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.
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Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II Capabilities
The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II was heavy and strong, but it had its flaws.
Cross-country, the King Tiger could move at a maximum speed of 11 miles per hour -- if the surface was dry and hard. It could not cross most bridges encountered in western or eastern Europe and so had to ford streams.
Its rated depth was five feet, three inches, and it could climb grades up to 35°, but only if the ground was firm. Mud was the King Tiger's enemy. Even sitting stationary on unpaved ground, it was likely to sink in if the soil was damp.
The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II served best in a defensive role or in creating breakthroughs where its powerful gun could be brought into play to outrange Allied tanks and antitank weaponry.
The King Tiger's commander strove always to select a position with a field of fire that would force enemy tanks to approach from the front. The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II was vulnerable from the sides and rear because the thinner armor in those areas could be breached by Allied tank guns and antitank weapons.
Nazi Germany built 485 King Tiger heavy tanks in only one model. Like the Tiger I tanks, they were used in Panzer regiments or in independent battalions. The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II played a relatively small role in the Ardennes Offensive of December 1944 because of its lack of agility.
The main variation of the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II was the Jagdtiger (military designation, SdKfz 186) tank destroyer. Instead of a revolving turret, the Jagdtiger had a fixed superstructure in which was mounted a PaK 80 128mm 55-caliber gun.
The Jagdtiger was powered by the same Maybach 600-horsepower engine and was as heavily armored as the Tiger II. Its combat weight was 70.6 tons, which reduced its road speed to a maximum of nine miles per hour.
Of course, the Jagdtiger only be moved over the hardest, driest roads. It was used primarily in Waffen SS tank destroyer battalions.
While they were available for the Ardennes Offensive of December 1944, they did not see much action until Allied forces began the push into Germany proper. The Jagdtiger was the heaviest tank ever to see service in World War II.
To learn about Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II specifications, see our final section.
For more information about tanks and the military, see:
Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II Specifications
The Panzerkampfwagen VI (SdKfz 182) Tiger II was the most massive and heavily armored tank of World War II. Find specifications for the German "King Tiger" below.
Date of service: 1944
Type: Heavy Tank
Dimensions: Length, 7.25 m (23.8 ft); width, 4.27 m (14 ft); height, 3.27 m (10.7 ft)
Combat weight: 62,324 kg (68.7 tons)
Engine: Maybach HL 230 V-12 gasoline
Armament: One KwK 43 88mm 71 caliber main gun; two 7.92mm Model 1934 machine guns
Speed: 38 km/h (24 mph)
Range: 110 km (68 mi)
Obstacle/grade performance: 0.85 m (2.8 ft)