The Panzerkampfwagen VI, more commonly known as the Tiger I, was developed in the early 1940s with the aim of creating an unstoppable armoured killing machine for the German military. Two rival engineering companies, Porsche and Henschel, were approached to produce prototypes for the tank, meeting specifications such as weight, cost and weapon capability. Henschel’s design was eventually selected and rushed onto the production line in order to quickly deploy on the Eastern Front, joining Hitler’s ongoing invasion of the Soviet Union.
It took five crewmembers to operate the Tiger: a driver, gunner, loader, commander and radio operator. The tank’s main weapon was a 88mm gun, which was originally designed as an anti-aircraft artillery piece. At the time of the Tiger’s first deployment, this huge cannon was capable of penetrating any enemy armour from long range. Years after its first deployment, during the Battle of Normandy in 1944, this enabled Tiger crews to ambush Allied formations from a distance, unleashing devastating fire before their enemy had a chance to respond.
The Tiger’s armour was 100mm thick at the front – strong enough to stop or deflect nearly any Allied return fire. Battlefield accounts of Tigers in combat report round after round of enemy fire failing to penetrate this formidable shell. Unlike another prolific German tank, the Panther V, the steel plate protection of early Tigers was not angled, which provided less protection. This angled design feature was later added to the King Tiger, which was completed in the final months of the war – too late to prevent the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Despite its fearsome reputation on the battlefield, the Allies were eventually able to counter the Tiger I’s capabilities – outnumbering, outmanoeuvring and eventually outgunning the once-dominant machine. Today, the Tiger remains among the most iconic vehicles of WWII and a milestone in the history of armoured warfare.
Precision engineering made this German heavy tank a lethal adversary in its day