Switzerland was famously neutral during World War II, but in the coming months the Swiss Military Museum will be home to one of the only surviving and operational German Tiger II “King Tiger” tanks. During the war less than 500 of the heavy tanks were built and only a handful survives today.
The only other operational King Tiger is at the Musée des Blindés, Saumur, France.
Officially designated the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. B, it was informally but more commonly known as the Königstiger—the German name for the Bengal Tiger, which translates literally to Royal Tiger. The tank was the successor to the Tiger I, and combined the sloping armor of the Panther medium tank with the armor thickness of the Tiger. Weighing almost seventy tonnes, the Tiger II was one of the heaviest production tanks built during World War II.
The Tiger II was first employed in combat during the Normandy Campaign in July 1944, while at least 150 of the behemoths were used in the Battle of the Bulge in December of that year.
Only eight surviving Tiger IIs are on display at various museums, but now the Swiss Military Museum is restoring a King Tiger that was used by the German 506th Heavy Tank Battalion during the final months of the Second World War. The goal of the restoration project is for the tank to become the second drivable King Tiger in the world.
It was likely given to the Swiss Army after the war, this particular tank likely participated in the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944, and then during the aforementioned Battle of the Bulge. How exactly it ended up in Switzerland isn’t known, but the museum—located in Full, Switzerland—believes it was likely provided by the French Army, which actually had a number of inoperable Tiger IIs that had been abandoned after Germany’s surrender in May 1945.
The tank was unfortunately not well cared for in the decades that followed. It had been displayed since the 1960s in an outdoor museum at the Swiss Army Base Thun. Until 1976 it was painted only with an anti-rust primer, and no effort was made to paint it in its wartime camouflage pattern.
The tank was donated to the Swiss Military Museum in 2006.
“It was in horrible condition, it has been exposed to the open climate for decades. It was full of water and rusted,” Bernd Kubicki, who is leading the restoration at the Swiss Military Museum, told Reuters.
“The Tiger is probably the most famous German tank from the war, but the King Tiger was even heavier, better armoured and had a bigger gun,” said Kubicki. “Everyone wants to see a Tiger, they are legendary, so to get one for this museum and to restore it is like hitting the jackpot in the lottery.”
Restoration efforts began in 2007 and have been slow going. However in the years since, what vintage parts couldn’t be found have been replicated. While it could still be a few years until the tank is back in combat-ready condition, the end result will mean the world will have a second fully operational model of one of World War II’s most deadly armored vehicles.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.