Military history

- Chapter 16 -

Road Marches

Another shot of a Tiger I encountering difficult terrain and insurmountable obstacles in the Army Group North sector.

The Tiger’s extreme weight limited which bridges it could cross. It also made driving through buildings something of a lottery as basements were liable to collapse trapping the tank in the rubble. Another weakness was the slow traverse of the hydraulically-operated turret. The turret could also be traversed manually, but this option was laborious and rarely used, except for very small adjustments.

Early Tigers had a top speed of about 45 kilometres per hour (28mph) over optimal terrain. This was not recommended for normal operation, and was discouraged in training. Crews were ordered not to exceed 2600rpm due to reliability problems of the early Maybach engines with their maximum 3000rpm output. To combat this, the Tiger’s top speed was reduced to about 38 kilometres per hour (24mph) through the installation of an engine governor, capping the rpm of the Maybach HL 230 to 2600rpm (HL 210s were used on early models). Despite being slower than medium tanks of the time, which averaged a top speed of about 45 kilometres per hour (28mph), the Tiger still had a very respectable speed for a tank of its size and weight, especially if one considers the fact that the Tiger I was nearly twice as heavy as a Sherman or T-34.

The Tiger had reliability problems throughout its service life; Tiger units almost invariably entered combat under strength due to various mechanical breakdowns. It was rare for any Tiger unit to complete a road march without losing vehicles due to breakdowns. The tank also had poor radius of action ie the distance which a combat vehicle can travel and return to the battlefield without refuelling. Although the Tigerfibel gave the figure of 42.5km in each direction (see page 27) the reality was much lower - 35km across country was considered to be the maximum on a full tank. However, the Tiger I was a remarkably efficient cross-country vehicle. Due to its very wide tracks however, the Tiger did produce a lower ground pressure bearing than many smaller tanks, the most notable exception being the Soviet T-34 which also ran on comparatively wide tracks.

This diagram from Tigerfibel shows throttle and vent flap positions when the Tiger is moving on a road march.



Information obtained from PW indicates that the Pz Kw VI was chiefly used in Tunisia to support other armoured units, and mention was made of its employment as mobile artillery. As a support tank it was always used in rear of lighter units. In one reported skirmish however, the lighter Pz Kw IIIs and IVs formed the spearhead of the advance; as soon as our tanks came within range the German ‘spearhead’ tanks deployed to the flanks, leaving the heavier Pz Kw VI tanks to engage.

A PW who was with RHQ7 Pz Regiment in Tunisia for some time states that there were some 20 Pz Kw Vis in the regiment. When on the march ten of these moved with the main column, the others moving on the flanks. According to this PW, the tactics in the attack were to seek to engage enemy tanks from hull-down positions at short ranges, even down to 250 yards. On the other hand, this prisoner also reports an engagement in which two Pz Kw Vis brought indirect fire to bear, observation being carried out by an artillery F O O, each tank opening with one round of smoke. In confirmation of this there is another A.F.H.Q report which speaks of this exploitation by Pz Kw VI gunners of the great range of their 8.8 cm guns.

30 Military Mission also reports the use of Pz Kw VI in squadron strength on various parts of the Russian Front, especially the South-West.

In conversation with General Martel, Marshal Stalin stated that in Russia, as in the desert, the Pz Kw VI went into battle in rear of a protective screen of lighter tanks.

An A.F.H.Q. training instruction states that the size and weight of the Pz Kw VI present many problems. PW indicated that extensive reconnaissance of terrain, bridges etc., was necessary before operations with this tank could be undertaken. Bridges had to be reinforced in many cases, and it was necessary for the ‘going’ to be good for the effective employment of the Pz Kw VI.

It would seem that the employment of this tank in a support role is not however invariable, because a German press report of the fighting round Kharkov in March seems to indicate that the Pz Kw VI were used offensively in an independent role.

Another German press report states that during the German withdrawal from Schusselburg, a “few” Pz Kw VI formed the most rearward element of the German rearguard, a role in which they were most successful.

An interesting and detailed newspaper article, written towards the end of May, on events on the Leningrad Front, points towards the use of the Tiher as a mobile defensive pillbox. The tanks are described as operation on a defensive front and as having been in action ‘for days’ (i.e. by inference, that they had been in the same area). These operations were carried out in close co-operation with the infantry manning the defensive positions.

In one particular operation a troop of tanks is described as taking up a defensive position forward of the infantry positions from which (presumably hull-down) advancing Soviet tanks and the following infantry were engaged. All this defensive fire was put down at the halt including the fire from the MGs in the tanks. In order to move to an alternative position because of enemy arty fire it was necessary for the tank commander to obtain permission from the CO Battle Group, under whose command he was operating.

The use of Pz Kw VI tanks in both attack and defence seems, from all available information to hand, to be in a support role. The use of this type of tank in an independent thrusting role, even when supported by tanks of lighter types, would seem to be discouraged.

The loader from Tigerfibel.

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