Military history

- Chapter 10 -


Despite its drawbacks the Tiger was relatively manoeuvrable for its weight and size, and as it generated less ground pressure, it proved to be superior to the Sherman in muddy terrain,. The Tiger tank however was plainly too heavy to cross small bridges with certainty, so it was purpose designed with the built in mechanism to enable the tank to ford four-meter deep water while fully submerged. This required unusual mechanisms for ventilation and cooling when underwater. At least 30 minutes of set-up was required, with the turret and gun being locked in the forward position, and a large snorkel tube raised at the rear. Only the first 495 Tigers were fitted with this expensive and rarely used deep fording system; all later models were capable of fording only two meters.

The main source of mechanical breakdown of the Tiger I appears to have been the gearbox which is a recurring theme in relation to the numerous breakdowns suffered by these vehicles. Towing a Tiger was an enormous problem and frequently resulted in the breakdown of other Tigers assigned to tow broken down vehicle. The procedure was described in an R.A.C. liaison letter dated August 1944.

The real Achilles heel of the Tiger was the extent to which it was prone to mechanical breakdowns. Even when the vehicle was running smoothly vigilance and extreme care was required as the Tiger was exceptionally liable to becoming bogged down while moving across the difficult terrain which was particularly prevalent in Italy. It was here that the British discovered an inordinately large number of disabled Tigers. Initially these 12 machines were all thought to be victims of combat, but it was later discovered, through examination and prisoner interrogation, that the casualties were all as a result of either mechanical or terrain difficulties. This astonishing revelation was published in August 1944 in a report by the British Army’s Technical Branch entitled “Who Killed Tiger ?”


The illustration from the driver section from Tigerfibel.



This Tiger of the 502nd overturned in the act of crossing a bridge in Russia, during November 1943. The tank commander was killed but the tank was recovered.

As a fairly large number of Tiger tanks were reported to have been knocked out in the breakout from the Anzio bridgehead and the advance on Rome we thought it might be educational to try and find out what weapon or what tactics had been responsible, so that the dose might be repeated on other occasions.

Hearing that there was somewhat of a concentration of bodies in a certain area we made a reconnaissance on the 5th August in an area between Velletri and Cori some 30 miles S.E. of Rome.

In all during this reconnaissance 12 Tigers were found either on the road, by the roadside or within easy sight of the road. The following is what we found:-

(1) On the Via Tuscolana. Pulled up at the side of the road near a bridge diversion. No sign of battle damage but both tracks were off and each had been cut with a gas torch. Blown up and burnt out so the cause of the casualty could not be determined.

(2) On the village green of Giulianello. No sign of battle damage other than a penetration of the hull back plate by Bazooka. This is thought to have been done by following troops after the tank had been abandoned, because the engine cooling fan had been penetrated by the shot but was obviously not rotating at the time and, furthermore, several unused rounds of U.S. Bazooka ammunition were found lying near the machine. This tank had not been demolished by the crew and there was no indication of the cause of stoppage.

(3) By the side of the road one mile from Giulianello. Signs of two H.E. strikes on the turret and one on the cupola. A further H.E. had struck the upper side plate about track level and may have broken the track which was off on this side.

On the opposite side the three rear bogie spindles were bent upwards and the bogies were riding the track guides. A tow-rope was found in place and the tank had been demolished. If the right hand track had in fact been cut by H.E. it is possible that a recovery crew had been caught while extricating the tank which had become a casualty due to the suspension trouble on the other side.

(4) Halfway down a steep bank on the Guilianello-Cori road. No sign of any battle damage or suspension trouble. Tank had been demolished. In this case it is possible that the machine had either become ditched down the bank or had some internal mechanical trouble which could not be rectified.

An interesting point is that this tank had rubber bogie wheels on one side and steel on the other.

The task of extricating a stricken Tiger from difficult terrain was beyond every vehicle except another Tiger. Activities of this nature placed a huge strain on the engine and could often result in both vehicles being lost and was officially against orders. However this type of activity, although frowned upon, was a daily occurrence for the men of the Panzerwaffe as there was simply no alternative.

(5) Found in a small copse about 100 yards off the road. No sign of battle damage but tank appeared to have become ditched in a sunken lane where it had been trying to turn. Broken tow-ropes found in place. No important suspension defects so that the casualty must have been due to internal mechanical trouble possibly caused by trying to extricate itself from the lane. Blown up.

(6) Found off the road down a bank where it had been pushed to clear the road. Deep A.P. scoops on front of manlet and side of turret. Penetration by unknown weapon through 3rd bogie from rear on left hand side. Tracks off, blown up and burnt out. Not enough evidence to deduce the cause of the casualty except that it was certainly not due to the A.P. strikes which were probably sustained in an earlier engagement.

(7) Off the road at the edge of an olive grove. Definite evidence of track trouble. Several track guide lugs broken. R.H. sprocket ring cracked in one place and L.H. ring in two places. Attempts to tow had been made. Demolished. Possibly on tow because of mechanical trouble and abandoned when tracks rode the sprockets and damaged them.

(8) On the level in an olive grove. There were signs of the area having been used by a workshop detachment. No apparent battle damage other than penetrations of bogie wheels by H.E. splinters. Casualty probably due to internal mechanical trouble. One demolition charge had been blown.

(9) Found up against a house in Cori where it would appear to have been left by a recovery team. Two H.E. scoops on front plate. Tracks off and obvious signs of suspension trouble. R.H. front bogie bent and out of line. Tracks found near. These showed fractures of several links. Demolished.

(10) Off the road in Cori within 10 yards of No.9 above. One bogie wheel missing and others damaged. Sprockets cracked in three places. Tracks off and lying nearby showed evidence of trouble – cracked link and broken guide lug. Demolished.

(11) On the bridge at Cori. Within 50 yards of Nos 9/10. Tank had fallen through damaged arch of bridge. Both tracks off and laid out on the road behind. No battle damage to be seen. Demolished. The presence of Nos 9,10 and 11 tanks so close together suggests that Cori may have been a recovery point for tanks with mechanical trouble which were blown up when it was found impossible to repair them.

(12) Found on the road from Giulianello to Valmontone in a field by a stream some 300 yards off the road. No battle damage but two bogie wheels on one side were bent and out of line. Tracks were still on. There was evidence in the shrubs nearby that the crew of a recovery section had camped by the tank and had been attempting some mechanical repairs which could not be completed in time so that the tank had to be left and demolished.

A Tiger I undergoing engine repair.


Since the above examination was made some information has been received from a P.O.W. which suggests that these 12 tanks were the remnant of 3 Sqn, 506 Heavy Tank Battalion, which was given the job of resisting the Allied break-out from Anzio with 16 tanks.

Some were lost in the engagement while others suffered gearbox trouble and had to be towed out of action. The squadron was ordered to retreat on Cori and during this retreat so much trouble was experienced with the gearboxes and suspensions of towing tanks that attempts at extrication beyond Cori had to be abandoned.


Tiger is not yet sufficiently developed to be considered a reliable vehicle for long marches. He suffers from frequent suspension defects and probably also gearbox trouble. When pushed, as in a retreat, these troubles are too frequent and serious for the German maintenance and recovery organization to deal with.

Two Tigers of the 504th Schwere Abteilung irrecoverably stuck in a steep valley. This battalion suffered six total write-offs in four days while on a road march in Italy in September 1944.

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