot. Regardless of this, 492 PzKpfw Tiger II tanks manufactured by the Third Reich were too few with almost 4000 IS-2 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.

Original recordings of tank Tiger II from 1944-1945 (in 0:38 you can see Kurt Knispel, a German armored ace):

Tiger II copy preserved and operational during the trip in 2015:.

Source Ford, Roger - The World's Great Tanks: From 1916 to the Present Day Panzerworld

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