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Tiger I Tank

Ask someone to name a tank and 99.9 times out of 100 “Tiger” is the response. The German Panzerkampfwagen VI has become a legend not just in World War II, but in the history of warfare.

The al most 60 ton Tiger I had an amazing kill ratio of 12 enemy tanks destroyed to 1 Tiger lost in battle. It’s main weapon, the infamous “88” mm gun, was it’s self a war-winning legend even before being mated to the Tiger. Combined with advanced optics, the "88" could basically slaughter everything in sight.

When the Tiger I first appeared on the battlefield in September, near Leningrad, it had the thickest armor of any tank in history: frontal hull armor was 100 mm thick (over 4 inches of high quality steel) and frontal turret armor even thicker at 110 mm, armor that could only be defeated, even at war’s end, by the biggest Allied tanks and then only at pointblank range.

The tracks were an unprecedented 725 mm wide, and the Tiger I’s were fitted with a gasoline burning (not diesel) 1,403 cubic inch (23 liters) V-12 Maybach HL 230 P45 engine making 690 hp. On paper it had an operational range between 70 and 110 miles and a maximum speed of 25 mph.

Put all these parts together and the arithmetic seems to equal an almost invulnerable and unstoppable anti-tank weapon, a weapon that did put fear into it’s opponents, to the level of a phobia. “Tiger Fever” was a term used through out the War, and just the possibility of running into one put men into a panic, and soon every German tank became a “Tiger.” Much of this fear was deserved, but perhaps some of it was out of proportion to The Tiger’s actual effectiveness on the field of battle.

The Tiger I, as powerful as it was, was not without it’s weaknesses. The practically invulnerable armor of the 60 ton monster, was also it’s greatest enemy. The armored plates were flat, not sloped and as such needed to be enormously heavy to provide sufficient protection. The tank's weight put severe stress on the entire mechanical system: suspension and transmission systems, sophisticated as they were, were not able to handle the massive weight of the tank. And even with a 690 hp engine, the Tiger I was massively underpowered.

Few bridges could carry their weight, it could only ford a 2 meter deep stream, forests were impassable, sometimes even the streets of the towns and villages often weren’t wide enough. The Germans also suffered from a lack of sufficient retrieval vehicles that could handle the heavy Tigers. This led to the abandonment of many Tigers that could have been repaired had they been ret rieved.

They guzzled gasoline, were extremely slow (with an average speed of about 4-9 miles per hour on rough terrain or dirt roads - well below the stated maximum design speed of 25 mph), and had an extremely short combat radius and duration. A German armored unit that was lucky enough to start the day with 45 tanks not in the repair depots, after driving them 10 miles down a road to the battle, would have only 6 tanks left mechanically able to fight. But then those 6 Tigers would attain a 12 to 1 kill ratio.

Tiger I Tank

 

The art work (front only design) shows the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I Tank.

The art is silk screened on a pre-shrunk, ash, Hanes ringer Beffy-T. With black detailing around the neck and the sleeves.

Because of their size and complexity, Germany made relatively few Tigers (1,348 Tiger Is and less than 500 King Tiger IIs) when compared with the U.S. who made over 40,000 Shermans and the Soviets who made over 50,000 T-34’s. It has been estimated that a single Tiger I tank cost 800,000 Reichmarks, and required 300,000 man-hours to produce. (At those rates, the Tigers were very much high end super-weapons, equivalent on a cost basis to something like the U.S. B-29 “Superfortress,” bomber which cost about a million dollars apiece, or even a Navy destroyer!)

When they worked, they were incredible, and history shows that even a single Tiger with an ace crew co uld slow or even stop entire strategic operations. The tactic finally developed by the Allies were to pit at least 4 Shermans or T-34’s against a single Tiger, hoping to get a shot at it’s side or rear. But mechanical unreliability, lack of mobility and finally simple numbers doomed the Tigers.

The Tiger portrayed on the Tee Shirt is an early Tiger I on the Eastern Front at the Battle of Kursk, July 1943. The black and white rings on the end of the 88’s barrel were “kill rings,” marking the number of enemy tanks destroyed. The hardest part of this drawing were the tracks and suspension wheels. At one point I seriously considered burying the Tiger up to it’s hull in mud. There is still a cloud of obscenity hanging over Minnesota from when I drew those treads!! It took over 120 hours to complete, not including research and sketches. The drawing is dedicated to Karl Willey, 101st, U.S. Army, "The Unstoppable Force," (Karl and the Army, both!) currently stationed in Afghanistan. He's a young hero from Montana and I'm proud to know him.

(A couple of last thoughts about tanks and armored fighting vehicles in general: at first glance they seem to be the toughest weapo n on the battle field, a moving fortress that is impregnable and solitary. Upon closer look they are, in many ways, the weakest. As good as tanks are in killing other tanks, they are very vulnerable to other weapons: low anti-tank guns hiding in ambush, infantry with anti-tank bombs, rockets or just bottles of gasoline, heavy artillery that can shatter it’s suspension and track, aircraft that can attack from above where the armor is thinnest, and rip it apart with cannons, bombs or rockets.

The tank itself needs almost constant supply from thin-skinned trucks that haul it’s fuel, ammo, food and water.

The crew of a tank are nearly deaf and blind, making infantry, artillery and air support crucial. Even rolling over logs or debris can hang it up. A simple turn, if done too tightly will snap the pins that connect the treads. Running in the wrong gear can wreck the transmission or suck up too much fuel. Any of these and many more can leave a tank an immobile, sitting duck, a big, fat turkey that just sits there and sweats.)

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