German Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I» Tank

German Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I» Tank, 1:72 Model Kit Hasegawa.

The legendary Tiger tank first appeared before Leningrad in August of 1942, and one company of 12 vehicles arrived in Tunisia in late November of the same year. The Tiger was a direct response to Soviet KV heavy tanks and T-34 medium tanks which had caused the Wehrmacht so much grief in 1941. The Tiger is generally considered the most sophisticated tank design of the war, but the vehicle was much less cost-effective than the T-34 or Panther tank.

Available Scale Model Kits

  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:16 Tamiya 56010
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:16 Tamiya 56011
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:35 ACADEMY 1348
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:35 Tamiya 35216
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I» (Feifel Air Filters), 1:35 Tamiya 35056
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:72 Hasegawa MT8
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I» (panzergrau), 1:72 CDC 3220
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I» (dark yellow), 1:72 CDC 3221
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I» (2-colour camo), 1:72 CDC 3222
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:76 Airfix 01308
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:76 Heller 79888
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:76 Airfix (Soft Plastic)
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:76 Fujimi 76013
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I» (Feifel Air Filters), 1:76 Milicast G94
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I» (Feifel Air Filters), 1:87 ROCO 700
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:87 WTD 1
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 15 mm Battlefront Miniatures GE070
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», (Feifel Air Filters), 15 mm Forged in Battle P-61
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:285 GHQ G6
  • Panzer VI Ausf. E «Tiger I», 1:300 Heroics & Ros G018

The Tiger legend can be traced back to Tunisia in late 1942 and early 1943. A total of 30 Tiger tanks fought there, and they seriously outclassed US and British medium tanks operating in Tunesia. The two companies of 501. schwere Panzerabteilung and one company of 504. schwere Panzerabteilung were used as a mobile fire brigade, welcome support for the hard-pressed Afrika Korps. It was found that the British 6-pdr anti-tank gun could penetrate the Tiger’s side armour at ranges under 500 m, but actually doing so required a well camouflaged firing position and a courageous crew. The legend might have been short-lived – The Tigers were burning at Kursk in July of 1943 already – had it not been for a number of popular myths which have kept the legend alive over the years.

Probably the most common misconception is that the Tiger I carried the “88” or “Acht-Acht”. In fact, the “88”, made famous by Rommel in France and again in Africa, was the German 8.8 cm L.71 FlaK 35/36 anti-aircraft gun. The Tiger I only carried the 8.8 cm L.56 KwK 36, which had a much lower performance. Originally designed to attack high-altitude bombers, “Acht-Acht” FlaK guns were often used in the anti-tank role. Flak 35/36 deployed at the Battle of Kasserine Pass destroyed vast quantities of closely bunched American tanks at ranges between 3 and 6 miles. The maximum anti-tank firing range is reported to have been 9 miles. The following table compares armour penetration values of the “88” with the shorter 8.8 cm L.56 of the Tiger I, and the 7.5 cm L.70 KwK 42 of the Panther tank:

Armour Penetration: «88» vs. Tiger I und Panther

Projectile «Acht-Acht»
8,8 cm L.71 FlaK 36
Tiger I
8,8 cm L.56 KwK 36
7,5 cm L.70 KwK 42
Pz.Gr. 39 (A.P.) 225 mm 146 mm 170 mm
Pz.Gr. 40 (A.P.C.R.) 311 mm 224 mm 239 mm
Pz.Gr. 44 (A.P.D.S.) 355 mm 280 mm 298 mm
As can be seen, the armour penetration of the real «88» is 27-54 % better than that of the shorter 8.8 cm KwK 36 of the Tiger I. Even the smaller 7.5 cm KwK 42 of the Panther outperforms the KwK 36, und it requires approximately 15 % less shell storage than the bigger shells of the Tiger I. Shell storage is an important consideration for a Fahrzeug expected to fight prolonged actions.

Unfortunately for the Tiger, it was a top-down design: The customer wanted a heavily armoured vehicle with a big gun, the other design considerations would fall into place as the project unfolded. The famous “88” would not fit into the Tiger I, and even the much shorter and noticeably less powerful L.56 version needed a big turret to house it. In fact, the breech block nearly reached the rear turret wall. The big and heavy turret required a large hull to carry it. A full 360° rotation of the Tiger’s 11-ton turret reportedly took 30-35 seconds, using the hydrostatic drive, or several minutes if cranked by hand. The T-34 and M4 Sherman could do the same in 10 and 15 seconds, respectively.

Vertical Armour

If the size of the gun dictates the dimensions of the vehicle, one way to minimize bulk, and maximize internal space is to use vertical armour plate. The Tiger I is 22 % shorter and 20 % lighter than the Tiger II which introduced sloped armour. Sloped armour is lighter, compared to vertical armour with the same penetration characteristics, but it does require a larger vehicle, thereby offsetting some of the weight-saving. Vehicles with vertical armour plate rely primarily on armour thickness to survive hits, whereas sloped armour causes many potentially penetrating hits to bounce off harmlessly. The table below shows armour penetration probabilities of a British 17-pdr L.58 anti-tank gun firing at 45 and 60 mm of sloped armour, compared to 80 mm of angled armour, 38 and 100 mm of vertical armour at 500 meters range.

17-pdr L.58 anti-tank penetration data at 500 meters range

Target Armour Vertical Plate
Basic Probability
Velocity Loss
% Point Deduct.
Inclination Factor % Point Deduction Penetration
Final Probability
38 mm Hull Side
M4 Sherman
85 % - 8 vertical 77 %
45 mm Hull Front
75 % - 8 sloped - 34 33 %
60 mm Hull Front
67 % - 8 sloped - 34 25 %
80 mm Turret Side
53 % - 8 angled -18 27 %
100 mm Hull Front
Tiger I
45 % - 8 vertical 37 %
As expected, the basic probability of a shot penetrating 100 mm of vertical armour is much less than the probability of penetrating 45 mm of vertical armour. However, if the 45 mm plate is sloped, the probability of shots bouncing off – an estimated 34 percentage points – significantly improves the survivability of the armour plate. The final result is that 45 mm of sloped plate provides better protection against armour piercing projectiles than 100 mm of vertical plate. The calculations are based on range test data included in Panzergranate simulation rules.

Apparently, the decision to equip the Tiger I with 100 mm of vertical armour was a mistake. The Fahrzeug would have been better protected by 45 mm of sloped armour. T-34 und Panther tanks sported 60 mm und 80 mm of sloped armour respectively, they weighed much less than the Tiger, the Panther even had the more powerful gun.

If a legend developed around the Tiger, it had to originate in the North African and Western European theatres of operation, where M3 Grant and M4 Sherman crews must have felt very vulnerable in their flimsy hulls. Like the Tiger, the Sherman tank sported vertical armour plate on its hull side, but it was even thinner and very easy to penetrate. At the tactical level, if Grants and Shermans turned to face opposing Tigers, they made themselves immediately vulnerable to flank shots from 5 cm L.60 PaK 38, 7.5 cm L.46 PaK 40 anti-tank guns, and 8.8 cm L.71 FlaK 35/36 firing at very long range.

Big and Overweight

The Tiger I was a roomy vehicle, it had approximately 220 % the mass of the T-34, making it a large target, more difficult to conceal. The production version of the Tiger I turned out 11 tons heavier than the prototype, it weighed twice as much as the T-34. The enormous weight caused many problems which significantly reduced the combat value of the Tiger I.

Breakdown and Recovery

The great weight required a very sophisticated running gear with eight torsion bars and 24 staggered road wheels per side. If one of the inner road wheels was damaged, up to 13 road wheels had to be removed to get to it. In the combat zone, repairs of this kind would prove very hazardous to the crew, but there was little choice. Recovery from the combat zone was difficult, because the only armoured vehicle capable of towing a Tiger was another Tiger. Because of its delicate drive train, the Tiger did not take kindly to such work, and the towing vehicles would frequently break down as well. On soft ground, turning or reverse driving was known to cause the track to ride up on the drive sprocket, jamming it. The tracks would have to be cut or blown apart to fix the jam, but it was generally considered safer to pull the vehicle back with the help of another Tiger.

Minimal Cruising Range

The Tiger was seriously underpowered. The compact Maybach HL 210, and later HL 230 engine provided 478 KW and 515 KW respectively, but that was not nearly enough for a vehicle weighing 56 tons. The road speed of 45 km/h may be considered acceptable, but fuel economy was very bad. It is important to remember that the German army had suffered serious fuel shortages in World War One, and again in World War Two. In 1942, the army which had invented the Blitzkrieg adopted a tank which was thoroughly unsuitable for mobile warfare. The Tiger I carried 534 liters of diesel fuel, and it had a range of only 60-100 km, depending on terrain conditions. By comparison, the T-34 had three times the range, using just 480 liters of diesel fuel. Refueling the Tiger in the combat zone would prove difficult, especially when allied fighters dominated the skies and hunted down the supply columns. Many Tigers were abandoned when they ran out of fuel.

Complicated Logistics

Tiger I tanks introduced a number of logistical problem the Wehrmacht had not known previously, and which minimized the operational usefulness of the vehicle. Fuel supply has already been mentioned, but the Tiger itself proved difficult to move from one objective to another. Tiger tanks required so much maintenance to keep them running, they could not normally be expected to reach deployment areas under their own power. Rail transport was essential. The loading and unloading of armoured vehicles from rail cars is a difficult process, but the Tiger required even more work. Each vehicle had a set of transport tracks which were fitted for rail transport. Sixteen road wheels had to be removed to fit the transport track, and the normal tracks had to be put on again before the unloaded Tigers advanced toward their objective. If railheads were lost or if the line was cut, operational mobility of the heavy tank companies was significantly reduced. Tiger tanks did travel long distances under their own power, out of necessity, and many vehicles broke down and were abandoned in the process.

Operational Limitations

Limited range and low mechanical reliability reduced the Tiger’s operational flexibility to a point where the weapon system became difficult to re-deploy once it had been committed to battle. The decision to re-deploy would have to be balanced against the need to hold the ground and recover immobilized and defective Tigers. It became unthinkable that a heavy tank formation would strike out on its own like Rommel did when his division performed a daring breakthrough in France in 1940. Even a limited penetration like the 1944 offensive in the Ardennes quickly bogged down, because it involved Tigers and Panthers with limited operational mobility.

Rommel had transported his own fuel supply in 1940, and he conveniently pulled up at local gas stations to replenish his light tanks. By 1944, operational success or failure hinged on the capture of large enemy fuel dumps which might allow heavy tank formations to continue their mission. As it happened in the Ardennes, many Tiger and Panther crews eventually abandoned their run dry vehicles and walked home.

Technical Specifications

  • Sonderkraftfahrzeug 181, Tiger I Ausführung E
  • Engine: Maybach HL 210, V12-cylinder, 21353 cc, 478 KW @ 3000 rpm
  • Maximum Speed: 45.5 km/h
  • Fuel Capacity: 534 liters
  • Fuel Consumption:
    • 535 liters per 100 km on roads (T-34 used 160 liters per 100 km)
    • 935 liters per 100 km cross-country
  • Range: 100 km on roads, 60 km cross-country
  • Armour Layout:
    • Lower Hull Front – 100 mm of angled armour
    • Gun Mantlet, Turret and Hull Front – 100 mm of vertical armour
    • Turret and Hull Sides – 80 mm of vertical armour
    • Floor and Roof – 26 mm of armour
  • Length: 8434 mm
  • Width: 3705 mm
  • Height: 3000 mm
  • Weight: 56900 kg
  • Production: August 1942 – January 1944
    Of the 1350 Tiger I Ausf. E built, approximately 800 were early types.

Historical Employment

  • German Army, August 1942 – May 1945


  • Sturmpanzer VI mit 38 cm Mörser RW61 – Sturmtiger
  • Berge-Tiger Recovery Vehicle

Like the French Char B1 and the Soviet KV heavy tank, the Tiger presented a serious problem tactically, but it could be singled out, stopped and destroyed once it had been identified by the enemy. Allied air supremacy worked against the Tiger, and so did the tank destroyers which provided immediate back-up for infantry and armoured formations facing Tigers in their sector of the front. Paradoxically, the army which defeated the Char B1 and the Maginot Line, eventually mimicked these same faulty strategies. The Battle of Kursk in July of 1943 was a Soviet victory, and it is considered the turningpoint in the east. Tank losses at Kursk included well over 400 Soviet and over 300 German vehicles, more than 10 % of which were Tigers. In the west, the typical rate of exchange was three Shermans for every Tiger tank knocked out. A tactical simulation pitting the Tiger against five Shermans is included in Panzergranate rules, developed by Andrew Mark Reid.

German Miniatures of World-War Two