How effective was the tiger in World War II

The King Tiger - the last miracle weapon in World War II

Our contribution at a glance


The King Tiger was supposed to be one of the last “miracle weapons” that Hitler and the Wehrmacht used against the Allied forces. The Königstiger tank can be seen as an end point on the one hand for the Panther tank and the Tiger tank on the other, the development of which resulted in the heavy and probably most powerful main battle tanks of the Wehrmacht. On one side stood the most powerful cannon of World War II, the 8.8 mm L / 71 main weapon of the Königstiger tank. On the other hand, the Tiger 2 had to struggle with similar quirks as the Tiger tank before it: insufficient development time, too complex, vulnerable. And above all heavy, even more so than its predecessor models.

The King Tiger was emblematic of the last few years of German armaments development: on the battlefield, it was superior to anything the enemy could use against it. However, the technology too often failed by itself, the machinery of the Tiger 2 was too complex and could not meet all requirements. Significant is the monstrous weight and the slow driving speed, which was at the expense of the armor. The production development was chaotic and there was not enough time to eliminate all errors towards the end. Ultimately, the King Tiger came too late to bring about the turnaround hoped for by the German military on the battlefield. In addition, the King Tiger was incredibly expensive. For the same cost, 10 T-34s could be built in Russia. What remains, however, is, very similar to the Tiger 1 and the Panther, a miracle of German engineering skills, which, under the most adverse circumstances, managed to produce a powerful battle tank.


As soon as the Tiger I was in use, the army command demanded the development of a new battle tank, which was based on the experience gained in the Russian campaign and was to surpass the Tiger I. The goal was a battle tank that was superior to all possible allied vehicles in terms of armor and firepower. At that time it was assumed that new tank models would have to be developed every year to meet the growing demands of the European battlefields. The result, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II, was based on the developments of the Tiger I and the Panther.

The basis for the King Tiger can be traced back to the development of a new battle tank, which began in 1937. At that time, the manufacturers Porsche and Henschel competed to be able to produce the new heavy battle tank of the Wehrmacht. Porsche was awarded the contract first, but its tank called Tiger (P) should hardly be found on the European battlefields. It was Henschel who was mainly responsible for the production of the Tiger 1.

As early as 1941, the Army Weapons Office requested a new armored vehicle that could take on the Allied tanks. In August 1942, the Army Weapons Office's first tender specification went to Porsche and Henschel and the preparatory work began. Based on the experience gained in the Russian campaign, particular emphasis was placed on improved armor and greater firepower. The speed of the armored car was neglected.

Even if the propaganda praised the Tiger 1 as the measure of all things in terms of heavy warfare, the German army command decided in 1942 to produce a better Tiger tank. At the Battle of Kursk, the Russian armed forces showed that with their modified T-34/85, IS-2 and SU-152 they were quite capable of countering the Tiger 1. One of the specifications was that the Tiger 2 should have an 8.8 mm L / 71 main weapon. It was already used by the tank destroyers Hornisse and Ferdinand. The latter was based on the Tiger tank developed by Porsche. In defense, it was initially planned that the armor of the Tiger 2 should be 150 mm in the front and 80 mm on both sides. Once again, Henschel and Porsche were commissioned for this new Tiger 2. Meanwhile Krupp developed his own version of the L / 71 main weapon. In addition to better armament and armor, the King Tiger tank should have standardized assemblies that were compatible with the Panther 2, which was still in development, in order to facilitate production.

The prototype presented by Porsche was the VK 4502 (P), also called Porsche Type 180, and was an improved version of the VK 4501 (P). This prototype had the same hydraulic-electric drive as the discarded prototype of the Tiger 1, in which a gasoline engine cranked an electricity generator. The same problems as with the Porsche prototype of the Tiger 1 occurred again. There was also a copper shortage in the German Empire. There were two versions of this prototype, one with the turret on the front and another with the turret on the back of the tank.

Henschel and his concept of the VK 4503 (H) finally won the bid for the King Tiger. The first version of this prototype was very reminiscent of the VK4501 (H). In the course of development, however, the design was changed, making the body look similar to the Panther. This also delayed the preparation of the final draft; In October 1943, later than originally planned, the King Tiger was finally released for production. Production took place at Henschel and Wegmann in Kassel, at times parallel to the production of the Tiger 1. The tower was produced by Krupp, apart from the first 50 models that used the tower from Porsche.

Technical equipment and special features

Similar to the Tiger 1 tank, the King Tiger represents an outstanding achievement of German Wehrmacht technologies and actually achieved most of its intended goals: On the battlefield, it was far superior to the Allied tanks, especially in terms of firepower. And just like the Tiger 1, the Tiger 2 also had to struggle with technical defects and had to be abandoned frequently, be it due to damage or a lack of fuel. Its high firepower ultimately could not make up for these disadvantages.

3.a. Technical specifications

The King Tiger was a monster. Not the largest and heaviest of all WWII tanks, the Wehrmacht actually managed to go one better. Nevertheless, the King Tiger tank resembled its predecessor in many respects, the more manoeuvrable and faster Panther in comparison. In comparison, the King Tiger was a mobile fortress that posed a serious threat to any enemy tank within its range. One of the most outstanding features of the King Tiger was the 8.8 cm Kampfwagenkanone 43 L / 71, one of the best cannons from WWII. This gave the King Tiger its penetrating power and accuracy.

  • Total length (with pipe): 10.29 m
  • Total length (without tube): 9.97 m
  • Width (with terrain chains): 3.75 m
  • Height: 3.09 m
  • Ground clearance: 50 cm
  • Ground pressure: 1.02 kg / mc²
  • Combat weight: 69.7 t
  • Weight of the tub: 52 t
  • Weight of the tower: 13.5 t

Weight in particular should often turn out to be a problem. The King Tiger was too heavy for most bridges and sometimes had to take long detours. At the same time, the weight made recovery of the immobilized Tiger 2 extremely difficult. And the Tiger 2 was often left lying on the road due to its weight, because the chassis was too weak, which quickly resulted in damage to the chassis or the transmission. Due to the difficult situation in the German economy in the last years of the war, this damage could often not be repaired.

3.a.i. Drive / driving characteristics

The weight was also noticeable in the handling characteristics of the Tiger 2. No new engine was developed that could handle the 69.7 tons. Instead, the King Tiger had to make do with the same engine that was also used in the Panther: the Maybach HL 230 P 30. The engine output was 700 hp at 3000 revolutions per minute. The Königstiger tank thus reached a top speed of 38 km / h on ideal ground and an average of 17 km / h on the site. The water-cooled V-shaped engine had 12 cylinders and a displacement of 23,880 cc.

  • Engine: Maybach HL 230 P 30
  • Displacement: 23 cm³
  • Compression ratio: 1: 6.8
  • Bore: 145 mm
  • Stroke: 130 mm
  • Engine weight: 1.3 t
  • Power: 700 hp
  • Top speed (road): 38 km / h
  • Top speed (off-road): 17 km / h
  • Smallest turning circle: 2.08 m
  • Climbing ability: 85 cm
  • Gradeability: 160 cm
  • Trench crossing capacity: 250 cm

The transmission was a semi-automatic preselector of the Maybach-Olvar type. It had eight forward and four reverse gears. The steering took place via a two-wheel superimposed steering gear. The engine in the King Tiger had a speed controller which activated the carburetor at 1600 revolutions and regulated the engine speed. The motor cleaned itself of dust by the airflow collecting the dust in two compartments on the sides of the motor. Then the air flow pulled through an oil bath to clean off the remaining dirt. The filters, however, had to be replaced by hand. The entire engine system was not only air-cooled, the Maybach Olvar water-cooled EG 40 12 16 B gearbox also helped against overheating. The brakes could be operated with either a lever or a pedal.

The chassis had 8 inner and 10 outer rollers on each side. Each of the rollers was connected to a torsion bar inside the tub via a wishbone. A plastic bushing prevented dirt and water from getting inside. The rollers consisted of a softer outer steel and a stronger inner part, both held together by rubber. The King Tiger used two types of chains, the loading chain with a width of 66 cm and the crawler track with a width of 80 cm. The loading chains weighed 42.9 kg, the tracks 62.7 kg.

The fuel capacity of the Tiger 2 was approximately 860 liters. The Königstiger tank could travel up to 170 km on good roads, but far less on bad terrain. The King Tiger was a real gasoline eater, famous for being abandoned by its troops because it ran out of fuel. But that was also due to the shortage of petrol in the German Reich at the end of the war.

3.a.ii. Armor

One of the basic requirements for the new Königstiger tank was extremely strong armor, which was able to repel most of the Allied projectiles. Early on in development, it was therefore required that the new battle tank should have front armor with a thickness of 150 mm. The fuselage of the Tiger 2 was completely welded.

  • Front (top): 150 mm
  • Front panel (below): 100 mm
  • Side wall (top): 80 mm
  • Side wall (bottom): 80 mm
  • Tub ceiling: 40 mm
  • Bath bottom (front): 40 mm
  • Tub bottom (rear): 20 mm

However, the King Tiger had one big problem: the quality of the armor steel. In the last years of the war, molybdenum had become scarce in the German Reich, which is why one had to switch to vanadium for refining the pig iron. The molybdenum was actually used to increase the toughness of the steel. However, vanadium only improved the resilience of the metal. The result was that the armor of the Tiger 2 could splinter internally if hit. Even if the enemy shell was still repelled, the fragmentation could still be fatal for the crew. Nevertheless, the tank proved to be extremely resilient. The tank destroyer SU-100 and ISU-122 and the heavy tank IS-2 could only penetrate the front armor of the turret from 1500 m, the front armor of the hull only from 600 m.

3.a.iii. Armament

The 8.8 cm Kampfwagenkanone 43 L / 71 Hauptwaffe is the heart of the Tiger 2. The tank destroyers Hornet and Ferdinand / Elefant had already used this weapon and proved how effective it was. The King Tiger was the first vehicle to use this weapon by means of a freely rotating turret. The 8.8cm 43 L / 71 was one of the best cannons of WWII. On the battlefields it was shown that it could destroy all Allied tanks at a distance of 3000 m. Some T-34s are said to have been destroyed even at a distance of 4000 m. The weapon is a replica of the Rheinmetall L / 74, manufactured by Krupp. In contrast to Rheinmetall's main weapon, it was a little shorter and had a better muzzle brake.

  • Skin cannon: 8.8 cm KwK 43 L / 71
  • Bullet reserve: 84 cm
  • Barrel weight (with muzzle brake): 1.6 t
  • Pipe length: 6.60 m
  • Elevation field: -8 ° to + 15 °
  • Maximum shooting range: 9350 m
  • Aiming device: turret telescopic sight 9b / 1 and 9d
  • Secondary weapon: 3 MG 42
  • MG ammunition: 5850

Only 72 rounds of ammunition could be stored in the Porsche turret. This tower was only made for the first 50 Bengal tigers. From the 51st vehicle, the towers from the Krupp production were used, which were slimmer and could still store more ammunition. The Königstiger tank had three 7.92 mm MG 42s. One was housed coaxially in the turret, the other was in the bow and the third was on the turret roof.

The Königstiger tank fired two types of shells: the 1.125 mm long 39/43 tank shell with a weight of 22.8 kg, which could break through 165 mm armor at a distance of 1000 m. Then there was the 19.9 kg tank shell 40/42 with a tungsten jacket, which could penetrate armor of 193 mm at 1000 m. Due to the shortage of tungsten, only a few pieces were made. There was also a grenade launcher that fired the 90 mm NbK 39 projectiles.

3.a.iv. Other (communication, crew ...)

The crew of the Tiger 2 consisted of the commander; the gunner who operated the main weapon; the loader who loaded them; the radio operator who also fired the machine guns and the driver. The King Tiger was equipped with the FuG5 radio with a range of 4 km.

3.b. Special features of the tank

Even if the name of the King Tiger tank followed the Tiger 1, it was still similar to the Panther in many ways. His hull is characterized by the beveled surfaces, which further increased the resistance of the armor. The driver's front had an incline of 40 °, as did the bow, the sides an incline of 90 ° and the stern an incline of 60 °. The tower was also steeply inclined to make it less susceptible to enemy missiles. In addition, vehicle parts, the production and maintenance of the Tiger 2 and the planned Panther 2 were to be standardized. The German army command imitated the Allied mode of production in the hope that it would increase the production of tanks.

4. Designs / versions / modifications

Only a few modifications of the King Tiger were produced. From November 1944 there was the Tiger 2 tank command vehicle with additional radio equipment to command an entire company of tanks. In addition, an armored car was produced on the basis of the Tiger 2, which was also called Sonderkraftfahrzeug 182 (SdKfz 182).

The Jagdtiger deserves a special mention. This is a tank destroyer based on the Tiger 2 with a new, larger main weapon. The tank destroyer with the 12.8 cm cannon PjK 44 L / 55 was manufactured in series from autumn 1944. At 70 to 72 tons, the Jagdtiger was a little heavier than the King Tiger and with its armor up to 250 mm thick, it was even better protected. However, it also had the same engine as the King Tiger and was therefore mercilessly underpowered. The Jagdtiger was the heaviest WWII tank ever to be mass-produced.

5. Inserts and number of pieces

A total of 492 King Tigers were produced, most of them in 1944. The King Tiger was primarily supplied to heavy tank departments. The first Panzer Königstiger, however, went to the Panzer-Lehr-Division, more precisely to the Panzerlehrregiment.

The King Tiger had few chances to prove itself and to bring about the hoped-for turnaround. In addition to its technical deficiencies, it also consumed vast amounts of gasoline. With its firepower and armor, it was ideally suited to form the spearhead of short-term offensives. Due to the lack and consumption of petrol, it had to be content with a small operating radius or was only used in a defensive role.

The first combat mission of the Tiger 2 was in Normandy. Heavy Panzer Division 503 deployed 12 King Tigers at Troarn and Demouville on July 18, 1944. Two Bengal tigers were lost. Several Bengal tigers were used in Operation Liege on August 7th. Most of the German armed forces were destroyed and many King Tiger tanks fell victim to the American air force. At the same time, the losses on the opposing side are said to have been extremely high. The King Tiger finally played a decisive role in the “Watch on the Rhine” operation. At least that was the plan. However, only 90 King Tigers could be mobilized for the mission and they suffered from an acute shortage of petrol during the Battle of the Bulge.Jagdtigers were also supposed to be used, but never made it to the front.

The King Tiger should have a little more luck on the Eastern Front. Although he could not stop the advance of the Russian armed forces, he was able to prove his firepower in Operation Budapest. The 503 destroyed 121 Soviet tanks, 244 anti-tank guns, five planes and a train with its tanks on the Hungarian front, while losing only 25 Tiger 2s. During the Lake Balaton offensive in March and other skirmishes in Hungary, the King Tiger was supposed to achieve over 500 kills, while they themselves only failed because of their own defects. Here the King Tiger was finally able to prove itself and achieve the best shooting ratio of all tanks of World War II. The Tiger 2 was to remain loyal to the German troops until the defense of Berlin.

6. Summary

In the end, the King Tiger should be able to prove itself on the battlefield. Despite its individual strengths, it nevertheless reflects the strategic wrong path of the German army command. Often enough, the lack of raw materials and the immature technology stood in the way. Outnumbered, he could not bring about the turning point. What remains, however, is probably the most powerful tank of World War II.

Pictures of the King Tiger

  • copyright: Alf van Beem Public domain

  • Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-680-8282A-03A / Faupel / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (]

  • Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-680-8282A-06 / Faupel / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (]

  • Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-721-0397-34 / Wagner / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (]

  • copyright: Chlempi [CC BY-SA 2.5 (]

  • Falcon® Photography from France [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

Videos about the King Tiger (Tiger 2)

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