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The King Tiger Tank (Fall 2012)

            On July 18 1944, the allies in Normandy encountered a new enemy that they had never faced before.  It was the Tiger II tank, or as the allies knew it, the King Tiger.  It was a 70 ton mass of metal capable of destroying any allied tank with relative ease.  The King Tiger was introduced late in the war, but it still left its mark on history through the history forces of Technology, Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.

            Science and Technology played a huge role in the development of the King Tiger.  The tank had a thick layer of armor, a great amount of firepower, but ultimately the sheer size was its downfall.  The King Tiger developed late in WWII to help the Axis defeat the Allied tanks.  It was designed with thick armor plating around the tank.  The front of the hull was 100 mm thick, and the turret was 180 mm thick.  The sides and the back of the tank were slightly less armored with 80 mm thick plating.  Not only was the armor extremely thick, but it was also angled to deflect shells.  The Germans put a 50 degree incline in the front of the tank and as well as the turret.  This was the part of the tank that the Germans wanted to take the most fire.  The sides of the tank only had a 25 degree incline.  Pairing that with the 80 mm thick armor compared to the 100 mm in front, and that made the sides or the back of the tank the weaknesses if there were any.  The allied tanks had to hit the King Tigers from the sides or behind to destroy them, but that was not easily achieved.  The armor on the Tiger II allowed it to take fire from other tanks and remain intact, but armor alone would not win the Germans any battles.

            The King Tiger was a tank killer.  The firepower that it had in its arsenal was astounding for its time.  The main turret on the King Tiger was the 88mm cannon.  It had two variations, the “Porsche” model, and the “Henschel” model.  Both of the variations were powerful, but the Porsche model had more of a curve which ended up deflecting enemy fire downward.  The Henschel model was much more successful because it was simpler and much easier to produce, and it did not have the flaws like the Porsche model did.   The 88mm was designed to be like the original Tigers, but it was much longer.  The 88mm on the King Tiger was able to shoot further and more accurately than the 88mm on the original Tiger.  It was able to destroy most allied tanks without a problem. With the amount of armor and firepower that the Tiger II had, it was essential for the allies to get the first shot on them, but in many battles, the range of the King Tiger tank’s 88mm would allow it to get the first shot on the allied tanks. It was able to take down allied tanks over long distances.  Allied tanks had to move within 1 km to even hope to damage a King Tiger, while a King Tiger could sit back from over 2 km away and destroy the Allied armor. This piece of technology would allow the King Tiger tanks to dominate the battlefield in most cases, but the King Tiger was still far from perfect. 

            Even with all of the armor and firepower, the King Tiger tank still had its problems.  The tank was extremely heavy, weighing nearly 70 tons.  This would have not been a huge issue if the Germans would have given it an engine to match its size.  The King Tigers engine was the same model as those used in the much lighter Tiger and Panther tanks.  It cranked out around 700 horsepower, but even that was not enough to move the 70 ton giant quickly.  The Tiger II were also very slow because of the undersized engine.  They traveled at a little over 20 mph on the road, but only could muster 10 mph off road.  This made the King Tiger hard to maneuver. They were virtually sitting ducks for allied air support because of their lack of maneuverability.  Not only were the tanks hard to maneuver on the battlefield, but they also had awful gas mileage.    Some estimates say that King Tigers could get up to 100 miles on 400 litres of gas.  This meant Tiger IIs could not travel that far of distances without refueling.  Most King Tiger were never destroyed, but abandoned by the Germans on the battlefield because they either ran out of fuel, or they were stuck and could not maneuver their way out.  Also there were issues with the engines often.  The amount of stress placed on the engines made them very inconsistent.  The amount of breakdowns with King Tigers was much higher than any other German tank.  A great quote from Alfred Rubble, a German in the 503rd battalion, sums it up, “One hour of Tiger operation requires ten hours of maintenance.” (“Achtung Panzer”)   Overall, the technology at the time played a large role in the King Tiger tank.  It had all of the armor and firepower it needed, but there just was not a large enough engine at the time to efficiently use with the King Tiger. 

            The history force of philosophy also had an impact on the King Tiger.  It was a morale booster for the Germans, and it instilled fear in the enemy.  Late in the war, soldiers from all sides were exhausted.  The Germans were getting pushed back, and they needed something to give them a boost to keep fighting.  The King Tiger may have done just that.  Before the King Tiger was introduced, the Germans relied on the Panzer in tank battles against enemy armor.  The Panzer tank did well, until it faced the French’s heavier tank models.  The Germans just could not match the firepower of the French’s heavier tanks with their Panzer III’s and IV’s.  The Tiger was introduced because of this in 1942 and was very successful.  The Tiger was armored enough to take on three Sherman tanks at once, but Hitler did not think that was enough.  The King Tiger then was created.  The King Tiger really motivated the German ground troops on both fronts.  It was a slow and resilient tank, and it was extremely powerful.  The German troops needed to the boost that the King Tiger gave them.  One of the few victories late in the war for Germany was in the Hungarian capital Budapest.  The city was stormed the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion.  They were allowed to take the city easily with the power of the heavy King Tiger tanks.  The Germans did not experience much success in 1944 despite the King Tiger, but it showed the troops that the war effort was not over.  It really was a great idea to build this massive tank to help motivate the troops, but it just did not happen soon for the Axis powers to overcome the allied assault.

            Even if the King Tiger did not completely change the tides of the war, it still struck fear into the troops on the allied side that had to face one.  In Normandy, the allied Sherman tanks would often have to face Tiger or King Tiger Tanks.  The Sherman and other allied tank models struggled to pierce the armor of the King Tiger, and would often have to flank or outmaneuver the Germans.  This was not always possible, so often the allies with push ahead with sheer numbers hoping to overpower the King Tigers. The allies rarely won these battles, but were spared when the heavy German tanks would run out of fuel.  Many allied forces were destroyed by the German heavy armor on both fronts, but there was one German tank division that struck more fear in the allies than any other.  The 503rd tank battalion was responsible for a lot of carnage in Normandy, and then later in the east.  The 503rd was comprised of mainly Tigers while in Normandy, but then was destroyed by allied aircraft.  So the battalion received 45 new King Tigers in their place.  These King Tigers in the 503rd were heavily camouflaged to avoid being spotted by the air.  They went on to destroy over 500 allied tanks as a battalion.  They were the battalion that captured Budapest.  They were eventually destroyed at the end of the war when most fighting was done.  They had held Budapest for the duration of the war, making it a key stronghold for the axis side.  This must have taken a toll on the allies to face a battalion full of King Tigers.  Without air support, it would have been a suicide mission.  This obviously would sap any soldiers morale tasked with taking on the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion.  The King Tiger played a big part in the war effort on how both sides fought the war.  It changed the mindsets of both sides.  

            The King Tiger had a large impact on the war for sure.  It would have even been more substantial if economics were not involved.  Producing the King Tiger was a very big problem for the Germans, and fuel was also a massive issue for the German army.  The King Tiger was not a cheap tank to produce like the Panzers and other lighter tanks.  The King Tiger itself took 800,000 German Reichsmarks to produce.  That is enough money to pay the weekly wage for 30,000 factory workers in Germany.  The German war machine did not have enough money to keep pushing out these expensive tanks.  The tanks also took a very long time to produce.  It took most King Tigers an estimated 300,000 man hours to create.  They simply took too long to produce during wartime to make enough of them.  The Germans ordered 1,500 King Tigers to be produced.  They ended up getting about a third of them.  In all, there were only roughly 480 King Tigers ever produced.  The 480 made a large impact, so 1,500 would surely have done even more for the war effort.  The factories were not to blame though.  The allies had attacked many of the German factories at the time, and had destroyed much of Germany’s ability to make war materials. The main factory of King Tigers lost 95 percent of its production and some 600 King Tigers were destroyed in the middle of production.  Not only was production an issue for the King Tigers, but they were also faced with a shortage of fuel.

            The King Tigers were the heaviest tanks on the battlefield.  They had an undersized motor used in models that were 20 tons lighter.  This was not the best combination for fuel mileage. The 1944 model had a 12 cylinder engine with about 700 horsepower.  The lightweight engine simply was not cutting it so early in 1945 the Germans switched to a 900 horsepower engine.  It gave the tank better maneuverability, but the fuel usage was still incredibly high.     They only made about 2 mpg and even worse off road.  Germany did not have the resources to feed the King Tigers and often the heavy tanks would run out of fuel and be abandoned.  This was hard to believe considering a King Tiger had 7 fuel tanks holding up to 230 gallons of fuel. The need for fuel really slowed down the German side.  They faced the allies who seemed to have an endless amount of resources.  They were really at a disadvantage economically.  The King Tiger itself really suffered because of all the problems economically.  They took too many resources that the Germans really could not afford.  They took too many man hours when the Germans were short on manual labor, and they also consumed way too much precious fuel that the Germans desperately needed to continue in the war.  Economics really made a huge impact on the King Tiger. 

            The history force of Politics was a major factor involved with the King Tiger.   The King Tiger was not only a great weapon for war, but it was also a symbol of the power that Germany had at the time.  The Nazi party in Germany was eager to establish its military power in the region because of what had happened in WWI.  They were embarrassed and stripped of all their military power.  This allowed the Nazi party to get in power to begin with.  Without the political struggles at the time, the King Tiger would never have been created. 

            Not only was the tank a great wartime weapon, it symbolized the power of the German people.  It was something that the whole nation could be proud of.  It was a Great War time motivator because it was second to none at the time.  After the German people had suffered after WWI, they needed something to unite them.  That is what the Nazi party was able to do.  Later in the war when Germany was losing, the Germans needed another push, and the King Tiger being produced gave them that.

            The King Tiger was influenced by four forces of history.  Science and Technology played a major role in the tanks production.  The tank was a new invention in WWI and technology had gotten much better during WWII.  This allowed the Germans to engineer the Tiger Tank and make it nearly impregnable.  Philosophy also had an impact on the King Tiger.  Soldiers on both sides of the line respected the power of the King Tiger.  The allies learned to fear the great tank, while the Axis powers soldiers got a morale boost from seeing this tank on the battlefield.  Economics made the expensive tank hard to produce.  There were not enough resources to create the amount of tanks that the Germans wanted.  Also fuel played a large role in the King Tiger.  If the German side had enough fuel, many tanks would have not been abandoned and defeated.  Politics was the reason that the King Tiger were created in the first place.  It ended up being a great motivator for the German people by making them believe they were still in the war.  All of the forces of history made an impact on the King Tiger, but these more than the others.  It truly was a wonderful invention, and a marvel in the past, but still today.         

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