The Nazis were obsessed with Darwinian notions of natural selection and survival of the fittest. Aggressive competition was woven into the very fabric of the Nazi state including tank design and production.
The Tiger tank was born from a competition between the firms Porsche and Henschel to produce a 45-ton tank with an 88mm gun, heavy armour, speed and manoeuvrability. A tank that was capable of dealing with the Soviet T-34 and KV-1. The two firms were to have prototypes ready for inspection on Adolf Hilter’s birthday, April 20th, 1942. Despite Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s friendship with Hitler, the Henschel design triumphed.
Tiger tanks started rolling out of the factory at a rate of just 25 per month in 1942. Peak production of 104 Tigers per month was finally reached in April 1944. It took an estimated 300,000 man hours to build one Tiger, and cost the equivalent of $100,000 U.S. dollars in 1941. That’s about $1.25m today. In contrast the Allies went for cheap, mass production, which ultimately proved decisive.
What’s in a Name
The new Henschel tank was officially named the Panzerkampfwagen VI H (88mm) (SdKfz 182) Ausführung H1. However the tank’s project design name was Tiger and the name stuck.
The newly named Tiger tank quickly gained a reputation on the Eastern Front during 1943 and 1944. The fearsome 88mm gun gave the Tiger a clear reach advantage over its Soviet opponents. Often faced by inferior equipment and poorly trained men, German tank crews and individual tank commanders were able to amass impressive combat scores, numbering hundreds of “kills”. The concept of the “Tank Ace” was born and ruthlessly exploited for propaganda purposes. Occasionally just the sight of a German Tiger would make Soviet tanks withdraw.
The Tiger had similar success in North Africa and Italy, creating a powerful psychological effect on Allied troops. In his book, Tank Men, Robert Kershaw explains that it was not uncommon for one Tiger to account for as many as ten Allied tanks in a single engagement. The British finally captured a Tiger intact during 1943. Tiger 131 was shipped back to the UK where it underwent extensive testing. By 1944 British research facilities assessed the Tiger as “basically an excellent tank”.
Tiger 131 went on public display on Horse Guards Parade near Whitehall in London, where Allied tank crews got to see just what a formidable foe they were facing. Restored and fully operational, today, Tiger 131 resides at the Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset.
Driving into Legend
The Tiger’s influence on Allied morale, known as Tigerphobia, was so powerful that Britain’s General Montgomery banned all reports that mentioned it’s prowess in battle. However it was the Battle of Villers-Bocage during the Normandy campaign of 1944 where the Tiger gained legendary status. In just 20 minutes a single Tiger commanded by the famous tank ace SS-Obersturmführer Michael Wittman destroyed around 21 tanks and numerous other vehicles of the British 7th Armoured Division.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Capable of punching a hole through 112mm of armour at 1400 meters, the Tiger’s combat efficiency was mainly due to its famous 88mm gun. The Tiger also had the best quality armour of any German tank. Its frontal armour was 100mm thick, making it impervious to all but the largest calibre Allied tank and anti-tank shells. The questionable quality of Allied tank and anti-tank ammunition might also have contributed to the Tiger’s mask of impregnability.
Certainly a combination of massive armour and powerful gun made for an almost unbeatable tank. Enemy crews often watched helplessly as their shots bounced off the Tiger and their own vehicles were quickly destroyed…often from great distances. The Tiger tank also proved very nibble footed for its size and weight.
Where to Compromise? All tank designs are something of a compromise between firepower, armour protection and speed of movement. Overall the Tiger design was a good compromise, but it did have its weaknesses. A 60-ton tank needs a big engine and lots of fuel. Mechanical reliability was a challenge, so the Tiger needed a lot of preventative maintenance to keep it operational. Its size and weight could also work against it, making it difficult to transport by rail and difficult to recover. The German army would also have to find bridges capable of supporting the Tiger’s weight on its line of advance or retreat.
Famous and infamous in equal measure, the Tiger I became one of the truly legendary machines of WWII. Since the war the Tiger has gained a new type of celebrity. It has become a popular subject for toymakers, modellers, military historians, authors, painters, computer game designers, film and documentary makers. Incredibly, the Germans only ever built 1,347 Tigers, and even fewer King Tigers. Today just a handful of Tiger tanks remain. In the heat of a summer’s afternoon you might just catch a glimpse of Tiger 131 prowling the Bovington Tank Museum showground.
Okay, so we’ve established that the Tiger tank was a ferocious weapon, but how does that translate into iconic brand? Well, icons by their very nature are visually striking, instantly recognisable, and embody certain qualities. Even today the Tiger’s distinctive, memorable design conveys raw power, engineering excellence and outright menace. Images of the Tiger I can be found on every type of merchandise from mugs, baseball caps and t-shirts to video games.
Truly iconic brands transcend time and space. They often live on beyond the cultural period that created them. Their meaning for us surpasses the emotional or functional benefits of the product or service they originally championed. You don’t have to be a smoker to know Marlboro country is a land of endless rolling plains; majestic, snow-capped mountains and herds of longhorn cattle. A land populated by strong, silent cowboys who do the right thing and always get the girl.
As an effective armoured fighting vehicle, the Tiger tank has been obsolete from more than half a century. Nevertheless in popular culture it retains its machismo. Whether it’s ‘Band of Brothers’ or ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ when a GI shouts: “Tiger!” every adult male in the audience knows what’s coming next. It’s the Hannibal Lecter of armoured warfare. According to Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst, Millward Brown: “Cultural roots can provide iconic brands with resilience, allowing them to remain attractive decades after they were withdrawn from the market.”
We instantly recognise and understand that iconic brands such as Nike and Chanel mean far more than drinks, running shoes and watches. Iconic brands personify our values and aspirations, and we trust them implicitly to meet our expectations. Today Nike probably represents lifestyle aspirations more than athletic footwear. However, when shopping for a pair of running shoes the famous “swoosh” motif instantly translates into quality, performance and function. Brands take the legwork out of the decision making process.
A Model of Success
The difference between commercial brands and the Tiger’s journey to iconic status is that no one has been steering its course. The Tiger has simply evolved into brand icon. According to Millward Brown’s research iconic brands must possess three important features that differentiate them from lesser mortals. The iconic brand must be instantly recognisable. They must have strong cultural roots that tap into society’s deepest values or speak to our most venerated aspirations. They must have a compelling story that retains its power, relevance and meaning for current and future generations. Certainly the Tiger has all these things. As a consequence the Tiger tank has become a brand merchandising dream.
Making a Killing
Research by model kit manufacturer Airfix revealed that German Tiger and Panther tank kits outsell the most popular Allied tank kits, the American Sherman and British Churchill, by a ration of three to one. John Tapsell, vice president of the International Plastic Modellers Society (UK), said: “I think it might be something to do with the typical British fascination with the loser and also an interest in German engineering. British soldiers in the war were in awe of the Tiger tank, for instance, and that sort of interest has remained. The (German) uniforms also look very smart.”
Darrell Burge, from Airfix, said the surge in popularity of German models, particularly tanks and figures, had started within the last ten years. “Across the hobby, there is no doubt that the German models now sell more than the Allied ones. German subjects are far, far more popular and that is increasing.
“German tanks are much better sellers than Allied ones. They are iconic as the biggest and most brutal of the war. They were virtually unstoppable. They were much better machines than the Allied ones. There is a mystique about so many of their war machines that has translated into increased sales.” Airfix sells in excess of 4.5 million model kits each year.
In 2008 the Daily Mail carried a story about the latest boys’ toy, a giant radio-controlled tank so powerful it can actually pull a car. The story referred to a 1/4 scale model of a King Tiger tank. The story goes on to describe the Tiger as “the German weapon which wreaked havoc among Allied tanks during World War Two.” Mark Spencer, founder of Mark 1 Tanks, based in Easton, near Winchester, Hampshire, says: “We have more than 20 models but my favourite is the German King Tiger – I think it’s also our most popular model. “I think it’s the most recognisable and it was legendary in the war for being pretty indestructible and just destroying everything it shot at.” The basic 1/4 scale King Tiger costs from £6,600 but can get up to almost £10,000 with extras.
Broad Market Appeal
The market for radio-controlled models, die-cast and plastic tank kits continues to grow, and companies such as Armortek, Tamiya, Heng Long, Matorro, 21st Century, Corgi, Dragon Armor, and Forces of Valor all offer Tiger I and King Tiger ranges. As well as traditional model making the Tiger features in over 20 computer games including the popular Medal of Honour and Call of Duty series. There are also a limited number of titles exclusively dedicated to German armour of WWII such as Panzer Commander and Panzer Elite. A quick search of Amazon online bookstore revealed over 1,600 titles that feature the Tiger tank. Although certainly a niche market, the Tiger features heavily in military art with original works selling for thousands of pounds. The Tiger is also a YouTube phenomenon, and appears 1,350 times in search results on the video sharing website.
Brands are like people. They possess unique personalities with which we can identify. Successful brands listen, respond and consistently satisfy our demands. Brands also accelerate the decision making process at the point of purchase. Generally they make our lives easier. In return we give them trust, loyalty and sometimes even forgiveness. These relationships are mutually beneficial, and the best of them can last a lifetime, or even longer.
Few machines achieve iconic status. The RMS Titanic, Supermarine Spitfire, and AK-47 are the strongest contenders from the twentieth century. Each an instantly recognised design classic, they all possess vivid stories of triumph and tragedy. When Dr. Erwin Aders, the father of the Tiger I, set about designing his tank did he conceive of what his progeny would become? The Tiger has taken on a life and personality all of its own. Brutally distinctive in appearance, legendary on the battlefield, the Tiger continues to thunder across our imaginations, and engage us with its story.