| Tiger I tactical number B01 of the 10th company
of the III Abteilung of the "Großdeutschland" Division
passing in front of some divisional vehicles.
The introduction of the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf.E heavy tank provided a dramatic improvement in the power
of German armored formations. Both because of the real technical
advantages of the Tiger I, and the propaganda advantages of creating "elite" units
in the Panzertruppen, the Tiger was assigned to special heavy tank
battalions (schwere Panzer Abteilungen - sPzAbt). These were to
be held at army or corps level and assigned as needed to reinforce
other units during a campaign. Only a few divisions ever received
organic Tiger battalions. These included Panzergrenadier Division
Großdeutschland and Panzer Lehr Division.
In 1937, General Heinz Guderian, in "Achtung Panzer!" detailed
the tactics and concepts of the employment and use of tanks in
a future war. establishing the principles of concentration applicable
to all tanks regardless of size or mission. He stated that "concentration
of the available armored forces will always be more effective
than dispersing them, irrespective of whether talking about a
defensive or offensive posture, a breakthrough or an envelopment;
a pursuit or a counterattack". (Source:
WILBECK, Christopher W., Sledgehammers: Strengths and Flaws of
Tiger Heavy Tank Battalions in World War II.)
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" (WILBECK, Christopher W., op cit).
Prior to the Tiger's introduction, and lacking a true
heavy tank, the Germans used the PzKpfw IV with a low velocity
75 mm main gun to fulfill the heavy tank role within the
medium tank companies though Poland, France, and during Operation Barbarossa
in June 1941. Until the German armored forces encountered Soviet heavy tanks,
such as the KV I, KV II, and the T-34/76, the PzKpfw IV was
sufficiently well armored and armed to meet the tactical demands of a heavy
tank. The appearance of the T-34/76, specifically, greatly influenced and decisively
accelerated German heavy tank development. 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 (WILBECK, Christopher W., op cit).
The Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf.E was the weapons system developed to meet those and future threats on the battlefield, and the schwere Panzer Abteilungen the organization that took form to meet these requirements.
Origins of the Schwere Panzer Abteilungen.
A few days before the start
of Operation Zitadelle, Panzer-Grenadier Division LSSAH
renumbered its Tiger company as the 13th company in the
tank battalion. Note the brush painted Red Brown strokes
on the hull side plate.
As originally conceived, the schwere
Panzer-Kompanien (heavy tank companies) were organized as three
Zuege (platoons) each with three Pz.Kpfw.Tiger Ausf.E for a total of
nine heavy tanks. Later the organization was expanded to include
10 Pz.Kpfw.III along with the 9 Tigers to compose one schwere Panzer-Kompanie.
The first three units send into the field (schwere Panzer-Abteilung
501, 502, and 503) experimented with practically every possible
combination of Pz.Kpfw.III and Tigers within their schwere Panzer-Kompanien.
First TOE for a Tiger Company (1942-1943).
Only after the first combat reports
were received from the unit commanders was the decision made to
increase the strength of each company to 14 Pz.Kpfw.Tiger Ausf.E and
to drop all the Pz.Kpfw.III.
| The PzKpfw.III
Ausf.N, with a low-velocity 7.5 cm KwK L/24 gun, used to provide
HE support for the schwere Panzer Kompanie (Tiger).
Many of the unit commanders had
argued for the retention of the Pz.Kpfw.III, to perform the many
duties for which the Tiger was not suited to, but their requests
went unheeded and the Pz.Kpfw.III were replaced by Sd.Kfz.250,
assigned to the Abteilung-Stabskompanie (battalion headquarters
company) for performing scouting, reconnaissance, running messages,
standing perimeter guard, and other tasks not suitable for Tigers.
This organization of 14 Tigers per schwere Panzer-Kompanie was
retained to the end of the war.
At first there were only two units,
schwere Panzer-Kompanie 501 and 502. created as Heerestruppen (independent
army units). These were incorporated into schwere Panzer-Abteilung
501, and two more units each with two companies were created, schwere
Panzer-Abteilung 502 (heavy tank battalion) and 503. Then the idea
was tested of incorporating the heavy tanks into Panzer-Regiments.
This phase saw the creation of a schwere Panzer-Kompanie for Panzer
Regiment Großdeutschland and three SS-Panzer-Regiments as
well as the assignment of several of the schwere Panzer-Abteilungen
as the III.Abteilung within existing Panzer Regiments. However,
this concept was short-lived. Under Guderian's guidance, all newly
created schwere Panzer-Abteilungen, as well as all already in service,
were converted to pure units with 45 Tigers.This organization with
three Tigers for the Abteilung-Stab and 14 Tigers in each of the
three schwere Panzer-Kompanien lasted through the end of the war.
The Definitive TOE for a Tiger Company (1943-1945).
Altogether, eleven schwere Panzer-Abteilungen
were created for the Heer (initially numbered 501 through 510 and
the III.Abteilung/Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland), and three
for the SS (numbered 101 through 103 in October 1943). In addition,
three Panzer-Kompanien (FKL) and Panzer-Abteilung (FKL) 301 were
converted to Tigers as control vehicles for deploying the Sprengstofftraeger
(Sd.Kfz.301) (radio-controlled explosive charge carriers). As the
situation deteriorated, ad hoc units were formed and quickly thrown
into combat as stop gap measures. These ad hoc units included schwere
Panzer Regiment Bäke, Tigergruppe Meyer and Panzer-Kompanie Hummel
as well as other last-gasp attempts to activate training and experimental
units with their few operational Tigers at the end of the war.
The Tiger Kompanie advances
through the steppe, leaving a trail of destroyed Russian
The first heavy tank companies were
committed to battle on an ad hoc basis, as vehicles became available,
therefore achieving little but giving away the precious element
of surprise that an impenetrable shroud of secrecy had given them.
The result was something of a fiasco. Certainly, at that time,
very little thought or guidance had been given to developing tactics.
As a result the men of the first
units - 501st, 502nd, and 503rd schwere
Panzer Abteilungen - were left largely to their own devices, with
only the experience gained earlier in light and medium tank units
to guide them. Not unnaturally, the development of tactics were
a priority, and regular reports were demanded of the unit commanders.
There were four formations authorized
for the Tiger platoon. Line abreast (Linie), with the Platoon Leader
(Zuegfuherer) on the extreme right and the Section Leader two vehicles
away, was used for assembly. Row (Reihe), with the Platoon Leader
at the head and the Section Leader in the third vehicle, was used
both for assembly and marching, the former with 10m (33ft) between
vehicles, the latter at 25 m (84 ft) intervals. Double row (Doppelreihe),
which for a platoon was actually a box formation, was used for
approach marches, over open country, and in the attack, with the
Platoon Leader at the head of the right hand row and the Section
Leader alongside him. In combat, the rows were to be 150 m (165
yds) apart and the lines 100 m (110 yds). The wedge (Keil), was
the most often used attack formation, with the Platoon Leader and
the Section Leader level and separated by 100 m (110 yds), and
the second tank in each section 100 m (110 yds) behind and the
same distance to right and left, respectively. Therefore, when
combat started, the Platoon Leader was to move to a position within
the formation from were he could make the best use possible of
both terrain and situation, the chances of either double row or
wedge staying intact for very long seemed slight.
Tiger Platoon Authorized Formations
There were five authorized formations
for the Tiger company. The column (Kolonne), used for assembly,
was essentially three platoon rows side by side, with the company
Commander and his alternate vehicle at the head of the center row.
For marches an extended row was adopted. The Company Commander
took the the lead, followed by the second Kompanie Truppe vehicle,
with the three platoons strung out behind. For approach marches
a company double row was adopted, with the third platoon alongside
the first. The company wedge was essentially a wedge of wedges,
with the company headquarters vehicles in the center of the formation,
in echelon behind the rearmost tanks of the first platoon and ahead
of the lead tanks of the second and third platoons; as an alternative,
the second and third platoons could form a row or double row behind
the company headquarters vehicles. The broad wedge (Breitkeil),
was the company wedge in reverse, with two platoons up and one
back, and the company headquarters vehicles in the center of the
formation, in echelon ahead of the two lead tanks of the third
platoon. Where the company found itself on an open flank, the third
platoon would deploy in an echelon to the open side. In either
company wedge or broad wedge formation, the company occupied an
area of some 700m (765 yds) across and 400m (440 yds) deep.
Where Tigers operated independently,
with less capable medium tanks in support, the wedge formation
was favoured, with a single heavy tank at its point and medium
tanks (and later Pz.Kpfw.Panthers) making the tail. This was modified
as early as July 1943, into a "bell". This was essentially
a right arc or rounded wedge of medium tanks with a Tiger in its
center, where a bell would have its clapper.
Evidently, the tactical directives
were modified in light of experience, and particularly when it
became clear that far from being 'especially suitable for pursuit',
the Tiger was actually at its best in an ambush position, picking
off incoming enemy tanks at long range with its superior gun.
Camouflage and Markings of the Tiger
Because they served on many fronts,
attached to a variety of other units, and in large multi-unit formations,
Tiger battalions used more distinctive tactical markings, and carried
a greater variety of these markings than most other German tank
The first Tigers issued to front
line units during mid-1942 were delivered in overall Dark Grey
(RAL 7027). In the Winter of 1942-43, washable White paint was
used as camouflage in snow-covered areas. The Tigers of sPzAbt.501 ,
which deployed to Africa during late 1942, were camouflaged in
Desert Brown (RAL 8020) and while Dark Gray was authorized to be
used as a second color in a disruptive camouflage pattern, there
is no evidence that sPzAbt.501 ever painted their
vehicles in this manner. In the more temperate climate of coastal
Tunisia, many of the tanks of sPzAbt.501 were
oversprayed with Olive Green (RAL 7008) to enhance their camouflage.
Tigers of sPzAbt.504 were
camouflaged in overall Brown (RAL 8020) oversprayed with Olive
Green (RAL 7008). It is not known if any Tigers went to North Africa
painted in Dark Yellow (also known as Wehrmacht Olive), which was
specified for use as an overall basecoat on all combat and front
line support vehicles during 1943.
The camouflage colors used to paint
vehicles, with a wide variety of disruptive patterns, were Olive
Green (RAL 7008 - the light-green color first ordered for use in
North Africa in 1941) and Red Brown (RAL 8017) - which was more
of a brown than a red). Tigers used all these colors in a wide
variety of schemes and applications.
During August of 1944, to reflect
the needs of a changing war situation, the Germans added new camouflage
colors which were intended to be used in place of the older shades.
A new Olive Green (RAL 6003) was introduced, along with a new Red
Brown (RAL 8012). The new Red Brown was more red than the older
Red Brown, while the new Olive Green was somewhat darker than RAL
7008, and was often used as a primer color on many vehicles in
November of 1944.
In the last months of the war, Dark
Gray was also used on a number of vehicles, both as a primer and
as a camouflage color. It should be noted that older paints were
almost always used until supplies were exhausted, so many older
vehicles carried new paint colors while newer vehicles often appeared
in older colors. It should be noted that many German manufacturers
used Red Oxide primers extensively, and some of these primer paints
appeared on new vehicles.
The markings used on Tigers were
perhaps more varied than those of any other German combat vehicle.
As the Tiger battalions moved from engagement to engagement, from
one command structure to another, they came under the command of
many different formations. This led, in many cases, to the Tiger
units adopting different markings and even marking systems, especially
in the tank identification numbers. Most Tiger units used the standard
Wehrmacht three-digit system of vehicle identification, the first
digit denoting the company, the second denoted the platoon, and
the third digit denoted the individual vehicle within the platoon.
In some Tiger battalions, only the company number was used to identify
the vehicle, in others, only the platoon and individual vehicle
number, while other units used only the vehicle number.
In addition, a wide variety of number
styles and colors were found in Tiger units. Many Tiger battalions
used fairly consistent numbering, others changed not only styles,
but also systems. Some of these resulted from being attached to
another unit, and as a result having to renumber the Tigers. In
other cases, these changes appear to have resulted from changes
in commanding officers, a new CO changing things to suit his own
Some data about the individual Tiger
tank heavy battalions.
A Tiger I of sPzAbt.501, North Africa, 1943.
Schwere Panzer Abteilung 501 - sPzAbt.
| Tiger nbr. 111
crossing a bridge named after Major Loewe, killed in action
on 23rd December 1943. He was the sPzAbt.501 commander
at the time.
Following the Allied landings in
northwest Africa, Germany quickly sent troops to Tunisia to block
access to Lybia and deprive the Allies of bases within easy striking
distance of Italy. One of those units was the schwere Panzer Abteilung
501, which was one of the two Tiger units that had been promised
to Rommel and prepared for tropical deployment. Originally, sPzAbt
501 was to have been outfitted with the Porsche-Tigers, but due
to the delays and subsequent cancellation of Porsche-Tiger production,
the sPzAbt 501 was issued normal Henschel-Tigers.
Tiger 142 of sPzAbt.501 advances
down a road in Tunisia. The Tiger has the unit field modifications,
the lowered headlights and modified mudguards, that made
the tanks of sPzAbt.501 unique.
The 501st had been outfitted
with 20 Tigers and 25 PzKpfw III Ausf N. All 20 Tigers safely made
the crossing to Tunisia, the first three Tigers of 1. Kompanie
being unloaded at Bizerta on 23 November 1942. The last two Tigers
did not arrive until 24 January 1943, the second kompanie being
diverted due to the occupation of southern France and therefore
delayed in reaching Tunisia. The sPzAbt 501 surrendered in Tunisia,
on 12 May 1943 but was reformed from the surviving remnants in
September and received 45 Tigers from the ordnance depot in October
and November. Sent to the Eastern Front in November, sPzAbt 501
did not receive any new production replacements until six Tigers
were sent in June 1944. Decimated by the Russian summer offensive,
sPzAbt 501 was pulled out in early July 1944, reformed and refitted
with the Tiger II.
The famous schwere Panzer Abeilung 501"Crouching Tiger" marking.
Issued 45 Tiger II, the 501st was
ordered to join Heeres Gruppe Nordukraine (army group) on 6 August.
The 501st was overwhelmed during the Russian winter
offensive and ordered to be disbanded and used to create the sPzJgAbt
512 by orders dated 11 February 1945.
Schwere Panzer Abteilung 502 - sPzAbt.
On 23 July 1942, Hitler had ordered
the first company of Tigers to be formed quickly and sent to the
front at Leningrad. The first unit to receive Henschel-Tigers was
the 1. Kompanie of schwere Panzer Abteilung 502, four arriving
on August 19 and 20. These Tigers, accompanied by four Pz.Kpfw.III
Ausf.N, arrived at the front and went into combat on 29 August
1942. Two of the four Tigers were still operational at the end
of the day and the other two were recovered and repaired.
On 21 September 1942, the Tigers and Pz.Kpfw.IIIs were sent into
action again, with the loss of one Tiger and two Pz.Kpfw.IIIs. This
action resulted in the first Tiger that was permanently lost. Having
become hopelessly mired, the Tiger was subsequently filled with
explosives and destroyed on 25 November 1942.
The rest of the company arrived
at the front on 25 November 1942 with five Tigers, nine Pz.Kpfw.IIIs (50mm KwK L/60), and five Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.N. Seven more Tigers
arrived at the front in February 1943 to replace losses. Ordered
to upgrade to the new organization, the 1.Kompanie received seven
more Tigers in June 1943, to fill their complement of 14 Tigers.
Tigers were introduced into
new units for training during late 1942 and early 1943.
These new production Tigers of sPzAbt.502 are engaged in
summer training during 1943 and are equipped for tropical
use with Feifel dust filters on the rear engine deck. These
filters were removed from Tigers not intended for tropical
Having been outfitted in December
with nine Tigers and ten Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.N, the 2.Kompanie was
attached to the sPzAbt 503 and on 10 February 1943, the 2.Kompanie
of the 502nd was renamed 3.Kompanie/sPzAbt 503 and became
a permanent part of the 503rd.
On 1 April 1943, a new 2.Kompanie and a 3.Kompanie were formed
for the 502nd and to fill these two companies and the Stab (headquarters),
31 Tigers were shipped from the ordnance depot between 19 and 26
May 1943. The 1.Kompanie was joined by the Stab at the front, 1.
and 2.Kompanien in early July 1943, bringing the unit strength
to 45 Tigers. They received 32 replacements in January, and a further
20 in February 1944, bringing the total strength of the sPzAbt
502 up to 71 Tigers on 29 February 1944, although only 24 were
The 502nd was renamed as schwere
Panzer Abteilung 511 on 5 January 1945. The last 13 Tiger IIs produced
by Henschel were picked up directly from the factory on 31 March
1945, by the crews of the 3.Kompanie/Tiger Abt. 510 and 3.Kompanie/Tiger
Abt. 511. On 31 March, they reported that each company possessed
eight Tiger IIs. Of these 12 were brand new productions from Henschel
along with three older Tiger IIs from the Waffenamt at Senneläger
and one older Tiger II from the Waffenamt at Northeim. On 1 April
1945, they engaged in combat with seven Tigers per company in Kassel,
reporting that three further Tiger IIs had been lost due to bomb
damage. The battalion continued the struggle on the Eastern Front
until the end of the War.
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