Military history

- Chapter 24 -

Armour and Armament

A Tiger I rolls through the open countryside in Normandy in June 1944. The tank is obviously some distance from the combat zone as the crew have not taken any form of anti-aircraft precautions.

The overwhelming advantage of the Tiger I lay in the quality of its main armament. From a 30 degree angle depending on the wind and weather conditions the Tiger’s 88mm gun was capable of penetrating the well sloped front glacis plate of an American M4 Sherman at ranges up to 2,100m (1.3 miles). The better armoured British Churchill IV became vulnerable at a closer range of 1,700m (1.1 mile), the hardy Soviet T-34 could be destroyed at 1,400m (0.87 mile), and the Soviet IS-2 could only be destroyed at ranges between 100 and 300m.

The Soviet T-34 equipped with the 76.2mm gun could not penetrate the Tiger frontally at any range, but could achieve a side penetration at approximately 500 m firing BR-350P APCR ammunition. The T34-85’s 85mm gun could penetrate the front of a Tiger between 200 and 500 m (0.12 and 0.31 mi), the IS-2’s 122mm gun could penetrate the front between 500 and 1,500 m (0.31 and 0.93 mi).

From a 30 degree angle of attack, the M4 Sherman’s 75mm gun could not penetrate the Tiger frontally at any range, and actually needed to be within 100 m to achieve a side penetration shot against the 80mm upper hull superstructure. However, the British 17-pounder as used on the Sherman Firefly, firing its normal APCBC ammunition, could penetrate the front armour of the Tiger I out to 1000m. The US 76mm gun, if firing the APCBC M62 ammunition, could penetrate the Tiger side armour up to a range of 500m, and could penetrate the upper hull superstructure at ranges up to 200m. Using HVAP ammunition, which was in constant short supply and primarily issued to tank destroyers, frontal penetrations were possible at ranges of up to 500m. The M3 90mm cannon used in the late-war M36 Jackson, M26 Pershing, and M2 AA/AT mount could penetrate its front plate at a range of 1000 m, and from beyond 2000m when using HVAP.

As range decreases in combat, all guns can penetrate more armour. HEAT ammunition was the most effective round but this projectile was rare and in short supply. The great penetrating power of the Tiger’s gun meant that it could destroy many of its opponents at ranges at which they could not respond. The issue which was compounding the Allied tank crew’s problem was the superiority of German optics. This advantage increased the chances of a hit on the first shot and in tank to tank battles one shot was frequently all that mattered. In open terrain, this was a major tactical advantage as opposing tanks were often forced to change position in order to make a flanking attack in an attempt to knock out a Tiger.

A Tiger which has received a coating of anti-magnetic Zimmermit coating designed to prevent the application of magnetic mines by tank hunting teams.



A German prisoner observes that the following are standard training principles in the German tank arm:

(1) Surprise.

(2) Prompt decisions and prompt execution of these decisions.

(3) The fullest possible exploitation of the terrain for firing. However, fields of fire come before cover.

(4) Do not fire while moving except when absolutely essential.

(5) Face the attacker head-on; do not offer a broadside target.

(6) When attacked by hostile tanks, concentrate solely on these.

(7) If surprised without hope of favourable defence, scatter and reassemble in favourable terrain. Try to draw the attacker into a position which will give you the advantage.

(8) If smoke is to be used, keep wind direction in mind. A good procedure is to leave a few tanks in position as decoys, and, when the hostile force is approaching them, to direct a smoke screen toward the hostile force and blind it.

(9) If hostile tanks are sighted, German tanks should halt and prepare to engage them by surprise, holding fire as long as possible. The reaction of the hostile force must be estimated before the attack is launched.

A German Army document entitled “How the Tiger Can Aid the Infantry” contains a number of interesting points. The following are outstanding:

(1) The tank expert must have a chance to submit his opinion before any combined tank-infantry attack.

(2) If the ground will support a man standing on one leg and carrying another man on his shoulders, it will support a tank.

(3) When mud is very deep, corduroy roads must be built ahead of time. Since this requires manpower, material, and time, the work should be undertaken only near the point where the main effort is to be made.

(4) Tanks must be deployed to conduct their fire fight.

(5) The Tiger, built to fight tanks and antitank guns, must function as offensive weapon, even in the defence. This is its best means of defence against hostile tanks. Give it a chance to use its unique capabilities for fire and movement.

(6) The Tiger must keep moving. At the halt it is an easy target.

(7) The Tiger must not be used singly. (Obviously, this does not apply to the Tiger used as roving artillery in the defence. On numerous occasions the Germans have been using single Tigers for this purpose.) The more mass you can assemble, the greater your success will be. Protect your Tigers with infantry.

A section of Tiger’s deploying for combat operations in Russia during January 1943. The vehicle on the left still has the cover on the muzzle break which suggests this tank is not anticipating being forced into combat.

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