The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I was the most formidable battle tank in the world when it made its first appearance in 1942 on the outskirts of Leningrad.
Intended by General Heinz Guderian to be used in tank battalions of 30, which would be attached to army or corps headquarters, the Tiger I was to be thrown into battle as a "stiffener" to back up the Panzerkampfwagen III and IV combinations.
But at their Leningrad and Kursk debuts in late 1942 and July 1943 respectively, Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I tanks were sent into battle in small, unsupported units after inadequate planning.
They were too few and spread too far apart as they attacked Soviet antitank defenses of greater depth than had ever been seen before. Nearly all of these Tigers were destroyed.
But as the Nazi German Army learned to use the Tiger I to its best advantage, its reputation grew to awesome and legendary proportions. Its heavy armor made it practically impervious to frontal attack, and its high-velocity 88mm gun was ready to chastise anything that came within range. The Tiger I's main gun could knock out a T-34 tank at a distance greater than three miles.
In July 1944 one Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I destroyed 25 tanks of the British Seventh Armored Division-Desert Rats -- before it was finally knocked out from behind.
In fact, attack from behind was the only effective way Allied tanks could deal with the Tiger I. Using superior mobility, Allied tanks had to maneuver for an attack from behind or from the side if they had any hope at all of taking a Tiger I down.
The Tiger I's turret traversed very slowly, requiring 15 seconds for a 360° turn. And if the drive motor went down, 750 turns of a hand crank were needed to accomplish the same turn.
Other major drawbacks to the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I were its limited range, 62 miles, and low speed, 24 miles per hour.
The Tiger I had eight overlapping road wheels on each side in a staggered pattern (some toward the inside of the tank, some toward the outside). Snow and ice could become packed in the treads and wheels and freeze overnight in the cold Russian winters. The Soviets quickly learned to attack at dawn, when the Tiger's tracks were frozen solid.
Despite its heavy armor and main gun, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I was phased out of production in August 1944 after a production run of about 1,300. Even so, it saw service on every front from North Africa to the eastern front.
To learn about Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I specifications, continue on to the next page.
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