Traditionally the lion has been the animal most often dubbed “the king of the jungle,” but during the World War II, the German Tiger tank was certainly declared as the most fearsome tank employed during the conflict. Plenty of armchair generals and gamers who have used the Tiger in World of Tanks stand by the opinion it was the best tank produced.
That opinion has also been reinforced in several war movies from Kelly’s Heroes to Saving Private Ryan to Fury. The mere mention of a Tiger was enough to strike fear in the soldiers in those stories, even if in the latter two at least, the Tiger was eventually declawed.
The question must then be asked, does the Tiger, or even the Tiger II (King Tiger) really live up to the hype?
As HotCars recently reported, there are several factors going against the conventional wisdom that the German Tiger was a tank to be so greatly feared. This includes the fact that Germany wasn’t able to produce that many of the tanks. Only 1,347 Tigers and just 492 Tiger IIs rolled out. Compare those numbers to the more than 50,000 M4 Sherman tanks that America, the arsenal of democracy, produced. If that number was impressive, also consider that the Soviet Union was able to produce more than 57,000 T-34 tanks.
Even the best tank ever produced couldn’t stand up to such overwhelming opposition.
However, the Tiger was by no means the best. First fielded in 1942, the Tiger was also largely obsolete as it lacked more modern features including sloped armor. To make matters worse, the huge tank guzzled fuel and had a limited range. For a nation fighting a total war, the Tiger obviously wasn’t designed in the winning direction it should have taken.
The Tiger and King Tiger were also extremely expensive to make, and each Tiger I cost as much as two Panthers but didn't really prove to be twice as effective. In fact, the Panther was probably a far better tank—after all, it featured 80mm of sloped armor that offered superior protection compared to the Tiger’s 100mm of flat armor plating.
Moreover, a bigger problem was the fact that the Tiger wasn’t known for its reliability. Instead, it was really an expensive tank that was so over-engineered that it couldn’t be mass produced, and also broke down a lot.
A mere handful of Tigers survived World War II. That also explains why Fury is the only film to date that used an actual working tank, and it was on loan from the Tank Museum in Bovington, England. The tanks seen in those other films were actually converted T-34/85s, which explains the non-interweaving wheels, while the mantlet—the part that covers the main gun—is narrower than on real Tigers. Given that Steven Spielberg has used CGI to “fix” some of his movies, it is a wonder that efforts weren’t made to make the Tiger in Saving Private Ryan look a little more accurate.
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.