The most massive and heavily armored tank of World War II was the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II (military designation, SdKfz 182), which the Nazi Germans called the Königstiger (King Tiger) and the British termed the Royal Tiger.
In an effort to remain ahead of any new Soviet design, the Nazi German General Staff issued specifications in August 1942 for an improved Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger.
Design teams from Henschel and Porsche competed to design an acceptable tank. Porsche was so certain it would win that the company began production even before the selection was made. But the contract went to Henschel.
The official designation was changed in 1944 from Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf B to Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf B. The new tank was similar in certain respects to the later class of Main Battle Tanks (MBT), but it lacked an MBT's speed and agility.
Henschel was ordered to use as many standard components as possible, as well as the 50 turrets Porsche had already built. The suspension system was a variation of that used in the Tiger I, but the staggered system of bogie, or road, wheels was replaced by the standard in-line set of road wheels. The engine was the same as that used in the Panther.
The first Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II tanks entered service in May 1944 on the eastern front and in August on the western front.
Armor and armament were the main differences between the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II and the original Tiger I. The armor applied to the Tiger II was the heaviest tank armor used during the war. Its maximum thickness on the hull nose and glacis, mantlet, and turret front was 7.28 inches.
Having learned from the Soviet T-34 and JS tanks, the designers made the armor slope. Minimum armor plate -- sides, rear, and turret roof -- was still 1.5 inches thick.
The Tiger II carried a 71-caliber 88mm main gun. The gun had a muzzle velocity of 3,220 feet per second and could penetrate 7.2 inches of armor plate sloped at a 30° angle at a distance of 500 yards.
The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II's armored protection and powerful gun were paid for with agility and mobility. Speed and range were increased somewhat over the Tiger I, but so was weight, by eight tons, and therefore ground pressure -- 15.2 pounds per square inch compared with 14.8 for the Tiger I and 10.6 for the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther.
Even with its weight distributed over a greater surface area through extra-wide tracks, the King Tiger was a cumbersome vehicle to move. When traveling by road, a second, narrower set of tracks had to be fitted, as in the Tiger I. And even then, it often left a trail of cracked pavement or churned the road for following vehicles.
To learn more about the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II's capabilities, continue to the next page.
For more information about tanks and the military, see:
- Historic Tank Profiles
- How M1 Tanks Work
- How the U.S. Army Works
- How the U.S. Marines Work