Although when it was deployed to Panzerwaffe units of Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS in 1942, Tiger I tank (PzKpfw VI Ausf. H) was classified a heavy tank, most modern main battle tanks essentially follow a very similar design – and definitely the designed principles pioneered by Tiger I with its focus on thick armor and a superior firepower.
Tiger I had a total weight of about 54 tons (typical weight of a modern main battle tank) and boasted 120mm frontal armor (penetrable by most Allied guns only at a very close range) and an extremely powerful 88mm KwK 36 gun – considered probably the best tank gun of World War II.
The KwK 36 was very accurate and high-powered, and its high muzzle velocity produced a very flat trajectory. This allowed its gunners a higher margin of error in estimating range and the sighting system of the gun resulted in excellent firing accuracy.
The Tiger I had frontal hull armor 120 mm thick, frontal turret armor of 100 mm and a 120 mm thick gun mantlet. It had 60 mm thick hull side plates and 80 mm armor on the side superstructure/sponsons, while turret sides and rear were 80 mm. The top and bottom armor was 25 mm thick; from March 1944, the turret roof was thickened to 40 mm.
The M4 Sherman’s 75 mm gun (or 76mm gun of Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks) would not penetrate the Tiger frontally at any range, and needed to be within 100 m to achieve a side penetration against the 80 mm upper hull superstructure. Consequently, it is no surprise that Tiger I achieved a kill ratio considerably higher than 10:1 against these tanks on a battlefield.
The tank’s weight significantly limited its use of bridges. For this reason, the Tiger was built with watertight hatches and a snorkel device that allowed it to cross water obstacles four meters deep.
Although from a technical point of view it was superior to its contemporaries, the low number produced, shortages in qualified crew and the considerable fuel requirement in a context of ever shrinking resources prevented the Tiger I from having a real impact on the war.