The Tiger II was the final iteration of Nazi Germany’s Tiger line of tanks, and despite the pressures of increasingly difficult war-time production, the Tiger II was arguably one of the best armed and armored German tanks of the war.
Tiger II: A Short History
The Tiger II combined some of the best features of several previous German tanks, a fact perhaps most obvious in the Tiger II’s armor.
Like the previous Tiger, the Tiger II’s armor was very thick, though rather than retaining a Tiger I-esque boxy appearance, the Tiger II opted for a steeply-sloped front glacis that presented a more difficult target to penetrate, strongly reminiscent of the Panther. So impervious was the Tiger II’s front armor to virtually anything the Allies could bring to bear against it, that flanking maneuvers to take shots at the tank’s thinner side armor was often not only necessary but the only Allied recourse.
Not only was the Tiger II well protected, but the tank’s main gun was extremely potent as well, even at extreme ranges. Like the older Tiger I, the Tiger II sported a powerful 88mm gun — though over four feet longer.
The cartridge case that the Tiger II loaded was also wider in diameter and therefore able to hold more propellant. Combined with the longer barrel and additional propellant, the Tiger II could fire armor-piercing projectiles at significantly greater velocities than its predecessors and accurately hit Allied armor from farther away than it could itself be engaged.
Initially, the Tiger II had two shortcomings. The first issue was the tank’s first production turret, the front of which was steeply curved. Not only was the steep curve of the turret face no boon to production, but it also created a shot trap in which non penetrating shots that hit the turret’s lower hemisphere could ricochet downwards and into the tank’s hull, potentially penetrating the hull top. This design flaw was quickly rectified with a modified, flat-faced turret.
The other Tiger II shortcoming was the gaskets and seals in between engine components which were prone to failure and leakage, as well as the tank’s drivetrain, which was originally designed for a significantly lighter vehicle. Like the poorly-designed initial production turret, both of these issues were later rectified through better components.
Why It Could Not Impact the War
Though arguably one of the most potent German tank designs of the Second World War, Allied bombing against Tiger II production facilities severely hampered production. Furthermore, gasoline shortages hampered the Tiger II’s mobility. Despite these limiting factors, the Tiger II generally fared well against the Allied armor it came up against, and on occasion scored a very high number of kills with disproportionally low losses.
Nazi Germany’s wartime industrial production could never match the combined Allied production. Still, there is an argument to be made that the Tiger II may have been one of the finest heavy tank designs of the Second World War.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.