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Título: Swinging the sledgehammer: the combat effectiveness of German heavy tank battalions in World War II.
Autor: Christopher W. Wilbeck
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SWINGING THE SLEDGEHAMMER: THE COMBAT EFFECTIVENESS OF
GERMAN HEAVY TANK BATTALIONS IN WORLD WAR II
A thesis presented to the Faculty of the U.S. Army
Command and General Staff College in partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the
MASTER OF MILITARY ART AND SCIENCE
CHRISTOPHER W. WILBECK, MAJ, AR
B.S., University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1989
M.B.A., Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, 2000
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
MASTER OF MILITARY ART AND SCIENCE
THESIS APPROVAL PAGE
Name of Candidate: MAJ Christopher W. Wilbeck
Thesis Title: Swinging the Sledgehammer: The Combat Effectiveness of German Heavy
Tank Battalions in World War II
__________________________________________, Thesis Committee Chair
MAJ Curtis S. King, Ph.D.
LTC John A. Suprin, M.A.
Samuel J. Lewis, Ph.D.
Accepted this 1st day of June 2002 by:
______________________________, Director, Graduate Degree Programs
Philip J. Brookes, Ph.D.
The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the student author and do not
necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College or
any other governmental agency. (References to this study should include the foregoing
SWINGING THE SLEDGEHAMMER: THE COMBAT EFFECTIVENESS OF
GERMAN HEAVY TANK BATTALIONS DURING WORLD WAR II by Major
Christopher W. Wilbeck.
This thesis is a historical analysis of the combat effectiveness of the German schwere
Panzer-Abteilung or Heavy Tank Battalions during World War II. During the course of
World War II, the German Army developed heavy tank battalions to fulfill the concept of
breaking through enemy defenses so faster, lighter mechanized forces could exploit the
rupture. These heavy tank battalions had several different tables of organization, but
were always centered around either the Tiger or the Tiger II tank. They fought in
virtually every theater of Europe against every enemy of Germany. Ultimately, the
German military created eleven Army and three Waffen-SS heavy tank battalions. Of the
Army battalions, the German command fielded ten as independent battalions, which were
allocated to Army Groups as needed. The German Army assigned the last heavy tank
battalion as an organic unit of the elite Panzer Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland.
The Waffen-SS allocated all of their battalions to a different Waffen-SS Corps.
Because these units were not fielded until late in 1942, they did not participate in
Germany’s major offensive operations that dominated the early part of World War II.
Germany’s strategic situation after mid-1943 forced their military onto the defensive.
Consequently, there are very few instances when heavy tank battalions attacked as a
breakthrough force. During the latter part of the war, they were used in many different
ways to provide defensive assistance along very wide frontages. This study assesses the
German heavy tank battalions as generally effective, primarily because of the high kill
ratio they achieved. However, based upon observations from a wide variety of examples,
this study also outlines several areas where changes may have increased their
I am grateful for the efforts of my committee as well as the faculty and staff at the
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Thanks to my daughter, Abigail, for
making me take many study breaks to talk to her and to let her play on the “pewter.”
Thanks to my son, Jonathan, for unflinchingly taking over many of the household chores,
freeing me to do research. Thanks to my wife for her support in tolerating my long hours
of seclusion to finish this thesis. She maintained her sense of humor throughout and her
encouragement was greatly appreciated. Finally, thanks to my parents for somehow
instilling in me a thirst for knowledge, a hunger for education, and a passion for history.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
APPROVAL PAGE .....................................................................................................
TABLES AND ILLUSTRATIONS..............................................................................
2. HEAVY TANK BATTALION OVERVIEW ...................................................
3. BIRTH OF HEAVY TANK BATTALIONS TO OPERATION CITADEL....
4. AFTER OPERATION CITADEL TO THE END OF THE WAR ...................
5. ASSESSMENT AND CONCLUSION ............................................................. 123
BIBLIOGRAPHY ......................................................................................................... 135
INITIAL DISTRIBUTION LIST ................................................................................. 143
TABLES AND ILLUSTRATIONS
1. Tiger I Specifications ............................................................................................
2. Tiger II Specifications ...........................................................................................
3. Tiger I and Tiger II Gun Comparison...................................................................
4. Tank Kill Ratio Comparison................................................................................. 127
5. Tiger Losses .......................................................................................................... 129
1. Heavy Tank Company, K.St.N. 1176d, dated 15 December 1942 .......................
2. Heavy Tank Battalion, D Organization: 1942-1943 .............................................
3. Heavy Tank Company, K.St.N. 1176e, dated 5 March 1943 ...............................
4. Heavy Tank Battalion, E Organization: 5 March 1943 ........................................
5. Heavy Tank Battalions in Tunisia .........................................................................
6. S.Pz.-Abt. 503 with Army Group Don .................................................................
7. S.Pz.-Abt. 503 -- Operation CITADEL ................................................................
8. S.Pz.-Abt. 505 -- Operation CITADEL ................................................................
9. Heavy Tank Regiment Bake -- Cherkassy............................................................
10. S.Pz.-Abt. 508 at Anzio ........................................................................................
11. Heavy Tank Battalions during Operation BAGRATION.....................................
12. Heavy Tank Battalions in Operation SOUTHWIND ........................................... 104
13. Heavy Tank Ba ttalions in Operation SPRING AWAKENING ........................... 107
14. The Sandomierz Bridgehead and the Destruction of s.Pz.-Abt. 501 .................... 109
The only instrument of armored warfare which German commanders regarded as
qualitatively different from the rest was the Mark VI Tiger, which was not allotted
to divisions but organized in independent battalions, kept under central control,
and committed to crucial offensive and counter-offensive missions. 1
John Keegan, The Second World War
The German Tiger and Tiger II tanks were legends in their own time. They were
arguably the most feared weapon developed by the Germans. The men who commanded
these tanks accomplished extraordinary feats. This thesis analyzes the combat
effectiveness of the German schwere Panzer-Abteilung (s.Pz-Abt.), or heavy tank
battalions. This thesis shows that although they were rarely used in the role for which
they were originally conceived, that of breaking through prepared enemy defenses, these
units were effective in the offense and defense in destroying enemy tanks. However,
results varied between different battalions and leaders could have increased the heavy
tank battalion’s effectiveness with better doctrine and employment. The analysis
includes the performance of doctrinal and assigned missions from both the Western and
Eastern Fronts, and it considers doctrine, force structure, equipment, leadership, and
Although there is a great wealth of information available on many aspects of the
heavy tank battalions, no literature exists to answer whether these units were viable
forces that achieved the doctrinal mission for which they were conceived. Also, no
scholar has looked into whether they were able to accomplish the missions assigned to
them while the German Army was on the defensive; counterattacking, reinforcing other
units in the defense, or as a mobile reserve. This thesis fills that void by studying unit
histories and engagements from all perspectives while looking at the different
organizations developed, types of equipment, and missions of the heavy tank battalions.
After World War I, the armies of the world wrestled with the lessons learned
during that war. They tried to come up with solutions for overcoming the linear,
stalemated war of World War I. The objective was to go beyond positional, attrition
warfare and return to a war of maneuver. In order to do this, a breakthrough of the
enemy’s defenses had to be attained. Many military theorists tried to conceive a doctrine
to rupture and exploit the enemy defensive line. Great Britain, Germany, and Russia all
published material in their professional military journals that put forth the idea of
attacking in waves of tanks. In these theories, the lead wave consisted of the “heavy”
tanks and the follow-on waves were lighter, faster tanks that exploited the breach.
Although the German Army planned for heavy tanks and development of the
Durchbruchswagen (breakthrough tank) began in 1937, no heavy tanks were fielded
before World War II began. 2
The German Army ultimately developed their own concept of mobile warfare that
was very successful during the first part of World War II in encircling enemy forces.
Their success in Poland, France, and during the first year in Russia precluded the
necessity of having to “break-through” a continuous line of fortified defensive positions;
thus they did not suffer from the lack of heavy tanks in their armored forces. However,
the German Army’s encounter with the Soviet T-34 Medium and the KV-1 heavy tanks
during their advances near the end of 1941 reinvigorated the development of their
dormant heavy tank program.
The German Army created the first two heavy tank companies on 16 February
1942 and assigned them to the first heavy tank battalion that was created on 10 May
1942.3 These heavy tank battalions were not assigned to the organization of Panzer
Divisions, rather, they were used as Heeres-Truppen (army level units). The Army High
Command (OKH) allocated these units to army groups who would be free to subordinate
them further to armies, corps, or even to divisions for employment. Before the war was
over, the army fielded eleven and the Waffen-Schutzstaffel or (armed SS) fielded three
heavy tank battalions.
These organizations had several different Tables of Organization but were always
centered around either the Tiger or the Tiger II (also known as the King Tiger or Royal
Tiger) tank. 4 They were in continual service from 16 September 1942, when they saw
their first action against the Russians near Leningrad, until the end of the war. 5 During
this time, they fought in virtually every region of the European theater against Russians,
Americans, and British forces.
There are many books available that discuss the primary piece of equipment of
the heavy tank battalions, the Tiger and Tiger II tanks. There is also a vast amount of
literature about the individuals who attained incredibly high kill totals while commanding
these tanks. Very little, however, is written about the actual units in which these tanks
and individuals operated. The biggest shortcoming is works on the effectiveness of the
heavy tank battalions. At best, there are several books covering the combat histories of
heavy tank battalions using combat reports of these units. These books do not attempt to
analyze any of these combat actions and do not include conclusions on their role in
Although there are weaknesses in the literature of heavy tank battalions, there are
some works that provide useful insights. Two of these accounts are from Heinz
Guderian. Guderian played a very important role in the development of armored doctrine
before World War II as a leading theorist and as the Chef der Schnellen Truppen (Chief
of fast troops) and during the latter half of the war as Generalinspekteur der
Panzertruppen (Inspector General of armored forces). Any exploration of Germany’s
doctrinal development and use of armored forces is deficient without including Heinz
Guderian’s two books. His first book, Actung-Panzer! The Development of Armoured
Forces, their Tactics and Operational Potential provides a background on doctrine prior
to World War II. His second book, Panzer Leader, was written after the war and
provides information concerning changes in the doctrine and employment during World
War II. Because Achtung-Panzer! was written prior to the development and fielding of
any heavy tank battalions, it contains no specific analysis of these units, but it does
provide the foundation for defining the doctrinal role envisioned for heavy tank
battalions. Panzer Leader contains several reflections on the correct employment of
heavy tank battalions, but its insights focus on the initial fielding of the heavy tank
battalions prior to the battle of Kursk.
In terms of combat histories of the heavy tank battalions, Wolfgang Schneider’s
Tigers in Combat I and Tigers in Combat II are good sources of information obtained
from personal interviews, unit histories, and battle reports. The first book covers the ten
army heavy tank battalions and the second book covers the Waffen-SS battalions and the
heavy tank battalion of Panzer Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland, as well as other
units that included a heavy tank company. These books provide a brief overview of each
unit that includes equipment, organization, camouflage and markings. The primary
source of combat history comes in the form of a sentence or paragraph of what the unit’s
actions were on a particular date, similar to a daily logbook or diary. The type and
amount of information given varies from unit to unit and from time period to time period.
Although providing a great deal of information, Schneider’s books do not include an
analysis of heavy tank battalion combat actions. The daily log entries, however, do
contain information on the changes in the battalion’s combat power and the operational
status of its Tigers. His books provide a table for each unit, detailing the date and cause
of each Tiger lost. It also contains information on the number of enemy tanks and
equipment destroyed during stated time periods so that an evaluation of tank kills and
losses can be ascertained through the unit’s log.
Two unit specific heavy tank battalion combat histories in English provide
combat details, but little analysis. They are The Combat History of schwere PanzerAbteilung 503 and The Combat History of schwere Panzer-Abteilung 508, and they
recount the respective unit histories from the officers and soldiers that served in these
units. Included in these are persona l accounts of these units in combat. Together these
units were involved in important battles at Kursk, Normandy, Italy, and in the attempt to
relieve the encircled German forces in Cherkassy. These books provide in-depth,
personal accounts of heavy tank battalions in combat. As a compilation of logs, diaries,
and personal accounts, these books are very valuable sources to gain insight into the
combat actions of the heavy tank battalions but they do not attempt to analyze the
effectiveness of the units. Some of the diary entries are from the battalion and company
commanders and include losses and enemy destroyed on a daily basis along with a
narrative account of the action. These expand and clarify the simple entries in
Schneider’s Tigers in Combat I and Tigers in Combat II and provide personal insight
into the units’ actions during combat.
Many books discussing the technical aspects of the Tiger and Tiger II are
available. The single most important author on Tiger tanks in general is Thomas L. Jentz.
His books Germany’s Tiger Tanks, D.W. to Tiger I and Germany’s Tiger Tanks, VK45.02
to Tiger II provide a great deal of information from primary sources on the design,
production, and modifications of the Tiger and Tiger II. In all of Jentz’s works, his
standard for inclusion in one of his books is that it must be obtained from original records
from World War II.
Jentz has also written a two volume work on armored forces titled Panzertruppen:
The Complete Guide to the Creation & Combat Employment of Germany’s Tank Force.
This book is valuable because it draws on many other sources and participants in the
development of the heavy tank battalions. It is especially helpful in tying together the
doctrinal changes in the German army with the technical development of the heavy tank
and the Tiger program. This book contains heavy tank battalion combat reports that
provide recommendations to improve the doctrine, organization, or equipment associated
with these units.
By far, the single most valuable work on this subject is yet another book by Jentz.
His book, Germany’s Tiger Tanks, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, concentrates on the
tactical application of Tigers and uses original accounts in the form of after action
reports. As he states in his introduc tion, “these original after action reports are very
valuable in obtaining a true picture of applied tactics. As written, they would have had to
meet the tough test of peer acceptance.”6 Because they were written shortly after the
events occurred, they also have the advantage of being recorded before memories became
clouded by time. Most of the German reports appear to have been written with the
motive of initiating improvements to the Tigers or changing tactics. As useful as this
book is in researching the heavy tank battalions, it still only provides a limited foundation
to evaluate the unit’s performance and does not attempt to analyze combat effectiveness
in a comprehensive manner. Finally, as the title of the book suggests, the primary focus
is on the employment of units below battalion level, although there is some good
information on battalion tactics.
Looking at the heavy tanks from the opponent’s view, David Fletcher’s Tiger!
The Tiger Tank: A British View provides excellent insight into the British perspective of
the Tiger tank as a technical piece of equipment. However, it offers little detail into
thoughts of British commander’s during World War II regarding the heavy tank
battalions, their doctrine and effectiveness.
A thorough study of various battles and engagements from Allied unit histories
and published historical accounts reveals strong biases within the Allied forces. Among
the Allied armies, units continually reported that Tiger tanks were in their sector or that
they had destroyed Tiger tanks. For example, a casual reading of Allied accounts during
the battle of the Bulge would indicate that at least half of the German tanks employed
there were Tigers. Actually, no more than 136 Tigers were involved, with the vast
majority of German tanks in the battle being Panther and Panzer IVs. 7 The Soviets also
have to be treated with the same skepticism in some instances. For example, Soviet
propaganda claimed that 700 Tigers were destroyed during the battle of Kursk. This
number is five times more than the actual number engaged in the fighting. 8
In order to obtain the most accurate picture possible, this thesis uses many
different sources. Tank kills reported by the heavy tank battalions against the British and
US were verified in specific engagements from a variety of records, including unit
histories, after action reports, diaries and other personal accounts. Soviet tank losses
were often omitted in their unit histories and in personal accounts, making an accurate
count much more difficult to obtain. Several western sources provide some analysis of
Soviet tank losses in several battles and were used to confirm German claims.
A source of confusion in reporting tank losses and kills is the definition of what
constitutes destruction of a tank. Tanks of World War II, especially the Tiger, were
robust and resilient and could be repaired and put back into action if they were recovered
and brought back to a maintenance unit. One side may have claimed the destructio n of
an enemy tank, but in reality, that tank was repaired and returned to service.
The German heavy tank battalions submitted regular reports on Tigers destroyed
and also on the number operational. An unserviceable tank required the unit to make a
report, giving the chassis number, a survey of the damage and an estimate of the time
needed for the repairs. 9 A second report was made at a higher level, indicating the
number of tanks in working order for the unit, and the number of tanks under repair. 10 In
all cases, clarity and accuracy were required. This makes obtaining an accurate
accounting of the number of German tanks destroyed easier with one notable exception.
The records for the Tiger II equipped units, especially those fighting the Russians, are
incomplete because the unit war diaries and other unit records were either destroyed or
captured by the Soviets. 11
Measures of Effectiveness and Organization of Thesis
This thesis is organized into five chapters. This first chapter outlines the thesis
problem and provides an overall background. The second chapter outlines the
development of heavy tank battalions. This overview incorporates doctrine, organization,
equipment, personnel, and tactics in order to understand its doctrinal role and mission.
Chapters three and four are historical examples and analysis of heavy tank
battalions in combat. These chapters are the primary chapters in analyzing and
measuring the effectiveness of the heavy tank battalions. Chapter three examines the
heavy tank battalions from their creation and initial combat actions in 1942 until the end
of the Battle of Kursk. Chapter four continues from the Battle of Kursk to the end of
World War II. The Battle of Kursk in July 1943 marked a transitional period in the
development and organizational make-up of the heavy tank battalions and was a period
where the German Army moved from offensive to defensive operations.
German doctrine placed great emphasis upon the heavy tanks’ destruction of
opposing tanks in both the offense and the defense. Because of this emphasis, the heavy
tank battalions’ effectiveness is partly measured throughout this thesis as the tank
kill/loss ratio. Because circumstances may have precluded a tank to tank battle, a simple
ratio of kills to losses, does not completely assess effectiveness. Therefore, a secondary
measure of effectiveness used in this thesis is that of mission accomplishment, or in other
words, whether the battalions accomplished their assigned missions. Where possible,
direct accounts from veterans or after-action reports are used to determine the unit
mission. In many instances there is no written historical record, thus making it extremely
difficult or impossible to know exactly the mission of an individual battalion. Using the
larger operational and tactical environment and opposing forces, logical deductions are
made about the probable unit mission.
John Keegan, The Second World War (New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 1990),
Thomas L. Jent z and Hilary L. Doyle, Germany’s Tiger Tanks, D.W. to Tiger I:
Design, Production & Modifications (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.,
Thomas L. Jentz, Panzertruppen: The Complete Guide to the Creation &
Combat Employment of Germany’s Tank Force, 1933-1942 (Atglen, Pennsylvania:
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1996), 220.
Both the Tiger and Tiger II’s numerical classification was Panzerkampfwagen VI
or Panzer VI.
Thomas L. Jentz, Germany’s Tiger Tanks, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics (Atglen,
Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1997), 38.
Danny S. Parker, “German Tiger Tanks were at the Battle of the Bulge, but not in
the numbers usually cited for them,” World War II, March 1990, 8.
Jean Restayn, Tiger I on the Eastern Front, trans. Alan McKay (Paris: Histoire
and Collections, 1999), 101.
Jean Restayn, Tiger I on the Western Front (Paris: Histoire and Collections,
Peter Gudgin, The Tiger Tanks (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1991) 133.
HEAVY TANK BATTALION OVERVIEW
It is vital to establish the basic purpose of the tank forces. Are the y intended to
storm fortresses and permanent defensive positions, or to carry out operational
envelopments and turning movements in the open field; to act at the tactical level,
making breakthroughs on our own account and checking enemy breakthroughs
and envelopments; or will they be no more than armored machinegun carriers. 1
Heinz Guderian, Achtung-Panzer! 1937
After World War I, all armies struggled with the problem of how a future war
would be waged and to avoid a repeat of static, attrition warfare. Heinz Guderian was
one theorist who attempted to solve this problem. He is widely viewed as the principle
architect of Germany’s armored forces and primary source of doctrinal development of
their use. 2 His writings greatly influenced the German army and his vision of armored
warfare allowed Germany to enjoy great success during the initial years of World War II.
Prior to Guderian publishing his ideas on armored warfare, other theorists from
England, France and the Soviet Union developed their own ideas about the future of
warfare. Guderian admits that the books and articles of J. F. C. Fuller and Basil Liddell
Hart interested him and gave him food for thought. 3 Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky
from the Soviet Union also read Fuller’s and Hart’s work and formed large mechanized
units in the Red Army. 4 German theorists borrowed Tukhachevsky’s ideas and his ideas
are evident in the evolution of German military thought on the use of armored forces.
In Germany, military leaders and theorists debated the use of armored forces, and
armored doctrine continually evolved prior to World War II. In 1929, one German author
published an article in the Militar-Wochenblatt (Military Weekly) that concluded that the
tank had three different missions. The first was as an infantry battering ram during a
tactical breakthrough. Next, they were required to suppress the enemy’s artillery, and
finally they were to penetrate deeply to block approaches, and to complete a strategic
The German Army Chief of Staff, Ludwig Beck, published a modernization plan
in 1935 that outlined two different requirements for tanks; frontally assaulting an evenly
matched opponent and exploiting beyond the front line to deep objectives. 6 Guderian
realized that tanks or infantry alone could not overcome the enemy defensive zone and
published an article in 1936 that focused on the combination of infantry, artillery, air
support, and armor in offensive operations. 7
A similar idea of all of the theorists was the use of tanks in waves to first
overcome the enemy defensive line, then engage the enemy artillery and defeat enemy
counterattacks, and finally to exploit the penetration by seizing deep objectives. The
terms used and the number of waves of tanks varied with the different authors, but the
ideas for overcoming the enemy defensive zone remained similar. A constant theme was
that tanks must be concentrated and that each wave must have a special, well-defined
mission. The tasks associated with the first wave necessitated attacking under fire from
artillery and antitank guns, as well as being able to defeat enemy armored counterattacks.
Heavy tanks were to comprise the first wave and follow on waves consisted of medium
and light tanks.
In 1937, Guderian published Achtung-Panzer! This book was widely read in the
German army and set forth their doctrine of mobile and armored warfare. In it, Guderian
established the principle, applicable to all tanks regardless of size or mission, of
concentration. This principle stated that tank forces must be concentrated and “deployed
en masse in both breadth and depth.”8 He stated that “concentration of the available
armored forces will always be more effective than dispersing them, irrespective of
whether we are talking about a defe nsive or an offensive posture, a breakthrough or an
envelopment, a pursuit or a counterattack.”9
When discussing heavy tanks, Guderian was prophetic in writing that “there will
never be many heavy tanks, and they will be used either independently or within the
structure of the tank forces, according to the mission. They represent an extremely
dangerous threat and are not to be underestimated.”10
Guderian included a whole chapter in his book illustrating how he envisioned
conducting a breakthrough of an enemy position with armored forces. He emphasized
the incorporation of all arms throughout the breakthrough. Of primary importance in
assisting the heavy tanks were the engineers because they needed to locate and clear
mines and other obstacles so that the tanks were not disabled. The first adversary that the
heavy tanks must defeat was the antitank guns in the defensive line. Guderian wrote that
they could be defeated by direct fire, suppressed with artillery or machine gun fire, or
blinded by smoke. 11
The next goal of the heavy tank forces was the enemy’s artillery but Guderian
theorized that the penetration of the infantry and antitank gun defense would force the
enemy to commit his own tanks. 12 In stressing the importance of the tank battle,
The tank’s most dangerous enemy is another tank. If we are unable to defeat the
enemy armor the breakthrough has as good as failed, for our infantry and artillery
will be unable to make further progress. Everything comes down to delaying the
intervention of the enemy antitank reserves and tanks, and getting in fast and deep
into the zone of the hostile command centers and reserves with our own effective
tank forces -- and by “effective” we mean forces that are capable of waging a tank
The le ad tanks that were tasked to complete this tactical breakthrough had to
overcome a great deal of resistance and Guderian theorized that the main weapon on the
ground for this mission was the heavy tank. He stressed that the most important piece of
the ent ire breakthrough battle was that of defeating the tank reserves. 14 Guderian wrote
that: “If we fail to beat down the enemy tank defenses and defeat the enemy tanks, the
breakthrough has failed, even if we manage to wreak some destruction in the infantry
During the war, the German concepts behind this doctrine did not change
drastically. Albert Kesselring and Max Simon wrote in 1952 that tanks attacked in
several waves, with the distance between waves dependant upon the terrain and enemy
fire. 16 They stated:
The heavy tanks form the core of the spearhead and their main objective is the
enemy tanks and antitank guns which can be eliminated early by using the greater
range and larger caliber gun of the heavy tanks. The mission of the first wave is
to penetrate into the enemy lines as deeply as possible while the second wave
enlarges the penetration, never losing sight of the first wave in order to provide
fire protection to that wave. 17
In clearly defining the importance of penetrating to engage and defeat the enemy armor,
they stated, “It is not the mission of the tanks to entirely eliminate enemy pockets of
resistance. That is the mission of the armored infantry.”18
German doctrine during this period focused almost exclusively on the offensive.
The defensive implications evident from the examples of the breakthrough battle are that
armor formations in the defense are to be held back to defeat any penetrations by enemy
Albert Kesselring and Max Simon also wrote one paragraph in their manual on
the employment of armored forces in the defense. They stated that armored units “are
used for defensive purposes only in exceptional cases.”19 Their mission consisted of
being at the disposal of the mobile reserve of the higher command level to smash enemy
breakthroughs. These counterattacks were governed by the general attack principles.
They added that crews and vehicles must always be ready for action, that all counter
attack routes must be reconnoitered, marked and maintained, and that the armored forces
must be fully aware of the situation at the front. 20
In a memo dated 24 November 1938, the Commander in Chief of the Army,
General von Brauchitsch, presented guidelines establishing a heavy tank company and
assigning one to each panzer brigade. 21 Inexplicably, in February 1939 when the German
Army General Staff outlined its plans for reorganization from light panzer divisions and
panzer brigades to panzer divisions, it eliminated the heavy tank company authorization
from the new panzer regiment organization. 22 In a special reorganization, the Army
General Staff added a medium tank company to the panzer regiment organization in
September 1939. 23 It was this panzer regiment and division organization that fought and
wo n in Poland, France and during the early stages in Russia.
Lacking a true heavy tank, the Germans used the Panzer IV with a low-velocity
seventy- five- millimeter main gun to fulfill the heavy tank role within these medium tank
companies through Poland, France, and when Germany invaded Russia in June 1941. 24
Until the German armored forces encountered the Russian heavy tanks, like the KV I, KV
II, and the T-34/76, the Panzer IV was sufficient in construction, armor and armament to
meet the demands of a heavy tank. 25 The appearance of the T-34-/76 specifically, greatly
influenced and decisively accelerated German heavy tank construction. The German
Army needed a heavy tank with more armor and a larger main gun capable of penetrating
the sloped armor of the T-34.
While the Army Ordnance Department was developing the heavy tank, the Army
General Staff made plans to field heavy tank companies when production began.
Initially, the plan for the heavy tank company included three platoons, each with three
Tigers for a company total of nine heavy tanks. 26 Until the spring of 1942, this plan
included the heavy tank companies in the current panzer regiment organization within
panzer divisions, although a formal change to the organization was not made.
After the automotive design office of the Army Ordnance Department finalized
the Tiger and estimated production figures, the Army General Staff realized that the Tiger
could never be produced in sufficient quantity to replace the Panzer IV on a one for one
basis. The new tank also lacked the tactical mobility to be included in the panzer
divisions. 27 It was difficult to find a suitable place for the Tiger in the panzer divisions,
and as a scarce resource, the Army General Staff decided to consolidate the available
Tigers in independent heavy tank battalions and employ them where they were needed
most. 28 They thought that in so doing, they could be most economically employed
directly under the command of an army or corps headquarters. 29
On 16 February 1942, the Army General Staff created the first two heavy tank
companies and subsequently assigned them to the first heavy tank battalion, the 501st
Heavy Tank Battalion. Hereafter, this paper will refer to these units by their German
abbreviation, for example s.Pz.-Abt. 501 is used for this unit. The first three heavy tank
battalions, the s.Pz.-Abt. 501, 502, and 503, were created in May 1942. 30
These units organized themselves based upon the current wartime organizational
table, hereafter referred to by the German abbreviation of K.St.N. This K.St.N. called for
nine heavy tanks in a company consisting of three platoons with three tanks each. The
heavy tank battalions received new guidance via a general army bulletin on 21 August
1942 to organize on a new set of K.St.N.s. The new heavy tank companies organized
themselves in accordance with K.St.N. 1176d, dated 15 August 1942. 31 This company
organization was known as heavy tank company d, and is referred to throughout this
thesis as the D company organization (see figure 1). The primary difference between this
organization and previous heavy tank companies was that this organization authorized a
mix of heavy and light tanks, with Tigers and Panzer IIIs integrated within each platoon
of the company.
This version of the heavy tank company lasted until the General Staff published a
new K.St.N. in May 1943. By that time, the German Army had equipped and fielded five
heavy tank battalions, with s.Pz.-Abt. 504 and 505 being created in December 1942 and
January 1943 respectively. 32
1 - Panzer VI
2 - Panzer III
2 - Panzer VI
2 - Panzer III
2 - Panzer VI
2 - Panzer III
2 - Panzer VI
2 - Panzer III
2 - Panzer VI
2 - Panzer III
Fig. 1. Heavy Tank Company, K.St.N. 1176d Dated 15 December 1942.
Source: Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 25-26.
These battalions experimented and used almost every variation of the D company
organization. Some companies changed their organization internally to form two light
and two heavy platoons. 33 Some companies organized their platoons so that there was a
light and heavy section, while some had their sections within platoons integrated with a
Panzer III and a Tiger. 34
These internal reorganizations focused on finding the best combination and
organization to accomplish the mission. All echelons of command gave great leeway and
latitude to experiment in an attempt to find a combination of vehicles that worked best.
Some companies within the same battalion and some platoons within the same company
were organized differently.
The purpose of mixing platoons and sections with Panzer IIIs and Tigers was for
the light tanks to provide the heavy tanks with close support against infantry and assist in
destroying antitank guns threatening the Tigers. 35 The K.St.N. did not specify which
model of Panzer III was authorized for the heavy tank companies.
The heavy tank battalion was authorized three heavy tank companies but due to a
shortage of Tigers, no battalion ever fielded a third company of the D Company
organization. A headquarters company and a maintenance company, along with the two
heavy tank companies, completed the total organizational structure of the heavy tank
battalion. The headquarters company was organized in accordance with K.St.N. 1150d,
dated 15 August 1942, thus keeping the D designation to the overall heavy tank battalion
organization (see figure 2). 36
2 - Panzer VI
Headquarters and Supply Company
5 Panzer III
Fig. 2. Heavy Tank Battalion, D Organization: 1942-1943.
Source: See Gudgin, The Tiger Tanks, 92; Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 24-25;
Schneider, Tigers in Combat I, 79, 147, 228.
Note: According to Jentz, the K.St.N. authorized only five Panzer IIIs in the light
platoon, however, it appears that the light platoons were issued ten Panzer IIIs in every
one of the first three heavy tanks battalions.
The light platoons were subordinated to the headquarters company but
presumably worked directly for the battalion commander during combat. The K.St.N. for
these platoons also failed to specify which model of Panzer III was authorized. This
platoon could be used to reinforce the tank companies against infantry attacks or could be
used to screen a flank of the battalion.
The focus on finding a mixture of vehicles and an organization that worked best
seems to have continued at the battalion level when using the light platoon. Three of the
first four battalions fielded, s.Pz.-Abt. 501, 502, and 504, retained the light platoon under
the control of the battalion as it was originally intended. 37 S.Pz.-Abt. 503 formed a
battalion light platoon consisting of five Panzer IIIs. The remainder of the battalion’s
Panzer IIIs allowed each company to form a “heavy” platoon of three Tigers and one
Panzer III, as well as a light platoon. 38
The first five battalions created were fielded under the D battalion organization.
These battalions fought in Tunisia against British and U.S. forces, as well as in the
Caucasus and around Leningrad against Soviet forces. These units’ after action reports
indicated that the mix of light and heavy tanks allowed these battalions a higher degree of
flexibility. These reports also stated that the Panzer III did not have enough armor to
conduct offensive missions against prepared defensive positions with the Tiger.
On 5 March 1943, the General Staff issued a new K.St.N. for the heavy tank
company and the heavy tank battalion. This new organization, K.St.N. 1176e, formed a
heavy tank company of fourteen tanks, all Tigers (see figures 3 and 4). This new K.St.N.
reduced the number of platoons within each company from four to three, and maintained
the number of companies authorized within the battalion at three.
2 - Panzer VI
4 - Panzer VI
4 - Panzer VI
4 - Panzer VI
Fig. 3. Heavy Tank Company, K.St.N. 1176e Dated 5 March 1943.
Source: Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 26.
2 - Panzer VI
Maintenance Platoon I
Maintenence Platoon II
Maintenance Platoon III
Armored Reconnaissance Platoon
Fig. 4. Heavy Tank Battalion, E Organization: 5 March 1943.
Note: There are several different versions of the battalion organization. This is probably
due to the fact that when one of the sub-units changed its K.St.N., the overall battalion
would change also. Numerous small changes were made to the elements of the battalion
within the headquarters company and the supply company, creating different battalion
K.St.N.s. This makes it extremely difficult to identify a single battalion organization.
This was developed from Wolfgang Schneider’s Tigers in Combat 1, Thomas L. Jentz’s
Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, and Peter Gudgin’s The Tiger Tanks.
Because the Army General Staff planned to field all three authorized tank
companies, the workshop and headquarters companies separated and increased in size.
The workshop company increased to three maintenance platoons and a recovery platoon.
The new battalion organization also did away with the light tank platoon within the
battalion, but they gained an abundance of reconnaissance assets. This new organization
added an armored reconnaissance platoon with half- tracks as well as a scout platoon.
With three heavy tank companies and the battalion headquarters element, the new E
battalion organization was authorized forty-five Tiger tanks. This was possible because
of increased production of the Tiger.
The increased Tiger production allowed the German military to field even more
heavy tank battalions. On 8 May 1943, s.Pz.-Abt. 506 was created using the new heavy
tank battalion organization. Three of the first five battalions created changed to the E
organization shortly after the new K.St.N. was published. Two of these, s.Pz.-Abt. 503
and 505 were almost complete by the time they fought in Operation CITADEL in July
1943. The third battalion, s.Pz.-Abt. 502, changed to the E organization by the end of
June 1943. In September 1943, three more heavy tank battalions, s.Pz.-Abt. 507, 508,
and 509, were created using this new organization. Also, during September 1943, the
German Army re-established s.Pz.-Abt. 501 and 504 as E heavy battalions because they
had been destroyed, captured, or reduced from combat. 39
The German Army created a heavy tank battalion for the elite Panzer Grenadier
Division Grossdeutschland in the spring of 1943. 40 This battalion has the distinction of
being the only heavy tank battalion assigned permanently to a division. 41 The battalion
was assigned as the 3d battalion of the division’s panzer regiment. This battalion was
organized under the E battalion organization and theoretically had forty- five Tigers
assigned. Because this unit was in almost continual combat from the day that it was
organized, it never reached its full strength. 42 The last heavy tank battalion created on 6
June 1944 was s.Pz.-Abt. 510. This unit immediately deployed to and fought on the
Eastern Front. 43
In addition to increasing the number of army heavy tank battalions, the SS began
authorizing heavy tank battalions to the Waffen SS. These heavy tank battalions were
developed from the heavy tank companies that were already formed and fighting with
units like the Leibstandarte, Das Reich, and Totenkopf. On 22 October 1943, heavy SS
tank battalions (s.SS Pz.-Abt.) 101 and 102 were created but they were not fully fielded
and combat capable until April and May 1944, respectively. 44 The third and last SS
heavy battalion, s.SS Pz.-Abt. 103, was created on 1 July 1943. The SS used it as
infantry in Yugoslavia until January 1944 because it did not have vehicles. 45 It finally
reached nearly full strength in January 1945 and fought in the last battles of the war. 46
All of the SS heavy tank battalions eventually changed their designations to 501,
502, and 503. This led to some confusion that also caused the army to change the unit
numbers for their first three heavy tank battalions. The primary difference between the
SS heavy tank battalions and the army ones was the fact that the SS units were assigned
directly and permanently to a corps. For instance, s.SS Pz.-Abt. 501 was assigned to the
1st SS Panzer Corps. 47
The final variation of the army heavy tank battalions was the inclusion of
s.Pz.-Abt. 503 into the Panzer Corps “Feldherrnhalle” on 19 December 1944. 48 This
was similar to the Waffen SS heavy tank battalions because the unit was an integrated
and permanent part of the corps. Officially, the battalion’s name changed to s.Pz.-Abt.
“Feldherrnhalle” or (FHH) but because the name implied close association with the Nazi
party, the unit maintained the designation “503” throughout the war. 49
The General Staff issued a new K.St.N. when the first Tiger II was produced in
November 1943 for both the headquarters element and the heavy tank company. The
only change to the previous version of the E organization was that heavy tank companies
and battalions were now authorized either the Tiger or the Tiger II tank. 50
Ten heavy tank battalions received some Tiger IIs before the war ended. 51 Of
these, only six received the full complement of forty-five Tiger tanks authorized in the
organization. 52 These units continually rotated to different theaters and most often,
received only a handful of Tiger IIs at a time. This meant that only a few heavy tank
battalions ever fielded the full complement of forty-five Tiger IIs at the same time.
Throughout the war, heavy tank battalions were organized and equipped using
either the D or E organizational structures. The majority of the Army battalions, as Army
level units, were employed by the OKH. The Waffen SS and several of the special army
battalions were treated differently and assigned to a permanent headquarters, in most
cases to a corps. Units produced successful results using both organizations. Even
though the D organization allowed the heavy tank battalion to accomplish a wider variety
of missions and gave it more flexibility, the Army General Staff implemented the E
organization for all heavy tank battalions. This organization, with pure Tiger companies,
was more suited for fighting the breakthrough battle.
The first mention of a panzer above thirty tons is included in a doctrinal report
dated 30 October 1935 by General Liese, head of the Army Ordnance Department. He
established the requirements for this vehicle as having armor protection up to twenty
millimeters thick and for it to be armed with a seventy-five- millimeter main gun, making
it capable of defeating the French Char 2 C, 3 C, and D tanks. 53
Even though the army ordnance department put forth the requirement for a heavy
tank, in terms of weight, this developing vehicle changed names frequently. This was
probably due to the continuing doctrinal debate about how to employ armor and what
types of tanks should be used for the different missions. In November 1936, the
automotive design office of the Army Ordnance Department requested that Krupp create
a conceptual design of the thirty ton tank. This tank was called a Escort Tank
(strengthened), implying that it would escort lighter panzers. On 12 March 1937, the
Army Ordnance Department officially changed the name to Infantry Tank, which implied
that it was intended to support the infantry. On 28 April 1937, the automotive design
office of the Army Ordnance Department directed that the name again be changed to
Durchbruchswagen (breakthrough or breaching tank) or D.W. 54 This name implies that a
new tactical role was envisioned for these heavy tanks, to breach the enemy defenses
similar to Guderian’s first wave of tanks.
The D.W. underwent many name changes but was finally called the Panzer VI, or
Tiger. Throughout all of the name and designation changes that followed, the code of
D.W. was retained. 55 The entire heavy tank program soon came to be known as the Tiger
Program and was given a high priority by the Army and Hitler.
One of the main reasons that the tank went through so many different
designations was that the Army Ordnance Department kept submitting new requirements
for increasing the size of the main gun. These requirements were given a national
priority on 26 May 1941. On that day, a meeting took place at the Berghof in
Berchtesgaden between Hitler, representatives of the armaments industry, and military
experts. 56 During this meeting, Hitler discussed the need for the development and
fielding of a heavy tank. He said, “The main point is to create vehicles which, first, have
greater penetrative capabilities against enemy tanks; second, which are more strongly
armored than previously; and third, which have a speed which does not fall short of forty
kilometers per hour.”57
Several months later Hitler reduced the last requirement in favor of increased
armor and issued more specific guidance. He praised the penetrative capabilities of the
antiaircraft gun known as the eighty-eight- millimeter Flak 41 L/74. He recommended
that it be improved to enable it to penetrate one hundred millimeters of armor at a range
of 1,400 to 1,500 meters and be adopted as a Kampfwagen kanone (tank gun) or Kwk.
Hitler also demanded that the frontal armor of future tanks be one hundred millimeters
thick and the sides sixty millimeters thick. 58
Two firms, Henschel and Porsche, competed for the design and development of
the future heavy tank. 59 Ultimately, the automotive design office of the Army Ordnance
Department awarded Henschel the contract for the chassis and Krupp the contract for the
turret that together made the Tiger (see table 1). 60
The Tiger was a heavy tank in both weight and in doctrinal purpose. It weighed
fifty-seven tons and was armed with the eighty-eight- millimeter Kwk 36 L/56 gun,
capable of penetrating one hundred millimeters of armor at 1000 meters using a
Panzergranate 39 (Pzgr. 39) (armor piercing, capped, ballistic capped with explosive
filler and tracer). Although not widely available, the (Pzgr. 40) (high velocity,
subcaliber, tungsten core with tracer) could penetrate 110 millimeters of armor at 2,000
meters. 61 The Tiger’s primary opponents at the time that it was fielded, the
T-34/76, only had forty- five- millimeters of frontal armor. 62 Although the Tiger’s frontal
armor was thick, it was not sloped, making it easier to penetrate.
Table 1. Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf E (Tiger I) Specifications.
56000 kilograms (early models); 57000 kilograms (late models)
Maybach HL 210 P 45 - 12 cylinder / 600horsepower (early models)
Maybach HL 230 P 45 - 12 cylinder / 700horsepower (late models)
Fuel Capacity: 540 liters (in four fuel tanks)
Road 38 kilometers/hour; Cross-Country 10-20 kilometers/hour
Road: 195 kilometers; Average Terrain: 110 kilometers
One 88 millimeter KwK 36 L/56 Gun
2 x 7.92 millimeter MG34 (early models)
3 x 7.92 millimeter MG34/42 (late models)
88 millimeter - 92 rounds; 7.92 millimeter - 4500-5700 rounds
25 millimeter - 40 millimeter (Top)
80 millimeter (Side and Rear)
100 - 120 millimeter (Front)
Source: Jentz and Doyle, Tiger Tanks, D.W. to Tiger I, 177-181.
Development of the Tiger II was a continuation of the heavy tank program. It was
developed because of the constant emphasis on armor penetration capabilities and the
desire to mount the eighty-eight- millimeter Flak 41 L/74 gun or something similar in a
tank turret. The eighty-eight- millimeter Kwk 36 L/56 gun mounted in the Tiger I did not
meet the requirement, with the standard ammunition available (Pzgr. 39), put forth by
Hitler. 63 Ultimately, Krupp developed the eighty-eight- millimeter Kwk 43 L/71 gun that
had similar penetrative capabilities to the eighty-eight- millimeter Flak 41 L/74 gun. This
was mounted on a chassis developed by Henschel, making the Tiger II (see tables 2 and
Table 2. Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf B (Tiger II) Specifications.
Maybach HL 230 P 30 / 12-cylinder / 700 horsepower
Road: 38 kilometers/hour; Cross-Country: 15 - 20 kilometers/hour
Road: 170 kilometers; Cross-Country: 120 kilometers
88 millimeter KwK 43 L/71 and 3 x 7.92 millimeter MG34/42;
(1 x MG - hull); (1 x MG - coaxial); (1 x MG - cupola)
88 millimeter - 84 rounds (68 stowed, 16 loose on turret floor);
7.92 millimeter - 5850 rounds
40 millimeters (Top); 80 millimeters (Side and Rear);
150 - 180 millimeters (Front)
Source: Jentz and Doyle, Tiger Tanks, VK45.02 to Tiger II, 152-165.
Table 3. Tiger I and Tiger II Gun Comparison.
Tiger I: 88mm KwK 36 L/56 Tiger II: 88mm KwK 43 L/71
Pzgr.39 Pzgr.40 Gr.39HL Pzgr.39/43
Shell Weight (Kilograms) 10.2
Penetration Capability (millimeters)
Pzgr.39 Pzgr.40 Gr.39HL Pzgr.39/43
Source: Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 9.
Note: Penetration capability was measured in millimeters of rolled homogeneous steel
plates at a thirty degree angle of impact.
Using a Pzgr. 39-1 round, the Tiger II’s eighty-eight- millimeter gun could
penetrate 148 millimeters of armor at a range of 1,500 meters (see table 3). Using the
rare Pzgr. 40/43 round, it was capable of penetrating 170 millimeters of armor at that
same range. 64
The Tiger II incorporated design and material elements, such as the engine, from
the Panther tank. 65 At almost seventy tons, the Tiger II was the heaviest tank of the war.
One of the principle reasons it weighed so much was that it was very heavily armored. In
addition to very thick armor, its frontal armor was sloped so that it was even more
difficult to penetrate.
The Tiger and Tiger II were formidable opponents and had many strengths. From
the published histories of both Allied and Axis forces, very few Allied tankers willingly
engaged in direct combat with a Tiger I or Tiger II. If there were other options, like
bypassing or employing artillery or aircraft on the Tigers, these options were used first. 66
The Tiger and Tiger II also had a few weaknesses that were inter-related and
became evident in the defensive withdrawals after 1943. One was the extensive
maintenance required to keep a Tiger or Tiger II operational. The other was the Tiger
and Tiger II’s mobility or small radius of action. These two weaknesses caused further
problems in logistics, maintenance support, and operational readiness.
Directly related to the small radius of action is the fuel consumption rate of these
vehicles. Given Germany’s strategic situation and its fuel shortage, the fuel required for
the Tiger and Tiger II was a large operational weakness. This is clearly evident when one
considers that the Tiger had a range of 195 kilometers, using 540 liters of fuel to do so.
The Tiger II had a comparable range of 170 kilometers but required 860 liters of fuel to
do so. By comparison, a T-34/76 could travel 455 kilometers using only 480 liters of
If a vehicle did break down, was damaged in combat, or became stuck, it’s weight
and the lack of an adequate armored recovery vehicle created a challenge in maintaining
a high operational rate. Generally, recovering a Tiger in the forward areas required
towing it with at least one other Tiger, although this was officially forbidden. The
workshop company did have eighteen-ton half-track tractors, but two of these were
required to tow one Tiger. 68 Additionally, if being towed over hilly terrain, a trail vehicle
at least as large as a Panzer III was required to stabilize the Tiger so it did not become
unmanageable. 69 Beginning in 1944, heavy tank battalions started to receive some
armored recovery vehicles, the Bergpanther, in addition to keeping the eighteen-ton halftrack tractors. The difficulties in recovering a damaged Tiger in combat usually resulted
in it being abandoned and destroyed by its crew.
The personnel of the heavy tank battalions came from many sources. One of the
primary sources was from experienced units who were veterans of the campaigns in
Poland, France and in Russia. Another source was from the Heavy Panzer Replacement
and Training Battalion 500, established at Paderborn in early 1942. 70 From the creation
of s.Pz.-Abt. 503 on, some of the personnel required for these units came from remnants
of tank units destroyed in combat, or tank units that had rotated back to Germany or
France to re-equip.
In some instances, an entire battalion from an existing unit was ordered to
transition to become a heavy tank battalion. For instance, the 3d battalion of Panzer
Regiment 33 of the 9th Panzer Division transitioned to become s.Pz.-Abt. 506 on 20 July
1943. This unit had been in combat in France and in Russia since the beginning of that
campaign. Similarly, the 1st battalion of Panzer Regiment 3 from the 2d Panzer
Division, having served in Poland, France, the Balkans, and Russia, became s.Pz.-Abt.
507. The 1st battalion of Panzer Regiment 29 from the 12th Panzer Division became
s.Pz.-Abt. 508. 71 This battalion had served in Russia since the summer of 1941.
Because of a shortage of Tigers, training was carried out mainly on Panzer IV
tanks at Paderborn. The recruits assigned as replacements for heavy tank battalions were
almost exclusively volunteers between seventeen and eighteen years old. 72
The heavy tank battalions benefited from receiving veteran personnel, although
replacements later in the war were young and inexperienced. The practice of
transitioning entire combat experienced units to become a ne w heavy tank battalion must
have increased the morale, esprit de corps, and cohesion. Also, because the Tiger and
Tiger II were very survivable vehicles, these battalions benefited by retaining those
experienced crews, even in instances where the tank was lost.
The first three heavy tank battalions received little guidance on how to
accomplish their given missions. They were given a copy of memorandum Number
87/42 from the General der Schnellen Truppen (general of fast troops) dated 10 February
1942. This memorandum provided only general statements on capabilities and did not go
into the details of tactical employment.
The D companies and battalions, integrated with Panzer IIIs and Tigers, adhered
to the following general tactical employment:
In the attack, the role of the Tiger is that of supporting the lighter tanks by fire;
the latter leads, followed by the heavier Tigers, and, when contact with the enemy
armor is made, the screen of lighter tanks deploys outwards to the flanks, leaving
the Tigers to engage frontally. In defense, the Tiger is usually sited in a covered
and defiladed position. The lighter tanks watch the flanks of positions occupied
by the Tigers. 73
The first battalions were generally left to experiment and send reports back to the
Army General Staff in order to develop further doctrine. By 20 May 1943, tactical
manuals for the employment of the heavy tank company and the heavy tank battalion
were published. 74 The manual for the training and employment of the heavy tank
company established four primary capabilities or missions. They were: (1) to attack in
the first wave against strong defenses, (2) to destroy heavy enemy tanks and other
armored targets at long ranges, (3) to decisively defeat the enemy defenses, and (4) to
breakthrough positions reinforced by defensive works. 75
The first half of the company manual contained sections on the organization of
the heavy tank company, as well as basic gunnery principles of the Tiger tank. The
second half contained sections on the platoon and company that established basic tactical
guidance and outlined combat formations for both the platoon and the company. The
four formations available to the platoon were the column, line, double column (or box),
and wedge. The manual stated that the wedge was the formation preferred during the
attack. 76 The four formations available to the company were the column (with the three
platoons in column abreast), the double column (with the platoons in two columns),
wedge (with one platoon forward and two platoons following), and the broad wedge
(with two platoons forward and one platoon following). 77 The manual stated that the
broad wedge was the most useful attack formation and when the company deployed in
this formation, it occupied an area 700 me ters wide and 400 meters deep. 78
The manual provided guidance to overcome the large fuel consumption of the
Tiger’s by stating that “after leaving the assembly area it is often necessary to take a short
halt within our own line to again refuel in order to be able to totally exploit the small
radius of action in enemy territory.”79
The company manual placed emphasis on tank versus tank combat by including
an entire subsection on it. It stated that “the most important task of the heavy tank
company is the engagement of enemy tanks. It always has priority over every other
assignment.”80 Emphasis on the offensive was evident by noting that the only reference
that could even remotely be considered defensive in nature is the last sentence of the
manual, which stated “knocked-out or immobilized enemy tanks are to be blown up
The manual for the heavy tank battalion was much shorter than the heavy tank
company manual. It contained only two sections covering: (1) purposes, tasks, and
organization and (2) employment. Portions of the first section included doctrinal and
tactical guidance such as:
The Tiger Battalion is therefore a powerful decisive point weapon in the hands of
the troop commander. Its strength lies in concentrated, ruthlessly cond ucted
attacks. Each dispersion reduces its striking power. Basic preparations for
employment at decisive locations guarantee great success. Tiger Battalions are
Army Troops. They will be attached to other Panzer units in the decisive point
battle in order to force a decision. They may not be used up too early from being
employed for secondary tasks. They are especially suited for fighting against
heavy enemy tank forces and must seek this battle. The destruction of enemy
tanks creates the prerequisite for the successful accomplishment of the tasks
assigned to our own lighter Panzers. 82
The focus was on defeating enemy tanks, and the guidance was fairly clear that the heavy
tank battalions should not be assigned missions that did not involve enemy tank
The entire heavy tank battalion manual was surprisingly general and did not focus
solely on offensive missions like the heavy tank company manual did. Instead of purely
offensive words like “breakthrough,” the manual used terms like decisive point and
decisive action. An interesting comment considering the extremely limited radius of
action of a Tiger was “the Tiger is especially suitable for pursuit.” It continued by stating
that “preplanned scouting and early stockpiling of fuel and ammunition are the
prerequisites for this.”83
Worthy of note for its absence was the lack of any section in the heavy tank
battalion manual on formations for the battalion as a whole. There were several
paragraphs that discussed the employment of some of the separate platoons of the
battalion. These statements were very general and do little to provide real guidance to the
battalion commander. For instance, “the armored reconnaissance platoon is to be sent in
by the battalion commander for combat reconnaissance” was the total amount of
guidance for employment of that platoon. 84 Similarly vague and obvious guidance of
“timely deployment . . . and close cooperation with these (the engineer platoon) to
determine and clear mines and obstacles are necessary” was included for the engineer
The German Army published an instruction pamphlet for army and corps level
commanders to guide them in the correct employment of the heavy tank battalion. The
pamphlet, organized in twenty-five points, stated that all guidance was based upon the
characteristics of the Tiger and the purpose for which it was created. Because the Tiger
had a limited radius of action and required a great deal of maintenance, the pamphlet
included the following guidance:
1. Close liaison of Tiger commander with the operationally responsible command
headquarters (is necessary). Reason: Long-range disposition is indispensable to
the tiger units. All pre-operation preparations (reconnaissance and supply)
require more time than with other weapons.
2. Issue orders for movement or action to Tiger commanders as early as possible.
Reason: As in 1. 86
This pamphlet emphasized the importance of this unit in the breakthrough
and provided guidance to keep the heavy tank battalion informed of its mission.
Also, the pamphlet discussed the concept of breakthrough by the heavy tank
battalion and exploitation by lighter, faster, forces in the following waves.
3. As a general principle, issue orders to the Tiger commanders first. Reason:
The tiger is the carrier of the breakthrough. They are to be incorporated in the
first strike at the point of main effort.
4. Never place a Tiger unit under the command of an infantry division in an
attack. Reason: In difficult situations contact breaks down between division and
battalion. The infantry division lacks troops which, on the basis of their
equipment and experience, can fight with and keep pace with the Tigers. In most
cases the Tigers’ success cannot be exploited by the infantry and the conquered
territory cannot be held.
11. As a general principle, employ the Tiger unit in coordination with other
weapons. Reason: Following the penetration, it is the Tiger’s task to push
through to the enemy artillery and smash it. All other weapons must support them
toward reaching this objective. Simultaneously, light tanks and assault guns are
to smash the enemy’s heavy infantry weapons and antitank guns. Our own
artillery suppresses the enemy artillery and covers the flanks. Panzer grenadiers
follow mounted on the tanks and occupy the conquered territory. They protect the
Tigers against close- in attack by enemy infantry. Light tanks exploit the success
and expand the tactical penetration into a strategic breakthrough. 87
In keeping with the German Army’s concept for the employment of tanks
formulated by Guderian, the pamphlet discussed the need to concentrate the battalion in
order for it to achieve its mission.
10. The Tiger unit must be the commander’s main weapon for the decisive
action. Reason: Concentrated employment of the Tiger unit at the point of main
effort forces the success. Any dispersal of forces places it in question. 88
The authors of the pamphlet realized the deficiencies and weaknesses of
the Tiger. These included its weight, which limited the bridges it could use to
cross rivers, and its high maintenance requirements. Because of these
weaknesses, the pamphlet stated:
Movement. As much as possible allow the Tigers to move alone.
5. Reason: The stress on the automotive parts of the Tiger are least when it is
given the opportunity to drive quickly without changing gears, braking and
restarting. The Tiger also disturbs the movement of other units. Bottlenecks,
bridges and fords often present surprises for the Tigers through which traffic can
become completely blocked.
7. Do not request forced marches. Reason: The result will be high wear on the
engine, transmission and running gear. The Tiger’s combat capability will thus be
used up on the road and not in action. The average speed for a Tiger unit is ten
kilometers per hour by day and seven kilometers per hour by night.
8. Have tanks travel as little as possible. Reason: During movements the great
weight of the Tiger results in considerable material wear.
24. Following prolonged action, allow the Tiger battalion two to three weeks to
restore its fighting power. Reason: Otherwise the percentage of technical
breakdowns will climb increasingly in subsequent operations. 89
As with other doctrinal guidance, this pamphlet focused on offensive operations,
but did provide some guidance relevant to defensive operations. The focus of the
pamphlet was on the concentration of all tanks in the decisive action. This could be
adapted to offensive breakthroughs or to mobile counterattacks conduc ted while in an
overall defensive posture.
The sections on movement and maintenance are important when considering
using the heavy tank battalion as a mobile reserve in the defense. Because of the high
maintenance requirements, positioning of the heavy tank battalion as a mobile reserve
was very important so it could counter enemy penetrations of the defensive line with the
least amount of movement. This was especially true across the vast distances of the
Based upon the published German doctrine and the Tiger program guidance, the
heavy tank battalion was formed with the primary focus of killing tanks. German
doctrine envisioned a decisive tank battle once a penetration of the initial defensive line
had been made. The heavy tank battalion was developed and fielded to fight that decisive
tank battle. Originally, it was intended to fight that battle on the offensive during the
breakthrough battle, but it was also capable of fighting from the defensive by counter
attacking enemy armor penetrations as a mobile reserve.
Heinz Guderian, Achtung-Panzer! The Development of Armoured Forces, their
Tactics and Operational Potential, trans. Christopher Duffy with an introduction by Paul
Harris (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1995), 168.
Bryan Perret, A History of Blitzkrieg, with a foreword by General Sir John
Hackett (New York: Jove Books, 1989), 66.
Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader (Erinnerungen eines Soldaten), trans. by
Constantine Fitzgibbon with a foreword by B. H. Liddell Hart (New York: E. P. Dutton
& Company, Inc., 1952), 20.
Perret, A History of Blitzkrieg, 60.
“Nutzanwendungen aus der Tankschlact von Cambrai II,” Militar-Wochenblatt
No. 24, (1929), in Imagining War: The Development of Armored Doctrine in Germany
and the Soviet Union, 1919-1939, Mary Ruth Habeck (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI
Dissertation Services, 1996), 153.
Ludwig Beck, “Nachtragliche Betrachtungen zu dem Einsatz des Panzerkorps in
der Lage der Truppenamsreise vom 13.6.1935” in Imagining War, by Habeck, 313-314.
Heinz Guderain, “Die Panzertruppen und ihr Zusammenwirken mit den anderen
Waffen,“ in Imagining War, Habeck, 335.
Guderian, Achtung-Panzer!, 170.
Albert Kesselring and others, eds., Manual for Command and Combat
Employment of Smaller Units. MS #P-060b. trans. G. Weber and W. Luetzkendorf, ed.
G. C. Vanderstadt (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, Office of the Chief of
Military History, 1952), 115.
Jentz, Panzertruppen: 1933-1942, 63.
Rolf Moebius, German Heavy Armor, MS #D-226. Draft Translation
(Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, Office of the Chief of Military History,
Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 23.
Gudgin, The Tiger Tanks, 91.
Egon Kleine and Volkmar Kuhn, Tiger: The History of a Legendary Weapon,
1942-45, trans. David Johnston (Winnipeg, Manitoba: J. J. Fedorowicz Publishing,
Gudgin, The Tiger Tanks, 91.
Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 24-25.
Wolfgang Schneider, Tigers in Combat I (Winnipeg, Manitoba: J. J. Fedorowicz
Publishing, 2000), 147.
Ibid., 79, 228, 264, 312.
Gudgin, The Tiger Tanks, 93.
Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 24.
Schneider, Tigers in Combat I, 79, 147, 264.
Dr. Franz-Wilhelm Lochmann and others, eds., The Combat History of Schwere
Panzer-Abteilung 503: In Action in the East and West with the Tiger I and Tiger II
(Winnipeg, Manitoba: J. J. Fedorowicz Publishing, 2000), 14.
Hans-Joachim Jung, Panzer Soldiers for “God, Honor, Fatherland,” The
History of Panzerregiment “Grossdeutschland:” The German Army’s Elite Panzer
Formation, trans. David Johnston (Winnipeg, Manitoba: J. J. Fedorowicz Publishing,
Others, like s.Pz.-Abt. 501 and 504 were attached to the 10th Panzer Division
temporarily while fighting in Tunisia.
Wolfgang Schneider, Tigers in Combat II (Winnipeg, Manitoba: J. J.
Fedorowicz Publishing, 1998), 3. The Panzerregiment already had a heavy tank company
assigned that was fighting in the battle of Kursk when the rest of the battalion was
forming in Germany.
Schneider, Tigers in Combat I, 443.
Schneider, Tigers in Combat II, 3, 6-7.
Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 27.
Schneider, Tigers in Combat II, 7.
Patrick Agte, Michael Wittman and the Tiger Commanders of the Leibstandarte,
trans. David Johnston (Winnipeg, Manitoba: J. J. Fedorowicz Publishing, 1996), 216.
Lochmann et al., Combat History of Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503, 309.
Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 27.
Gudgin, The Tiger Tanks, 133.
See Schneider, Tigers in Combat I, 82, 152, 231, 314, 346-347, 374, 441; idem,
Tigers in Combat II, 364, 324-325, 397.
Jentz and Doyle, Tiger Tanks: D.W. to Tiger I, 9.
Ibid., 25, 30.
Kleine and Kuhn, Tiger, 4.
Jentz and Doyle, Tiger Tanks: D.W. to Tiger I, 12, 23.
Ibid., 19-20, 67, 69.
Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 9-10.
Thomas L. Jentz, Panzertruppen: The Complete Guide to the Creation &
Combat Employment of Germany’s Tank Force, 1943-1945 (Atglen, Pennsylvania:
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1997), 295.
Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle, Germany’s Tiger Tanks: VK45.02 to
Tiger II (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2000), 10.
Jentz, Panzertruppen: 1943-1945, 296.
Jentz and Doyle, Tiger Tanks: VK45.02 to Tiger II, 59.
David Fletcher, Tiger! The Tiger Tank: A British View (London: Her Majesty’s
Stationary Office, 1986), 228.
Jentz, Panzertruppen: 1943-1945, 294-295.
Gudgin, The Tiger Tanks, 49.
Major Lueder, Commander of the 501st Heavy Tank Battalion, “Tiger
Experiences in Tunisia,” dated 18 March 1943 in Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, Jentz, 59.
Gudgin, The Tiger Tanks, 93-94.
Schneider, Tigers in Combat I, 315, 349, 375.
Kleine and Kuhn, Tiger, 39.
Gudgin, The Tiger Tanks, 107.
Jentz, Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, 23, 31-37.
Merkblatt 47a/29 (20 May 1943) in Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, Jentz, 31-32.
Merkblatt 47a/30 (20 May 1943) in Tiger I & II: Combat Tactics, Jentz, 36-37.
Kleine and Kuhn, Tiger, 41-42.
BIRTH OF HEAVY TANK BATTALIONS TO OPERATION CITADEL
Despite its impressive size, armament which easily outperformed that of any
Allied tank of its period and armor thickness equaled only by the Churchill, the
Tiger was not reliable and had a very short range of action of about forty miles
across country; it was also too complicated for mass production in wartime. 1
Peter Gudgin, Armoured Firepower
From May 1942 until the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, the German Army created
and fielded five heavy tank battalions. 2 The initial combat actions involved s.Pz.-Abt.
502 in August 1942. They attacked as part of Army Group North in the vicinity of
Leningrad. One company of s.Pz.-Abt. 504 and all of s.Pz.-Abt. 501 fought in Tunisia
from November 1942 until the surrender of German forces in May 1943. These
battalions were piecemealed into battle as their platoons and companies arrived because
of the deteriorating tactical situation for the Germans in both theaters.
S.Pz.-Abt. 503 participated as part of Army Group Don in attempting to stop the
Soviet advance following the encirclement of the German 6th Army in Stalingrad. 3
During Operation CITADEL (the attack at Kursk), OKH committed the only two fully
operational heavy tank battalions. These were s.Pz.-Abt. 503 and 505 and were the only
heavy tank battalions remaining because s.Pz.-Abt. 501 and 504 had been destroyed or
captured in Tunisia and Sicily and were being rebuilt in Germany. At the same time,
s.Pz.-Abt. 502 only had one under strength company with Army Group North. 4
S.Pz.-Abt. 502 with Army Group North
In the summer of 1942, Hitler ordered the first company of s.Pz.-Abt. 502 to
Army Group North to assist in the capture of Leningrad. This company, along with
elements of the workshop company and battalion headquarters, conducted combat
operations in the vicinity of Leningrad beginning at the end of September 1942. The 2d
company of this battalion wasn’t formed until later, and in an attempt to stabilize the
front after the Soviet encirclement of Stalingrad, OKH attached them to Army Group
Don in early 1943. 5 The 1st company of s.Pz.-Abt. 502 fought in the vicinity of
Leningrad with Army Group North until the battalion was reunited in the summer of
1943 after having been refitted in accordance with the E battalion K.St.N.6
As historian Egon Kleine points out, “there is scarcely a historical work on the
Russian campaign that does not mention the first Tiger operation . . . [and they all] offer
different versions of the events.”7 A common theme in all accounts was criticism about
employing heavy tanks in terrain that was swampy and did not allow maneuver off most
roads. Guderian summarized the lessons learned from the employment of this company
with Army Group North in Panzer Leader:
He [Hitler] was consumed by his desire to try his new weapon. He therefore
ordered that the Tigers be committed in a quite secondary operation, in a limited
attack carried out in terrain that was utterly unsuitable; for in the swampy forest
near Leningrad heavy tanks could only move in single file along the forest tracks,
which, of course, was exactly where the enemy antitank guns were posted,
waiting for them. The results were not only heavy, unnecessary casualties, but
also the loss of secrecy and of the element of surprise for future operations. 8
During this initial attack, all of the Tigers received some damage, and the Soviets
captured one Tiger. Even though the Tiger was superior to any Soviet tank at that time,
several subsequent attacks achieved similar results because the Soviets positioned anti
tank guns in depth along the few roads in the area.
During the next year, the Soviets launched several attacks that forced the
Germans in this sector onto the defensive. The swampy terrain that restricted heavy