With the success of the StuG III, Marder I, Marder II, and Marder III in the tank destroyer role, the military leadership of Nazi Germany decided to use the chassis of existing armored fighting vehicles as the basis for self-propelled guns. German tank destroyers of World War II used fixed casemates instead of moveable turrets to significantly reduce the cost, weight, and materials used for mounting large caliber guns.
In early 1942, a request was made by the Army General Staff to mount a 128 mm gun on a self-propelled armored chassis. On 18 May 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered that the 128 mm gun be utilized in the tank destroyer role, rather than for infantry support. Firing tests of the 128 mm gun showed it to have a high percentage of hits; smaller caliber guns, such as the 88 mm and 105 mm, were also tested.
By early 1943, a decision was made to install a 128 mm gun on a Panther or Tiger I chassis as a heavy assault gun. The Panther chassis was considered unsuitable after a wooden mockup of the design was constructed. On 20 October 1943, another wooden mockup was constructed on a Tiger II chassis, and presented to Hitler in East Prussia. Two prototypes were produced; a version with the eight road wheel Porsche suspension system (number 305001) and a version with the Henschel nine overlapping wheel suspension system (number 305002), as used on the production Tiger II. They were completed in February 1944. It was originally designated as Jagdpanzer VI, but was later named the Jagdtiger. It received the inventory ordnance number Sd.Kfz. 186.
The Jagdtiger was a logical extension of the creation of Jagdpanzer designs from tank designs, such as the Jagdpanther from the Panther tank. The Jagdtiger used a boxy superstructure, with its sides integral with the hull sides, on top of a lengthened Tiger II chassis. The resulting vehicle featured very heavy armor. It had 250 mm (9.8 in) armor on the front of the casemate and 150 mm (5.9 in) on the glacis plate. The main gun mount had a limited traverse of only 10 degrees; the entire vehicle had to be turned to aim outside that narrow field of fire.
The Jagdtiger suffered from a variety of mechanical and technical problems due to its immense weight and under-powered engine. The vehicle had frequent breakdowns; ultimately more Jagdtigers were lost to mechanical problems or lack of fuel than to enemy action.
One hundred and fifty Jagdtigers were initially ordered but only between 70 and 88 were produced at the Nibelungenwerk at St. Valentin, from July 1944 to May 1945. Eleven of them, serial numbers 305001 and 305003 to 305012, were produced with the Porsche suspension (with eight road wheels per side); all the rest used the Henschel suspension with nine road wheels per side. Production figures vary depending on source and other factors such as if prototypes are included and if those made after VE day are included: approximately 48 from July 1944 to the end of December 1944; 36 from January to April 1945, serial numbers from 305001 to 305088.
After serial number 305011 (September 1944), no Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste was factory applied.
Only two heavy anti-tank battalions (schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung), numbered 512 and 653, were equipped with Jagdtigers, with the first vehicles reaching the units in September 1944. About 20% were lost in combat; most were destroyed by their own crews when abandoned, chiefly due to mechanical breakdowns or lack of fuel in the final stages of the war.
The gun used two-part ammunition, which meant that the projectile and the cased propellant charge were loaded separately. Two loaders were tasked with this work.
Tiger ace Otto Carius commanded the second of three companies of Jagdtigers in Panzerjagerabteilung 512. His memoir Tigers in the Mud provides a rare combat history of the 10 Jagdtigers under his command. He states that Jagdtigers were not utilized to their full potential due to several factors, among them that Allied air supremacy made it difficult to move, and the massive gun needed to be re-calibrated from jarring after traveling off-road for even short distances. The vehicle was slow, and transmissions and differentials broke down easily because the whole 72 tonne vehicle needed to rotate to traverse the gun. The massive gun had to be locked down, otherwise mounting brackets would have worn too much for accurate firing. Also, a crew member had to exit the vehicle in combat and unlock the gun before firing. However, he also recorded that a 128 mm projectile went through all the walls of a house and destroyed an American tank behind it.
Insufficient crew training and poor morale was the biggest problem for Jagdtiger crews under Carius's command. At the Ruhr pocket, two Jagdtiger commanders failed to attack an American armored column about 1.5 km (1 mile) away in daylight for fear of attracting an air attack, even though the Jagdtigers were well camouflaged. Both vehicles broke down while hurriedly withdrawing through fear of an air attack that did not come, and one was then destroyed by the crew. To prevent such a disaster at Siegen, Carius himself dug in on high ground. An approaching American armored column avoided the prepared ambush because German civilians warned them of it. Later, one of his vehicles fell into a bomb crater at night and was disabled, and another was lost to a Panzerfaust attack by friendly Volkssturm troops who had never seen a Jagdtiger before.
Near Unna, one Jagdtiger climbed a hill to attack five American tanks 600 meters away; two withdrew and the other three opened fire. The Jagdtiger took several hits, but American projectiles could not penetrate the 250 mm (9.8 in) frontal armor. However, the inexperienced German commander lost his nerve and turned around instead of backing down, exposed the thinner side armor, which was eventually penetrated and all six crew members were lost. Carius wrote that it was useless when crews were not trained or experienced enough to have the thick frontal armor facing the enemy at all times.
When unable to escape the Ruhr pocket, Carius ordered the guns of the remaining Jagdtigers destroyed and surrendered to American forces. The 10 Jagdtigers of 2nd Company, Panzerjagerabteilung 512 destroyed one American tank for one Jagdtiger lost to combat, one lost to friendly fire, and eight others lost to breakdown or destroyed by their crews to prevent capture.
On 17 January 1945, two Jagdtigers used by XIV Corps engaged a bunker line in support of infantry near Auenheim. On 18 January, they attacked four secure bunkers at 1,000 meters. The armored cupola of one bunker burned out after two shots. A Sherman attacking in a counter-thrust was set afire by explosive shells. The total combat included 46 explosive shells and 10 anti-tank shells, with no losses to the Jagdtigers.
During April 1945, s.Pz.Jäg.Abt.512 saw a great deal of action, especially on 9 April, where the 1st company engaged an Allied column of Sherman tanks and trucks from hull-down positions, and destroyed 11 tanks and over 30 unarmored or lightly armored targets, with some of the enemy tanks having been knocked out from a distance of more than 4,000 m. The combat unit only lost one Jagdtiger in this incident as Allied ground attack P-47 fighters appeared. During the next couple of days, the 1st company destroyed a further five Sherman tanks before having to surrender at Iserlohn. Meanwhile, the 2nd company still fought on, but with little result. On 15 April 1945, the unit surrendered at Schillerplatz in Iserlohn without fighting.
Three Jagdtigers survive in museums:Jagdtiger serial number 305004
The Tank Museum, England. One of the 11 Porsche–suspension variants, it was captured by British troops in April 1945 near Sennelager, Germany where it was being used for trials. The third wheel station on the left side is missing. Zimmerit was applied to approximately 2 meters high on the superstructure and the Balkenkreuz was painted in the mid section. An earlier 18 tooth sprocket ring is found on this vehicle.
Jagdtiger serial number 305020
National Armor & Cavalry Museum in Fort Benning, Georgia. It was produced in October, 1944 and was attached to the s.Pz.Jg.Abt 653 and had the vehicle number 331. The vehicle was captured near Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Germany in March 1945. Damage is still visible on the gun mantlet, glacis plate, and lower nose armor. This vehicle used the late version nine-tooth sprocket ring, for use with the 'contact shoe' and 'connector link' style continuous track it shared with the Tiger II.
Jagdtiger, serial number 305083
Kubinka Tank Museum near Moscow. This vehicle is a Henschel variant. It was acquired by Soviet forces when a Kampfgruppe
of the s.Pz.Jg.Abt 653 equipped with four Jagdtigers
surrendered in Amstetten, Austria on 5 May 1945. This Jagdtiger
was acquired in mint condition with complete side skirts and later nine-tooth sprocket ring. Twelve hooks on each side of the superstructure were used to carry six pairs of track links. This vehicle was not coated with Zimmerit. The vehicle lost all its tools but retains the MG-42 anti-aircraft mount on the rear engine deck.
Aside from the 11 early vehicles with a Porsche suspension, the only variant developed was the Sd.Kfz.185. The difference was that the gun used was the 8.8 cm PaK 43 rather than the 12.8 cm PaK 44. This was due to shortages of the latter weapon. The variant did not enter service.