As range gets smaller in combat, all guns can penetrate additional armor (with the exception of HEAT ammunition, which was rare in World War 2). The great penetrating power of the Tiger tank’s 88mm gun meant that it could destroy many of its opponents at ranges at which they could not respond. In open terrain, this was a major tactical advantage. Opposing tanks were often forced to make a flanking attack in order to knock out a Tiger.The Tiger tank was first used in action in September 1942 near Leningrad. Under pressure from Hitler, the panzer was put into action months earlier than planned and many early models proved to be mechanically fragile. In its first action on 23 September 1942, many of the first Tiger tanks broke down. Others were taken out by dug-in Red Army anti-tank guns. One panzer was captured largely intact, which gave the Red Army a chance
to study the tank and prepare a response.In the Tiger tank’s beginning actions in North Africa, the panzer was able to master Allied tanks in the open terrain. Notwithstanding, mechanical failures meant that there were rarely more than a few in action. In a replay of the Leningrad experience, at least one Tiger tank was knocked out by towed British six-pounder antitank guns.The panzer’s extreme weight limited the bridges it could cross and made drive-throughs of buildings, which may have had basements, hazardous.
Another weakness was the slow traverse of the hydraulically-operated turret. The turret could as well be passed over manually, but this choice was seldom used.Early Tiger tanks had a top speed of about 45 km/h over optimal terrain. This was not recommended for normal operation, and was discouraged in training. Crews were told to not exceed 2600RPM due to reliability problems of the early Maybach engines at their maximum 3000RPM output. To combat this, the Tiger’s top speed was reduced to about 38km/h through the installation of an engine governor, capping the RPM of the Maybach HL 230 to 2600rpm (HL 210s were used on early models). Despite being slower than medium tanks of the time, which averaged a top speed of about 45 km/h, the Tiger still had a very respectable speed for a tank of its size and weight, being nearly twice as heavy as a Sherman tank or Soviet T-34 tank. The Tiger tank had reliability problems throughout its service life; Tiger tank units frequently entered combat understrength due to breakdowns. It was rare for any Tiger tank unit to complete a road march without losing vehicles due to breakdown. The tank also had poor radius of action (distance a combat vehicle can travel and return, in normal battle conditions, without refueling). Due to its very wide tracks, the Tiger had a lower ground pressure
bearing than many smaller tanks, the most notable exception being the Red Army T-34 tank. The Tiger tank’s armor and firepower, however, were feared by all its opponents. In tactical defense, its poor mobility was less of an issue. Whereas Panthers were the more serious threat to Allied tanks, Tigers had a bigger psychological effect on opposing crews, causing a “Tiger phobia”. Allied tankers would sometimes evade rather than confront a Tiger, even a tank that only looked like one, such as the Panzer IV with turret skirts applied. In the Normandy campaign, it could take four to five Shermans to knock out a single Tiger tank by maneuvering to its weaker flank or rear armour; the Red Army T-34s fared similarly against the German panzers, as had the German Panzer III earlier against the Soviet heavy tanks. An accepted Allied tactic was to engage the Tiger tank en masse, one attracting the attention of the Panzerkampfwagen VI crew while the others attacked the sides or rear of the vehicle. Since the ammunition and fuel were stored in the sponsons, a side penetration often resulted in a kill. This was a risky tactic, and often resulted in the loss of several Allied vehicles. It took a great deal of tactical skill to eliminate a PzKpfw VI.
Tiger tanks were usually employed in separate heavy panzer battalions (schwere-Panzer-Abteilung) under army command. These battalions would be deployed to critical sectors, either for breakthrough operations or, more typically, counterattacks. A few favored divisions, such as the Grossdeutschland or some of the low-numbered Waffen-SS divisions had a small amount of Tiger tanks. The Tiger tank was originally designed to be offensive breakthrough weapon but by the time they came into action, the military situation had changed dramatically, and their main use was on the defensive as mobile gun batteries. Unfortunately this also meant scrambling the Tigers constantly from location to location causing excessive mechanical breakdowns. As a result there are nearly no instances where a Tiger Battalion went into combat at anything close to full strength. Furthermore, against the Red Army and Western Allied production numbers, even a 10:1 kill ratio would not have been sufficient for the Tiger tanks. Some Tiger tank units did exceed the 10:1 kill ratio, including 13. Kompanie/Panzer-Regiment Grossdeutschland (16.67to1), schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 103 (12.82to1) and schwere Panzer-Abteilung 502 (13.08:1). These numbers must be set against the opportunity cost of building the expensive Tiger tank. Every Tiger tank built cost as much as four Sturmgeschutz III assault guns.On 7 July 1943, a single Tiger tank commanded by SS-Oberscharfuhrer Franz Staudegger from the 2nd Platoon of 13th Panzer Company of 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler engaged a group of about fifty Soviet T-34 tanks around Psyolknee (the southern sector of the German salient in the Battle of Kursk). Staudegger used all his ammunition in destroying 22 Soviet tanks, while the rest retreated. For this, Staudegger was awarded the Knight’s Cross.On 8 August 1944, a individual Tiger commanded by SS-Unterscharfuhrer Willi Fey from the 1st Company of sSSPzAbt 102, engaged a British tank column, destroying some 14 out of 15 Sherman tanks, followed by one more later in the day using his final two rounds of ammunition. sSSPzAbt 102 lost all of its Tiger tanks during fighting in Normandy, but reported 227 Allied tanks destroyed in six weeks.The Tiger tank is often associated with SS Haupsturmfurher Michael Wittmann of schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 101. He worked his way up, commanding assorted vehicles and then finally a Tiger I. In the Battle of Villers-Bocage, he destroyed over two dozen Allied vehicles including several tanks; and single-handedly defied the advance of the entire 7th Armored Division until his panzer was destroyed and abandoned.Over ten Tiger panzer commanders had over 100 vehicle kills on their account, including: Kurt Knispel with 168 destroyed, Otto Carius with 150+ kills, Johannes Boumllter with 139+ destroyed, and Michael Wittmann with 138 destroyed.