1/35 Tamiya King Tiger w/Porsche

Gallery Article by Jeff Brundt on Dec 23 2011

History
The German King Tiger Tank was introduced in early 1944 and was the most powerful tank during World War 2. With its powerful 88mm gun and an almost impenetrable front armor, it was one of the most feared weapons of the war. Up to the end of the war, the allies had not introduced any effective means to counter the threat. The Tiger II combined the heavy armor of the Tiger I with the sloped armor of the Panther. The design followed the same concept as the Tiger I, but was intended to be even more formidable. The very heavy armor and powerful long-range gun gave the Tiger II the advantage against virtually all opposing tanks.

Development began as early as 1937 with the German Armaments Ministry issuing a specification for a new heavy tank to Daimler-Benz, Henschel, MAN and Porsche. The project however was ignored as the Panzer III and IV had so far proved effective tanks and served well in combat. It was not until spring 1941 that the project was revived after Hitler was impressed with heavy allied tanks, such as the French Char B1 and British Matilda 1 during the campaign in the west. 

Although the designation implies that the Tiger II is a succession of the Tiger 1, it is in effect a completely different tank. The main gun specification of the King Tiger was to be a variation of the 88mm anti-aircraft gun. Although the 88mm was initially designed for an anti aircraft role, it proved to be an excellent tank killer. Originally, the intention was to mount an 88mm Flak 41 into a turret for the Porsche VK4501 (P) chassis. The turret had been originally designed by Krupp to hold the 56 caliber 88mm KwK 36 gun of the Tiger 1. After much experimentation and debate, it was decided in early 1943 that it was not possible to mount the 88mm Flak 41. Krupp had then been contracted to design a new turret that could mount their own version of a 71 caliber 88mm Kwk 43 gun that could fit in both the chassis for Henschel and Porsche. The length of the barrel itself is over 20 feet long while the rounds weighed almost 20kgs. It is in effect a much more powerful gun than the Tiger 1.

 

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For the development of the chassis, two firms were contracted to come up with the designs; Henschel and Sohn of Kassel and Porsche of Stuttgart. Both firms were responsible for only the chassis and automotive designs. Turret design was awarded to Krupp of Essen.

The Henschel version used a conventional hull design with sloped armor resembling the layout of the Panther tank. It had a rear mounted engine and standard interleaved road wheels mounted on transverse torsion bars in a similar manner to the original Tiger. To simplify maintenance, however, the wheels were overlapping rather than interleaved as in the Tiger I.
The Porsche hull design had a rear-mounted turret and a mid mounted engine. The suspension was the same as on the Jagdpanzer Elefant. This suspension had six road wheels per side mounted in paired bogies sprung with short longitudinal torsion bars that were integral to the wheel pair; this saved internal space and facilitated repairs. The Porsche version had a series-hybrid power system where the gasoline engines powered electrical generators which in turned powered electric motors which turned the sprockets. This method of propulsion had been attempted before on the Ferdinand prototypes and in some U.S. designs, but had never been put into production. 

Henschel won the contract, and all Tiger IIs were produced by the firm. Two turret designs were used in production vehicles. The initial design is sometimes misleadingly called the "Porsche turret" due to the belief that it was designed by Porsche for their prototype. In fact this turret was simply the initial Krupp design for both prototypes. This turret had a rounded front and steeply sloped sides, with a difficult-to-manufacture curved bulge on the turret's left side, to accommodate the commander's cupola. Fifty early turrets were mounted to Henschel's hull and used in action. The more common "production" turret, sometimes called the "Henschel" turret, was simplified with a flat face, no shot trap (created by the curved face of the initial-type turret), less-steeply sloped sides, and no bulge for the commander's cupola.
The track system used on the Tiger II chassis was a unique one, which used alternating "contact shoe" and "connector" links—the contact shoe link had a pair of transverse metal bars that contacted the ground, while the connector links had no contact with the ground.

The Tiger II was developed late in the war and made in relatively small numbers. Like all German tanks, it had a gasoline engine. However, this same engine powered the much lighter Panther and Tiger I tanks. The Tiger II was under-powered, like many heavy tanks of WW2, and consumed a lot of fuel which was already in short supply.

Officially designated Panzerkampfwagen VI Sd.Kfz 182, the King Tiger was placed into service early 1944. It served in the western and eastern front notably in the battle of Normandy, operation "Market Garden" in Holland, and the offensive in Ardennes. It also served in various other operations in Poland, Hungary, Minsk and a small number also defended Berlin in April and May 1945. With its great firepower and thick armor, it proved to be more than an opponent for any tank the allied forces could field. However, the size and weight of the King Tiger had its share of problems. It suffered mechanically with many breakdowns and had poor maneuverability. Many roads and especially bridges were not suitable for a tank this size and the fuel requirements were enormous. Many were abandoned due to lack of fuel rather then being destroyed during the offensive in the Ardennes. Production also suffered with the bombing of the Henschel factory and there simply weren’t enough of these around. The King Tiger was a case of too late and too few in number to make a difference in the outcome of the war.

However, the great firepower and armor of the King Tiger created the impression of a powerful armored force with almost invulnerable tanks. Able to destroy enemy tanks at extreme ranges and impervious to those same tanks made the King Tiger more than a match for any allied tank. Indeed for the allied forces, the sight of a King Tiger on the battlefield was terrifying and did great physical and morale damage to the enemy. This fame and almost mystical fascination helped it earn its reputation as the most feared weapon of World War 2. For the German forces, it was the hallmark of German armored might and restored morale even in the last days of the war. Due to the havoc it wreaked during the Ardennes offensive, the allies advancing into Berlin would fear the King Tiger up to the very last day of the war.

Jeff Brundt

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Photos and text © by Jeff Brundt