Experimental, Germany, WWII

Tiger I vs 17-Pounder Firing Trials

After a recent trip to the UK National Archives in Kew, we have another stack of firing trials against a German big cat: this time a Tiger I. It was subject to an extensive firing trial, in which it was on the receiving end of various calibers until it looked like a sieve.

Tiger lovers, and those who would prefer not to see their favorite tank get shot to pieces, should probably look away now.

Before you start trembling with rage and hop in the comments to tell us how these tests don’t mean anything because it “couldn’t shoot back” or “the Tiger was old by 1945” – all of the weapons used in this test were either already in service or about to be when the Tiger arrived.

Background for the Trial

The trials occurred over the course of several days in March and April 1945 at the Shoeburyness firing range in Essex. This was very late in the war and quite a long way from the Tiger I’s introduction in 1943, but anti-tank methods were constantly improving and there was always more to learn.

The unfortunate subject of the trial was a German Tiger I, chassis number 250570. This tank rolled with the turret number 334, and was part of the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion (coincidentally, the same as Michael Wittmann) when it was captured in Rauray, Normandy, 1944. The report states that the vehicle was in “running condition” for the tests.

Tiger 334 in Normandy.
Tiger 334 on the side of the road in Rauray, Normandy, where it was lost. It was later removed and transported back to the UK.

Not much is known about the tank after its capture, but we do know it was transported back to the UK, where it would eventually become the firing trials target we see here. The objective of the trial was to establish the effects of various Allied weapons, ranging from .303 small arms fire to the 17-pdr gun and even anti-tank mines.

These guns were tested at different angles and ranges to find out how well, or poorly, they performed. Range was simulated by changing the propellant charge size to increase or decrease the velocity of the round.

Tiger 334 before test.
Tiger 334 before the trials began.

The trials were divided into four parts that progressively increased the severity and power of the weapons used. As the variety shows, they were not only trying to find out out how best to outright kill enemy tanks, but also see how common infantry-carried weapons would fair – you may find the latter surprising.

Tiger 334 was prepared by partially filling the tanks with fuel and placing witness sheets in different areas inside the tank. Any pieces of shrapnel or splash from the incoming projectiles, as well as spalling (parts of the armor that have broken off) from the tank itself, would show up on these witness sheets.

After each shot the impact area was assessed, marked with the test’s corresponding number and photographed. In addition, the plates of armor were checked for their hardness.

Tiger 33 from behind.
Its exact condition is not known. It appears to have already taken quite a beating, and may even have a few perforations from in-theatre.

So with the tank prepared, the trials commenced.

Important notes:

  • Many rounds were fired during these tests, and we won’t be able to cover all of them here.
  • During the tests, they switched back and forth between guns for each shot. For example, Rounds 60 and 62 may be 6-pdr, but Round 61 may be 17-pdr. For ease, we will cover each weapon at a time for Parts II and III, rather than chronologically.
  • Ranges are approximate, using period ballistic charts for reference.

Part I – .303 and 20 mm

The trials began with Part I; a series of hits from .303 and 20 mm rounds, as well as a high explosive (HE) air burst.

.303 was the round fired by the British Lee-Enfield SMLE rifle and Bren gun, so it was very common on the battlefield. This portion of the trial was to establish if they could jam components, or if splash (fragments of the rounds) would make it through small gaps in hatches, visors etc.

The 20 mm armor piercing rounds were used simulate an air attack, and the 25-pdr HE round tested how well the engine deck could keep fragments out.

.303 Ball and AP

The first shots of the test were .303 fired at the hull machine gun ball mount. Surprisingly, small amounts of splash from ball ammunition (standard rounds with full metal jacket) made it through gaps in the ball mount and marked the witness card.

A follow up was made with .303 armor piercing (AP), and this managed to actually jam the ball mount in place. A test team member was able to free the mount by hand in short order, but subsequent shots jammed it completely.

Tiger I ball mount damaged.
The effects of .303 AP and ball on the machine gun ball mount. It was jammed by these shots, and the co-driver may have been wounded.

The next target for .303 rounds was the driver’s visor. This is located across from the machine gun ball mount, and has a vertically sliding visor with a glass vision block behind it. The glass block was missing from this tank though, so the tests were conducted with the visor completely closed (maximum protection).

A number of shots were fired here, particularly at the gaps around the sliding visor. Splash from .303 ball entered through the visor gaps and marked the witness sheets, although it was noted that this likely wouldn’t have occurred had a glass vision block been present. .303 AP completely jammed the visor.

Tiger I driver's visor.
.303 AP and ball impacts around the driver’s visor.

More .303 AP and ball were fired at the edges of the escape door at the rear of the turret from straight-on and 30°. A significant amount of damage was done to the witness sheets, inside the tank and it is possible that a crew member near the hatch (namely the loader) could be injured from shots like this.

After this, the same ammunition was fired at:

  • The turret ring – no effect.
  • The turret side vision slits – small shards of glass from the vision block hit the witness sheet.
  • The commander’s hatch – no effect.
  • The edges of the driver’s hatch – significant splash made it inside the tank, likely wounding the driver.

However, perhaps the most surprising result was shots fired at the ends of the gun mantlet. Despite this being the most heavily armored area of the tank, splash from .303 ball entered the turret and had the potential of being lethal to the crew.

Gun mantlet witness sheet.
Marks from splash on the witness sheet from .303 against the end of the mantlet.

25-pdr HE

After the .303 tests, a wooden board was hung above the Tiger and fired at with 25-pdr HE rounds so they would detonate in the air, simulating an air burst. The test team tried to switch the engine on for this test, but it seems they encountered mechanical issues as they were unable to do so.

Only two rounds were fired. The first exploded 4 meters (13 ft) above the engine deck and caused significant damage to the engine’s cooling system. The radiators were perforated in many places and water began rapidly leaking out. Had this been a real situation, the engine would have overheated and failed within minutes. The second shot was lower and caused similar more extensive damage. These two shots were so damaging that no further 25-pdr tests were needed.

Tiger I 334 during trials.
The Tiger before the 25-pdr HE air burst tests. Note the wood board hanging above the tank to trigger the round in the air.

The final shots in Part I came from 20 mm AP and incendiary rounds to simulate an attack from an aircraft. They were aimed at the air intakes and outlets on the engine decks, and were quite successful in these areas, resulting in notable damage to the radiators and cooling fans.

However the tank was immune to 20 mm rounds fired at the turret ring and the engine cover. There were attempts to damage the fuel tanks with 20 mm rounds, but these were unsuccessful with both AP and incendiary. The only chance to damage the fuel tanks with these rounds was with a lucky hit through the filler cap.

Tiger I engine deck damage.
Hits from 20 mm rounds on the engine deck grilles.

Part II – 6-pdr, 75 mm, 17-pdr

Part II aimed to assess the strength of a Tiger I against a large variety of anti-tank weapons. Part II saw the testing of the 6-pdr, 17-pdr, 75 mm, 25-pdr, and the PIAT anti-tank weapon. In addition, tests were conducted to find the minimum amount of grenades and anti-tank mines needed to break the tracks.

For these tests the Tiger’s fuel tanks were quarter full, and forty inert 75 mm rounds were positioned in the ammunition racks inside the tank. Dummies were placed in the driver and bow machine gunner’s positions, but none were available for the turret.

6-pdr APDS and APCBC

The first shots were 6-pdr armor piercing discarding sabot (APDS) rounds, which are extremely fast moving and contain a dense tungsten carbide core. These rounds were able to go through the Tiger’s 102 mm-thick lower front plate with relative ease. The document notes that a 6-pdr firing these rounds would be capable of dealing with the Tiger frontally from about 900 meters (1,000 yards) away.

More 6-pdr APDS rounds were fired, this time at the 82 mm-thick turret sides from an angle of 40°. The gun was able to perforate this location from a range of about 1,100 meters (1,200 yards). Interestingly, a piece of Panther track placed over this area prevented the 6-pdr APDS from penetrating, even at relatively close ranges.

6-pdr impacts on the side of the Tiger's turret.
Front left side of the Tiger’s turret. Rounds 32, 26, 25, and 24 are 6-pdr APDS. Only Round 25 perforated the armor. Round 57 is a later 17-pdr hit.

Further shots against the gun mantlet found 6-pdr APDS would fail to penetrate at ranges over 1,000 meters (1,100 yards). After thoroughly testing APDS, the team switched to 6-pdr armor-piercing, capped, ballistic capped (APCBC) rounds. These featured an aerodynamic shield and an inner cap that helps against face-hardened armor. They typically penetrate much less armor than APDS.

They required less extreme angles for the tests, otherwise they would simply fail to perforate the armor and provide no useful data. One APCBC round, Round 73, hit the lower edge of the mantlet, scooping out a 70 mm (2.75 inch) piece of armor, deflecting down and punching through the hull roof, damaging the gearbox and probably killing the driver.

6-pdr hit on mantlet.
Round 73 was a 6-pdr APCBC shot. It was deflected down through the hull roof.

Another shot perforated the lower rear side armor, setting a fire in the engine compartment. However the document reminds us that this only occurred as this area had missing wheels. Had the wheels been present the shot would not have penetrated.

Round 99 struck the upper edge of the turret side armor, digging a scoop out of the plate and weld seam. Impressively the weld did not crack and the area stayed strong.

Tiger I Advert


The 17-pdr was one of the most powerful Allied anti-tank guns of the war, and was more than capable of dealing with a Tiger I. In these trials APCBC rounds were used, as well as its immensely powerful APDS.

The first 17-pdr hits were APDS to the front right side of the turret at a steep angle of 50° and a range of 1,800 meters (2,000 yards). At this range and angle they failed to perforate the armor but made enormous scoops – the largest being 28 cm (11 inches) long – and cracked the plate and nearby welds. From a range of 900 meters (1,000 yards) and an angle of 40° the 17-pdr APDS passed clean through the plate.

17-pdr APDS hits on turret side.
Rounds 33, 34, and 35 failed to penetrate, but struck at quite extreme angles. Rounds 36 and 37 perforated the armor and pitted the opposite side of the turret interior.

It was estimated that the turret sides were vulnerable to the 17-pdr APDS at 40° from a range of 1,200 meters (1,300 yards). The hull sides were found to have behaved differently due to slightly harder plates, and were perforated at 50° from ranges as far as 1,800 meters (2,000 yards) away. For comparison, the turret held up against the same type of shot, as seen above.

One of the most catastrophic shots was Round 52, an APCBC from 230 meters (250 yards) away at 50° that struck the left side of the hull. Despite failing to perforate the plate, it broke the weld above and a huge chunk of the roof armor was flung 4.6 meters (15 ft) away, leaving a gaping 91-cm (36-inch) hole above the driver. This would have almost certainly killed one or more of the crew and set off the ammunition.

Tiger I damaged plate.
The results after Round 52. Rounds 48 and 49 were 17-pdr APDS that struck the 102 mm upper front plate at 41° from a range of 1,350 yards and 850 yards respectively.

An APCBC shot, Round 56, hit the 102 mm thick upper plate between the driver’s visor and the hull machine gun from point blank range and an angle of 40°. This shot failed to perforate the the armor, but created a 150 mm (6-inch) scoop, dislodged the machine gun housing, and made a 1.5 meter (5 ft) long crack along the main weld.

Spalling and components that broke off on the inside were judged as lethal to the crew from this shot.

Close view of the Tiger's frontal plate.
Despite not perforating through the armor, Round 56, a 17-pdr APCBC, caused severe damage to the front of the tank. The white chalk line marks the cracked weld.

This same plate was hit again by an APCBC shot, Round 75, this time from head on and a from a range of well over 2,300 meters (2,500 yards). The armor was perforated and the base of the round became stuck in the plate. It bent the top of the plate, cracked the weld behind and broke off a piece of roof armor, leaving a 230 mm (9 inch) hole.

This shot also finished the weld crack started by Round 56, which now ran the entire length of the plate. Curiously this hit caused the roof to crack apart, as occurred with Round 52. Analysis of this plate found it was extremely brittle, far more than the rest of the tank, and therefore more prone to cracking.

Damage from round 75.
The damage caused by Round 75. The chalk line marks the extent of cracks. Note the base of the round stuck in the armor.

For Round 80 the team switched back to APDS ammunition and fired at the gun mantlet from a 40° angle and range of 1650 meters (1,800 yards). This cracked the lower portion of the mantlet and damage was done to the one of the gun’s recoil buffers.

A follow up shot broke this area of the mantlet completely, smashing off an 200 mm x 140 mm (8 inch x 5.5 inch) piece and lodging fragments under the turret.

17-pdr hits on the gun mantlet.
Damage caused by Rounds 80 and 81, both 17-pdr APDS. Round 86 above was caused by a 75 mm HE shell.

These frontal hits proved that the 17-pdr was capable of dealing with the Tiger I’s frontal armor quite comfortably, even at longer ranges. APDS ammunition made very light work of the tank.

The next round, 83 was interesting as it targeted the tank’s tracks and right-side final drive with APCBC from around 2,300 meters (2,500 yards). This aimed to immobilise the tank, rather than penetrate the armor. That was achieved with relative ease – the round perforated the tracks and entered the final drive housing, completely immobilising the tank.

Tiger I tracks penetrated.
Rounds 83 and 84 – caused by 17-pdr APCBC. This location is at the front of the tank, near the drive sprocket.

Round 94 was fired at the 102 mm thick lower front plate, near the right-hand edge with APCBC from point blank range and an angle of 36°. This shot perforated cleanly through the plate, cracked the welds joining it to the side armor, and pushed the side plate away 23 mm (.9 inches).

It also broke off the final drive housing and cracked welds connecting to the upper glacis. The perforation hole itself was 63 mm x 76 mm (2.5 inches x 3 inches).

Front nose plate damage.
Round 94, a 17-pdr APCBC shot, caused many structural failures at the front right corner of the tank.

75 mm & 25-pdr HE

Also included in Part II was a series of high explosive rounds from 75 mm and 25-pdr guns. One particularly damaging shot came from the 75 mm gun, which struck the left side of the hull between the sponson (upper hill side) and the top run of the tracks.

The subsequent explosion damaged the tracks and ruptured the plate above, right where ammunition was stowed. It is almost certain that had this tank been loaded with live ammunition, it would have cooked off. A handful of 25-pdr HE rounds were fired, causing light damage to the rear engine deck and dislodging the hull machine gun mount.

Blown through sponson.
The hole blasted through the bottom of the sponson by the 75 mm HE from Round 90.

Part III – Structural Destruction

Part III continues the work from Part II, with more 6-pdr and 17-pdr attacks from various angles. So far the Tiger has received a number of hits, but in this final section the tank really begins to suffer and break apart.

Tiger 334 had its engine, gearbox, fuel tanks and radiators removed for Part III. This enabled better inspection of damage. The trials started with a series of 6-pdr and 17-pdr shots against the right side of the tank from various ranges and angles. But at Round 110, a 17-pdr shot, the entire rear section of the side armor broke away, leaving a gaping hole.

Missing piece of the side armor.
The missing rear portion of the side armor caused by a 17-pdr APCBC round. Round 106 is a 6-pdr scoop, while 107 and 108 are from the 17-pdr.

The next catastrophic failure occurred at the front of the hull with Round 114. This was a 17-pdr APCBC at an angle of 43° and a range of about 640 meters (700 yards). This tore off the hull machine gun armored housing and threw it 3 meters (10 ft) away.

This impact also catastrophically shattered the hull roof above that had been previously cracked by Round 75. After another two hits, 115 and 116, the upper front plate was hanging on by a thread.

Various hits on the frontal plate.
Tiger I front armor plate hits. 114 shattered the hull roof armor. 115 caused a 600 mm (2 ft) crack in the top weld. 116 caused another crack in the top weld and broke the fan in the hull roof.

The damage to the roof was once again a result of the very brittle plates used here. Had this been a softer plate, it likely would have bulged instead of cracking and then completely failing.

Following this a number of anti-tank grenades were placed on the tank’s roof in different areas to see their effect, but this will be covered in a separate article. We also omitted the anti-tank mines placed under the tracks and PIAT firings – this will be covered along with the AT grenades.

Cracked roof plate.
The broken roof plate above the co-driver. This was caused by Round 75 and Round 114.

Conclusion of Trials

Despite the volume of rounds ands repeated perforations in its armor, the Tiger actually held up well. Overall, it showed good quality armor and a strong structure that allowed it to remain mostly in one piece at the end of the trials.

It was found to be vulnerable to splash from .303 ammunition, although only in small areas from certain angles. It was also possible to completely jam some components with .303 AP.

20 mm rounds proved quite effective against the engine deck cooling grilles, although they did little to the rest of the vehicle during a simulated air attack. These same cooling grilles were vulnerable to 25-pdr HE air bursts, but, again, these did little damage to the rest of the tank.

Tiger I nose plate impacts.
A variety of hits on the 102 mm thick front nose plate. Round 129 hit at 24° from a range of well over 2,500 yards – it punched clean through and cracked nearby welds.

The Tiger was vulnerable from virtually all sides to 6-pdr APDS and APCBC at typical combat ranges. However APCBC rounds needed to hit the sides, smaller targets or fire from a closer range for guaranteed success.

The suspension design provides a significant amount of additional protection to the lower hull. The document mentions that it is probably easier to fire at the thicker upper side plates than the lower plates, which are thinner but covered by the running gear.

The 17-pdr was able to deal with the Tiger’s armor comfortably. Only a handful of APDS rounds were fired, but these were able to perforate even the thickest areas of the armor from steep angles and long ranges. Only quite extreme angles were able to prevent full perforation. APCBC faired slightly worse. However even failed perforations were capable of bulging, cracking and deforming the Tiger’s armor plating and structure.

Tiger I ammunition rack.
The Tiger’s ammunition stowage left it vulnerable to damage. These inert rounds were damaged during one of the shots.

These tests found the design of the Tiger left it particularly vulnerable to fires and ammunition cook offs. This was because the 8.8 cm ammunition was openly stored along the upper hull sides for a third of its length. Any penetrations here would also encounter the ammunition, and likely set it off. Its fuel was in a similar situation because the fuel tanks were located along the sides at the rear of the tank. Hits here would potentially start a fuel fire, as happened in one of the tests.

Regarding armor quality, the Tiger did well and did not suffer from hard, brittle armor found in other German tanks like the Panther. Although it sounds counterintuitive, armor shouldn’t be too hard. It should be a blend of both soft and hard; hard enough to damage and potentially break up the incoming round, but soft enough to flex a little and disperse the energy throughout its volume.

Tiger I on fire.
Fuel fires were a possibility due to the fuel tank locations against the hull sides. A fire was started by a 6-pdr round and we can see crews working to extinguish it here.

Armor that is too hard will be liable to cracking, which weakens it against subsequent shots. It can also simply fail completely, as seen multiple times with the hull roof armor in the tests. Tiger 334’s steel was, for the most part, a similar quality to equivalent British plates. Its softer plates were able to absorb the energy from impacts very well.

This meant that even after numerous hits its plates stayed in one piece, and the tank’s general structure remained together. Welds were found to have cracked in many areas, but this was really only after repeated hits in most cases.

Read More Tiger II vs 165 mm HESH Rounds

The tank’s overall structure was very strong, thanks to the armor quality properly distributing energy, but also because of the interlocking plates. This meant that even when welds failed, the overall structure didn’t.