One of the three Stabskompanie Panzer VI Tigers of s.SS-Pz.Abt.102 moves through a small French village in Normandy, July 1944.
Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 102 was formed in 1943 following demand for Heavy Tank Battalions by the Waffen SS to take part in offensive actions on the Eastern Front.
In June 1944 the battalion was sent to Normandy following the D-Day landings and on the 11th July engaged in combat with the advancing British forces west of Caen at and around Hill 112. The battalion took part in a number of defensive stands and counter-attacks throughout the months of July and August but was almost entirely destroyed as the Germans retreated from France. During the retreat the Battalion gradually lost its remaining armour to mechanical failures and fuel shortages. By the time the the Battalion reached Brussels only a single Tiger tank remained, it was subsequently abandoned and disabled by its crew.
The Battalion was withdrawn to Germany to recover and regroup, it was while in Germany that it was renamed Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 502 and rearmed with Tiger II tanks.
The Panzerkampfwagen VI ‘Tiger’ Ausf. E gained a fearsome reputation amongst the Western Allies from its initial deployment in North Africa and Italy. It’s thick armour made it almost impenetrable to any allied anti-tank gun while its own powerful 88mm main gun could cut through almost all allied armour.
Come the D-Day Invasion word of the Tiger tank was widespread and fear amongst allied tankers was real and intense. Dubbed 'Tiger Fever’ allied tankers, particularly American’s whose tanks was still grossly under-armed, were terrified of the prospect of encountering a Tiger tank in combat.
This almost myth-like status has built the Tiger tank a cult-like fan following since, yet its flaws are often over-looked or forgotten.
While generally mechanically reliable it was over-engineered, a trait which did not favour the German war effort especially given their spread across multiple fronts.
It was also incredibly heavy and wide. Its weight rendered many bridges unusable, field maintenance complicated and arduous, transport difficult and its colossal fuel consumption lumbered it with a limited range when travelling under its own power.
By the time of the Normandy invasion the Luftwaffe was on its knees which opened the Tiger tank up to its greatest weakness: Allied air superiority. The Tiger tank was a large and vulnerable target to Allied ground-attack aircraft such as the Hawker Typhoon and P-47 Thunderbolt. The Allied air presence unnerved German tank crews and was a great cause of panic amongst them, this presence proved a massive thorn in the side of the Axis forces not only in France but also Italy.
While the Tiger was a technically impressive tank, its true practical effectiveness was massively hindered by the external factors of war. The totality of its impact was far greater than could be expected of a tank produced in such small numbers (1,347). Much of its notoriety could be more fairly attributed to its psychological impact in the battlefield as opposed to its physical one.