The Tiger I is strange, in that it has both positive and negative myths associated with it.
“The Tiger I is the best tank of WW2 – it owns”
The first thing to remember about the Tiger I is this: it is a heavy tank, designed to spearhead offensive operations. As such it was built with very thick armour (100mm at the front, 80mm at the rear) and a gun capable of destroying any known enemy tank of the time.
Although its combat debut was a total failure (they were deployed in swampy terrain near Leningrad), the Tiger I was a very successful design when introduced in July 1942.
It proved superior in armour, firepower, or both to any tank that it met, on both the Eastern and North African Fronts.
In July 1942 its opponants were:
Heavy tank – KV1 (this tank had excellent armour, but mounted the same gun as the T-34 medium tank)
Medium tank – T-34 (relatively well armoured, but with a fairly weak anti-tank gun by the standards of 1942)
And a host of obsolete light and medium tanks still in service, for which the Tiger’s gun was pure overkill.
North African Desert:
Heavy tanks – None. The closest thing to ‘heavy’ tanks in the desert were the British ‘Infantry’ tanks, the Matilda II and the Churchill. Both were well armoured, but still vulnerable to the Tiger I’s gun, and both had a weaker gun than the Tiger. As a point of interest, the first Tiger I killed by an enemy tank in North Africa was killed by a Churchill.
Medium tanks – a host of types. The various British ‘cruiser’ tanks were all very fast, but with thin armour and inadequate gun armament. The new American M3 and M4 were better, but their 75mm guns still lacked the power to penetrate the Tiger’s armour from anything except the closest ranges – difficult to achieve in the open conditions of the North African desert.
However, despite its superiority over the current generation of enemy tanks, the Tiger I was not an unstoppable beast. Just as the Germans learned to counter the T-34, the Allies learned how to counter the Tiger I. For the British, it was discovered that their new standard anti-tank gun, the 6pdr (57mm) was capable of destroying the Tiger I (the very first time the British encountered the Tiger I near Pont du Fahs in Tunisia, both Tigers involved in the action were knocked out by 6 pdr AT guns) while their very newest heavy anti-tank gun, the 17pdr, could kill the Tiger I at a fair distance. The development of new ammunition (notably the discarding sabot) further increased this ability. PIATs and bazookas were both found capable of killing the Tiger I, as were Anti-tank mines.
Not only that, but new Tanks and Tank Destroyers were developed, and existing tanks were upgraded. The M4 Sherman received a new 76mm gun, capable of penetrating te Tiger I’s armour. This gun was already in service on the M10 tank destroyer in 1942; by the end of the war, tens of thousands of new-model Shermans had been built. A new British Cruiser, the Cromwell, was introduced, with the 6pdr as its main gun. Specialist Tank Destroyers, with the 17pdr (Archer, Achilles, Challenger & Sherman Firefly) or the American 90mm gun (M36) were produced.
On the Eastern Front the Su-100 and SU-85 Tank Destroyers, the IS-series of tanks, and even the T-34/85 were all capable of defeating the Tiger I, as were most of their larger-calibered Anti-Tank guns (76mm and upwards).
By the end of the war, late-model Shermans with thicker armour and the 76mm gun were able to slug it out on almost equal terms with the Tiger I – not a bad acheivement when you consider that the Tiger I was a heavy tank produced in small numbers (around 1,500 were built) and the Sherman was the standard medium tank of the Western Allies (40,000 built). The Tiger I was even eclipsed towards the end of the war by the Panther, Germany’s new medium tank, whose sloped armour gave better protection and whose gun had better penetration (although a worse HE capability).
This brings us to another myth about the Tiger I – “If the Germans built only Tiger Is they would have won the war”
Rubbish. If the Germans built only Tiger Is they would have built less tanks, run out of resources faster (especially petrol) and been less capable of mounting fast advances – especially if the tanks were required to cross any but the strongest of bridges, as the Tiger I was around twice the weight of most medium tanks.
Remember, the range of weaponry the Allies possessed towards the end of the war that could kill the Tiger I was prolific.
“It took 5 Shermans to kill 1 Tiger”
This appears to be a myth arising from the first meeting of the Tiger I and the Sherman in North Africa, when the Sherman’s 75mm gun (designed to provide close support for the infantry) proved unable to penetrate the Tiger I’s armour except from the side and rear, at close range. Typical conditions in North Africa (flat and open) favoured the Tiger I, with its ability to kill the M4 and early M4A1 at long range.
By the time the two tanks met again, in Normandy, things had changed. Newer Sherman models, with thicker armour and the 76mm gun with good amour-piercing qualities, were in service (although various marks of the Sherman 75mm were still in wide-spread service). The much more ‘crowded’ terrain of Western Europe was also in the Sherman’s favour, forcing closer combat ranges, and negating the long-range advantage of the Tiger I’s gun.
More importantly, there are few, if any, reports of a single, unsupported Tiger "cornered" by a group of unsupported Shermans on the Western front. Such an action would be most remarkable, as unsupported tanks on any side contitutes a tactical error, while unescorted tanks on both sides simultaneously represents a really bad day all round. In addition, by this point in the war the Allies had a whole host of weaponry that could knock out a Tiger, including the 76mm gun (later models of the Sherman), the 6dpr (57mm) gun (standard Allied Anti-tank gun, and standard gun on most British tanks), the 17pdr gun (the Allied ‘heavy’ anti-tank gun, also mounted on the Archer & Achillies Tank Destroyers, and the Challenger and Sherman Firefly tanks), the 90mm gun (mounted on the M10 & M36 Tank Destroyers), bazookas, PIATs, or literally any artillery piece. And, of course, the humble mine.
In conclusion, therefore, while the Tiger I was undoubtedly a superior tank to the M4A1,
stories of large numbers of Shermans being required to knock out a single Tiger I are much exaggerated.
“The Tiger I had a 10:1 kill ratio”
This claim apparently comes from the number of Tigers we know were lost, compared with the number of tanks Tiger crews claimed to have destroyed. The most obvious problem is exactly the same as encountered with fighter pilots – kill claims are never accurate. Even kills credited are generally wrong by a fair margin.
This is simply not provable for certain either way - mostly because the bulk of Tiger I kills were made on the Eastern Front, and Soviet records were far from meticulous - but the balance of probability seems to be that it is an overestimation by anywhere between 30% and 100%.
“The Tiger I was slow and mechanically unreliable”
Again, the thing to remember is that the Tiger I was a heavy tank. Comparing it to a medium tank in terms of speed is unrealistic. The Tiger I’s speed was around 25mph, which is actually not bad – only 5mph behind the Sherman, for example, and slightly faster than its only real equivalent in 1942 – the KV1, at 23mph.
In terms of reliability, the Tiger did require regular servicing. As did every other tank and vehicle in service. Without regular servicing, it was unreliable. As was every other tank and vehicle in service. Comparing the Tiger I to its peers – the KV1 – is what really kills this myth. The KV1 was exceptionally prone to break down. According to some sources, more were lost to beakdowns than the enemy action. The Tiger I has a far better record than this.
For a discussion about this topic, please follow this link:
For further discussion of this Mythbuster, please make a new topic in the new forum
For the total numbers of Tigers (Tiger I and Tiger II) in use against the Western Allies, courtesy of Lyndon, see the following topics:
Tigers in N Africa and Italy
Tigers in Normandy
Tigers in NW Europe post-Normandy
Discussion on the tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, which participated in World War 2.
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