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Tiger I tactical number B01 of the 10th company of the III Abteilung of the "Großdeutschland" Division passing in front of some divisional


The introduction of the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf.E heavy tank provided a dramatic
improvement in the power of German armored formations. Both because of the real technical
advantages of the Tiger I, and the propaganda advantages of creating "elite" units in the
Panzertruppen, the Tiger was assigned to special heavy tank battalions (schwere Panzer Abteilungen
- sPzAbt). These were to be held at army or corps level and assigned as needed to reinforce other
units during a campaign. Only a few divisions ever received organic Tiger battalions. These included
Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland and Panzer Lehr Division.

In 1937, General Heinz Guderian, in "Achtung Panzer!" detailed the tactics and concepts of the
employment and use of tanks in a future war. establishing the principles of concentration applicable
to all tanks regardless of size or mission. He stated that "concentration of the available armored
forces will always be more effective than dispersing them, irrespective of whether talking about a
defensive or offensive posture, a breakthrough or an envelopment; a pursuit or a counterattack".
(Source: WILBECK, Christopher W., Sledgehammers: Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Heavy Tank
Battalions in World War II.)

When discussing heavy tanks, Guderian was prophetic in writing that "there will never be many
heavy tanks, and they will be used either independently or within the structure of the tank forces,
according to the mission. They represent an extremely dangerous threat and are not to be
underestimated" (WILBECK, Christopher W., op cit).

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Prior to the Tiger's introduction, and lacking a true heavy tank, the Germans used the PzKpfw
IV with a low velocity 75 mm main gun to fulfill the heavy tank role within the medium tank
companies though Poland, France, and during Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. Until the German
armored forces encountered Soviet heavy tanks, such as the KV I, KV II, and the T-34/76, the
PzKpfw IV was sufficiently well armored and armed to meet the tactical demands of a heavy tank.
The appearance of the T-34/76, specifically, greatly influenced and decisively accelerated German
heavy tank development. The German Army needed a heavy tank with more armor and a larger main
gun capable of penetrating the sloped armor of the T-34 (WILBECK, Christopher W., op cit).

The Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf.E was the weapons system developed to meet those and
future threats on the battlefield, and the schwere Panzer Abteilungen the organization that took form
to meet these requirements.

Origins of the Schwere Panzer Abteilungen.

A few days before the start of Operation Zitadelle, Panzer-Grenadier Division LSSAH renumbered its
Tiger company as the 13th company in the tank battalion. Note the brush painted Red Brown strokes
on the hull side plate.

As originally conceived, the schwere Panzer-Kompanien (heavy tank companies) were

organized as three Zuege (platoons) each with three Pz.Kpfw.Tiger Ausf.E for a total of nine heavy
tanks. Later the organization was expanded to include 10 Pz.Kpfw.III along with the 9 Tigers to
compose one schwere Panzer-Kompanie. The first three units send into the field (schwere Panzer-
Abteilung 501, 502, and 503) experimented with practically every possible combination of Pz.Kpfw.III
and Tigers within their schwere Panzer-Kompanien.

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First TOE for a Tiger Company (1942-1943).

Only after the first combat reports were received from the unit commanders was the decision
made to increase the strength of each company to 14 Pz.Kpfw.Tiger Ausf.E and to drop all the

The PzKpfw.III Ausf.N, with a low-velocity 7.5 cm KwK L/24 gun, used to provide
HE support for the schwere Panzer Kompanie (Tiger).

Many of the unit commanders had argued for the retention of the Pz.Kpfw.III, to perform the

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many duties for which the Tiger was not suited to, but their requests went unheeded and the
Pz.Kpfw.III were replaced by Sd.Kfz.250, assigned to the Abteilung-Stabskompanie (battalion
headquarters company) for performing scouting, reconnaissance, running messages, standing
perimeter guard, and other tasks not suitable for Tigers. This organization of 14 Tigers per schwere
Panzer-Kompanie was retained to the end of the war.

At first there were only two units, schwere Panzer-Kompanie 501 and 502. created as
Heerestruppen (independent army units). These were incorporated into schwere Panzer-Abteilung
501, and two more units each with two companies were created, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 502
(heavy tank battalion) and 503. Then the idea was tested of incorporating the heavy tanks into
Panzer-Regiments. This phase saw the creation of a schwere Panzer-Kompanie for Panzer Regiment
Großdeutschland and three SS-Panzer-Regiments as well as the assignment of several of the schwere
Panzer-Abteilungen as the III.Abteilung within existing Panzer Regiments. However, this concept was
short-lived. Under Guderian's guidance, all newly created schwere Panzer-Abteilungen, as well as all
already in service, were converted to pure units with 45 Tigers.This organization with three Tigers for
the Abteilung-Stab and 14 Tigers in each of the three schwere Panzer-Kompanien lasted through the
end of the war.

The Definitive TOE for a Tiger Company (1943-1945).

Altogether, eleven schwere Panzer-Abteilungen were created for the Heer (initially numbered
501 through 510 and the III.Abteilung/Panzer-Regiment Großdeutschland), and three for the SS
(numbered 101 through 103 in October 1943). In addition, three Panzer-Kompanien (FKL) and
Panzer-Abteilung (FKL) 301 were converted to Tigers as control vehicles for deploying the
Sprengstofftraeger (Sd.Kfz.301) (radio-controlled explosive charge carriers). As the situation
deteriorated, ad hoc units were formed and quickly thrown into combat as stop gap measures. These
ad hoc units included schwere Panzer Regiment Bäke, Tigergruppe Meyer and Panzer-Kompanie
Hummel as well as other last-gasp attempts to activate training and experimental units with their few
operational Tigers at he end of the war.

Tiger Tactics

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The Tiger Kompanie advances through the steppe, leaving a trail of destroyed Russian tanks.

The first heavy tank companies were committed to battle on an ad hoc basis, as vehicles
became available, therefore achieving little but giving away the precious element of surprise that an
impenetrable shroud of secrecy had given them. The result was something of a fiasco. Certainly, at
that time, very little thought or guidance had been given to developing tactics.

As a result the men of the first units - 501st, 502nd , and 503rd schwere Panzer Abteilungen -
were left largely to their own devices, with only the experience gained earlier in light and medium
tank units to guide them. Not unnaturally, the development of tactics were a priority, and regular
reports were demanded of the unit commanders.

There were four formations authorized for the Tiger platoon. Line abreast (Linie), with the
Platoon Leader (Zuegfuherer) on the extreme right and the Section Leader two vehicles away, was
used for assembly. Row (Reihe), with the Platoon Leader at the head and the Section Leader in the
third vehicle, was used both for assembly and marching, the former with 10m (33ft) between
vehicles, the latter at 25 m (84 ft) intervals. Double row (Doppelreihe), which for a platoon was
actually a box formation, was used for approach marches, over open country, and in the attack, with
the Platoon Leader at the head of the right hand row and the Section Leader alongside him. In
combat, the rows were to be 150 m (165 yds) apart and the lines 100 m (110 yds). The wedge (Keil),
was the most often used attack formation, with the Platoon Leader and the Section Leader level and
separated by 100 m (110 yds), and the second tank in each section 100 m (110 yds) behind and the
same distance to right and left, respectively. Therefore, when combat started, the Platoon Leader was
to move to a position within the formation from were he could make the best use possible of both
terrain and situation, the chances of either double row or wedge staying intact for very long seemed

Tiger Platoon Authorized Formations

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There were five authorized formations for the Tiger company. The column (Kolonne), used for
assembly, was essentially three platoon rows side by side, with the company Commander and his
alternate vehicle at the head of the center row. For marches an extended row was adopted. The
Company Commander took the the lead, followed by the second Kompanie Truppe vehicle, with the
three platoons strung out behind. For approach marches a company double row was adopted, with
the third platoon alongside the first. The company wedge was essentially a wedge of wedges, with the
company headquarters vehicles in the center of the formation, in echelon behind the rearmost tanks
of the first platoon and ahead of the lead tanks of the second and third platoons; as an alternative,
the second and third platoons could form a row or double row behind the company headquarters
vehicles. The broad wedge (Breitkeil), was the company wedge in reverse, with two platoons up and
one back, and the company headquarters vehicles in the center of the formation, in echelon ahead of
the two lead tanks of the third platoon. Where the company found itself on an open flank, the third
platoon would deploy in an echelon to the open side. In either company wedge or broad wedge
formation, the company occupied an area of some 700m (765 yds) across and 400m (440 yds) deep.

Where Tigers operated independently, with less capable medium tanks in support, the wedge
formation was favoured, with a single heavy tank at its point and medium tanks (and later
Pz.Kpfw.Panthers) making the tail. This was modified as early as July 1943, into a "bell". This was
essentially a right arc or rounded wedge of medium tanks with a Tiger in its center, where a bell
would have its clapper.

Evidently, the tactical directives were modified in light of experience, and particularly when it
became clear that far from being 'especially suitable for pursuit', the Tiger was actually at its best in
an ambush position, picking off incoming enemy tanks at long range with its superior gun.

Camouflage and Markings of the Tiger Battalions

Because they served on many fronts, attached to a variety of other units, and in large multi-
unit formations, Tiger battalions used more distinctive tactical markings, and carried a greater variety
of these markings than most other German tank units.

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The first Tigers issued to front line units during mid-1942 were delivered in overall Dark Grey
(RAL 7027). In the Winter of 1942-43, washable White paint was used as camouflage in snow-
covered areas. The Tigers of sPzAbt.501 , which deployed to Africa during late 1942, were
camouflaged in Desert Brown (RAL 8020) and while Dark Gray was authorized to be used as a second
color in a disruptive camouflage pattern, there is no evidence that sPzAbt.501 ever painted their
vehicles in this manner. In the more temperate climate of coastal Tunisia, many of the tanks of
sPzAbt.501 were oversprayed with Olive Green (RAL 7008) to enhance their camouflage.

Tigers of sPzAbt.504 were camouflaged in overall Brown (RAL 8020) oversprayed with Olive
Green (RAL 7008). It is not known if any Tigers went to North Africa painted in Dark Yellow (also
known as Wehrmacht Olive), which was specified for use as an overall basecoat on all combat and
front line support vehicles during 1943.

The camouflage colors used to paint vehicles, with a wide variety of disruptive patterns, were
Olive Green (RAL 7008 - the light-green color first ordered for use in North Africa in 1941) and Red
Brown (RAL 8017) - which was more of a brown than a red). Tigers used all these colors in a wide
variety of schemes and applications.

During August of 1944, to reflect the needs of a changing war situation, the Germans added
new camouflage colors which were intended to be used in place of the older shades. A new Olive
Green (RAL 6003) was introduced, along with a new Red Brown (RAL 8012). The new Red Brown was
more red than the older Red Brown, while the new Olive Green was somewhat darker than RAL 7008,
and was often used as a primer color on many vehicles in November of 1944.

In the last months of the war, Dark Gray was also used on a number of vehicles, both as a
primer and as a camouflage color. It should be noted that older paints were almost always used until
supplies were exhausted, so many older vehicles carried new paint colors while newer vehicles often
appeared in older colors. It should be noted that many German manufacturers used Red Oxide
primers extensively, and some of these primer paints appeared on new vehicles.

The markings used on Tigers were perhaps more varied than those of any other German
combat vehicle. As the Tiger battalions moved from engagement to engagement, from one command
structure to another, they came under the command of many different formations. This led, in many
cases, to the Tiger units adopting different markings and even marking systems, especially in the
tank identification numbers. Most Tiger units used the standard Wehrmacht three-digit system of
vehicle identification, the first digit denoting the company, the second denoted the platoon, and the
third digit denoted the individual vehicle within the platoon. In some Tiger battalions, only the
company number was used to identify the vehicle, in others, only the platoon and individual vehicle
number, while other units used only the vehicle number.

In addition, a wide variety of number styles and colors were found in Tiger units. Many Tiger
battalions used fairly consistent numbering, others changed not only styles, but also systems. Some
of these resulted from being attached to another unit, and as a result having to renumber the Tigers.
In other cases, these changes appear to have resulted from changes in commanding officers, a new
CO changing things to suit his own preferences.

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Some data about the individual Tiger tank heavy battalions.

A Tiger I of sPzAbt.501, North Africa, 1943.

Schwere Panzer Abteilung 501 - sPzAbt. 501

Tiger nbr. 111 crossing a bridge named after Major Loewe, killed in action on 23rd December 1943. He was the
sPzAbt.501 commander at the time.

Following the Allied landings in northwest Africa, Germany quickly sent troops to Tunisia to
block access to Lybia and deprive the Allies of bases within easy striking distance of Italy. One of
those units was the schwere Panzer Abteilung 501, which was one of the two Tiger units that had
been promised to Rommel and prepared for tropical deployment. Originally, sPzAbt 501 was to have
been outfitted with the Porsche-Tigers, but due to the delays and subsequent cancellation of Porsche-
Tiger production, the sPzAbt 501 was issued normal Henschel-Tigers.

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Tiger 142 of sPzAbt.501 advances down a road in Tunisia. The Tiger has
the unit field modifications, the lowered headlights and modified mudguards,
that made the tanks of sPzAbt.501 unique.

The 501st had been outfitted with 20 Tigers and 25 PzKpfw III Ausf N. All 20 Tigers safely made
the crossing to Tunisia, the first three Tigers of 1. Kompanie being unloaded at Bizerta on 23
November 1942. The last two Tigers did not arrive until 24 January 1943, the second kompanie being
diverted due to the occupation of southern France and therefore delayed in reaching Tunisia. The
sPzAbt 501 surrendered in Tunisia, on 12 May 1943 but was reformed from the surviving remnants in
September and received 45 Tigers from the ordnance depot in October and November. Sent to the
Eastern Front in November, sPzAbt 501 did not receive any new production replacements until six
Tigers were sent in June 1944. Decimated by the Russian summer offensive, sPzAbt 501 was pulled
out in early July 1944, reformed and refitted with the Tiger II.

The famous schwere Panzer Abeilung 501"Crouching Tiger" marking.

Issued 45 Tiger II, the 501st was ordered to join Heeres Gruppe Nordukraine (army group) on
6 August. The 501st was overwhelmed during the Russian winter offensive and ordered to be
disbanded and used to create the sPzJgAbt 512 by orders dated 11 February 1945.

Schwere Panzer Abteilung 502 - sPzAbt. 502

On 23 July 1942, Hitler had ordered the first company of Tigers to be formed quickly and sent
to the front at Leningrad. The first unit to receive Henschel-Tigers was the 1. Kompanie of schwere
Panzer Abteilung 502, four arriving on August 19 and 20. These Tigers, accompanied by four
Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.N, arrived at the front and went into combat on 29 August 1942. Two of the four
Tigers were still operational at the end of the day and the other two were recovered and repaired.
On 21 September 1942, the Tigers and Pz.Kpfw.IIIs were sent into action again, with the loss of one
Tiger and two Pz.Kpfw.IIIs. This action resulted in the first Tiger that was permanently lost. Having
become hopelessly mired, the Tiger was subsequently filled with explosives and destroyed on 25
November 1942.

The rest of the company arrived at the front on 25 November 1942 with five Tigers, nine
Pz.Kpfw.IIIs (50mm KwK L/60), and five Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.N. Seven more Tigers arrived at the front in
February 1943 to replace losses. Ordered to upgrade to the new organization, the 1.Kompanie
received seven more Tigers in June 1943, to fill their complement of 14 Tigers.

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Tigers were introduced into new units for training during late 1942 and early 1943. These new production Tigers of
sPzAbt.502 are engaged in summer training during 1943 and are equipped for tropical use with Feifel dust filters on
the rear engine deck. These filters were removed from Tigers not intended for tropical service.

Having been outfitted in December with nine Tigers and ten Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.N, the 2.Kompanie
was attached to the sPzAbt 503 and on 10 February 1943, the 2.Kompanie of the 502nd was renamed
3.Kompanie/sPzAbt 503 and became a permanent part of the 503rd.
On 1 April 1943, a new 2.Kompanie and a 3.Kompanie were formed for the 502nd and to fill these
two companies and the Stab (headquarters), 31 Tigers were shipped from the ordnance depot
between 19 and 26 May 1943. The 1.Kompanie was joined by the Stab at the front, 1. and
2.Kompanien in early July 1943, bringing the unit strength to 45 Tigers. They received 32
replacements in January, and a further 20 in February 1944, bringing the total strength of the sPzAbt
502 up to 71 Tigers on 29 February 1944, although only 24 were operational.

The 502nd was renamed as schwere Panzer Abteilung 511 on 5 January 1945. The last 13 Tiger
IIs produced by Henschel were picked up directly from the factory on 31 March 1945, by the crews of
the 3.Kompanie/Tiger Abt. 510 and 3.Kompanie/Tiger Abt. 511. On 31 March, they reported that
each company possessed eight Tiger IIs. Of these 12 were brand new productions from Henschel
along with three older Tiger IIs from the Waffenamt at Senneläger and one older Tiger II from the
Waffenamt at Northeim. On 1 April 1945, they engaged in combat with seven Tigers per company in
Kassel, reporting that three further Tiger IIs had been lost due to bomb damage. The battalion
continued the struggle on the Eastern Front until the end of the War.


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