Wittmann's First Tiger

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Wittmann's First Tiger

Panzer_VI_Tiger_I_At_Kursk

Osprey author Leigh Neville takes a look at the most iconic of the German Panzers in this final instalment of his series on WW2 German armoured fighting vehicles, the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. H1.

The Tiger Ausf. H1 debuted on the Eastern Front in mid-1942 and fought in all theatres right up until the final battles for Germany. Until the introduction of the ill-fated Tiger II late in the war, the 56-ton Tiger was the heaviest tank deployed by German forces. Its armour was impressive, capable of withstanding direct hits to the frontal arc from even Russian 85mm guns. Russian T-34s and Allied Shermans were forced to attempt to flank the Tiger and engage its (slightly) weaker side and rear armour.

Only during the latter war period did the Russians employ the ‘beast killer’, the ISU-152 which could penetrate the frontal plate of a Tiger out to 1000 meters. The Western allies relied upon the 17 pounder anti-tank gun which was also mounted in the Firefly, a worthy opponent to the Tiger in armament at least.

The Tiger’s L/56 88mm main gun could destroy any and all opponents, and from impressive range. With such heavy armour and gun, the Tiger was slower than the Panther and less maneuverable than the far more common Panzer IV. It required significant maintenance and was notorious for having to be moved to the front by rail as long road marches usually ended in breakdowns (and Allied air attacks!).

Its reputation however far outshone the relatively modest 1347 produced. To Allied tankers and infantrymen in Europe, every German Panzer became a ‘Tiger’. Whilst the alleged phenomenon of ‘Tiger Fear’ has been greatly exaggerated over the years, it seems true that Allied soldiers were more fearful of the Tiger and its “88” than of any other Panzer.

For a look at a real Tiger in (simulated) action, watch the Hollywood film ‘Fury’ which features Tiger 131, the last fully operational Tiger in existence and kindly loaned to the filmmakers by the Bovington Tank Museum in the UK.

King & Country’s Tiger, www.toysoldiers.com.au/KCWS352, represents none other than the infamous Michael Wittmann, then a Untersturmfuhrer (Second Lieutenant) on the Eastern Front. This Tiger, 1331, served during the Battle of Kursk with Wittmann and his crew eventually credited with 30 T-34/76 and KV-1 kills and 28 ZIS anti-tank guns.

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