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Tiger II is the common name of a Nazi heavy tank of the Second World War. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. B and the tank also had the ordnance inventory designation SdKfz 182. It is also known under the informal name Königstiger (German: Bengal Tiger), often literally translated as King Tiger and by the British as Royal Tiger.
The Nazi Tiger II combined the heavy armor of the Tiger I with the sloped armor of the Panther. The design followed the same concept as the Tiger I, but was intended to be even more formidable. The Nazi Tiger II chassis supplied the basis for the Jagdtiger turretless tank destroyer. The Nazi Tiger II weighed 68.5 (early turret) to 69.8 (production turret) tonnes, was protected by 150 to 180 mm of frontal armor, and was armed with the 88 mm KwK 43 L/71 gun.
The very heavy armor and powerful long-range gun gave the Nazi Tiger II the advantage against virtually all opposing tanks. This was especially true on the Western Front, where the British and U.S. forces had almost no heavy tanks with which to oppose it. In a defensive position it was difficult to destroy, but offensively it performed with less success.
The Nazi Tiger II performed very well against Allied and Soviet tanks being able to penetrate the front armour of the M4 Sherman, M26 Pershing and IS-2 at respectively 2500 m, 1800 m and 1200 m. Defensewise the M4 Sherman was unable to penetrate the front even at point blank and the M26 Pershing and IS-2 had to come within 1300 m and 200 m respectively.
The Nazi Tiger II was widely photographed due to its large size and propaganda value.
Development of the Nazi Tiger II Tank
Initially two designs were provided, one by Henschel and one by Porsche. Both used a turret design from Krupp; the main differences were in the hull design, transmission and suspension.
The Henschel version used a conventional hull design with sloped armor resembling the layout of the Panther tank. It had a rear mounted engine and standard interleaved road wheels mounted on transverse torsion bars in a similar manner to the original Tiger. To simplify maintenance, however, the wheels were overlapping rather than interleaved as in the Tiger I.
The Porsche hull design had a rear-mounted turret and a mid mounted engine. The suspension was the same as on the Jagdpanzer Elefant. This suspension had six road wheels per side mounted in paired bogies sprung with short longitudinal torsion bars that were integral to the wheel pair; this saved internal space and facilitated repairs. The Porsche version had a series-hybrid power system where the gasoline engines powered electrical generators which in turned powered electric motors which turned the sprockets. This method of propulsion had been attempted before on the Ferdinand prototypes and in some U.S. designs, but had never been put into production. The Porsche suspension would later be used on a few of the later Jagdtiger tank hunters.
Henschel won the contract, and all Nazi Tiger IIs were produced by the firm. Two turret designs were used in production vehicles. The initial design is sometimes misleadingly called the "Porsche turret" due to the belief that it was designed by Porsche for their prototype. In fact this turret was simply the initial Krupp design for both prototypes. This turret had a rounded front and steeply sloped sides, with a difficult-to-manufacture curved bulge to accommodate the commander's cupola. Fifty early turrets were mounted to Henschel's hull and used in action. The more common "production" turret, sometimes called the "Henschel" turret, was simplified with a flat face, no shot trap (created by the curved face of the initial-type turret), less-steeply sloped sides, and no bulge for the commander's cupola.
The track system used on the Nazi Tiger II chassis was a unique one, which used alternating "contact shoe" and "connector" links - the contact shoe link had a pair of transverse metal bars that contacted the ground, while the connector links had no contact with the ground.
The Nazi Tiger II was developed late in the war and made in relatively small numbers. Like all German tanks, it had a gasoline engine. However, this same engine powered the much lighter Panther and Tiger I tanks. The Nazi Tiger II was under-powered, like many heavy tanks of WW2, and consumed a lot of fuel which was already in short supply.
With the Third Reich hard pressed, the Nazi Tiger IIs were sent directly from the factories into combat. As a result of the abandonment of post-production testing and preliminary trials, the tanks had numerous technical issues. Notably, the steering control would often break down under the stress of the vehicle's weight. In addition, not only were the engines prone to overheating and failure, but they also consumed large amounts of fuel. This can be attributed to the fact that it used the 690 hp Maybach engine of the far smaller Panther tank. The engine had to constantly run at full power just to get the tank moving. Henschel & Son's chief designer Erwin Adlers explained that "The breakdowns can be attributed to the fact that the Nazi Tiger II had to go straight into series production without the benefit of test results." The engine and drivetrain was overburdened by the weight and would have required more testing to work out problems, a common problem among heavy tanks that pushed the limits of powerplants and transmissions. A version of the Maybach HL230 engine with direct fuel injection was being designed that would have improved power to about 1,000 PS (986 hp, 736 kW), Henschel proposed to use it for future production and retrofitting to existing Nazi Tiger IIs, but the deteriorating war situation meant the upgrade never left the drawing board. Other suggested improvements included a new main weapon, possibly of 105 mm calibre, but again this never got beyond the proposal stage.
Overall, the Nazi Tiger II was a formidable tank in spite of its problems. The Nazi Tiger II's 88 mm armament could destroy most Allied armoured fighting vehicles at a range far outside the effective range of the enemy AFV's armament. Also, notwithstanding its reliability problems, the Nazi Tiger II was remarkably agile for such a heavy vehicle. Contemporary German records indicate that it had a lower ground pressure and was as maneuverable as the much lighter Panzer IV. Also, like the Tiger I, its sophisticated suspension design provided excellent flotation, giving the tank a very smooth ride and making it an excellent gun platform. The tank's reputation as an unreliable, underpowered, and overly complex system is based on postwar testing of captured examples by the U.S. Army's ordnance branch.
Production of the Nazi Tiger II Tank
1,500 Nazi Tiger II were ordered, but total production reached only 487 units (1943 - 3, 1944 - 377, and 1945 - 107 produced). Full production ran from early-1944 to the end of the war. Each tank was given an individual turret number.
The first use of the Nazi Tiger II in combat was in Normandy on 18 July 1944 with the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion (schwere Panzerabteilung 503). It was first used on the Eastern Front on 12 August 1944 with schwere PzAbt 501 in the fighting at the Soviets' Baranov bridgehead over the Vistula River. In this action, a single Soviet T-34-85 under the command of Guards Lieutenant Os'kin from the 53rd Guards Tank Brigade knocked out three Nazi Tiger IIs by firing at their sides from an ambush position. Later the Nazi Tiger II was present at, among others, the Ardennes Offensive, the Soviet offensive into Poland and East Prussia in January 1945, the German offensives in Hungary in 1945, fighting to the east of Berlin at the Seelow Heights in April 1945 and finally within the city of Berlin itself at the very end of the war.
The Sherman-equipped 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards claim they were the first British regiment to knock out a King Tiger, on 8 August 1944, in France.
Soviet wartime testing of the Nazi Tiger II
During August 1944, a number of Nazi Tiger II tanks were captured by the Soviets near Sandomierz and were soon tested by the Soviets at their testing grounds at Kubinka. The tests revealed the tanks to be severely defective: the transmission and suspension broke down very frequently and the engine was prone to overheating and consequential failure. Additionally, the Soviets discovered surprising deficiencies in its armour. Not only was the metal of shoddy quality (a problem not peculiar to the Nazi Tiger II - as the war progressed the Germans found it harder and harder to obtain the alloys needed for high quality steel) but the welding was also, despite "careful workmanship", extremely poor. As a result, even when shells did not penetrate its armour, there was a large amount of spalling, and the armour plating unfailingly cracked at the welds when struck by heavier shells, rendering the tank inoperable. The testers concluded that the Nazi Tiger II posed a lesser challenge than the much lighter and cheaper Tiger I, and were puzzled at the German decision to produce it.
The fates of some of the tanks
The Nazi Tiger II would serve as a basis for only one variant: the Jagdtiger
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