VK 45.03. Tiger III. Tiger II. Tiger Ausf B. And they’re all the same tank. Even after reading and re-reading the books on King Tiger’s development (Notably the Jentz/Doyle one), I’m still a little confused, though perhaps a little less than some. You’d think that a country with a reputation of organization such as Germany would have had a system which was easier to decipher, but as Hilary Doyle intimated in Operation Think Tank, the various companies all competing for contracts tended to be as much interested in the money as they were their patriotic duty to see the war won. Doubtless the winds of fortune changed as the company leadership leaned upon their patrons in the political hierarchy which had no small role in the development of vehicles by the middle of the war. Anyway, since the VK 45.03 premium tank is now on sale, let’s have a look at the background.
The 45.03 existed only on paper, and, as near as I can tell, in the condition wee modelled it, only for about six weeks. Writing a historical article on it to support the sale has proven a challege!
The middle of the war is where we start off. You will recall from the "hello kitty" article I did some time back that Tiger 1 was the result of multiple companies fighting over the contract, and eventually it was figured out how to get the 8.8/71 into Tiger’s turret.
The development of the King Tiger followed a surprisingly similar pattern, led, again by Porsche. He proposed in January 1942 that perhaps it was about time to start sloping the fronts of his tanks, and promptly enough came up with the “Typ 101 verstarkt”, or “strengthened Typ 101”, the Type 101 of course being the batch of Porsche Tigers which were turned into Ferdinands. Subsequent batches were to be produced with the sloping front.
With this, however, came the requirement for a new turret. It had to have the Flak 41 8.8 cm cannon. There was no particular choice with that one: Hitler set that requirement in 1941 which, if you will recall, pre-dates even production of the Porsche Tiger. As a result, there was some effort being made to make an effective turret for the larger gun (which, of course, would eventually actually be the KwK.43). Krupp spent much of 1941 and half of 1942 working on this problem, while the more familiar turret with the 8.8/56 was under production. Once the turret design was sorted out, production was started in the latter half of 1942. This resulted in what has since become known as the “Porsche turret”, although Porsche actually had nothing to do with the design or manufacture of the thing. It was just built as part of the development process of the tank incorporating the Porsche hull, which by this point had been known as VK 45.01 (P2), VK 45.02 (P) or Tiger P2 depending on what season it was. As it could have been built, the vehicle can be seen in Tier VIII and IX in the Maus line in the game. The problem was, however, that the Porsche electrical transmission design, of course, didn’t really meet expectations, and eventually the entire VK 45.02 (P) project came to a screeching halt and orders cancelled at the very end of 1942. This left a bunch of (Technical term for ‘fifty) big turrets sitting around with nothing to put them on.
In the meantime, over at Henschel, they also started working on a bigger tank in spring 1942. Originally the VK 45.02(H) / Tiger II, they threw out that design and started over again in late 1942 with the Tiger III, also known as the VK 45.03 (Aha! We got there!). Initially, the design was really just going to be something of a tweak to the then-in-production Tiger VK 45.01, with internal components rearranged to increase ammunition capacity, and a sloped front. The armor thickness was the same 100mm as on the VK.45.01, sufficient effectiveness would be provided by the 50 degrees. The eventual order from Hitler, interfering as he always did, that the new tank’s glacis be increased to 150mm cost the tank over 1.7 tonnes.
Sloping the front actually led to something of a problem, as the Tiger’s ball mount for the MG and vision ports were designed for something a bit more vertical. As a result, they borrowed the solutions from Panther: The ‘letterbox’ type MG port, and the raising driver’s visor.
To fit a turret onto this hull, they looked again to Krupp and the turret design for the KwK.43 they had already produced. The only thing which needed to be done to mount the turret onto this new vehicle was to convert the turret’s traverse mechanism from electrical to hydraulic, just as had to be done with the previous vehicle’s turret.
As a result, the VK 45.03 in the game is basically the vehicle as drawn at the very end of 1943, before the ordered armor increases were incorporated.
As you can imagine, the tank evolved from there with a few more changes, in addition to the extra armor, new driver’s vision, and a working ball mount for the machinegun.
Similarly Krupp modified the turret primarily for ease of manufacture, making what is commonly known as the “Henschel Turret”, which, just like the Porsche turret, Henschel had nothing to do with. These became the main production turret once the stock of earlier ones ran out. Eventually new changes were also made to the power train. Included in these changes were the names, being variously called Tiger B, Tiger II, Tiger Ausf B, Koenigstiger, and by Inspectorate 6 (Panzer branch) as Pz.Kpfw.Tiger (8.8cm Lw.K. L/71) (Sk.Kfz.182).
Whatever one called the tank, 492 manufactured successors to VK 45.03 went on to become legendary.