The Buzz

Jets, Bombers and Rockets: Nazi Germany's 5 'Wonder' Weapons of World War II

The V-3 site at Mimoyecques was first bombed by the British Royal Air Force on November 5, 1943, with negligible results. A test firing of the Mimoyecques V-3 battery by the Germans delivered seven shells onto the town of Maidstone near London on June 13, 1944. This surprise bombardment prompted a massive Allied bombing raid, using 106 Handley Page Halifax four-engine bombers against the position on July 6, 1944, which destroyed the site with Tallboy bombs. By August, the Germans, due to the extensive damage to the battery, abandoned the facility. In September the region fell into the hands of the Canadian First Army as it swept through the Pas-de-Calais from the Normandy beachhead.

Development of the Tiger I Tank

While jet bombers and fighters could somewhat retard Soviet and Western Allied ground advances and V-1 and V-2 missiles could exact revenge for the massive Allied bombing of Germany, what Hitler needed most was a weapon to defeat the huge number of Russian and Allied tanks confronted by the German Army. In 1941, Hitler demanded the production of a heavy tank to replace the lighter machines of the earlier war years. The design of what was to be the Tiger I tank did not come about as a response to the Russian T-34 and KV armored fighting vehicles encountered during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Instead, Hitler’s main concerns were combating British tanks and antitank guns. However, after the appearance of the T-34 and KV, the design and production of an effective heavy panzer was pursued with increased urgency. Preliminary work on a heavy tank design had begun in 1940.

At a meeting with Hitler on May 26, 1941, it was decided that the new heavy tank prototype should be ready by the summer of 1942. The tank’s weight would be 45 tons, its frontal armor 100mm thick, with 60mm side armor, and the main gun would be the 88mm Flak 41. Lastly, the armor-piecing round had to be able to punch through the frontal armor of Allied tanks at 1,500 yards. The firms of Porsche and Henschel were contracted to design competing models for consideration. Porsche had a head start in the process since Hitler had commissioned the company in late 1940 to work on such a design. In fact, in 1941 Porsche had received a government contract to produce 100 heavy tanks.

In October 1942, the German Army tank development department ran comparative trials at its training center at the Boblingen Tank Testing Grounds outside the city of Stuttgart and decided the Henschel heavy tank was superior to the Porsche model. The Henschel model, designated VK 45.01 (H), was not created through a controlled design process defined by careful systematic conceptual design stages. Instead, it was a rush job, quickly assembled from a mixture of components available from a previous medium panzer design for a 36-ton tank Henchel planned to produce. Now this design—along with other heavy tank technology made for different tank models—was to be transformed into a heavy 45-ton armored fighting vehicle. For example, a previous 30-ton tank design from Henschel came with the Maybach Olvar 40 12 16 transmission, steering gears, and suspension system. From the Porsche design came the 100mm turret gun mantel mounting the 88mm KwK 36 L/56 cannon, even though the Army wanted the more effective 88mm Flak 41 model to be used. The only new major components in the Henschel were the Maybach HL 210 P45, 12-cylinder powerplant, fuel tanks, cooling system, and deep fording equipment for crossing rivers.

The VK 45.01 (H) driver’s front plate armor was 100mm sloped at nine degrees. Other protection included front nose plate armor of 100mm at 25 degrees, side armor at 80mm at 0 degrees, hull plate armor of 60mm at 0 degrees, rear armor of 80mm at nine degrees, and deck plates of 25mm at 90 degrees horizontal.

Ninety-two rounds of ammunition (46 armor-piercing and 46 high-explosive) were stored in the vehicle. An MG-34 heavy machine gun was placed coaxially to the right of the main gun while another MG-34 could be mounted on the cupola ring for antiaircraft defense. At 57 tons, this armored beast could move at a maximum road speed of 28 miles per hour and off-road speed of 13 miles per hour and had a range of 120 miles. In early March 1942, the design was identified as Tiger. The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I (88mm L/56) (SdKfz 182) Ausfuhrung E was introduced in March 1943. Between April 1942 and August 1944, a total of 1,350 Tiger Is were delivered to combat units on all fighting fronts.

Under combat conditions the Tiger I’s shooting capability was accurate at 1,000m. This was enhanced because the turret traverse was outfitted with a hydraulic motor for the turret drive. The speed of traverse was dependent on the engine speed.

The ability of the Tiger I to negotiate obstacles and cross terrain was as good as or better than most German and Allied tanks. For example, it could cross a two-yard-wide ditch, ford a waterway a yard deep, and climb gradients up to 35 degrees. Initial automotive problems with brakes, drive chain, and leaking seals made the tank hard to maintain in the field, but following modification of the defective parts a Tiger could be kept operational in combat for as long as most World War II armored fighting vehicles.