Another Nazi Blunder: The 'Jagdtiger' Tank Destroyers

Sebastien Roblin

Key Point: The weapon proved incapable of performing on the battlefield.

To some minds, bigger is always better—but size can create is many new problems as it solves. Midway through World War II, Nazi Germany decided to take its huge 128-millimeter antiaircraft gun and stick it on its biggest, baddest tank. The result was the monstrous Jagdtiger (“Hunting Tiger”), then heaviest tank to see action in World War II—and still heavier than modern M1 Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks! But the vehicle’s terrifying bulk proved to be its own worst enemy.

During World War II, German factories churned out numerous turretless assault guns (Sturmgeschutz) and tank destroyers (Jagdpanzers) based on each major tank chassis. Though the lack of a turret made them less capable in offensive operations, they were cheaper to build, could carry heavier guns and armor, and remained highly effective at ambushing enemy tanks or providing fire support. Therefore, a turretless version of the huge seventy-ton Tiger II tank was seen as a natural platform for the 128-millimeter gun. A full-scale wooden mockup of the Jagdtiger was presented to Hitler on October 20, 1943, and the führer enthusiastically approved production.

The Jagdtiger was nearly eleven meters long and three meters tall, and tipped the scales at seventy-nine short tons—or eighty-three fully loaded with ammunition and a crew of six. Much of that weight went into 250 millimeters of armor protection in the casemate superstructure housing the main gun; however, the lower hull had only fifteen centimeters, and the sides and rear eight. Thus, while the front armor was practically invulnerable, it remained susceptible to shots to the side, rear and top.

The gargantuan vehicle retained the same 690-horsepower Maybach HL 230 P30 used on the Panther tank—even though the Jagdtiger was 60 percent heavier. Theoretically capable of going twenty-one miles per hour, the “moving bunker” was reduced to nine miles per hour cross-country, and its fuel-gulping characteristics limited range to fifty to seventy-five miles. The motor simply lacked adequate power, and predictably broke down with alarming frequency.

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