The heaviest armored vehicle fielded by the Germans in World War II was the Panzerjäger Tiger Ausf B. This was built on a slightly lengthened Tiger II chassis topped with a fixed casemate and a 12.8 cm PaK 44 L/55 antitank gun. It weighed seventy-nine tons. A few early versions of the Jagdtiger had a suspension designed by Porsche, and one such vehicle is seen here. It features staggered 70 cm roadwheels mounted in pairs on the outside of the hull utilizing lateral dampeners, in favor of the torsion-bar suspension of the Tiger II.
Faced with increasing numbers of increasingly capable Allied vehicles, Germany sought to develop a tank destroyer that was so heavily armed and armored it could absolutely dominate the battlefield.
That armament was 12.8 cm PaK 44 L/55, inspired by the Soviet 122 mm gun. The Germans opted for the slightly larger gun in part to utilize some of the tooling previously created to produce 12.8 cm naval weapons.
While some of these formidable weapons were mounted on towed artillery carriages, two types of mechanized mounts were proposed. One was the German superheavy tank Maus. The other was the largest tank destroyer to enter series production, the Jagdtiger. It was hoped that not only would this vehicle be effective against enemy tanks, including those beyond the effective range of other guns, but also would be decisive against fortifications.
In order to mechanize the weapon, first a mock-up based on the Panther chassis was created. This style was discarded, and in October 1943 a second mock-up based on the Tiger II chassis, albeit lengthened forty centimeters, was shown to Hitler.
Two trial vehicles were assembled: chassis number 305001 utilized an eight-roadwheel Porsche torsion-bar suspension system, while chassis number 305002 used the Henschel nine overlapping wheel suspension system like that used on the production of Tiger II.
Both were assembled by Nibelungenwerk in February 1944. In total, 150 of the vehicles, dubbed Jagdtigers, were ordered. Ten more of these vehicles were built with the Porsche-designed suspension, while the balance of the seventy to eighty-eight vehicles actually produced featured the Henschel suspension.
Only two units were issued the massive vehicles, the heaviest armored vehicles to see series production during the war, schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653 and the schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 512. Their considerable weight, compounded by the vehicles often being crewed by young, inexperienced men, led to the Jagdtiger being of limited usefulness.
Technically, the Jagdtiger remained a highly advanced tank destroyer, fitted with a binocular gunner’s periscope sight of 10x magnification with range scales of 0-4,000m and 0-8,000m for armor-piercing and highexplosive ammunition respectively. The 128mm/55 cannon penetrated 148mm of armor sloped 30 degrees at 2,000m and 167mm at 1,000m.
In operation, however, the vehicle displayed serious limitations because of its sheer size and mobility, frequency of breakdown, and difficulties in maintaining its armament in top condition. There is little doubt that the deterioration of logistic support and crew quality by the last year of the war contributed to some of these difficulties. However, the two battalions actually equipped with these vehicles suffered most of their losses from mechanical breakdown, lack of fuel, or bogging. Very few firefights took place, largely because of the difficulties of moving the tanks to the front in time for planned operations. Furthermore, the vehicles needed to be employed together in significant numbers because of their low rate of fire. The alignment of the sights and gun barrel needed frequent resetting because of the vibration they experienced, especially when operating without the travel braces in place. Even firing vibrations required frequent resetting of the sights. Engines and drive train did not hold up well on long marches. The driving characteristics of these large, heavy vehicles proved especially challenging, and the lack of suitable bridges reduced the possibility of employing them on several occasions. Fording streams proved inadvisable because of the strain on the drive train and possibility of bogging.
Perhaps Otto Carius, a Jagdtiger company commander, said it best in his description of his vehicles. “Despite its 82 tons, our Hunting Tiger didn’t want to act like we wanted it to. Only its armor was satisfactory, its manoeuvrability left a lot to be desired. In addition, it was an assault gun. There was no traversing turret, just an enclosed armored housing. Any large traversing of the main gun had to be done by moving the entire vehicle. Because of that, transmission and steering differentials soon broke down. That such a monstrosity had to be constructed in the final phase of the war made no sense at all.”
Wapruf received 2 in April 1944
Mielau gunnery school received 1 in June 1944
Waspruf received 1 in August 1944
sPJA653 received 6 in September 1944
the school at Putlos received 1 in October 1944
sPJA653 received 6 in October 1944
sPJA653 received 9 in November 1944
sPJA653 received 7 in December 1944
Putlos received 1 in January 1945
sPJA653 received 15 in January 1945
sPJA512 received 27 in March 1945
ssPzArmee 6 received 4 in April 1945
There were 8 vehicles at the factory in Austria that were most likely utilized in the defense of the area in May 1945. The units using these are not known.
This totals 88 Jagdtigers.
Albert Ernst and 512th Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion
On 21 March, the battalion was assigned to LIII Corps and committed to the Battle of Remagen. By the end of the month it was reduced to a strength of 13 Jadgtigers. During April, the 1st and 2nd companies were destroyed in the Ruhr Pocket, while the 3rd Company was lost during fighting in the Harz Mountains.
The 512th schwere Panzerjaeger Abteilung (sPz.Jg.Abt.) was formed in late January 1945 at Sennelager, north of Paderborn. It was one of only two Abteilungen (the other being the 653rd) to be equipped with Jagdtigers.
On March 7th, 1945, the US Army took the bridge at Remagen intact. Also it collapsed 10 days later, the US forces now had a bridgehead on the east bank of the Rhine. On March 14th, 2nd Company of the 512th started traveling south (via rail), eventually reaching the Lauschied woods southeast of Eitorf on March 20th, 1945 (movement was very slow and only during the darkness). Three Jagdtigers were produced in March 1945 by Nibelungen Werk and had the following chassis numbers: 305075, 305076 and 305077. These three were delivered to schwere Panzer-Abteilung 512 with 1 being transported on 14 March and 2 transported on 26 March.
On March 24th, elements of the 512th Abteilung, together with the 506th schwere Panzerabteilung and 654th schwere Jagdpanzerabteilung formed Panzergruppe Hudel and attacked between Eitorf and Siegburg towards the southwest, with the intention to destroy the US bridgehead.
The battalion was equipped with the new Jagdtiger tank destroyer, which was built at the Hindenburg factory in St. Valentin near Linz, Austria. Ernst was impressed by the giant vehicle and its 12.8cm gun, whose barrel was more than eight meters long.
In August 1944, Carius took command of the 2nd Company of the newly forming 512th Heavy Anti-Tank Battalion, which was to be equipped with the monstrous 70-tonne Jagdtiger tank destroyer. By early 1945, this unit was still in training with its new vehicles at Döllersheim near Vienna, as the Western Allies successfully advanced towards the Rhine. On 8 March 1945, the desperate German high command felt compelled to commit the part-trained battalion to action on the Western Front near Siegburg. Despite Carius’ tactical abilities, his 2nd Company could not prevent American forces from overwhelming the flimsy German defensive screen thrown up along the eastern bank of the Rhine.
Indeed, by mid-April the battalion had been surrounded – along with most of Army Group B – in the Ruhr. Carius’ unit surrendered to American forces alongside some 300,000 other German troops. Whether the mighty Jagdtiger would have withstood the Firefly’s potent gun remains uncertain, as Carius’ company only saw service against the Americans, who did not generally use 17-pounder-equipped Shermans. After his release from American captivity, Carius went on to run a pharmacy named, rather appositely, Der Tiger Apotheke, and died in January 2015 at the ripe old age of 92.
Following firing trials in the Döllersheim area, on 10 March 1945 the new tank destroyers were thrown into action against the American bridgehead across the Rhine at Remagen. For crews experienced in conventional tanks, fighting in the Jagdtiger held some novelties. Before entering combat the gun’s travel lock and barrel support had to be disengaged. Aiming required pointing the entire vehicle, as the 12.8cm gun was housed in a fixed superstructure. For Ernst and others with experience in tank destroyers, conversion to the Jagdtiger posed few problems.
The German assault on the Remagen bridgehead failed mainly because the attack forces were committed piecemeal. Generalleutnant Bayerlein, commanding general of the German LIII Army Corps, suggested that the attack not begin until all three designated divisions and their heavy weapons were in place. This idea was rejected, however, and he was forced to attack on 10 March. Hitler had given orders to attack “immediately with every available unit.”
The attack, in which the Ernst company took part, was unsuccessful. Guderian’s maxim, to strike hard and not disperse one’s forces, had been disregarded.
Following the failure of the attack, Ernst and his Jagdtigers were given the job of covering the German withdrawal. The tank destroyers moved into position and knocked out pursuing American tanks from a range of two kilometers, demonstrating the outstanding accuracy of the Jagdtiger’s 12.8cm gun. Ernst and his unit then fell back through Niedernepfen and Obernepfen to Siegen. A German attack was planned from there to open the Ruhr pocket.