In the years since World War II, much mythmaking has mucked up history with various often incredible claims about the effectiveness of certain weapons. And no country’s wartime record is more muddled than Germany’s, whose arms and armies have attracted legions of devoted fans. From the battleship Bismarck to the V-2 rocket, Germany’s weapons have near a mythic hold on history like few others. But how effective were these weapons really?
A new video at the YouTube channel breaks down actual data on the German Tiger tanks. The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger tank was a German heavy tank that served on the Eastern Front, Western Front, and in North Africa during World War II. The final version of the tank weighed 54 tons, had a crew of five, and was equipped with a mobile version of the famous 88-millimeter anti-tank gun. First fielded in 1942, the Tiger was meant to forge breakthroughs on the battlefield, destroying enemy tanks at long range while shrugging off hits from lesser Allied anti-tank guns.
The Tiger is one of the most revered tanks of the war, if not in the entirety of tank history. And, as Military History Visualized reveals, an effective tank—though perhaps not as great as history tends to portray it. The channel charts the combat effectiveness of the various tank battalions equipped with Tiger, comparing wartime and total losses versus the number of enemy tanks destroyed. Unlike other tanks, Tigers were primarily assigned to independent heavy tank battalions of 45 tanks each that the high command parceled to help out in particularly tough battles.
The verdict? If one counts Tiger tanks versus the number of enemy tanks claimed destroyed by Tiger tanks, Tiger tanks killed 11.52 tanks for every one of their own destroyed in battle. Tigers suffered a large number of non-combat losses, however, as the chaos of wartime and the Tiger’s mechanical finickiness chipped away at the number of deployable tanks. If one counts non-combat losses, such as vehicles broken down and abandoned, that number drops sharply to 5.25 enemy tanks killed for every lost Tiger.
Another way to measure effectiveness, as the channel explains, is to examine how much of a threat the Allies considered the Tiger battalions. The Allies took the Tiger very seriously, devoting considerable time to tracking their movements. The Tiger could penetrate the armor of any Allied tank on the battlefield, and the U.S. and British forces would often try to team together air and artillery support along with ground forces to increase odds in their favor.
One major problem with the Tiger: it was very expensive, both in terms of money and resources. As the war dragged on and Germany had less of either, it was deemed important to make the most of war production. The Germans could build many more tanks and cheaper tank destroyers for the cost of one Tiger. A single Tiger used enough steel to build 21 105-millimeter howitzers.
So was the Tiger tank great? Yes, but at what cost?