Nowadays Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausführung B heavy tanks are regarded by many as a synonym for the highest power of the German Panzerwaffe of World War Two. Nearly 70-ton giants, armed with powerful 88 mm caliber main gun has really wreaked terror in the ranks of the allied coalition soldiers.
The problem was, however, in that it produced in quantities of less than half a thousand copies, so called King Tigers were not able to reverse the dramatic situation in which the Third Reich had been, when they were put into service more. Nevertheless, these vehicles have become one of the armored legends not only the last of the world wars, but for the whole of the twentieth century.
The origins of the tanks, which today is called Königstiger (in English: King or Royal Tiger), dates back to the autumn of 1942. It was then, the German Land Forces Armament Office (Heereswaffenamt) officials commissioned Henschel und Sohn Aktiengesellschaft of Kassel to develop a new heavy tank, which had been to implement Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. E – the tanks that were put into service nearly that time. The basic guidelines associated with the new type of armored vehicle were very thick, because reaching up to 180 mm armor and already developed 8.8 cm Kampfwagenkanone 43 L / 71 (Gerät 5-0808) 88-milimeters tank gun. In January of the following year builders were suggested to have planned tank components unified as much as possible with, also being developed at this time by Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nürnberg, a new type of medium tank, but rather, using actual terminology - the main tank, Panzerkampfwagen V Panther Ausführung F. At this time, the conceptual work on a new heavy tank included also company located in St. Valentin, Nibelungenwerke Aktiengesellschaft.
The Austrian company was not only which management had been counting on lucrative contracts related to the new version of the famous Tiger. The constructor team centered around the creator, inter alia, Volkswsgena Beetle, Professor Ferdinand Porsche, presented their own proposal to Heereswaffenamt representatives too. Their vehicle, which in fact was the modernized version of a competitive for Pz.Kpfw. VI Ausf. E, so-called Porsche Tiger was designated Verschuskonstruktion 4501 Porsche - VK 4501 (P). The Professor’s team was intended to create prototypes in two versions: with a turret installed closer to the front edge of the hull (the idea taken from a Soviet tank T-34) and placed in the back in such a way that the engine compartment separated the driver and radio operator from the other crew members in similar manner to Ferdinand/Elefant self-propelled gun. Turrets for both variants: Henschel and Porsche, were in fact designed and subsequently produced in the factories of Krupp Aktiengesellschaft in Essen.
In mid-January 1943 new German heavy tank models that June 2nd was designated Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausfűhrung B (Sonderkraftfahzeug 182, earlier the vehicle was determined as H3 Tiger or Tiger II), were presented to Adolf Hitler. The Führer decided that the contest winner was the Henschel factory team, and this plant was instructed to prepare three prototypes. A full-size wooden mock-up was revealed on 20 October 1943 at Orzysz proving ground in East Prussia, now in Poland (Truppenübungsplatz Arys). Prototypes were completed in Kassel in November (V1 number) and December (V2 and V3 numbers).
At the end of the fifth year of the war the contest-winning factory received orders for more than 1,200 new heavy tanks. The production were based on the cooperation of No. III Henschel Factory and Wegmann & Company plant, both located in the same city over Fulda. In the coming weeks the plan was corrected several times, oscillating altogether within 1,500 exemplars. One of the production plans stated the four series respectively of 176, 350, 379 and 329 vehicles in each. Ultimately, as indicated by Thomas Jentz, the average monthly production were to reach fifty tanks.
In fact, because of the increasingly afflict the Third Reich problems with the delivery of raw materials and armaments production rate, as well as harassing German industrial centers by the Allied bombing (during several conducted, among others, 22 and 27 September and 7 October and 15 December 1944, in Kassel production halls were destroyed several almost ready Königstiger), in the period from January 1944 to March 1945 489 and three prototypes were completed (including 377 exemplars in 1944). It is estimated that because of the bombing raids, the Germans failed to finish the next nearly 660 vehicles. The chassis number of the first of production series Royal Tigers was 280,001. The confirmed number of Pz.Kpfw. VI Ausf. B heavy tanks manufactured in 1944 and 1945 could be found in Table 1.
During the 14-months production period, Pz.Kpfw. VI Ausf. B underwent a number of modifications. These included for example the shape of fenders, the deployment of elements on the upper armor of the engine compartment and to supplement that part of the hull, especially in the case of vehicles designed for operations on the western front, with additional protective shields of inter alia air intakes. It was also decided to remove the installation for deep fording device, present in case of exemplars manufactured before June 1944. The shape of the tow hitch was also adjusted as well as U-shaped sight aperture protection installed. Inside a fundamental change was the replacement of binocular Turmzielfernrohr 9b/1 sighting telescope with monocular TZF 9d one. In the course of production mechanisms of the main armament also been improved development, creating the 8.8 cm KWK 43/II and 8.8 cm KWK 43/III variants. It is worth noting that beyond the stage of conceptual idea, retooling the King Tiger with 105-milimeters gun did not come. The main modifications of described vehicle and the month of their introduction could be found in Table 2.
The most noticeable difference between the first fifty exemplars of Pz.Kpfw. VI Ausf. B and other production series tanks was their turret. Initial series were equipped with a variant termed today as a Porsche Model (actually designed and manufactured by Krupp AG on the basis of a contract concluded in January 1943., designated P2-Turm), characterized by a clearly rounded front part, the commander cupola extending beyond the contour of the left side of the turret and a circular hole for throwing out the 88-milimeters shells. As an author of issued in 1999 encyclopedia of German armored vehicles, Peter Chamberlain suggests, it very quickly turned out that the front plate of this variant was more vulnerable to direct hits. The final choice was therefore called the Henschel Model turret (also developed by Krupp factories, called H3-Turm or Serienturm), with straight, 180 mm thick front plate and the 100-milimeters thick, cast gun mantlet equipped similar in shape to Saukopfsblende (the boar head) installed for instance in self-propelled or assault guns. The Henschel Model turret became the standard one from June 1944, starting from the tank with a 280048 chassis number.