Wehrmacht In Action13 April 2015

Tiger Encounter

The following two US Army intelligence reports provide a fascinating insight into the initial Allied reaction to the first appearances of the Tiger tank on the battlefields of North Africa.

US Army Intelligence Report Technical and Tactical Trends, February 1943

Mark VI
This is a heavy tank. No details other than the actual nomenclature are known, but it seems probable that this model is an entirely new departure in German tank design. It has been anticipated for some time that the Marks IIl and IV might be superseded by a new type incorporating the best features of each model and introducing features borrowed from British and possibly American designs. Having obtained a tank gun of first quality in the long-barrelled 75-mm tank gun (40), the weapon mounted in the new Mark IV tanks, it is probable that this weapon or an 88-mm weapon is the principal armament. The basic armor may be as thick as 80 or 100 mm, and spaced armor, at least in front, is probably incorporated. There may also be skirting armor. Face-hardened armor is probably used, and the speed is not expected to be under 25 mph.

Reports of a German heavy tank have been received over a considerable period of time. Apparently the most recent is the statement of a German captured in Tunisia. According to the prisoner, he belonged to an independent heavy tank battalion, which consisted of a headquarters company and two armored companies. Each armored company was equipped with nine 50-ton tanks. The tanks were armed with 88-mm guns and were capable of a speed of 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) an hour. Whether or not this is the Mark VI tank is not known.

US Army Intelligence Bulletin, June 1943

In Tunisia the German Army sent into combat, apparently for the first time, its new heavy tank, the Pz. Kw. 6, which it calls the “Tiger”. The new tank’s most notable features are its 88-mm gun, 4-inch frontal armor, great weight, and lack of spaced armor. Although the Pz. Kw. 6 has probably been adopted as a standard German tank, future modifications may be expected.

The “Tiger” tank, which is larger and more powerful than the Pz. Kw. 4,1 is about 20 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 9% feet high. The barrel of the 88-mm gun overhangs the nose by almost 7 feet. The tank weighs 56 tons in action (or, with certain alterations, as much as 62 tons), and is reported to have a maximum speed of about 20 miles per hour. It normally has a crew of five.

The armament of the Pz. Kw. 6 consists of the 88-mm tank gun (Kw. K. 36), which fires fixed ammunition similar to, or identical with, ammunition for the usual 88-mm antiaircraft-antitank gun; a 7.92-mm machine gun (MG 34) which is mounted coaxially on the left side of the 88-mm; and a second 7.92- mm machine gun (MG 34) which is hull-mounted and fires forward. In addition, a set of three smoke-generator dischargers is carried on each side of the turret.

The turret rotates through 360 degrees, and the mounting for the gun and coaxial machine gun appears to be of the customary German type.

The suspension system is unusually interesting,. The track is made of metal. There are no return rollers, since the track rides on top of the Christie-type wheels, which are rubber rimmed. It will be noted that there are eight axles, each with three wheels to a side, or each with one single and one double wheel to a side. There are thus 24 wheels—8 single wheels and 8 double wheels on each side of the tank. The system of overlapping is similar to the suspension system used on German half-tracks.

The armor plating of the Pz. Kw. 6 has the following thicknesses and angles:

Lower nose plate: 62 mm (2.4 in), 60° inwards.
Upper nose plate: 102 mm (4 in), 20° inwards.
Front plate: 62 mm (2.4 in), 80° outwards.
Driver plate: 102 mm (4 in), 10° outwards.
Turret front, and mantlet: Possibly as much as 200mm (8in), rounded.
Turret sides and rear: 82 mm (3.2 in), vertical.
Lower sides (behind bogies): 62 mm (2.4 in), vertical.
Upper sides: 82 mm (3.2 in), vertical.
Rear: 82 mm (3.2 in), 20° inwards.
Floor: 26 mm (1 in).
Top: 26 mm (1 in).

The angular (as opposed to rounded) arrangement of most of the armor is a bad design feature; reliance seems to be placed on the quality and thickness of the armor, with no effort having been made to present difficult angles of impact. In addition, none of the armor is face-hardened. The familiar German practice of increasing a tank’s frontal armor at the expense of the side armor is also apparent in the case of the Pz. Kw. 6.

Undoubtedly the Germans developed the “Tiger” tank to meet the need for a fully armored vehicle equipped with a heavy weapon capable of dealing with a variety of targets, including hostile tanks. Although the “Tiger” can perform these duties, its weight and size make it a logistical headache. It is entirely probable that the Germans, realizing this disadvantage, are continuing to develop tanks in the 30-ton class. Further, it is interesting to note that the Pz. Kw. 6 has proved vulnerable to the British 6-pounder (57-mm) antitank gun when fired at a range of about 500 yards.