One of the most common assertions about the Tiger I and Tiger II was that it was notoriously unreliable. It is often claimed that more Tiger tanks were lost to various non-combat reasons than were lost in combat. These claims are usually not backed up by actual numbers. This analysis seeks to create a better foundation for determining the truth of such claims.

Methodology and Limitations

This analysis is based on the losses assembled and tabulated by Ron Klages in his book Trail of the Tigers. Because the amount of detail in the reported cause of loss varies a lot, doing a direct analysis would introduce a lot of noise. For the purpose of this analysis, it is not important whether a loss was due to, for example, a British or an American M10 tank destroyer. To remove as much noise as possible, while still retaining some level of detail, three tiers of grouping were used.

Grouping information naturally results in a loss of detail and nuance. Determining whether a loss should be listed a combat or non-combat loss can sometimes be difficult. For example, if a Tiger was hit by artillery or ran over a mine and was immobilized, this was clearly combat damage. If the Tiger was considered irrecoverable this may be because the area was under Allied control, or it may be because the weight of the Tiger made recovery impractical. For an analysis about the losses of the Tiger tanks, losses that did not happen in the field are not immediately relevant. For example, tanks lost due to a unit surrendering does not fit into neither a combat nor a non-combat category.

The categories and groups are listed to allow those who disagree with the classifications to create their own analysis.

The numbers in Klages' book are mainly based on German unit reports documented in other books. These reports were classified and there is therefore no reason to believe that the reports were modified for propaganda reasons. A potential source of manipulation is that unit commanders may have wished to disguise losses due to poor decisions by the commander. Such fraud would have required the involvement of several people, and there are no indications this was widespread.

The reason for some of the losses are unknown, as should be expected in a combat environment of a mostly retreating army. Careful analysis of Allied records could no doubt shed further light on some of these losses.

As the number of Tiger tanks recorded as lost does not match the total number built, it is clear that not all losses were not reported. Some of these include tanks surrendered by the end of the war, but with more than 100 Tiger I losses unaccounted for, some war-time losses have gone unrecorded.

It is important to note that it is not possible to use the numbers below to conclude whether the Tiger tanks deserved their reputation as being unreliable. Doing so requires a comparison with similar numbers on other armored vehicles in the same combat conditions.

Analysis

Losses by category

Detailed Group Tiger I Tiger II Total, detailed Total, group Percentage
Combat losses
Aircrafts Aircrafts - 1 1 31 2%
Bombers Aircrafts 11 3 14
Fighter-bomber Aircrafts 4 12 16
Anti-tank gun Anti-tank gun 38 11 49 49 3%
Assault gun Armor 4 4 8 92 5%
Tank destroyer Armor 2 2 4
Tanks Armor 50 30 80
Artillery Artillery 12 1 13 13 1%
Combat Combat 406 89 495 495 29%
Infantry Infantry 5 6 11 11 1%
Mines Mines 1 - 1 1 0%
Total, combat 533 159 692 692 40%
Non-combat losses
Abandoned Irrecoverable 46 50 96 341 20%
Bogged down Irrecoverable 39 11 50
Immobilized Irrecoverable 101 57 158
Irrecoverable Irrecoverable 35 2 37
Unrepairable Mechanical 127 3 130 260 15%
Mechanical failure Mechanical 75 55 130
Out of fuel Out of fuel 24 33 57 57 3%
Total, non-combat 447 211 658 658 38%
Unknown/other losses
Friendly fire Accidents 11 - 11 18 1%
Road accident Accidents 3 4 7
Blown up Blown up 69 28 97 97 6%
Captured Captured 16 3 19 22 1%
Surrendered Captured 3 - 3
Converted Other 1 - 1 18 1%
Other Other 1 - 1
Out of ammunition Other - 1 1
Stranded Other 7 - 7
Transit Other 8 - 8
Unknown Unknown 139 74 213 213 12%
Total, unknown/other 258 110 368 368 21%
Total 1238 480 1718

While many of the combat losses are not specified, it is clear from the numbers above that the common myth about Allied aircrafts being the scourge of the Tiger tank has no basis in fact.

Losses by front

Cause Tiger I Tiger II Total
Africa
Combat 6 - 6
Non-combat 25 - 25
Total 31 - 31
Italy
Combat 39 - 39
Non-combat 85 - 85
Other/unknown 37 - 37
Total 161 - 161
Eastern Front
Combat 402 97 499
Non-combat 273 125 398
Other/unknown 184 87 271
Total 499 398 271
Western Front
Combat 86 62 148
Non-combat 64 86 150
Other/unknown 37 23 60
Total 187 171 358

When looking at the ratio of combat to non-combat losses, it is interesting to see that Tiger losses on the Eastern Front and Western Front ratios are almost identical, while the numbers for Africa and Italy are considerably worse. The number of Tigers in Africa is too small to make any strong conclusions. The ratio for Italy, which is strongly influenced by 62 tanks lost due to mechanical failures, indicates that the Tiger I was not able to cope with the mountainous terrain. It is also clear that the Tiger I fared better than the Tiger II in general.

Percentage of Tiger tanks lost due to combat reasons out of total of combat and non-combat losses, by front.
Front Tiger I Tiger II
Africa 19% NA
Italy 31% NA
Eastern Front 60% 44%
Western Front 57% 42%
Total 54% 43%

Losses by month

The numbers above indicate that the Tiger II generally fared worse than the Tiger I. This does not take into account that the Tiger II was introduced when Germany's situation was considerably worse than when the Tiger I was introduced. The monthly ratios provide data to determine this effect:

Month Combat Non-combat Unknown/other Total Percentage
Tiger I Tiger II Total Tiger I Tiger II Total Tiger I Tiger II Total Tiger I Tiger II
1942
Nov - - - 1 - 1 - - - 1 0% NA
Dec - - - - - - - - - - NA NA
1943
Jan 9 - 9 4 - 4 - - - 13 69% NA
Feb 1 - 1 6 - 6 - - - 7 14% NA
Mar 1 - 1 6 - 6 - - - 7 14% NA
Apr 2 - 2 4 - 4 - - - 6 33% NA
May 1 - 1 14 - 14 - - - 15 7% NA
Jul 20 - 20 9 - 9 - - - 29 69% NA
Aug 13 - 13 4 - 4 10 - 10 27 76% NA
Sep 16 - 16 2 - 2 2 - 2 20 89% NA
Oct 29 - 29 - - - 10 - 10 39 100% NA
Nov 28 - 28 4 - 4 3 - 3 35 88% NA
Dec 18 - 18 12 - 12 12 - 12 42 60% NA
1944
Jan 39 - 39 4 - 4 6 - 6 49 91% NA
Feb 23 - 23 16 - 16 4 - 4 43 59% NA
Mar 18 - 18 33 - 33 17 - 17 68 35% NA
Apr 16 - 16 12 - 12 34 - 34 62 57% NA
May 10 - 10 22 - 22 12 - 12 44 31% NA
Jun 39 - 39 36 - 36 20 - 20 95 52% NA
Jul 50 6 56 69 3 72 11 - 11 139 42% 67%
Aug 66 32 98 46 9 55 26 6 32 185 59% 78%
Sep 19 6 25 23 4 27 21 - 21 73 45% 60%
Oct 11 10 21 12 2 14 5 2 7 42 48% 83%
Nov 14 5 19 - 1 1 3 1 4 24 100% 83%
Dec 6 9 15 2 18 20 - 1 1 36 75% 33%
1945
Jan 20 19 39 44 38 82 24 1 25 146 31% 33%
Feb 16 22 38 8 10 18 - 23 23 79 67% 69%
Mar 14 14 28 11 37 48 1 16 17 93 56% 27%
Apr 33 34 67 43 68 111 30 40 70 248 43% 33%
May 1 2 3 - 21 21 7 20 27 51 100% 9%

While there is some noise in these monthly numbers, the Tiger II generally performed comparable to the Tiger I when it was first introduces. This is further demonstrated in the yearly numbers:

Year Combat Non-combat Percentage
Tiger I Tiger II Total Tiger I Tiger II Total Tiger I Tiger II Total
1942 - - - 1 - - 0% NA 0%
1943 138 - 138 65 - 65 68% NA 68%
1944 311 68 379 275 37 312 53% 65% 55%
1945 84 91 175 106 174 280 32% 46% 38%

It is clear from these numbers that the non-combat losses increased significantly as Germany's situation deteriorated. It is also clear, however, that the Tiger II performed well in comparison to the Tiger I.

Conclusion

While it is not possible to from the numbers above whether the Tiger tanks performed well when compared to other tanks, they strongly indicate that some of the myths associated with them are just that. The number of Tiger tanks reported to have been lost due to a lack of fuel is low, as is the number lost to Allied aircrafts.

The numbers do indicate that without proper maintenance and recovery services, the Tiger tanks became vulnerable. Whether this was more so the case for the Tiger tanks due to their greater weight than it was for other German tanks is not possible to say from these numbers and would require analysis of the tank losses of the regular tank divisions.

Sources

  1. KLAGES, Ron. Trail of the Tigers. Mukilteo, WA : Lyonsbrook Publishing, 2002. 134 p.