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Tom Cleaver
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Tamiya 1/48 Tiger I (early production)

March 31, 2021 · in Armor · · 16 · 2.9K

Anybody who ever does armor, no matter what level of intensity, is sooner or later going to confront doing a Tiger (the ugliest tank ever created, IMO). This is mine from the summer of 2006:


Despite the decision to mass produce the PzKpfw III and IV, and the certainty at the time that these two tanks would be adequate for the expected battles of the near future, the German general staff also called for an even heavier tank in 1937. Henschel was instructed to design and build a prototype of a 30-33 ton tank to be the successor to the PzKpfw IV, initially named the Durchbrüchswagen I, or “breakthrough vehicle.” By 1940, Henschel had so improved the design that its designation was changed to DW 2, and it carried a short 75 mm gun. Trials were carried out until 1941, when an order was placed for a new design that was the DW 2. Henschel built two new prototypes in March 1941, and two more that October. These had a superstructure similar to the PzKpfw IV. The suspension had seven interleaved road wheels and three return rollers on each side. Original armament was to be the 75 mm L/48. However, after the Wehrmacht met the Russian T-34/76s, the design was seen as obsolete and development was discontinued, though two were lengthened and armed with a 128mm K/40 gun and were used in Russia in 1942.

Hitler proposed a new specification for a 36 ton tank, armed with a high-velocity gun, heavy armor, and a speed of 25 mph. Henschel developed a prototype by March 1942, when the specifications were changed to a 45 ton tank with 88mm gun, with a deadline for first prototype of Hitler's birthday, April 20, 1942. Prototypes by Henschel and Porsche were shown to Hitler at Rastenburg, where the Henschel design was selected, with production to begin in August 1942.

Designated the Pzkpfw VI, the tank was given the name of Tiger, being the first German tank to be given a name, which recognized it as different from what had gone before.

The armor of the was not well sloped, but it was thick. In terms of World War II tank warfare, thickness was a quality in itself, since armor resistance is mainly determined by the ratio between armor thickness and projectile diameter (T/d). The T/d relationship rules that the more the thickness of the armor plate overmatches the diameter of any incoming armor piercing round, the harder it is for the projectile to achieve penetration, while the greater the diameter of the incoming projectile relative to the thickness of the armor plate it hits, the greater the probability of penetration. This is why the side armor of the Tiger I, being 80mm thick, was so difficult to penetrate at combat ranges for most Allied anti-tank and tank guns, whose calibers were overmatched by the thickness of the Tiger I armor.

The quality of the armor was a major asset of the Tiger I, which made it a very special kind of armored fighting vehicle, because it had the best quality of everything, compared to any other German tank. The rolled homogeneous nickel-steel plate, electro-welded interlocking-plate construction armor had a Brinell hardness index of 255-260, making it the best homogeneous armor hardness level for WW II standards. Rigorous quality control procedures ensured it stayed that way. The Tiger I's armor was therefore far superior to that of the Panther, whose armor had a much higher Brinell index, and was consequently very brittle. As a side effect of the usage of this special armor, the Tiger was a very expensive and resource-consuming tank. The cost of a Tiger was RM 250,000. In contrast, a PzKpfw III cost RM 96,200, a PzKpfw IV RM 103,500, and a PzKpfw V Panther RM 117,000. All of this contributed to the fact that fewer Tiger Is were made in the entire Second World War than one month's production of either the Sherman or the T-34.

A major drawback was the overlapping road wheels, which could freeze together if they were cold enough and clogged with mud. Sometimes the buildup of debris between wheels caused the track to ride up over the sprocket teeth and jam. Tension was such it couldn't be freed by releasing the tension on the idler wheel, or by removing a track pin. While it was possible to tow the disabled Tiger, some crews choose to place an explosive under the track to blow out a link. The other alternative was to abandon the tank. The layout of the rubber tired wheels did give the Tiger a smooth, steady ride. After vehicle 825, all steel wheels were installed beginning in March 1944, which allowed the outside wheels to be removed.

The conventional wisdom is that the Tiger was a "lumbering monster" that "could barely move", but the truth is the Tiger I was very maneuverable for its weight and size, and superior to the Sherman in muddy terrain, despite its size and weight. Like all German tanks, Tigers used hydraulically operated regenerative steering, which meant the separate tracks could be turned in opposite directions at the same time, allowing the Tiger I to pivot in place, and completely turn around in a distance of 3.44 meters, or 11.28 feet. This took many unlucky enemy crews by surprise. Also, the Tiger I was not slow: The Panzer IV road speed was 40 km/h, with cross country speed of 20 km/h. The Panzer III road speed was 40 km/h with cross country speed of 18 km/h. The Tiger I's road speed was 38 km/h, while cross country speed was 20 km/h. The only German tank faster than the Tiger I was the Panther, with a road speed of 46 km/h and a cross country speed of 24 km/h.

Introduction of the Tiger I gave a dramatic improvement in the power of German armored formations. 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 held at army or corps level and assigned as needed to reinforce other units during a campaign. Only a few divisions, including the Panzergrenadier Division Großßdeutschland and the Panzer Lehr Division ever received their own Tiger battalions.

Production of the Tiger I was phased out in the fall of 1944. By that August, approximately 1,300 had been produced, which is not many in view of their reputation and their effect on Allied morale. Perhaps this is the best epitaph the Tiger could have for history.

The Kit:

The Tiger I is the most popular single armor modeling subject ever. Period. More different kits of the Tiger have been produced in more scales over the years than any other armor subject. Only the Sherman runs a close second. Kits of the Tiger exist in scales from 1/700 to 1/4 and in every medium from plastic to metal.

's Tiger I in is a scale-down of their early 1/35 Tiger I, and suffers many of the same faults as that kit, with some of its own. These include many of the various parts that are usually separate in the larger scale being molded on to the hull for this kit. Of all the Tamiya 1/48 armor kits, this one is most in need of one of the various aftermarket detail sets. In my case, I used the Eduard photoetch set.


While the other tanks in this series allow a modeler to build the upper and lower hulls as separate assemblies that do not come together until everything has been painted and the tracks attached, the layout of the Tiger I pretty much requires full assembly before attaching the tracks. This created the only difficulty I experienced with the kit, since I had to assemble the upper sections of the tracks, and then push them through the narrow space above the road wheels to get them in position.

Beyond this, the kit did not present any difficulty in construction as I followed the instructions. I substituted the Eduard photo-etch mudguards for the kit parts, so that they could be “dinged” and bent, as most photos of Tigers show them to have been, even to knocking them off. I also used the Eduard photoetch screens over the engine covers, since the model doesn't really look right without them.

Painting and Markings:

I gave the model an overall coat of Tamiya German Armor Yellow, then went back and faded the paint. At this point I applied the decals, then when they were set and dry, I applied a brown wash to “muddy it up.” I then used the Tamiya Weathering Master sets to add more wear and tear and dirt to everything. When I had what looked to me like a tank that had seen action on the Eastern Front in the summer of 1943. I stopped and gave the model a coat of Xtracrylix Gloss to seal everything. I finished that off with several coats of Testor's Dullcote to get a dead flat finish.

Final Construction:

Final Assembly consisted of attaching the tracks, which were difficult as described at the outset. Once these were done, I attached the tow cables and other separate pieces to the hull, then put the turret in position.


The Tiger I is considered the apex of German tank design during the Second World War. It is big, ugly, and dangerous-looking, a perfect metaphor for the regime it served. Building this early product of the Tamiya1/48 armor line, I was able to see how much progress has been made with the later releases. The finished tank looks very good sitting next to the Pzkpfw III and IV and the Panther G in the series.

Reader reactions:
7  Awesome

7 additional images. Click to enlarge.

16 responses

  1. This is a great build, @tcinla, especially for an old and plagued with issues kit.
    I am not into armor, hoping to get into soon, but, despite the "de rigeur" 1/35, I start to develop a soft spot on 1/48.
    I liked a lot the "historical" supporting text, there were so many details regarding the Tiger I was not aware of.
    "Liked", as in 2006 🙂

  2. Another Great review Tom.

    The idea of Such heavy tracked fighting vehicles As the Tiger was not as bad of an idea as some people made it out to be .

    fighting on 4 fronts For Germany made the numbers in armament procurement not add up As production was not able to keep up with the attrition caused by allied bombing, which pretty much picked and Chose where and when to strike. Huge losses notwithstanding.

    I had friends in Belgium who’s Fathers fought for Germany in Russia ( yikes!)

    I remember conversations about the infamous “Rasputista “ where the steppes of Russia turned into thick muck that stopped everything in spring time. That left a very short window to advance during the summer months with longer and longer supply lines needed to feed it all. Then “ General Winter “ struck. A miserable experience.

  3. I like the subject and the scale. Some of these 1/48 like kits are fabulous additions for an airfield diorama. Been thinking about that Hanomag SS100 to do just that

  4. Nice Looking Tiger Tom, I have a few in my stash. I actually love the Tiger, I think it just looks purpose built and deadly. My first post on this site was my AFV Tiger I that was actually a joy to build, even without the link and length track. I like the way the Tamiya kits go together, I have heard of some guys building the tracks and bogeys on the model then sliding the whole assembly off to paint the model and then slide them back for final assembly.

    1 attached image. Click to enlarge.

  5. I'm with Walt on this, I like the looks of the Tiger too. Sure it's basically a steel box on tracks but it's got a well-balanced and poised look to it.
    Looking at Walt's photo there's no mistaking what it's here for.
    Thanks, or tanks, once again for another great write-up and the nice model photos.

  6. A terrific Tiger!

  7. Tom, @tcinla

    I have noticed that lately you have been posting up some of your previous armor builds. That's fine by me, as I happen to like tanks. I liked them so much that I actually served in them as a crew member in the M-60A-1 and M-1A1 series. I started out like all tankers do... I was the loader and fed the main gun and made sure the coax machine gun was always ready. Then I became a driver and logged over 2000 miles driving an M-60. I spent most of my time however as the gunner, but on occasion I would fill in as the Tank Commander or "TC" as we were called.

    The term you are referring to where the tank pivots around is called "Neutral steering". We did it mainly in the motor pool on a concrete surface or on occasion on a street in a small German town in order to negotiate the narrow roads we encountered. We also used the neutral steer feature when we were placing tension on the tracks, or when we replaced the track altogether or when we removed a single track block in order to keep the track tension tight. As the track wears out from use, on occasion it is necessary to remove a single track block, in order to retain the correct track tension. Here again, look at American tanks. You will hardly ever see picture of one with the tracks sagging. Look at the German and Russian tanks, and almost all of them have loose track. It is harder to throw a track with tight tension. During my time as a driver, I never threw a track or got stuck... Yes tanks can get stuck. I saw one in Germany so mired in mud, that all was visible was the upper portion of the turret... Honest to God it's true ! I don't know how long it took them to get it freed from the mud bog it was in.

    In order to do this, the tanks transmission is placed in "Neutral". The driver then turns the T bar (almost like the ones you had on your first bicycle) either right or left and gives the accelerator pedal (in the M-60) or the throttle lever (in the Abrams) some gas. This causes one track to go forward while the other one goes to the reverse, in the opposite direction. The tank can actually pivot around in a complete 360 this way while not moving forward or backwards. You can neutral steer a tank in either direction. It depends upon the direction the driver moves the T bar.

    It is not normally done in the field, but once in a while we did it. It tends to dig into the ground when this is done, and the dirt (or sand) will pile up on the tracks. It's actually quite fun to do, especially when the gunner or TC spins the turret in the opposite direction. It can be done to turn the front slope towards the enemy quickly if your tank is sitting still. The front slope has the thickest armor, as does the main gun mantle on the front of the turret. So you always want the enemy facing you from the front. Neutral steering can be done to help the gunner traverse the main gun towards the target. But we didn't do this often, as the turret traversed very fast in the tanks I served in and it wasn't usually necessary to do it.

    The main reason why the Tiger was good at cross country was because the width of the tracks enabled this. This wide track feature reduced it's ground pressure. Ground pressure is what determines how good a tank will operate in bad terrain. However, the width also became a major problem when they were shipping these using rail cars. The Tiger crew would have to remove the wide "battle tracks" and install as thinner set of transport tracks.

    If they didn't do this, the Tiger was too wide to fit through some of the railway tunnels.

    The all steel road wheel you mentioned was called a "resilient rim". It was mainly used on the later versions of the Tiger, all of the King Tigers and the late version of the Panther as well as the late Jagdpanther / Jagdtiger's. This was done to conserve the use of rubber, which was a synthetic material the Germans invented once the trade embargos went into effect and they couldn't get the raw rubber they needed.

    Some sources say these resilient rims had a small amount of rubber used in them and it was encased with a steel cover. Other sources have said these rims were completely made of steel, just as the ones you would see on some of the Russian T-34's. I honestly don't know which version is true.

    However the main reason why these German tanks like the Tiger family , (and the Panthers) were often abandoned or destroyed in place was due to maintenance problems, or the lack of fuel. Take a look at a Sherman or a T-34... then look at a Tiger or Panther.

    What do you see different between them ?

    The Sherman and the T-34 were designed not only to be easy to produce, but they were also easier to repair or work on in the field when compared to their German counterparts. A good Sherman tank crew could replace a transmission , final drive, or engine in a matter of hours. It took a Tiger crew several days because the turret had to be removed in order to gain access to the transmission or final drive.

    The same thing goes for the suspension and tracks. In order to remove a damaged inner road wheel on a Tiger, Panther or King Tiger, the German tank crew had to remove the road wheels from the adjoining axles. So road wheels from 4 axles had to be removed, instead of only one.

    It is common to find pictures of Tigers where the first outer road wheel is already removed. This was done mainly on the Eastern Front, to combat the effects of frozen mud that jammed the suspension.

    I like how you have built your Tiger... It looks good, but I still prefer the larger 1/35 scale Cats. My favorite all time ever tank, is the Panther. It was less costly to manufacture, and was quicker to build.
    In my opinion one on one, the Panther was hard to beat... providing you kept it running... or didn't run out of fuel.

    • I love getting educated by "the man who owned one," since my knowledge of the details of armor is somewhat less than my knowledge of how to make gourmet ice cream (which isn't exactly zero, but... ). 🙂

      Thanks for the information - I bet there's even others here as thankful for this post as I am.

      • Tom, @tcinla
        Actually I did own a Tiger tank once... Many years ago, when I was a teen, we actually built a half scale replica of a Tiger tank out of wood. It had a turret and a main gun too. The turret moved and we could elevate the gun tube. This article (like me) has seen better days.

        It had 3 bicycles mounted inside it, and we had to pedal it in order to move it. We drove it around on the streets in our neighborhood. We drew a lot of attention with it, and even made it into the local newspaper !

        After this picture was taken, we finished painting on the road wheels and front sprockets. Two years and a day later I was in the Army, training on the real thing.
        Thanks for the response.

    • Great information on tank skill Louis. Thank you.

      I experienced Seeing a tank skidding to a stop and smashing into a building in Belgium during Red Tornado ! Bricks everywhere !

      That and ambushing a company of German Leopard tanks during same manoeuvre. We heard them bedding down in A wood along a hollow road and expected them to come our way at dawn. We cleanly scored On surprising them . As Amo. we threw rocks and boulders right on top of them !

      My platoon engaged during this exercise on mock blowing up as much inventory we could find. Telephone poles, bridges etc. All the while lugging 50 kilo’s of Sand in our back packs to simulate the plastic explosive ! Exiting a plane with that,imagine ! The arbiters scored us highest and we never were found or eliminated moving about from safe thickets and bramble bushes nightly! Great fun I miss those days, youth !

      Thanks again.

  8. Great looking Tiger, I have already confronted building 3. They sure do look weird and ugly with their box like design but I've always found the SU-100y tank destroyers to be slightly worse.

  9. That's some nice work there Tom. What unit is this Tiger from. If I were to guess I would say Gross Deutschland Division but perhaps one of the Heavy tank battalions?

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