The German Jagdtiger was by all means, the ultimate operational German Tank Hunter of WW2, and largest 'tank' of the war. By its paper characteristics, it was not only invincible, but also capable to knock-out any Soviet or allied tank or armored vehicle deployed, at a comfortable distance. Part of Hitler's last gamble and secret projects, the 'Tiger B' tank hunter variant was a disappointment in operations, mostly because of mobility reasons.
Nazi Germany (1944) - Tank Hunter - circa 77-88 built
The last ditch ultimate tank killer
The Tiger as a tank has a fearsome reputation that far outweight any other German tank of the second world war. The Tiger II was even more impressive, but only a hundred couple ever mad it on the battlefield. Building a tank hunter based on the Tiger seemed a logical prospect. The Jagtiger already based on the Panther chassis with a 88 mm gun was already a good tank killer, but a larger gun was needed in 1943 to anticipate the new generation Soviet heavy Tanks, notably the IS-II.
To the new generation Soviet heavy tanks of the KV-1 class, a gun existed in the German nomenclature able to defeat it frontally. This was the superlative 128 mm. It was developed from 1942 early on, with a request made by the Army General Staff to press on the development of such gun, ans to mount it as soon as possible on a self-propelled armored chassis.
Development of the Krupp 12.8 cm PAK-44
The most impressive anti-tank piece of ordinance in the German arsenal during WW2 was this Krupp Panzerabwehrkanone, designed as a result of experiences on the Eastern front in 1943. It was the result of encounters with the Soviet-designed 122 mm M1931/37s fielded from 1939 and built around 2.450 in field version. Soon, the mounted version was also seen on the ISU-122 (A-19S) and IS-2 (D-25T) and field officers asked for an equivalent. It is fair to notice that the 122 mm was designed as afield artillery and only converted to antitank role by modifying the barrel and fitting AP ammunitions. At Kubinka such barrel, fitted on the 85 mm D-5T mount, went through the frontal glacis of a Panther at 1200m, which it pierced through and through down to the rear engine plate. This model started production in 31 December 1943.
On the German side, requirements changed as the IS-2 made its apparition. The particular choice of 128 mm was dicated by the tooling avilable for naval ordinance. Contracts were awarded for comparative tests to Rheinmetall Borsig and Krupp. Both were tested in late 1943, about the same time as the Russian 122 mm. Rheinmetall made an adaptation of the already produced 128 mm FlaK gun produced from 1942, but Krupp started from scratch. Previously Rheimetall proposed the AT version 12.8 cm PaK 40 but it was rejected. Tests showed the advantages of the Krupp gun, which won this phase and produced more barrels for testings. At first however, there was no practical towing solution in sight. The mount proposed and carriage weighted 11 tons. 50 barrels and breeches were produced, which ended on two captured mounts called K 81/1 (French GPF-T carriage) and K 81/2 (Ex-Russian).
But both were still heavy and cumbersome. In parralel, the compact Pak 44 version was created to fit inside the new Jagdtiger in design, as well as the Maus. 100 were made, called Pak 44 and Pak 80 or Panzerjägerkanone Pjk 80 respectively, keeping the same performances as the towed gun.
Eventually the towed version was adopted with the K 81/3 PAK 44, mounted on a Gerät 579 Medium Weapons Carriage made by Krupp. It was roughly an enlarged version of the two-legged PAK 41 standard. There was also a 4-wheeled version allowing a 360° traverse. It should be noted that a 105 mm was also tested for a future tank hunter.
Development of the SdKfz 186 (1943)
In early 1943, as the gun was not yet even tested, it was decided to fit it either on the Panther or Tiger chassis. The first opetion was soon dropped as impractical. At that time, the waffenamt specified an assault gun, not an tank-hunter. The Panther option was not dropped because of expected weight issues, but just available space, after testing a wooden mockup. On 20 October 1943 another mockup was built and tested, this time on the Tiger II chassis. The result looked more manageable and was presented to Hitler in East Prussia. Two prototypes then were ordered, by Henschel and Porsche, only differing by their wheeltrain and suspension systems:
- Porsche: 8 classic doubled road wheel suspension system (chassis 305001)
- Henschel: 9 overlapping wheels suspension system (chassis 305002)
Both were delivered in February 1944 and comparatively tested. The Henschel suspension system was eventually chosen. Production was approved under the waffenamt designation Sd Kfz 186. The second proposal was not forgotten however. Judged best suited for a lighter gun, Porsche produced 11 chassis. Due to avaibility issues for the PAK-44, they would have been converted to carry the 8.8 cm Pak 43 gun instead. Called Sd.Kfz.185, it did not enter production.
Production of the Jagdtiger (1944)
An order of 150 vehicles was passed. Production started at Nibelungenwerk at St. Valentin (Steyr-Daimler-Puch) in July 1944. From February to July indeed, tooling and supply chains had to be setup together with the new facility. However production was labor-intensive and complicated due to the weight of the elements to manage. This month, only three leaved the factory, with a torrent of teething problems. In August, three more, then eight in September 1944 while most urgent problems had been ironed out. In October nine more followed. Until 305012 in September, they were all Porsche chassis. In November production fell to six, and was reorganized to reach 20 in December, the largest monthly production ever achieved. The reason of the disruption was a 143 tons of bombs fell on the plant during an air raid on 10/16/1944. Chassis were badly damaged and had to be repaired or replaced.
This was followed by 10 in January, 13 in February but fell down to just three in March and allegedly seven and four in April-May 1945, although this is disputed. It's dubious the last ones ever made it to an active unit and take part in any action but improvized nearby the factory. The latter was located in Austria near Niederösterreichischen St. Valentin, out of reach of the Soviets, but close to US and French sectors. Therefore there is no certainty about the total production which oscillates between 70 and 88 tanks, quite a wide discrepancy perhaps with some confusion between Porsche and "regular" models.
Design of the JagdTiger
Wooden mockup presented to Hitler, 20 October 1943, on the foreground. A heavy Italian tank P 26/40 was presented the same day (cc).
The hull was composed, as seen from the side, of six plates: The lower nose plate, the glacis, the driver's compartment roof, the cast face plate, to mount the cast gun piece, the roof plate, the single piece side plates (by far the largest and heaviest), the rear compartment vertical plate, the engine compartment roof plate, the back angled armour plate, and the underbelly plate, masking the wheeltrain components.
In terms of vision equipments, the co-driver/MG gunner was given a single, fixed vision block angled to the right at about 20%. The driver's sight was an orientable periscope mounted above his position, and it was only through it driving was possible. His seat was adjustable in height though. The gunner's sight was mounted to the left, with his hatch and the commander's hatch behind. Also on the roof's rear, on both corners were placed two fixed sights also angled to 20° on outwards, proving some vision of the rear. There was also a large turntable-style cover on the front-left corner of the roof, but it was fixed.
The driver and co-driver had an individual hatch but included in a large door-style hatch on the horizontal plate. It was normaly blocked by the main gun. The individual hatches were of the side-sliding type, opening to the rear with an axial hinge (rear outward). Still on the roof, there was an exhaust vent in the middle, above the breech block, and a small emergency hatch under the co-driver's position. When moving, the main gun was mated to its massive 'V' shaped front travel lock mounted on hinges above the glacis, angled when lashed in brackets.
Command vehicles were excessively rare, but they were given a rear-left hand extension supporting a star antenna D type, for a fuG 8 radio and "mushrooms" on the sides, front and rear of the roof. Attachements for the side skirts were also modified. The standard antenna was mounted between the two front-right hatches. On the sides took place a 50 mm thick steel cable mated to the hooks welded to the side hull, while further welded hooks were place on the casemate walls to support the weight of spare track links. A shovel was attached to the side fowards, abaft the main gun, and to the rear, crowbars and a handcrank. Like the previous models, shields were mounted around the exhaust pipes to avoid seeing their glow. There was a single blacklight installed in the middle of the glacis, for production simplicity.
Model of the Porsche type (cc).
Model of the Henschel type - Munster Museum (cc). After serial number 305011 in September 1944, Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste was no longer applied.
The K44 PaK 80 (tank version) used two-piece ammunition and can use three propellant charges, allowing the use of three models. Only used for the towed guns in field artillery mode and indirect fire, there were a light and medium charges. The circa 28 kg projectiles leaved the barrel to a muzzle velocity of 845 m/s and 880 m/s respectively. The tank gun however and the towed model used in proper antitank role used the same 28.3 kg APCBC-HE projectile (PzGr.43). It leaved the barrel at a muzzle velocity of 950 m/s.
On trials, it was shown capable of defeating:
-230 mm (9.1 in) of 30° sloped armour at 1000 m.
-200 mm (7.9 in) at 2,000 m (2,200 yd)
-173 mm (6.8 in) at 3,000 m (3,300 yd)
The PAK 44 gun used a semi-automatic horizontal sliding-block, mated to a recoil Hydro-pneumatic system. It was called the 12.8 cm PaK 44 L/55, since the barrel was 55x its caliber. Provision was made for a muzzle-brake, but in practice it was never mounted. Because of the naval-type two-part ammunitions there were two loaders working in concert from each side of the gun-breech inside the casemate. This made for a crew of five: The gunner, commander, two loaders, and driver.
The gun mount had a very limited traverse, only 10 degrees, only helped by the great range of the tank. But if the targets were off this field of fire, the entire tank had to be turned/aimed, causing considerable stress on the engine. The elevation was only helped by the hull lenghtened a bit to push forwards the driver in a more cramped and lower position. Ammunition was stored into the floor, above the transmission shaft. They filled the entire rear part of the casemate, which had no room to spare. The recoil went almost as far back as the rear doors. The space between the breech block and rear in loading phase was as along as the charge itself.
This true behemoth received in addition a single Rheinmetall 7.92 mm MG 34 provided with a ball mount in the left side of the hull, with about 1200 rounds and tracers. Also the late model had a rear ring-mounted AA MG.42 machine gun. Openings were few. Only the rear doors could be used to thrown grenades or use the onboard MP.38 submachine-gun or pistols, and the roof's hatches. The vehicle was completely blind from the sides, but it was saved by its relatively great height to prevent enemy infantry to climb on it. There was also a safety lock to prevented the mhatches to be opened; We have in fact no records of a Jagdtiger destroyed by enemy infantry.
The greatest weakness of the vehicle, which was better armored than German cruisers of the time, was its powerplant. The speed of development in armament and armor far outpaced the time needed to develop a suitable engine. There was indeed a prototype engine worked out by Maybach which was rated at 900 hp, but it never went to production before it was too late. It was though the first serie would be equiped with a provisional engine, and this fell back to the same engine used on the Tiger II, also the same used by the Tiger I; The Tiger I weighted 54-57 tonnes, the JagdTiger 80. This was a 25 tons increase. Since the Tiger II kept some mobility it was judged the new tank hunter could somewhat cope with the old engine, but the absence of turret forced manoeuvers not performed by the Könisgtiger. With ten tons more, the limit was reached.
Inside the rear compartment, closed from the crew by fireproof bulkhead, and ventilated by grids similar to those of the Tiger II, took place the V-12 Maybach HL 230 P30 gasoline engine. It was rated for 700 PS (690 hp, 515 kW) whereas 1500 would have been necessary. This traduced into a nearly anemic figure of 9 hp per ton, more exaclty 9.8 PS (7.2 kW)/tonne. This was still enough on road to propel this mobile bunker at 34 km/h (21 mph). With such weight and consumption, the range was quite low, 120 km (75 mi) on a road, and 80 km (50 mi) off-road, even less in case of intensive manoeuvers. That was precisely the weakest point of the powerplant: The transmission, same as the Tiger I and II, and which also reached its limits, compounded by inexperienced drivers.
During tests, the tracks were modified and the Type Kg 73/880/152 was adopted, common to the Tiger II and forcing to use the old 18-tooth drive wheels. The Porsche models accumulated problems. Their mobility was even worse. Just like the other, it required only flat and firm ground, only bridges (a few) could guarantee its travel over water and sloped, ravines and brooks were to be avoided to not strain the transmission. It was also required to install stronger jolts from tow-opart tracks with the cannon thrown out of adjustment, and the constatation the running gear was attached too stiffly, lateral overburdening of the tracks in rough terrain, leading to bend the tracks or break track bolts, special renning gear parts making maintenance and repairs difficult.
The JagdTiger was conceived the same way as previous models, using a chassis without turret, with a fully armored and enclosed casemate-style fighting compartment instead. But on the Jagdtiger it was a particularly boxy superstructure, a bite like the Eelephant/Ferdinand, and unlike the well-profiled sloped casemate of the Jagdpanther. The sides were indeed integral with the hull sides to gain rigidity, and the Tiger II chassis was lenghtened. The plates were locked together like those of the Tiger II. The henschel prototype introduced a modified front face plate and cast piece, and no exhaust pipes shielding.
The casemate design did not extend its glacis plate in one piece but used a separate forward plate instead, so to make a more boxy structure atop the hull. This front face also presented much more armour thickness due to its almost vertical face. This piece around the gun mantlet was 250 mm (9.8 in) strong, but break down to 150 mm (5.9 in) on the much better sloped glacis plate. If attacked from the side, it still could withstand standard US ordnance rounds, with 80mm (3.14 in), and the same on the rear armour panel. However in theory, the British 17-pdr can penetrate this thickness. In theory because it never happened. The gun mantler itself, cast in the style of the STUG-III "pig nose" was very heavy and articulated in two part. The base section of the rear one, welded to the front plate, almost reach 300 mm.
The Jagdtiger in action
Te first completed and operational vehicles were delivered in September 1944 in two newly-formed heavy anti-tank battalions (in german: Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung or SpAbzt.), the 512th and 653rd. The units received their full complement un January 1945 but fought already in December taking 20% combat losses in combat. Th remainder were scuttled with explosives, by their own crews. They had to be abandoned after mechanical breakdowns. Also the lack of fuel had the same result in April-May.
Otto Carius's reports
Famous Tiger ace Otto Carius
received the charge of the second company of Jagdtigers in Panzerjägerabteilung 512 (out of three companies). In "Tigers in the Mud" he spoke about the new tank hunter and bring some of the rare lights on what it was to fight in the largest tank in WW2. He commanded 10 Jagdtigers and stated that they were never utilized to their full potential. Allied air superiority was one, but also the own vehicle's lak of moblity, mostly due to a powerplant stretched to the limits, and the massive gun itself, which needed muche care, like a systematic re-calibration after travelling off-road.
Other reports confirmed the Jagdtiger was painfully slow, and its transmissions and differentials also standard on previous tanks broke down frequently. The main reason was the entire 70 tons hull needed to be rotated on flat, driving the tracks into the ground while doing so with more force than a bulldozer. That was the only way to recover some gun traverse, which was very limited inside the massive cast mount.
Also, the massive gun had to be locked during all maneuvers, in order to preserve the integrity of its mounting-brackets. They were found to be worn-out quite quickly, and made the firing innacurate. This needed a crew member to exit the vehicle, lock and unlock the gun from its travel-lock. However this pain and hardships were compensated by the superlative qualities of the main gun. Otto Carius reported he was able to fire through all the walls of a house and destroy the American tank which was parked behind.
Insufficient training and poor morale in the last months of the war also, with the lack of commitment and courage to take risks. Crius reported than in the Ruhr Pocket, commanders refused to attack an advancing American column ajust for the fear of an Allied air attack while giving up their camouflaged position; Moreover, both withdrawn hastily, and one broken down in the process and has to be sabotaged and abandoned. At Siegen, Carius himself missed an ambush because of a warning of civilians to the allies, and during the night one of his tanks fell into a bomb-crater at night while another was destroyed by a Panzerfaust, the Volkssturm not aware of this new German tanks.
Still, with a resolute commander, the Jagdtiger proved a formidable adversary. When placed on the top an an hill one attacked a column of US tank 600 meters away near Unna, the leader of a group of three which soon opened fire. The lead Jagdtiger was hit several time, all round being buried in the 250 mm of frontal armor. But the commander was also young and he turned around instead of backing down. He then offered his flank to US rounds, and this caused his loss. Training, as said above, was minimal and many new recruits could lost their nerves in the heat of combat the first time;
Otto Carius company eventually ended in the same Ruhr Pocket. When out of ammo, galosine and now maintenance, Carius ordered what left of his company's Jagdtigers to be sabotages, and then surrendered to advancing US forces. In his company, only one of the Jagdtigers was lost in combat for a single kill, while another was lost to friendly fire, and the rest by sabotage and abandon mostly because of breakdowns and the reasons stated above. This was a very poor result for so many workhours spent on this tank. It was a far cry to the "paper" prospects of at least 10 kills per tank. In Hitler's mind, this was closer to 100. But for Carius unit, this was just a seemingly impossible 1/10 ratio.
Spzabt. 512 battle records
While Carius told the actions of the 2nd company, the 1st and 3rd had arguably more successes and fouht longer. On 18 January 1945, two Jagdtigers of the 1st company proved their tank was also useful against bunkers. They supported an infantry assault near Auenheim, destroying four bunkers at 1,000 meters. A Sherman counter-attacking was also destroyed. Both Jagdtigers survived to fight another day. On April, 9, the 1st Company destroyed the best part (11 tanks) of an Allied column from an hull-down position. They also claimed 30 accompanying vehicles. It was all done at the beginning of the engagement to ranges in excess of 4,000 m, which was amazing for ww2, and imparable. Only a modern Challenger 2 repeated this feat in combat during the invasion of Iraq.
One Jagdtiger was lost afterwards due to a P-47 ground attack. The 1st Company would claim five more Sherman tanks later. They surrendered however at Iserlohn. The 2nd Company fought on at that date, but making nio more kills, and finally surrendered in turn on 15 April 1945 at Schillerplatz (also in Iserlohn, in the Harz mountains). The 512 SpZabt. was formed Döllersheim on 11 February 1945, with the combination of new recruits and the veterans of the near-destroyed 424th Heavy Panzer Battalion. It was the renamed 501st, which tanks and personels were exhausted several times, as the first heavy tank batallion in operations, from North Africa to the Eastern front. It received its Jagdtigers only by February. It comprised two companies, while a third was a mixed support one formed by remnants of the 511th Heavy Panzer Battalion. This unit faced western allied troops. In March, it fought during the Battle of Remagen. The 1st Company's own Jagdtigers, after fighting delaying actions, and loosing some tanks, eventually engaged and destroyed about 30 US tanks combined at an average range of 3,000 m.
Destroyed Jagdtiger near Rimling, Lorraine, January 1945.
653rd Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion battle records
This unit was created before the Jagdtiger was available, at first equipped with the Ferdinand Tank Hunter. The units was indeed formed on 31 March 1943, and was formerly a 1940 assault gun batallion called the 197th Sturmgeschütz Battalion. It fought in the Invasion of Yugoslavia and spent the rest on the Eastern Front. Amazingly enough, the Ferdinands were led by the serial prototype numbered 003, VK4501 (P). They were organically attacjed to the XXXXI Panzer corps and their battle records comprised the Battle of Kursk, and sector of Nikopol during the Battle of the Dnieper. After Ukraine, the losses were replaced after retiring in Vienna. The 1st Company new Elefants were sent in Italy. They took Battle of Anzio in February 1944 while the two others fought on the eastern front with the XXIV Panzer Corps. They were later retired in Krakow to refit, renamed the 614th Heavy Panzerjäger Company. The last two Ferdinands still fought during hte battle of Berlin.
Meanwhile, both the 3rd and 1st companies were gathered in Vienna to be re-equipped with the new Jagdtiger which was produced not far away. However this new battalion was split up. The 1st Company joined the 15th Army to support the northern wing during the Ardennes Offensive, while the 3rd joined the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen south. They took part in Operation Nordwind in January 1945 and in February, both companies were once again reunited, fighting at Landau in the Palatinate. In the beginning of March 1945 they were resupplied to regain their optimal strength of 41 Jagdtigers. But the next month, this new composite force was back in Austria to to receive new vehicles from the Nibelungenwerk factory. They fought locally, attached to of Army Group Ostmark, near Linz.
Today, there are three surviving JagdTiger, more comparatively than the Tiger, which is odd in statistic terms compared to the production, but logic in the context of its deployment in the end of the war. They were often abandoned without being destroyed and captured intact. Many were later scrapped for material value, but three were preseved nevertheless:
- Jagdtiger serial number 305004 at the Tank Museum, Bovington, and this is a rare Porsche type.
- Jagdtiger serial number 305020, Henschel type at the National Armor & Cavalry Museum in Fort Benning, Georgia (formely aberdeen).
- Jagdtiger, serial number 305083, Henschel type, preserved at the Kubinka Tank Museum near Moscow.
Spielberger, Doyle, Jentz (2007): Heavy Jagdpanzer. Schiffer Mil. History
Hogg, Ian V. German Artillery of World War Two. 2nd corrected edition. Mechanicsville, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997
Chamberlain, Peter and Doyle, Hilary. Encyclopedia of German Tanks of WWII. Orion Publishing 2004.
Devey, Andrew (1999). Jagdtiger : the most powerful armoured fighting vehicle of World War II. 2. Operational history.
Duske, Heiner F; Greenland, Tony; Schulz, Frank (1996), 1. Jagdtiger (SD. KFZ. 186)
Schneider, Wolfgang (1990). Elefant Jagdtiger Sturmtiger : rarities of the tiger family. West Chester
Surviving Tigers (and derivatives like the Jagdtiger): www.the.shadock.free.fr/Surviving_Tigers.pdf
Münch, Karlheinz (2005). The Combat History Of German Heavy Anti-tank Unit 653 In World War II