Friday, 27 December 2013

World of Tanks History Section: Jagdtiger

The end of WWII was a difficult time for Germany's tank manufacturing. The Reich experienced a lack of natural resources that were necessary for production. Even in conditions when reasonable engineering solutions were not possible, the country was obsessed with wonder-weapons that would turn the course of the war and stave off inevitable defeat.

In this wild goose chase, the Germans created vehicles ranging from interesting to those of questionable value. The Jagdtiger heavy tank destroyer lies somewhere in between.

A large part of the blame for wasting resources on questionable vehicles lay on Hitler. He was very fond of massive armoured beasts. The Fuhrer did not have a technical education, and did not understand that a vehicle's fighting ability is not determined by its mass and size.

Hitler signed the order to create a heavy anti-tank SPG in the fall of 1942, shortly after work began on the heavy Tiger II tank. The first two experimental vehicles, built on the VK 30.01 (H) chassis were sent to fight at Stalingrad, but, after German defeat, both were lost. For a short time, work on a heavy tank destroyer ceased. The Germans were confident in victory, and did not consider it necessary to create special vehicles. Existing ones were enough.

In 1943, Henschel and Krupp jointly began construction of a tank destroyer. On October 20th, 1943, a wooden model was shown to Hitler. He was ecstatic; and ordered the production of this vehicle started next year. In April of 1944, Hitler named it: Jagdpanzer VI Tiger Ausf. B Jagdtiger, later shortened to "Jagdtiger".

Production was planned for Henschel and Nibelungenwerke factories. But first, the vehicle's cost should be reduced to a reasonable level. The Fuhrer's favourite, Dr. Porsche, tried to leave his mark here. His construction bureau suggested that the most complicated part of the vehicle, the suspension, should be the same as the one on the Ferdinand. Porsche's suspension had external torsion bars. This made it simpler and cheaper. The mass also decreased by 2.5 tons. Two vehicles were built with this suspension, one of which made it to trials before Henschel's analogue did. However, a bogey broke down during testing, which was immediately taken advantage of by Porsche's opponents from the Armament Directorate. Henschel's vehicle was recommended for mass production. In July of 1944, Jagdtigers began construction in Sankt Valentin. Until the middle of October, the Germans managed to produce 50 vehicles. On October 16th, Allied aviation delivered a 140 ton strike to the factory. The destruction was so great that production ceased until Spring of 1945. In total, the Germans built between 70 and 79 vehicles, according to various sources.

Only two units were armed with Jagdtigers. These were the 512th and 653rd heavy tank destroyer battalions. Famous German tank ace Otto Carius commanded the second company of the 512th battalion. In March of 1945, these tanks first took part in combat operations. The first company, consisting of 6 TDs, defended the bridge across the Rhein near the city of Remagen. Without the loss of a single vehicle, the Germans deflected the Allied attack and destroyed several tanks. The battles at Remagen demonstrated the power of the 128 mm gun, penetrating any enemy tank at a distance of up to 2.5 km.

Carius' company fared significantly worse. The problems weren't due to Allied forces, they were due to the SPG crews themselves, picked from newbies with poor training and even worse morale. During the defense of Siegen, two vehicles left the field of battle when no danger was present. The inexperienced driver pushed the TD so hard that it irreparably broke down. When the commander understood that it could not be moved again, he ordered the crew to evacuate and destroyed the vehicle.

Three more of second company's Jagdtigers were destroyed by aviation en route to the city of Siegburg. The rest of the vehicles took part in a battle for the Ruhr pocket. Over 5 days, the Jagdtigers of the 512th battalion destroyed 40 American tanks. When the position of the unit became hopeless, the remains of it surrendered.

Nine vehicles fought in Austria until May 9th, 1945. In the evening, the three that were still in service made a dash westward, to surrender to the Allies instead of the Red Army. Only two vehicles broke through, one was knocked out and destroyed by its crew. The Soviet losses in that battle consisted of two IS-2 tanks and two KV-85 tanks.

The 653rd battalion started fighting sooner, in December of 1944, as a part of the 5th tank army. There were few Jagdtigers in the unit, but they made significant breaches in the tanks of American tanks. On December 7th, 1944, one such vehicle destroyed 19 Shermans over 3 hours. In return, it was only hit three times, none of which penetrated the armour.

On May 6th, 1945, Soviet forces managed to knock out one of the 653rd's 6 Jagdtigers that were trying to break through to American lines. The crew could not blow it up under Soviet fire. The vehicle was captured, and is now held in Kubinka. The other 5 were destroyed by the Germans at the Austrian border.

Despite being the most powerful tank destroyer of the war, the Jagdtiger did not manage to have any effect on its outcome. Firstly, they were too few in numbers. Secondly, their construction could not boast high reliability. The Germans themselves knew it, and equipped each one with two self-destruct charges. One was placed right next to the breech of the gun. One can only imagine how the crew felt, sitting next to such a deadly cargo. In his memoirs, Otto Carius writes that the Jagdtiger's 8 meter long barrel loosened after even a short off-road drive. Subsequent accurate fire was impossible. Carius also writes about an unfortunate design of the gun stopper, with which the gun was fixed in place during travel. It was impossible to take it off from inside the TD. Therefore, one crewman had to risk his life getting out from behind its armour after the Jagdtiger has made contact with the enemy. Many harsh words were aimed at the suspension, which was heavily overloaded, and was prone to frequent breakdowns.

The Jagdtiger was the heaviest mass produced vehicle of WWII. For 1944-1945 Germany, it was unaffordably expensive, and its many drawbacks nullified its worth as a combat unit. Perhaps it would be more useful had it appeared in the German army earlier, but from history that we know today, it was a hopeless project.

Original article available here.