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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Introducing the Tiger I

The Tiger Tank was Germany's first heavy tank of the war. It's also known as Sd Kfz 181 as well as PzKpfw VI Ausf. H (later PzKpfw VI Ausf. E), or Panzer VI for short. The 'I' was added retroactively to the name after the Tiger II (King Tiger) came out. The Tiger tank was designed and built in response to the Soviet Tanks encountered during the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of '41, which outgunned and were better armored than the Panzer III's and Panzer IV's. By September of '42 the first Tigers were already being sent into action around Leningrad, but as it was rushed to the front prematurely, it initially suffered from mechanical and reliability problems. Besides the Eastern Front, the Tiger Tank also saw action in North Africa, Italy and the Western Front. Its thick armor, 88mm gun, and decent speed for a heavy tank, made it a formidable opponent, able to destroy enemy tanks at very long ranges, and being very hard to knock out unless the opponent managed to get very close to it and hit it from a vulnerable angle, usually the sides or back. Its good performance in combat enabled multiple Tiget tank commanders to become 'aces' with over 100 kills to their credit. It is said that one Tiger was able to destroy 22 Soviet tanks in a single engagement.
Unfortunately, the Tiger's design was a bit too complex. For instance, due to its weight, it was not able to go over small bridges, so it was designed to ford water up to 4 meters in depth. This meant that it had to be equiped with additional systems for breathing, ventilation, and engine cooling, the hull had to be sealable, and some of the compartments had to be floodable so it would not just float and get dragged downstream. Likewise, it introduced a new design for several rows of overlapping, interleaved wheels which gave it a wider track, better able to distribute its huge weight. All this increased its manufacturing complexity and cost, which resulted in less tan 1500 being manufactured during the war. By mid-1944, it was phased out of production in favor of the Panther and the Tiger II.
Stackpole Books has a two volume narrative of Michael Wittmann's exploits as a Tiger I commander, which provides great insight into the Tiger's development, the operations of a tank battalion, and the Tiger's performance in combat. In terms of Toy Soldier manufacturers, we have a couple good examples courtesy of the usual suspects, 21C and FOV.

21st Century Toys Tiger I
This tank was the first of its kind to be produced. Released about 10 years ago, it is a realistic vehicle, at a good scale, factory-painted, with moving turret, gun, tracks, hatches, and a factory-painted crew for less than 15 dollars. At the time it came out I would be making trips to my local Toys R Us every weekend to try to catch the next shipment as they were flying off the selves. It was the best thing that happened to the hobby in terms of vehicles. After that, many more and even better models followed, but this one (and the half track) are the ones that started it all.

21st Century Toys Tiger I - Afrika Korps
A short time later, 21C Toys released another version of the Tiger I. Essentially the same vehicle in a different color scheme. I preferred the original colors, but I still got three of these to give Rommel's army a heaftier punch.

Forces of Valor Tiger I
A couple years later FOV came into the military vehicle landscape and released their own versions of the Tiger I. Several paint schemes were released. Unfortunately I only got one of them as I already had several of the 21C ones. FOV's Tiger is even better than 21C's. Aside from the fact that is made out of metal, the level of detail and realism is higher. For instance, notice the anti-magnetic Zimmerit paint cover to defend against mines, or the bent fenders above the tracks. Definitely a nice piece of equipment for your collection.

Click here to see a post about the Panzer III.
Click here to see a post about the Panzer IV.
Click here to see a post about the Tiger II.

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